If college baseball is going to sell its product, they’re going to have to start with the players. David Price and Stephen Strasburg do more for college baseball’s popularity than the 2008 Fresno State Bulldogs ever could. One of the advantages of the College World Series is that the draft has already happened-they’re in a position to sell tickets based on the players that will take the field (last year it was Buster Posey, Gordon Beckham, Jason Castro, Yonder Alonso, and Jemile Weeks, to name a few). This year, you know the CWS officials will be hoping that Tony Gwynn can lead a miracle Aztecs run to Omaha on Strasburg’s back, but that could be asking too much.
In reality, the eight teams in Omaha are likely to come from the top two tiers in college baseball. So while Strasburg and Grant Green and Kyle Heckathorn and Rex Brothers probably won’t be on display in Rosenblatt Stadium, there will still be talent worth boasting about. As this season begins to take shape and the draft picture begins to clear, I think it’s a good time to break down how college baseball’s best teams will contribute to the 2009 June Amateur Draft.
Best 2009 Draft Prospect: Ryan Berry, 4-0, 1.69 ERA, 16 H, 7 BB, 31 K in 36
Berry doesn’t have the look or the size of a first-rounder, but he has the resumé and the knuckle-curve. He’ll be off the board by the end of the second round at the latest.
Others to Note: Converted catcher Diego Seastrunk and transfer Steven Sultzbaugh had their followers entering the season, but neither has really produced. Seastrunk will probably go first, while Sultzbaugh might be best served by returning to school. Mike Ojala and Jordan Rogers have above-average sliders, but they won’t wow any radar guns. They’ll make nice mid-round picks for a few teams.
Best 2009 Draft Prospect: Austin Wood, 4-0, 1.55 ERA, 10 Sv, 26 H, 5 BB, 31 K in 40
As you can probably infer, Wood is a command specialist, but he’s also appeared in 23 of Texas’ 38 games this season, and has been the most dependable closer in the nation.
Others to Note: The important thing here is that if the Longhorns have a player drafted within the first ten rounds, it will be a surprise. Brandon Belt has continued to show a nice approach to hitting, but his power just isn’t where a first baseman’s needs to be. Preston Clark and Russ Moldenhauer have fallen on their faces in the past two years, and a guy like Travis Tucker is an organizational player at best.
3. North Carolina
Best 2009 Draft Prospect: Alex White, 6-1, 3.14 ERA, 31 H, 25 BB, 58 K in 44
Kevin Goldstein touched on White in a recent draft notebook, so I’ll just add that when White has his splitter going, he’s an absolute force. The bullpen is a fallback for him more than for any other pitcher vying for a top ten draft spot.
Others to Note: Dustin Ackley belongs alongside White, and he could go that high in the draft. Ackley’s uptick in power this season is huge, and there will be a team ready to believe that his speed just can’t fail in center field. It’s also hard to believe that Kyle Seager will fall past the third round; he’s a steady second baseman with average tools across the board, and there aren’t many of those in this draft. If there’s a good mid-round guy, why not try Mark Fleury, who’s an average defender that has shown a hint of power.
4. Louisiana State
Best 2009 Draft Prospect: Jared Mitchell, .319/.477/.597, 34 BB, 41 K, 26 SB, 119 AB
Another player that KG has commented on, he’s quickly becoming a favorite of mine. If there’s a concern, it’s that Mitchell has hit just .274/.430/.516 in conference games, with his strikeout rate spiking against tougher competition.
Others to Note: The middle infield should be off the board by the end of the fifth, though Ryan Schimpf does appear to be one of those players that could fall between the cracks. As for shortstop D.J. LeMahieu, his draft stock will depend solely on his bonus demand as a sophomore-eligible blue-chipper. Blake Dean is starting to turn it on, and scouts love his pure left-handed swing, if not his athleticism.
5. UC Irvine
Best 2009 Draft Prospect: Christian Bergman, 6-1, 2.73 ERA, 64 H, 9 BB, 33 K in 59
Bergman is not a great draft prospect, but he’s had good results with a diverse blend of pitches, and teams will attempt to improve his sinker-slider mix.
Others to Note: Some teams will like ace Daniel Bibona based on both his performance and his changeup. He could actually go ahead of Bergman. I think that Francis Larson offers some positive talents behind the plate, but his 8:21 BB/K ratio isn’t very good. Better prospects are found up the middle, and though they’ve combined for just 16 doubles and zero home runs, shortstop Ben Orloff and second baseman Casey Stevenson are good defenders and good contact hitters.
6. Cal State Fullerton
Best 2009 Draft Prospect: Josh Fellhauer, .404/.479/.525, 16 BB, 16 K, 12 SB in 141 AB
There are a lot of things that Josh Fellhauer won’t do, but he’s going to give you good at-bats, make contact, provide speed, and play great defense. Someone will appreciate that.
