College Preview

Stanford's Ragira And Wilson Have Scouts Excited

Stanford coach Mark Marquess has seen plenty of eligible college players let all the major league draft talk become a distraction and derail their seasons, so when he was told two of his most-important current draft-eligible players—junior outfielder Austin Wilson and first baseman Brian Ragira—seem unconcerned with their draft stock, Marquess sounded glad to hear it.

Austin Wilson
If any players on the team couldn't be faulted for looking ahead to the draft, it would be Wilson and Ragira. A physical and athletic monster, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Wilson is a five-tool talent and likely first-round pick, and Ragira's impressive defensive versatility and advanced feel for hitting could get him some first-round consideration as well. But, while both players admitted that the draft was definitely on their minds, both also said they were really only focused on helping Stanford reach the College World Series.

"Between friends, family, scouts, and media, guys can't escape the draft and guys would be lying if they told you they didn't think about it, so (Wilson and Ragira) gave a good, honest answer," Marquess said. "They have been through it before and both have the type of demeanor and personality that I am not worried about distractions with them."

After losing five regular starters to last year's draft, Marquess and the Cardinal can't afford for Wilson and Ragira to get distracted because they will be counted on as veterans to anchor the middle of a talented but less experienced lineup. Stalwarts Stephen Piscotty, Kenny Diekroeger, Eric Smith and Jake Stewart are gone, and so are the 146 runs they drove in last season, the 151 runs they scored, and the leadership and experience they provided. Wilson and Ragira will be counted on to fill some of that void. Fortunately for Stanford, they are well qualified for the job.

After piling up accolades in high school and turning down pro offers to honor their commitments, Wilson and Ragira were the headliners of Stanford's ballyhooed 2010 recruiting class and made an immediate impact. Ragira started 54 games, learned a position he had never played before (first base) and earned Pacific-10 Conference Freshman of the Year honors after hitting .329/.370/.465 and driving in 46 runs. Not to be outdone, Wilson started 51 games in the outfield, hitting .311/.348/.423 with 30 RBIs and five home runs. Last season the duo was even better, starting every game of the season and combining for 97 runs, 15 home runs, and 106 RBIs. Both players impressed again during the summer in the Cape Cod League, where they were amongst the league leaders in home runs.

About That Draft . . .

Now they are back on campus and ready to do more damage to Pac-12 pitching. The question became, how would two players who prefer to lead by example adapt to their added leadership responsibilities? While they still won't ever be confused with vocal leaders, Marquess has noticed this fall that they will occasionally take a younger player aside for teaching moments. Big things are expected of sophomores Alex Blandino and Dominic Jose, and the Cardinal will likely start a freshman, Jonny Locher, in center field. But if Stanford is going to make it to Omaha for the first time since 2008, Wilson, Ragira and the other veterans will have to lead the way.

"I think we have a good lineup," Wilson said. "Just because they are young and inexperienced doesn't mean they can't play . . . But yeah, as a junior now, I do kind of get the feeling that this is 'our team.' "

An important step for both players if they are going to have big seasons will be to cut down on their strikeouts. Ragira led the team with 47 strikeouts last season and Wilson was close behind him with 44. According to Marquess, the reasons behind the strikeout totals are different for each player. Ragira is an excellent hitter with power to all fields and a quick bat, but he said he has is working on improving his plate discipline.

For Wilson, a player with more raw power than perhaps anyone in the country, Marquess said it is often a case of not trying to do too much and crush every pitch. Early returns from this fall are good, as longtime hitting coach Dean Stotz said both players have come back to campus stronger and more polished, partly a product of their Cape experience.

Wilson and Ragira aren't the only juniors the Cardinal needs to step up. Stotz thinks the hype surrounding the class helps motivates the juniors, such as righthander A.J. Vanegas and shortstop Lonnie Kauppila, to reach Omaha. The players disagree with Stotz's interpretation but definitely agree on the goal.

"I think every class wants to come in and do something like that and leave their mark," Ragira said. "But obviously we want to make it to the College World Series, and I think we can definitely get there this season."