10 Future MLB Stars to Watch at the College World Series
One of my favorite times of the year has always been the College World Series. It’s a time when some of the top programs and players in the country are accessible to all baseball fans due to the tournament’s coverage on national television.
Even though some of the top teams—such as Stanford and Louisiana State—were unable to reach the biggest stage in college baseball this season, and Stony Brook—everyone’s favorite Cinderella story—had an unexpected short stay, there are still plenty of promising teams and players to follow in the upcoming weeks.
So, considering I’m still in the spirit of the MLB draft, here is a look at 10 players currently playing in the College World Series who have the potential to be future standouts in the major leagues.
James Ramsey, OF, Florida State
Height/Weight: 6'0”/195 lbs
College: Florida State
Drafted: 1st round (St. Louis Cardinals)
2012 Stats: .382/.518/667, 32 XBH (13 HR), 58 RBI, 11 SB, 42 K/62 BB (65 G)
Despite the fact he isn’t an physically imposing player in the batter's box , Ramsey possesses above-average raw power to all fields thanks to a compact left-handed swing, raw bat speed, and a direct bat path. His patient approach at the plate allows him to hit for both average and power and, in general, makes him a constant on-base threat.
Ramsey's above-average speed and range should allow him to remain in center field, as he also gets great jumps thanks to an instinctual first step. He has slightly above-average arm strength and delivers strong, accurate throws with excellent carry, which makes him capable of playing all three outfield positions.
As you may have seen on the College World Series pregame shows, Ramsey receives outstanding grades for his overall makeup, as he’s the first player in 33 years to be officially named the captain of the Seminoles baseball team. He has both the character and tools to move quickly through the Cardinals' system, and it's conceivable that he reaches the big leagues by 2014.
Mike Zunino, C, Florida
Height/Weight: 6’2”/220 lbs
Drafted: 1st round (Seattle Mariners)
2012 Stats: .320/.390/.672, 47 XBH (19 HR), 65 RBI, 9 SB, 47 K/30 BB (65 G)
Mike Zunino is a offense-oriented catcher who has skill set on both sides of the ball to remain at the position. Although he’s only an average receiver, he continues to make strides in his blocking and should continue to do so as he develops.
Zunino noticeably has room to improve in his game-calling abilities, but he's done a respectable job overall handling the Florida Gators' immensely talented pitching staff. Still, as I noted in his original draft scouting report, he struggles to consistently throw out baserunners due to slightly below-average arm strength, slow transfer and release.
A right-handed hitter, Zunino is a natural hitter who crushes the ball to all fields due to excellent extension after contact. While his swing has a tendency to get a bit long at times, it’s something that will be an easy fix with a big-league hitting coach. His hit tool was one the most draftable in the entire class and should also allow him to play any corner infield position in the major leagues.
Considering his experience as a college player, Zunino may not take too long to reach the major leagues. He'll need some extra seasoning defensively to improve his game-calling and catch-and-throw skills, but his bat shows enough promise to make up for any defensive shortcomings.
Jeff Gelalich, OF, UCLA
Height/Weight: 6’1”/195 lbs
Drafted: 1st round, supplemental (Cincinnati Reds)
2012 Stats: .357/.451/.544, 22 XBH (11 HR), 48 RBI, 16 SB, 42 K/34 BB (63 G)
For several years, Gelalich was the type of toolsy prospect that displayed significant upside but lacked all-around consistency in his game. A left-handed hitter, he employs a compact, low-to-the-ground setup and opts not to use a stride. Therefore, he has some loft in his swing, and, as a result, a chance to hit for above-average power at the next level.
He’s always possessed respectable plate discipline, but this season he demonstrated an even more mature approach that aided the projection of both his power and hit tool.
As an outfielder, Gelalich’s above-average speed is enough to handle either center or right field, although his above-average arm appears best suited for the latter. Given his power potential, however, he may ultimately be more valuable if he can handle center field.
