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January 29, 2008

Wait 'Til Next Year

The College All-Talent Pitching Staff

by Bryan Smith

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Last week, I used this space to hit on the best talent currently available in college baseball. However, in yesterday's chat a reader asked if I follow the "Mark Grace premise that pitchers have no athletic talent." No worries, I have so much respect for the pitchers that they were going to get their own article all along. Below are the pitchers that, if the best talent yielded the best results, would dominate the nation on Friday nights and the ninth inning this spring.

Southpaws

Head of the Class: When Brian Matusz spurned the Angels' big contract offer after being taken in the fourth round of the 2005 draft, he also immediately became the best pitcher of the 2008 draft class. In his freshman season at the University of San Diego, Matusz was dominant, putting up 9.4 K/9, but his command-and correspondingly, his ERA-dropped over his first long spring. Last season as a sophomore, he became one of the nation's best, striking out 163 in 18 outings and winning 10 games. Matusz is a scout's dream: a lefty with a big build at 6'4", a fastball that sits around 90-93 mph, and a fantastic changeup. Matusz also mixes a curveball in for strikeouts, and with a demonstration of endurance this spring, he should be the first college pitcher taken in June.
Honorable Mentions: The pride of Eastern Kentucky, Chris Friedrich might have the nation's best curveball. If he shows fastball command in the spring, he could be a first-round pick. When Andrew Brackman drew scouts to NC State games last year, the scouts were treated to seeing Eric Surkamp pitch ahead of Brackman in the weekend rotation. Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent had good reason, as the big-bodied lefty (6'5" and 216 pounds) is a smart pitcher with a great changeup. If he shows a better breaking ball this spring, you'll hear his name called in the early rounds. Two of the nation's best closers come at hitters from the left side: Cole St. Clair at Rice, and Evan Crawford at Auburn. St. Clair rates a bit higher because he stands 6'5" and has a three-pitch combination which scouts believe could lend St. Clair to starting if he could handle the workload. Crawford is death on left-handed hitters, attacking them with a very good mix of a slow curveball and hard slider. Keep your eye down on Southeastern Louisiana, as Wade Miley's early-season start against Tulane will be attended by a lot of scouts. Miley has a great curve, but to land in the early rounds he needs to stay consistent with his delivery and in command of his high-80s fastball.
Underclassmen to watch: There is a lot of Brian Matusz in Vanderbilt freshman Mike Minor, who is replacing David Price on Friday nights for Vandy after dominating on the USA Baseball team over the summer. Like Matusz, Minor's change is his best pitch, but he also stays in command on the mound. On the freshman side, keep your eye out for Tanner Robles, the next great Oregon State starter.

Fireballers

Head of the Class: Missouri fans unfamiliar with Aaron Crow's summer will find it odd that Crow is in this category. In fact, I think Crow himself and coach Tim Jamieson would be pretty surprised as well. Last spring Crow was a good college pitcher that succeeded with good command of a fastball that sat around 90 mph. Then he went to the Cape Cod League and, to paraphrase coach Jeff Trundy, his velocity got better with every outing; in his last appearance, Crow's fastball sat in the 93-96 mph range, and touched 98. Amazingly, Crow retained his command, walking just nine in forty innings. He also has a good change and a feel for pitching, so if Crow can stay healthy and show an improved curve/cut fastball, he will be a lock to be a top ten pick in June.
Honorable Mentions: I am a huge believer in Pepperdine's Brett Hunter, who was the best pitcher on a good Team USA pitching staff. Hunter has pitched both as a starter and a reliever with Pepperdine, flashing a 96 mph fastball in either role. He has a good, hard breaking ball as well, and if scouts believe he's a starter in the end, he could go in the 11th through 20th picks overall in the draft. Another reliever turned starter is Cody Satterwhite, who came to Ole Miss a heralded freshman, and hasn't really found his stride yet. Satterwhite does possess incredible arm strength, and is said to have touched triple digits. Whether his move to the rotation is a success will be his big question this spring. The other velocity draw at the Cape Cod League was Ryan Perry, an Arizona pitcher that slipped into the league only after someone else left. Perry went from unknown to one of the nation's most heralded relievers (at least by scouts), as he was between 95-98 with every outing. Command and the improvements on his slider will determine his draft position. ... In the same vein, keep your eye on Mississippi State closer Aaron Weatherford, whose heat also sits in the mid 90s, and who should be closing out games in the SEC this spring.
Underclassmen of note: I don't have much here, but on the Cape, Oklahoma's Garrett Richards touched 96, so he could be a closer to watch next season. The hope is that a lot of these players add velocity this season, so check back on UCLA's Charles Brewer or ASU's Jason Jarvis next season.

