Ranking the Best Golden Spikes Seasons in College Baseball History
Last week, USA Baseball announced that the Golden Spikes Award, annually given to the best amateur player in the country, would not be awarded in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic-related cancellations that have kept baseball fields empty for more than a month.
Ranking the winners of this award is a unique challenge. Each player’s award-winning season is the primary consideration, but a player’s entire college career, pro career and the overall impact they had on the college game have to be taken into account as well.
With that in mind, here is our list of the top 25 Golden Spikes-winning seasons in history.
1. Buster Posey, Florida State, 2008
.463, 257 AB, 26 HR, 93 RBI
0-0, 1.17 ERA, 7.2 IP, 10 K, 6 SV
After being recruited as a shortstop and pitcher, and playing his freshman season on the infield, Posey made his name in Tallahassee as the Seminoles’ catcher, although he did also get on the mound from time to time and even saved six games in 2008.
After hitting for extremely high averages in his first two seasons, .346 as a freshman and .382 as a sophomore, it wasn’t until his breakout junior season that Posey really came on as a power bat. After combining for seven homers his first two seasons, he hit 26 in 2008, all while driving in 93 runs and putting up a .463/.566/.879 line. Posey was selected fifth overall in the 2008 draft and went on to win National League MVP in 2012.
2. Mark Kotsay, Cal State Fullerton, 1995
.422, 263 AB, 21 HR, 90 RBI
2-1, 0.31 ERA, 29 IP, 27 K, 11 SV
A two-way star who helped the Titans to a national title in 1995 with his power production at the plate and his left arm as the team’s closer, Kotsay is considered one of the best singular talents in the history of college baseball. In fact, he was named the Baseball America Player of the Decade for the 1990s.
His 1995 sophomore season stands above the rest. At the plate, he hit .422 with 21 homers, 90 RBI and 15 stolen bases. On the mound, he had a 0.31 ERA and 11 saves in 29 innings of work. In the national title game against Southern California, he did it all, clubbing two home runs and recording the final five outs of the game. The first overall pick in the 1996 draft, Kotsay went on to play for eight MLB teams over a 16-year career.
3. J.D. Drew, Florida State, 1997
.455, 233 AB, 31 HR, 100 RBI
Drew’s 1997 season was truly one for the ages, with the impressive feats seemingly endless. With 31 home runs and 32 stolen bases, he became the first player in Division I history to go 30-30. At the time, he was also only the third player in NCAA history to record 100 hits, 100 runs and 100 RBI. His 31 home runs, 110 runs scored and 84 walks are all ACC records that still stand today. And a .455 batting average isn’t shabby, either.
Drew was drafted second overall by the Phillies in the 1997 draft, but didn’t sign, which made him a villain in Philadelphia for his entire career. Rather, he played parts of two seasons with the independent St. Paul Saints before being drafted eighth overall by the Cardinals in the 1998 draft and going onto a 14-year career in the big leagues.
4. Brendan McKay, Louisville, 2017
11-3, 2.56 ERA, 109 IP, 146 K
.341, 223 AB, 18 HR, 57 RBI
McKay joined the likes of Kotsay, Wichita State’s Darren Dreifort (1993) and Kentucky’s A.J. Reed (2014) among true two-way players to win the award. He was good enough at both facets of his game that there was genuine debate throughout his entire career about whether he would hit or pitch at the next level.
At Louisville, he was among the best in the country at both, putting up a 2.23 career ERA and 391 strikeouts in 315.1 innings and hitting .328/.430/.536 in nearly 800 plate appearances. The 2017 season was his crowning achievement, as he went 11-3, 2.56 with 146 strikeouts in 109 innings on the mound and hit .341/.457/.659 with 18 home runs at the plate.
5. Mark Prior, Southern California, 2001
15-1, 1.69 ERA, 138.2 IP, 202 K
After spending his freshman season at Vanderbilt, Prior transferred to USC prior to the 2000 season and immediately found his footing. As a sophomore, he went 10-7, 3.56 with 150 strikeouts in 136.1 innings as part of a team that reached the College World Series.
But his junior season, when he won the award, was his best. The righthander was 15-1 with a 1.69 ERA and 202 strikeouts compared to just 18 walks in 138.2 innings. Those numbers are impressive on their own, but they’re made even more impressive when you consider the extreme offensive environment that was college baseball in 2001. Prior was drafted second overall by the Cubs in 2001.
