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June 3, 2010

One-Hoppers

Draft Preview: Bibona, Brown, Colon, Larson

by Stephani Bee

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Christian Colon, Cal State Fullerton
Colon attended Canyon High School in Anaheim, where he was a teammate of Grant Green, the Athletics’ first-round pick in 2009. Green, the incumbent shortstop, usually got the nod to play his primary position, shifting Colon to second base until his senior season. Drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 10th round of the 2007 draft, Colon followed through on his commitment to Cal State Fullerton and slid back to the left side of the infield, becoming Fullerton’s starting shortstop in his freshman year.

The All-American is a three-year veteran of the collegiate-level Team USA baseball and was named team captain last summer. Using wood bats, Colon struck out only six times in 94 at-bats, hit at a .362 clip and had a team-leading five homers and 37 RBI before his leg was broken while he was covering second base against Canada in the second-to-last game of the championship round. For his contributions to the team, Baseball America named him the Summer League Player of the Year.

Perhaps feeling the effects of his surgically-repaired broken leg or the long layoff from the field, Colon started off his junior campaign slowly, hitting below .240 and slugging below .330 through the first month and a half of the season. His breakout performance came against the University of Washington, where he went 4-for-5 with three homers and 5 RBI; he has since upped his season slash line to .345/.440/.618 and leads the Big West in homers with 14.

Colon has good bat speed and can spray line drives to all fields, though a lift to his swing allows him to hit for more power than his six-foot, 200-pound frame may let on. He’s a contact-oriented hitter who bats leadoff for Fullerton, capable of being a table-setter by executing a hit-and-run or being the man to drive in runners on base. Coming into the season, there were some questioning if he could be an everyday player at the major-league level, but the improvements Colon has made to his game have him placed solidly as a first-round pick. Baseball America ranks him as the ninth-best talent available.

If Colon reaches the majors, it is much more likely to be at second base than at shortstop. Though he has good defensive action, solid footwork, and soft hands, his range and arm are below average, and he’s not very fast, with one scout telling Kevin Goldstein that “at best” a comparable player may be Ronnie Belliard.

Gary Brown, Cal State Fullerton
Playing the middle infield and center field for Diamond Bar High School, Brown was drafted by the A’s in the 12th round of the 2007 draft. Instead of signing, Brown went to Fullerton, where he moved to full-time duties in center field this season after spending his previous two seasons splitting time between the outfield and infield.

Moved to second in the order this year to bat behind Colon, Brown has had a spectacular offensive season, holding a .438/.485/.695 slash with six homers, eight triples, 20 doubles, and 31 steals in 36 attempts (86.1 percent). He is by no means a patient hitter, but he doesn’t strike out often, either. With a six-foot, 185-pound frame, Brown may look like a slap-singles hitter, but he has pop in his bat and is much stronger than his small build shows. Coming into the year, there were many questions about his bat and if he would be able to hit enough to play on a daily basis, as Brown would start to run as he was hitting. This season, he has started to plants his feet to take a full swing, and if he maintains those adjustments and keeps putting the barrel on the ball (indications have been positive—subscription required), he could be a solid hitter as he continues up the ladder.

Speed is the name of Brown’s game, as he has been called one of the fastest college players and has left no doubts that he is an 80 runner (subscription required for the last link). Attempting to beat out an early-season bunt, Baseball America clocked him at 3.69 seconds down the line. As a pro, he will need to work on picking his spots to steal; as MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo notes in his prospect preview, Brown is still raw in development and needs to “learn the nuances of baserunning.” Combined with the power that he has, Brown is able to capitalize and take an extra base. His speed allows him to cover tons of ground in the outfield and helps make up for bad reads and routes that he occasionally gets. There have been varying reports on his arm, but his speed will certainly allow him to remain in center.

Brown suffered a broken finger on his glove hand attempting to steal second during a game against Long Beach State on May 17 and was forced to sit out for the remainder of the regular season. The injury did not require surgery, though it could hurt Fullerton’s playoff chances to make it to Omaha if he is out for an extended period of time. He’s raw in multiple facets of the game, but if there are no major concerns over the finger, Brown should still be a first-round or sandwich-round pick.

Daniel Bibona, UCI
One of the more interesting cases to follow in the draft is that of Bibona, a starting pitcher for Irvine. With a record of 9-2 and a 2.10 ERA, he certainly looks like a winner. Add in that in 90 IP he has 100 strikeouts and 15 walks, and he looks like a dominating pitcher with perhaps a very good, dominating heater and stellar command. That’s only half true. The six-foot, 170-pounder has a fastball that hangs around 86-88, but he does have excellent control.

With a collection of secondary offerings, Bibona has learned to dominate without having a hard fastball. According to head coach Mike Gillespie, “He’s a four-pitch mix—a fastball, slider, cutter, change—and he’ll mix pitches on any count at any time.” His changeup, which usually sits around 74, and his slider are what Gillespie believes separate him from other pitchers. Gillespie is also weary of calling Bibona a finesse pitcher and has no doubts that a deep repertoire will allow him to succeed at the next level.

“He’s certainly not a power guy,” Gillespie says, “but he’s a mix of pitches, an outstanding college pitcher who will pitch as a pro and will win as a pro.”

Bibona has great control and is not afraid to attack the zone, and his secondary offerings allow him to keep hitters off balance. This season, opponents have hit just .208 off him, and he has only given up 11 doubles—almost as many as the combined number of triples (five) and homers (five) that he has allowed on the year.

As an undersized starter who lacks velocity on his fastball, Bibona fell to the Cardinals in the 16th round of the 2009 draft. He’d had a great campaign, going 12-1 with a 2.63 ERA and was a second-team All-American, but he chose not to sign with the Cards and returned to school as a senior. Choosing not to sign did reduce his leverage, but his consistency throughout college may allow him to go higher in the draft—a safe pick for a team who wants someone close to a guarantee. As a pro, Bibona’s more likely to profile as a reliever because his lack of velocity, but a solid four-pitch arsenal should allow him to succeed as he progresses. 

Francis Larson, UCI
Larson’s another interesting case, though not for the same reasons as Bibona. Entering the season, he was ranked the 31st-best senior prospect by Baseball America. He had finished off his degree in philosophy and scored in the 90th percentile on his LSATs, but since he still had a year of NCAA eligibility remaining and has never been drafted, he chose to return to school to take some post-graduate courses in philosophy and political science.

A six-foot, 200-pound catcher, Larson is solid behind the dish; he posted a .986 fielding percentage and was a Johnny Bench Award semi-finalist in 2009. According to Gillespie, Larson’s ability to stay behind the plate will be what vaults him into professional ball. He has a couple of tools that Gillespie believes will help him at the next level.

“If I’m in professional baseball,” Gillespie says, “I like him first for his ability to throw, and I like his power potential.”

Gillespie rated Larson’s arm at a 50 on the 20-80 scale and his power at a 40 based upon how his current abilities would translate to pro ball. His homer total and average actually decreased this year (from nine homers to five and from a .309 average to a .299), but he has been a consistent performer since his sophomore season.

The question is if Larson will actually pursue professional baseball. As you can read in the link from earlier, Larson is interested in pursuing his master’s degree, and it would take a large contract to sign him away from that dream. He’s definitely not going to be picked in the first few rounds, so how a team approaches him in the draft and in an attempt to sign him will be interesting to watch. 

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Some clips of Brown, Colon, and Larson in action:

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 Have a suggestion for me? Want to see something change about this feature or to see a particular player? Throw it down in the comments or at my Twitter account; I’ll do the best I can to deliver.   

Stephani Bee is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Stephani's other articles. You can contact Stephani by clicking here

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