Others to Note: Michael Morrison and Kyle Witten just haven’t been able to get it done in their draft year, and it’s going to affect them. Witten may be forced to return to school, while I think Morrison’s track record could slide him into the back end of the top ten rounds. Other teams will like a little of what Jared Clark and Khris Davis do in the middle of the order, even if neither offers a great set of skills.
Best 2009 Draft Prospect: Rich Poythress, .411/.511/.861, 30 BB, 24 K in 158 AB
Poythress has been America’s most consistent hitter, and that will be rewarded in the draft, probably with a pick in the 20-50 range. If a team thinks that they’d be able to move him back to third, it would be an experiment worth trying.
Others to Note: Readers already know that I really like Alex McRee and his solid left-handed arm, though his 28 walks in 37 innings are a problem. I’m not sure Trevor Holder has shown anything this year that he didn’t last year-he should have signed. I’ll watch with interest which power-hitting catcher goes off of the board first, Bryce Massanari or Joey Lewis. (I’d go with the former.) Closer Dean Weaver is an average bullpen arm with fantastic numbers, and that will get him drafted.
8. Arizona State
Best 2009 Draft Prospect: Mike Leake, 9-1, 1.61 ERA, 45 H, 15 BB, 83 K in 72
I’m beginning to think it would be a mistake to allow Leake to slip past the top 30 picks, even though there will be better raw arms drafted behind him. However, athleticism and natural movement have to count for something, and Leake has both in spades.
Others to Note: Jason Kipnis gets credit for coming back and leading this team as a senior; he has solid tools across the board. Carlos Ramirez has 13 home runs playing behind the plate, and while he’s not a great defender, power at catcher doesn’t last long. Also, if anyone knows what to make of Josh Spence, please speak up now. He’ll be picked for his numbers, but his velocity won’t allow that before the 10th round.
9. Georgia Tech
Best 2009 Draft Prospect: Tony Plagman, .357/.413/.669, 8 BB, 29 K in 157 AB
Plagman is an easy prospect to pigeonhole, as he’s going to give you good power, a long swing, and solid defense at first. He won’t give you much in the way of batting average or patience, though, and that’s why he won’t go very high.
Others to Note: Jason Haniger is another solid catcher, but these guys are beginning to look like they’re a dime a dozen, and by failing to throw out even 25 percent of runners, he does not stand out. Luke Murton’s big-time power will get him drafted, especially with a 20:17 BB/K ratio. Overall, though, this is a program whose big splash will come in 2010.
Best 2009 Draft Prospect: Kendal Volz, 3-3, 3.66 ERA, 55 H, 27 BB, 52 K in 59 IP
Goldstein has noted that Volz has disappointed this season, and he may have fallen out of the first round, but a team won’t forget what he did in the bullpen last summer, and that will keep him as the Bears’ first drafted player.
Others to Note: Aaron Miller might steal that role from Volz, but for that to happen, someone will have to decide whether they like him better in right field or out on the mound. I’ve been leaning toward making him a pitcher, especially with his command coming around as the spring wears on. Shaver Hansen’s game-breaking power at third will be intriguing, and the tools of Dustin Dickerson will see him taken at some point. Also, look for teams to try and nab Shawn Tolleson, Willie Kempf, and Craig Fritsch all on the cheap; all have good arms, but none of them are pitching like it this spring.
Best 2009 Draft Prospect: Ryan Jackson, .258/.363/.391, 22 BB, 20 K, 9 SB in 128 AB
Really, who else are you going with here? Jackson is somewhat like Beamer Weems from a year ago-anything he does offensively is gravy, because he’s a very smooth shortstop, and at least he’s hit before.
Others to Note: I still think Kyle Bellamy has the potential to be a big-league reliever, if only because his sidearming is so tough on right-handed hitters. Some team might prefer the seldom-used Taylor Wulf, who has a much better raw arm, but no history of putting it to use. I don’t like a single draft-eligible hitter on this team, but you’ll see Jason Hagerty and Dave DiNatale picked, nonetheless.
And to finish things off, here are the updated rankings:
Baseball Prospectus NCAA Top 25 on April 23, 2009
1. Rice 2. Texas 3. North Carolina 4. Louisiana State 5. UC Irvine 6. Cal State Fullerton 7. Georgia 8. Arizona State 9. Georgia Tech 10. Baylor 11. Miami 12. Arkansas 13. Oklahoma 14. Texas Christian 15. Cal Poly 16. Virginia 17. Ole Miss 18. Florida 19. Florida State 20. Alabama 21. Hawaii 22. Coastal Carolina 23. Oregon State 24. Texas A&M 25. Ohio State