6. Will Clark, Mississippi State, 1985
.420, 224 AB, 25 HR, 77 RBI
Clark’s time at Mississippi State is memorable for so many things - a sweet left-handed swing that was then only known around the SEC, a standout stint as a member of the legendary 1984 US Olympic Team and his “Thunder and Lightning” partnership with Rafael Palmeiro - and that’s before you even dig into the numbers.
In his Golden Spikes-winning season of 1985, Clark hit .420 with 20 doubles, 25 home runs and 77 RBI on a Bulldogs team that went 50-15 and was one of the last four teams standings in the College World Series. He was the second overall pick in the 1985 draft and one year later, began an MLB career that would span 15 seasons.
7. Jason Varitek, Georgia Tech, 1994
.426, 249 AB, 17 HR, 86 RBI
Varitek is unique in that he was a college senior when he won the award in 1994, but he didn’t stick around for an extra season because he needed to prove himself. On the contrary, he hit .404 with 22 home runs and 72 RBI and was drafted 21st overall by the Twins in 1993, but when he and the club couldn’t come to terms, he ended up back at Georgia Tech.
In his encore performance in ‘94, he hit .426 with 17 homers and 86 RBI on a Yellow Jackets team that also featured Nomar Garciaparra and Jay Payton and fell one win short of a national title. After the season, he was taken 14th overall by the Mariners, putting him in the rarified air among players who have been a first-round pick on multiple occasions.
8. Stephen Strasburg, San Diego State, 2009
13-1, 1.32 ERA, 109 IP, 195 K
One of two Golden Spikes winners from San Diego State (the other being Travis Lee in 1996), Strasburg is one of college baseball’s greatest player development stories. After showing up to campus as a relative non-prospect and admittedly out of shape, the righthander went from the bullpen as a freshman, to a dominant weekend arm as a sophomore, to a force of nature as a junior.
He went 8-3, 1.57 with 133 strikeouts in 97.1 innings in his second season at SDSU, and somehow managed to better that as a junior, going 13-1, 1.32 with 195 strikeouts in 109 innings, earning him the award and a spot as the first overall pick in the draft.
9. Tim Lincecum, Washington, 2006
12-4, 1.94 ERA, 125.1 IP, 199 K
Before the unconventional righthander was a sensation in San Francisco and all around Major League Baseball, Lincecum was a sensation at Washington, dominating hitters from the minute he arrived on campus to the moment he left as the tenth overall pick in 2006.
He went 10-3, 3.53 with 161 strikeouts in 112.1 innings in 2004 and 8-6, 3.11 with 131 strikeouts in 104.1 innings in 2005, but saved his best for last. In his junior season, he went 12-4 with a 1.94 ERA and 199 strikeouts in 125.1 innings, giving the baseball world a preview of what was to come for a pro career that would include two Cy Young Awards.
10. Kris Bryant, San Diego, 2013
.329, 228 AB, 31 HR, 62 RBI
At a time when the equipment used in the college game, most notably deadened BBCOR bats and a high-seam baseball, was conspiring to keep players from hitting with power, Bryant was hitting with a ton of it.
He hit .365 with nine homers as a freshman and .366 with 14 home runs as a sophomore before going wild as a junior and hitting .329 with 31 home runs. That not only led the country by 10, but was also more than all but 74 teams in Division I. He parlayed that display into being selected second overall in the draft.
11. Khalil Greene, Clemson, 2002
.470, 285 AB, 27 HR, 91 RBI
Greene joined Varitek as senior season winners of the Golden Spikes with a massive campaign in 2002. The Tigers’ shortstop was enjoying a really nice career through three seasons, and he hit .303 with 12 home runs and 52 RBI as a junior before being selected in the 14th round by the Cubs.
Rather than sign, however, he came back for one more year at Clemson and established himself as the best player in college baseball, hitting .470/.552/.877 with 33 doubles, 27 home runs and 91 RBI with more than twice as many walks (46) as strikeouts (22). His move to come back to Clemson paid off not only because he captured the Golden Spikes, but also because it turned him into a first-round pick, as Greene went 13th overall to the Padres.
12. Adley Rutschman, Oregon State, 2019
.411, 185 AB, 17 HR, 58 RBI
Rutschman, who was the no-doubt top overall pick for the 2019 draft from wire to wire during the season, is a great story of a player who changed his trajectory while in college. After arriving in Corvallis as an advanced defensive catcher with more question marks at the plate, Rutschman developed into an all-around threat by the time his college days were over.
In his junior season, he hit .411/.575/.751 with 17 home runs, 58 RBI and twice as many walks (76) as strikeouts (38), and continued his work as the best defensive catcher in college baseball.