Karsten Whitson, RHP, Florida
Height/Weight: 6’4”/215 lbs
2012 Stats: 4-0, 33.3 IP, 3.51 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, .285 BAA, 20 K/18 BB (14 G; 10 GS)
In 2010, the San Diego Padres selected Whitson with the ninth overall pick in the MLB’s first-year player draft and, surprisingly, he turned down a $2.1 million offer to attend Florida.
A year later, it seemed like Whitson had made the right decision, as he turned in an outstanding freshman season, going 8-1 with a 2.40 ERA and making 19 starts. His success in 2011 made it seem as though Whitson was bound for greatness in 2012. However, that was not the case.
In the fall, the right-hander suffered a groin injury that impeded his ability on the mound through the spring, and due to the subsequent change in his workout routine and preparation, he also battled arm fatigue. Both injuries ultimately limited his playing time, as he struggled to find consistency all season.
Still, Whitson possesses the potential and arsenal to be a front-of-the-rotation starter with a fastball that comfortably sits in the 92-97 mph range and explodes out of his hand. His other above-average offering is a low to mid-80s slider that generates late, two-plane break and has the makings of a legitimate out pitch. Rounding out the right-hander’s rotation is an 81-85 mph changeup that is currently an undeveloped offering but could be an average pitch by the time he reaches the major leagues.
Whitson will have some big shoes to fill as the Florida ace after the departure of Hudson Randall (fourth round, Tigers) and Brian Johnson (first round, Red Sox).
Ryne Stanek, RHP, Arkansas
Height/Weight: 6’4”/180 lbs
2012 Stats: 7-4, 86.7 IP, 2.91 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, .235 BAA, 80 K/33 BB (16 GS)
A redshirt sophomore in 2012 who missed the MLB draft deadline by one week, Ryne Stanek will be one of the top pitchers off the board in the 2013 draft.
Coming out of high school in 2010, the right-hander was selected in the third round of the draft by the Seattle Mariners after a senior season in which his fastball reached 96 mph. However, he turned down the Mariners’ offer and opted to attend Arkansas instead.
Last summer, Stanek received extensive exposure pitching for both Team USA and the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod League. However, he nearly assured his status as a 2013 first-round pick in March when he turned in a masterful outing (one earned run on six hits with 10 strikeouts) against UCLA and their highly touted 2013 draft prospect Ryan Eades.
From a high three-quarters arm angle, Stanek’s fastball works in the 91-97 mph range with late run due to his loose arm and slight across-the-body delivery. He spots the pitch on both sides of the plate and has proven to be difficult to square up.
As for his off-speed pitches, the right-hander features a curveball in the 77-84 mph range, and it tends to be a bit slurvy when he throws it too hard. Stanek also mixes in a changeup, which, given his arm angle and the explosiveness of his fastball, has the makings of a plus pitch.
Adam Plutko, RHP, UCLA
Height/Weight: 6’3”/195 lbs
2012 Stats: 12-3, 119.7 IP, 2.48 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, .215 BAA, 99 K/47 BB (18 GS)
Despite not having the elite velocity of previous UCLA stars Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, Plutko has emerged as one of the premier collegiate arms in the country, two years after he was selected in the sixth round of the 2010 draft by the Houston Astros.
The right-hander is an absolute work horse capable of going deep into games and stifling opposing offenses. Using a high arm angle and torque-like delivery, Plutko will run his fastball anywhere from 88-92 mph, spotting it with ease on both sides of the plate.
Plutko is kind of a rarity in that he pitches almost exclusively off his fastball, at times drawing comparisons to Los Angeles Angels ace Jered Weaver due to his strikeout rates and penchant for getting fly-ball outs.
While neither are spectacular pitches, Plutko’s ability to locate his fastball with pinpoint command makes his slider and changeup play up a grade. Most importantly, they keep opposing hitters off balance and guessing in favorable counts.