Big-Bodied Righties

Head of the Class: We have a tie, because I really can't decide who to give this to. On the one hand is my second-best prospect from the Cape Cod League, Louisiana Tech's Luke Burnett. 'Big-bodied' is an understatement with Burnett, because his 6'8", 260-pound frame is as intimidating as you'll find in all of college baseball. Like you might expect, he uses that size to his advantage, throwing his 94-96 mph fastball, perhaps even a bit too often. As a result, the development of his slider and splitter will be very important for the big boy this spring. We stay in the heavyweight division with Lance Lynn, a Team USA pitcher who stands 6'5" but also weighs in at 260 pounds. Lynn has one of the best curveballs thrown by a right-hander in college baseball; it's a true 12-to-6 power pitch that scouts love. Don't expect this to be the last time these two guys are discussed in relation to each other.
Honorable Mentions: The Red Sox desperately tried to sign Scott Green last August, hoping to prevent the 6'8" right-hander from returning to Kentucky. Green has yet to really be healthy as a Wildcat, but he showed his potential in the Cape Cod League with a good slider and a fastball that sits in the 90-94 mph range. Most important of all, he's finally healthy. Behind Brett Hunter for the honor of the best pitcher on Team USA pitcher was probably Cal's Tyson Ross, a 6'5" right-hander with a fantastic breaking ball for an out pitch. Some have called it a curveball, some have called it a slider, but complementing a 92-95 mph fastball, it'll be enough to get him picked in the first round. In the tall-but-skinny category we have a couple northern pitchers, with Aaron Shafer from Wichita State looking to rebound after a lackluster summer, and Josh Lindblom of Purdue fighting for the right to be called the Big Ten's best pitcher.
Underclassmen of note: I have to go down to Louisiana State here, as part of Paul Mainieri's stocked recruiting class is New Jersey freshman Anthony Ranuado. The 6'7" giant is still raw, but Mainieri knows that he's lucky to have persuaded the big body to make it down to his campus. Check back in two years, when Ranuado, Evan Danieli of Notre Dame, and Greg Peavey Oregon State will be among the draft's top available arms.

Sinkerballers

Head of the Class: If Lindblom is not the best pitcher in the Big Ten this season, than that honor should belong to Zach Putnam, the conference's best player in a long time. Putnam has been essential, as Michigan has rebuilt its program in the past years, and his ability to go toe-to-toe with David Price is part of the reason the Wolverines upset Vanderbilt in last year's Super Regional. He even drew a mention from Kevin Goldstein in a Monday Ten Pack for his troubles. Like much of the Wolverine staff, Putnam lives and dies by getting hitters to beat the ball on the ground with a hard, low-90s sinker. Match that pitch with a good curveball and absolutely fantastic athleticism, and Putnam will be in the mix to go in the supplemental first round.
Honorable Mentions: Clemson is going to need a lot from D.J. Mitchell as the athletic sinkerballer looks to build on a good Cape showing. Mitchell has a pretty good change and pitches in the high 80s, but it's his smooth conversion from starting off as an outfielder that has scouts falling for him. I'm a big fan of Dan Hudson from Old Dominion, who doesn't get enough recognition because he's pitching at a small school. But he should get some love, as his three-quarters delivery yields very good movement on his fastball and keeps it in the park. He'll lose his command at times, but when his slow curve and change are both on, he's an excellent dark-horse selection.
Underclassman of note: Sticking to accomplished Cape Cod pitchers, it was very impressive that Baylor freshman (now sophomore) Kendal Volz was able to have so much success in his first summer's pitching. Volz has a big 6'4" frame, getting good tilt on his sinker that yields a ton of groundballs. He also features a curveball that has out-pitch potential, so he could be the best sinker pitcher of this group. Baylor is hoping he can step up and begin his dominance this spring.

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

Related Content:  Aaron Crow,  The Who,  Best

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