13. Jered Weaver, Long Beach State, 2004
15-1, 1.62 ERA, 144 IP, 213 K
Weaver was a part of some star-studded teams during his college career. Among his teammates at Long Beach State were Troy Tulowitzki and Jason Vargas, and he missed the arrival of Evan Longoria by one year. And yet, for his exploits with the Dirtbags, Weaver stands out.
The righthander went 37-9 with a 2.43 ERA and 431 strikeouts over 369.1 innings in his Long Beach State career, and in 2004, he led the country in wins and strikeouts as part of a team that fell one win short of a trip to the College World Series. After the season, he was drafted 12th overall by the Angels.
14. Phil Nevin, Cal State Fullerton, 1992
.402, 219 AB, 22 HR, 86 RBI
Nevin burst onto the scene as a freshman in 1990, hitting .358 with 14 homers and 52 RBI on the way to being named Freshman of the Year. As a sophomore, however, Nevin pressed and while he still managed to hit .335, he slugged just three home runs.
After re-dedicating himself before his junior season by adding 15 pounds of muscle and working on the mental side of the game, Nevin put up a triple crown season in the Big West, hitting .402 with 22 home runs and 86 RBI. At the end of the season, Nevin was the first overall pick of the Astros.
15. Robin Ventura, Oklahoma State, 1988
.391, 230 AB, 24 HR, 88 RBI
One of the most decorated college baseball players of all-time, there are few awards Ventura didn’t capture during his days with the Cowboys. In addition to being a Golden Spikes winner, Ventura was a three-time First-Team All-American, the Baseball America Freshman of the Year in 1986 and the Baseball America College Player of the Year in 1987.
The third baseman put up video game-type numbers in all three campaigns in Stillwater, and his ranking on this list is actually dampened a bit by the fact that his award-winning season was the third-best of his college career. As a freshman, he hit .469 with 21 homers and 96 RBI. His second season brought a .428 average with 21 home runs and 110 RBI and he capped off his college career by hitting .391 with 24 homers and 88 RBI before being selected tenth overall by the White Sox in the 1988 draft.
Building A Fantasy Baseball All-Star Team Of The 2010s
We continue our search for the best individual fantasy seasons ever, this time focusing on the 2010s.
16. David Price, Vanderbilt, 2007
11-1, 2.63 ERA, 133.1 IP, 194 K
One of the first true mega-stars of the Tim Corbin era at Vanderbilt, Price came and went at a time when the Commodores had yet to make their first Omaha trip, but it was clear that a monster was being built.
Price showed flashes in a somewhat limited role as a freshman, striking out 92 in 69.1 innings before going 9-5, 4.16 as a sophomore with 155 strikeouts in 110.1 innings. The lefthander won the Golden Spikes in 2007 as part of an absolutely loaded Vanderbilt team that also featured six other players who would go on to be big leaguers. At the end of the season, Price was the top overall pick in the draft.
17. Trevor Bauer, UCLA, 2011
13-2, 1.25 ERA, 136.2 IP, 203 K
Part of a dynamic one-two punch in the weekend rotation at UCLA alongside Gerrit Cole, Bauer was effective from beginning to end in a Bruins uniform. A uniform, mind you, that was always topped off with a hat that was so well-worn that it was discolored.
A 9-3, 2.99 freshman campaign was followed by a 12-3, 3.02 sophomore season that also featured a huge jump in strikeouts, from 92 in 105.1 innings to 165 in 131.1 innings. In his Golden Spikes-winning junior season, he went 13-2 with a 1.25 ERA and 203 strikeouts in 136.2 innings and then was the third overall selection in the draft. The only thing that keeps Bauer from being higher on this list is that his junior season happened to coincide with a dramatic depression of offense around college baseball thanks to the introduction of BBCOR bats.
18. Dave Magadan, Alabama, 1983
.525, 217 AB, 9 HR, 95 RBI
Looking at one all-time great season after another can make you desensitized to eye-popping statistics, but some still stick out. Magadan’s .525 batting average in 1983, which still stands as the SEC record for batting average, is one of those stats.
His 95 RBI and 31 doubles are also worth celebrating, and he played extraordinarily well when the Crimson Tide got to Omaha in ‘83, hitting safely in his first eight trips to the plate and going 11-for-20 in the CWS overall. For his Alabama career, Magadan hit .439, which is also an SEC record that still stands today. After the 1983 season, Magadan was selected 32nd overall by the Mets and would eventually play 16 seasons in the big leagues.