Christian Walker, 1B, South Carolina
Height/Weight: 6’1”/225 lbs
College: South Carolina
Drafted: 4th round (Baltimore Orioles)
2012 Stats: .318/.442/.534, 24 XBH (11 HR), 54 RBI, 23 K/44 BB (61 G)
One of the more well-rounded hitters in all of college baseball, Walker is at a clear disadvantage due to his status as a right-handed hitting first baseman. Physically strong at 6’1”, 225 lbs, it’s doubtful that Walker’s power will improve in the minor leagues, as many scouts believe he’s already reached his offensive ceiling. If anything, it's likely that his hit tool will always receive a higher grade than their power.
Walker’s thrived over the last three seasons at South Carolina due to his excellent plate discipline, which has furthered his ability to exploit inexperienced pitching. Even though he may post above-average on-base rates as a professional, Walker will inevitably be challenged against more advanced pitching.
Kurt Heyer, RHP, Arizona
Height/Weight: 6’2”/211 lbs
Drafted: 7th round (St. Louis Cardinals)
2012 Stats: 12-2, 145.7 IP, 2.22 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, .254 BAA, 110 K/25 BB (18 GS)
Kurt Heyer may not have the sexiest mechanics or arsenal, but there’s something to be said for a pitcher who consistently goes out and takes care of business as he does.
Using a deceptive low to mid-three quarters arm angle, Heyer’s fastball works in the low to mid-90s with good arm-side run and sink. His slider has decent tilt and projects as a 60 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale. His third offering, a changeup, lags behind the slider, but it still has a chance at a solid average grading.
Heyer’s command and ability to keep the ball on the ground are terrific, and his body projects well at 6’2” and 211 lbs. Given his arm slot and a strong lower half, there are no obvious red flags in his delivery and his success should continue at the next level.
Nolan Sanburn, RHP, Arkansas
Height/Weight: 6’1”/205 lbs
Drafted: 2nd round (Oakland Athletics)
2012 Stats: 4-1, 39.1 IP, 2.52 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 0.197 BAA, 47 K/22 BB (21 G; 4 GS)
Sanburn put himself on the map as a potential first-rounder with a top-notch performance in the Northwoods League last summer, where he garnered No. 1 prospect honors.
His plus fastball is his best pitch, as it sits at 92-96 mph and has even scraped as high as 98. He’s aggressive with his placement of the pitch, working both sides of the plate, and generates a mixture of swing-and-misses and weak contact.
Sanburn's breaking ball is the downer type and he throws it with similar arm speed to his fastball. Still, the right-hander lacks an overall feel for the pitch. He also incorporates a changeup and the occasional slide piece into his arsenal, though neither flash the plus potential of his curve.
The right-hander has a muscular upper body and clean, repeatable mechanics that have allowed him to consistently improve his command over his college career. Thus far, Sanburn has primarily served as a late-inning reliever and closer for the Razorbacks, although he also has both the stuff and durability to be a starter—something he's done four times this season for the Razorbacks.
Given the right-hander’s lack of experience and occasional command issues, Sanburn could benefit from extra seasoning in the minor leagues. With that being said, Sanburn could still make his debut by late 2013.
Matt Reynolds, 3B, Arkansas
Height/Weight: 6’1”/205 lbs
Drafted: 2nd round (New York Mets)
2012 Stats: .333/.440/.516, 27 XBH (7 HR), 43 RBI, 15 SB, 28 K/40 BB (64 G)
Matt Reynolds began his career as the everyday shortstop before a thumb injury shortened his freshman season. Since then, he has played primarily third base for both the Razorbacks and the USA Collegiate National Team during the summer.
Reynolds is a rare breed of player in that he’s capable of playing nearly every position on the field, although his offensive skills profile best at either middle infield position. With an approach and swing that generate line drives all over the field, he has a quick bat and above-average pitch recognition ability. However, his swing is short and lacks lift, so unless there’s a significant change, it’s likely that he’ll hit for only below-average power.
However, he’s smooth on defense with the soft hands, foot work and first step to handle either shortstop or second base, and he possesses a strong enough arm to play any infield position. His bat will ultimately determine which position he sticks at as a professional, but there’s always the chance that he becomes an above-average utility infielder.