True All-America Teams Omit Worthy Candidates
by John Manuel
I remember one time when picking our All-America teams was fun. Allan Simpson and I took our own versions out in the parking lot at the old BA office and debated our choices over the hood of my Nissan Maxima. (Our old office didn't have great conference space.) Maybe it was the sweet smell from Durham's old tobacco warehouses or our own fatigue with the season, but we agreed on almost all of our choices.
Usually, it's not that simple.
Having helped shape the selections for the last seven years, along with Allan and now Will Kimmey, I know it can be a real challenge. We have only so many spots, and we refuse to use the All-America teams as merely a tool to get a little publicity. The most important thing is to honor the best players in the country, the ones who earned it on the field.
Baseball America is built around covering baseball from a player-development standpoint at all levels of the game, but we don't pick our All-Americans based on who the best prospects are. That might help us break a tie, but that's about it. Our postseason teams reward performance.
However, they can't reward all performers. For example, we only chose three teams, but we could have gone six, seven or eight deep at the utility position on this year's teams. That's reserved for two-way players, guys who contribute to their teams on the mound and at the plate.
College baseball has had its share of great two-way players over the years; some of the best of recent vintage have included Auburn's Tim Hudson (1996-97), Florida's Brad Wilkerson ('96-'98) and Pepperdine's Dan Haren (1999-2001). In recent years, though, the utility crops have grown thin. It seemed as if specialization had won the day.
Not this year. Division I had an unusual amount of great two-way players, and we chose Mississippi's Stephen Head, Tulane's Brian Bogusevic and Virginia's Joe Koshansky as the best of the lot. That means we omitted Georgia Tech's Micah Owings, and Oral Roberts' Dennis Bigley, or Coastal Carolina's Mike Costanzo, to name just a few.
We also omitted a pair of players who have meant more to their low-profile programs than most fans would know. Few players have come to embody their programs in so many ways as Birmingham-Southern’s Connor Robertson and Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Ben Stanczyk.From NAIA To NCAA’s
Birmingham-Southern won the Big South Conference regular season and tournament to earn an NCAA regional berth in its first season of eligibility. When its season was on the line in an elimination game against Clemson in the Athens, Ga., regional, Robertson was the one coach Brian Shoop wanted on the mound.
Clemson outlasted Robertson and the Panthers that night, however; two days later, Robertson wasn't drafted on the first day of the proceedings, and lasted until the Athletics drafted him in the 31st round. Other than those two disappointments, Shoop said, Robertson has had a college career he only hopes one of his future players can approach.
"He was our cleanup hitter for four years, and he ended his freshman year by winning us a national title," said Shoop, recalling Robertson's difference-making home run in the 2001 NAIA World Series, B-SC's last before its move to NCAA Division I. "All our seniors knew this was a three-year deal; that our payoff for 2002 and 2003 was going to be the 2004 season.
"When that time came, Connor was one that responded. This year he was arguably our best hitter and our best pitcher. We'll never be able to replace him. He's the best we've ever had."
Robertson came to school as a two-way player, then focused on hitting for his sophomore and junior seasons thanks to a knee injury and the Panthers' pitching depth. But when Shoop asked him to close this spring, Robertson answered the call, going 5-2, 2.37 with nine saves.
"His pitching was a very big surprise," Shoop said. "He was mid-to-upper 80s with a pretty good slider."
Robertson graduates as the school's career leader in homers, RBIs and total bases after hitting .282-21-69 this season. It's the double impact that causes Shoop to call him "irreplaceable."
"He should really have a double full (scholarship) ride, he's been that valuable," Shoop said.
Rubber Arm, Power Bat
At least Robertson was drafted this year. No team took a chance on Stanczyk, who hit .374-10-43 and was the Panthers' No. 1 starter. Scouts got excited about the former competitive swimmer last summer in the Northwoods League, when Stanczyk regularly hit 87-90 mph from his low-three-quarters arm angle, but they backed off this spring when his velocity dropped.
"He got off to a slow start where he was 84-86 some days, and with his size (6-foot, 195 pounds) and arm angle, he wasn't going to get picked throwing like that," Wisconsin-Milwaukee assistant coach Scott Doffek said. "Next year, we may DH him more, back off somewhat and try to find that 3 mph more that will get him drafted."
Stanczyk has meant so much to the program, Doffek said, that Wisconsin-Milwaukee owes him the opportunity to focus on pitching.
"His arm is so resilient, he'll play long toss the day after throwing 100 pitches, and he's just throwing bullets from third base," Doffek said. "I really think he'll have a shot at being a big league player because he's resilient and his makeup is amazing."
Doffek and Shoop agree that two-way players who are difference-makers have to have excellent makeup. They have to be able to focus on both so that one doesn't become a distraction.
Being good at both might not necessarily make them All-Americans; that designation is rightly hard to come by. But it makes them all-everything players to the programs lucky enough to have them.