19. Jason Jennings, Baylor, 1999
13-2, 2.58 ERA, 147 IP, 172 K, 1 SV
.386, 233 AB, 17 HR, 68 RBI
The greatest player in Baylor history, Jennings helped elevate a program that was very much finding its footing when he arrived in 1997. When he helped lead the Bears to a regional in 1998, it was their first regional appearance since 1993. By the time he left after the 1999 season, they were well on their way to prominence within the Big 12 and nationally once again.
A true two-way star, Jennings still holds the Baylor all-time record for slugging percentage at .615 and strikeouts on the mound, with 213. His 1999 season was his finest hour, as he was undoubtedly the team’s best pitcher and by many measures, including a .386 batting average, was the team’s most feared hitter. After the season, he was drafted 16th overall by the Rockies.
20. Ben McDonald, Louisiana State, 1989
14-4, 3.49 ERA, 152 IP, 202 K
Legendary LSU basketball coach Dale Brown called McDonald the best athlete to ever come out of the state of Louisiana and contended that the 6-foot-7 Denham Springs native would have had a shot to play in the NBA.
After coming to Baton Rouge as a basketball recruit of Brown’s, McDonald later switched his focus to baseball, and it’s clear now that it was the right decision. After breaking out in 1988 by going 13-7, 2.65, McDonald took home the Golden Spikes in 1989 by going 14-4, 3.49 with 202 strikeouts, which is still an SEC single-season record. At the end of that season, the Orioles made McDonald the first overall pick in the draft.
21. Bryce Harper, College of Southern Nevada, 2010
.443, 228 AB, 31 HR, 98 RBI
Harper was such an advanced prospect as a teenager that he was able to completely subvert the traditional draft system. Rather than wait to graduate high school and go into the draft, he obtained his GED after his sophomore year of high school so that he could attend junior college for the 2010 season and be drafted afterward as a 17-year-old.
Suffice it to say that Harper made the most out of his one season at CSN. Using a wood bat, he hit .443/.526/.987 with 31 home runs and 98 RBI. The Nationals, who had taken Strasburg the year before, selected Harper first overall in the 2010 draft.
22. Rickie Weeks, Southern, 2003
.479, 163 AB, 16 HR, 66 RBI
To say that Weeks dominated the competition in his three seasons of college baseball would be a massive understatement. Weeks never had a season hitting below .400, and in his last two seasons, his average was far closer to .500 than to .400, including a sophomore campaign when he hit .495.
His .465 career batting average is still the highest in NCAA Division I history, and in capping off his career in a big way in 2003, he won the Golden Spikes and was the second overall draft pick of the Brewers.
23. Alex Gordon, Nebraska, 2005
.372, 253 AB, 19 HR, 66 RBI
Gordon is in many ways synonymous with the Nebraska baseball glory days of the mid-2000s, and deservedly so. He hit .319/.426/.495 in a solid debut as a freshman, but he became a star as a sophomore by hitting .365/.493/.754 with 18 home runs and 75 RBI.
He was at his best, however, in 2005, when he won the Golden Spikes. He had a .372/.518/.715 slash line with 19 homers, 66 RBI, 23 stolen bases and 63 walks compared to just 38 strikeouts on a Cornhuskers team that brought the city of Omaha alive in a major way with its third appearance in the College World series in five seasons.
24. Darren Dreifort, Wichita State, 1993
11-1, 2.48 ERA, 102 IP, 120 K, 4 SV
.327, 22 HR, 61 RBI
Dreifort did it all in some of the best years in the history of the Wichita State baseball program, helping lead the Shockers to College World Series appearances in all three of his years on campus, largely on the strength of his performances as a versatile relief arm not unlike what you see in baseball today. He was also a feared power bat in the lineup.
For a Wichita State team that fell just one game short of a national title in 1993, Dreifort paced the squad in a number of categories, including wins, strikeouts and home runs before being selected second overall in the draft.
25. Bob Horner, Arizona State, 1978
.412, 25 HR, 100 RBI
At a time when college baseball wasn’t as prominent as it is now, Horner made a name for himself with his production at Arizona State. As a freshman, he hit .339 with nine home runs and then followed that up with a .389 average, 22 home runs and 89 RBI as a sophomore.
But he saved his best for his junior season, when he hit .412 with 25 home runs and 100 RBI, which propelled him not only to a spot as the first overall pick in the draft, but all the way to the major leagues as a member of the Atlanta Braves.