By Jim Callis
It's not easy to feel sorry for Texas. The Longhorns are the defending College World Series champions, and their recent national football title allowed them to join the 2001 Miami Hurricanes as the only programs to pull off that double in the last 25 years.
Texas enters the season ranked No. 1 as it seeks to become the first team to Louisiana State in 1996-97 to successfully defends its CWS championship. Leading the way are outfielder Drew Stubbs, arguably the top college position player and a returning rotation of Kyle McCulloch, Adrian Alaniz, Randy Boone and Kenn Kasparek that combined to go 35-11 a year ago.
But if baseball were like football, and players were required to spend three years in college before becoming draft-eligible, the Longhorns would be markedly stronger. Stubbs would take a backseat to shortstop Brandon Wood, who led the minors with 43 homers in 2005. Texas' rotation would get a complete makeover, as Homer Bailey, John Danks and Troy Patton would be pitching the weekend games.
All four players signed with Texas out of high school, with Bailey, Danks and Wood becoming first-round picks. The Longhorns had a good idea that they wouldn't keep Bailey and Danks, but had a shot at Wood before he blossomed suddenly as a high school senior. They also figured to keep Patton, who slid to the ninth round in 2004 because of signability, but the often-frugal Astros gave him $550,000.
If all high school players had to spend three years in college before turning pro, here's what our preseason All-America first team could have looked like:
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, c, Florida State (Braves). Saltalamacchia would have high standards to live up to, because he'd be succeeding the tandem of Joe Mauer (Twins) and Jeff Mathis (Angels) behind the plate for the Seminoles.
Daric Barton, 1b, Cal State Fullerton (Athletics). The Titans' would have had a better chance to defend their 2004 national title with Barton, who moved out from behind the plate last year and batted .317 in the minors while reaching Double-A before his 20th birthday.
Blake DeWitt, 2b, Georgia Tech (Dodgers). DeWitt has played third base as a pro, but saw time at second in instructional league because Andy LaRoche is Los Angeles' third baseman of the future. He'd make the same move for the Yellow Jackets, who have All-American Wes Hodges at the hot corner.
Ian Stewart, 3b, Southern California (Rockies). Stewart would be the latest standout at third base for USC, following actual Trojans Jeff Cirillo, Aaron Boone and Morgan Ensberg, as well as Eric Chavez and Sean Burroughs, who like Stewart, passed up college after going in the top 10 picks of their draft.
Brandon Wood, ss, Texas (Angels). Wood bashed 58 homers last year between the minors, Arizona Fall League and Team USA. As a team, the Longhorns hit 56 in 72 games.
Lastings Milledge, of, South Carolina (Mets). Milledge committed to Manatee (Fla.) CC out of high school, but he'd be a junior in 2006. The Gamecocks mine Florida jucos as well as any program and have a pipeline to Manatee, so we'll give them Milledge.
Justin Upton, of, North Carolina State (Diamondbacks). Upton made noise about attending Louisburg (N.C.) JC while negotiating his record $6.1 million bonus with Arizona, but he originally committed to the Wolfpack. He, and not Texas outfielder Jordan Danks (John's brother), would be the frontrunner to become 2006 Freshman of the Year.
Delmon Young, of, Arizona (Devil Rays). Baseball America's reigning Minor League Player of the Year was part of a Wildcats recruiting class that also included first-round pitchers Jeff Allison and Adam Miller as well as current All-America shortstop Jason Donald.
Billy Butler, dh, Florida (Royals). Gators first baseman Matt LaPorta topped NCAA Division I with 26 homers last year, but he might not have led his own team had Butler made it to Gainesville.
Adam Jones, ss/of/rhp, San Diego State (Mariners). Jones hit 96 mph as a high school senior but wanted to play every day as a proča decision neither he nor Seattle regrets. The Aztecs would have the nation's two best two-way players in Jones and outfielder/lefthander Ryan Sweeney (White Sox).
Homer Bailey, rhp, Texas (Reds). When he committed, Bailey wasn't even the top-rated prospect in the Longhorns' 2003 fall recruiting class. That honor went to outfielder Greg Golson, who became a first-round pick of the Phillies.
Chad Billingsley, rhp, South Carolina (Dodgers). Billingsley could be pitching in the majors before he would have been draft-eligible if he had attended college. The other players on this list with a good chance to do so are Barton, Wood and Young.
Scott Elbert, lhp, Missouri (Dodgers). Could Elbert have played for the Tigers' football program as well? He was Missouri's top high school running back as a junior, rushing for 2,449 yards and scoring 36 touchdowns, before deciding to focus on baseball.
Philip Hughes, rhp, Santa Clara (Yankees). If college were mandatory, the Yankees would be missing their top pitching prospect (Hughes) and top position prospect (corner infielder Eric Duncan, who would have attended Louisiana State). Righty Tyler Clippard would be New York's best upper-level prospect.
Andrew Miller, lhp, North Carolina (Tar Heels). The projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft has dominated the Cape Cod League the last two summers. He's so good, he'd still be an All-American even after this major influx of talent.
You can contact Jim Callis by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.