Omaha Eye-Openers: 2012 MLB Draft Prospects at the 2011 College World Series
Mike Zunino's appealing package of power, hitting ability and superior defensive ability should make him one of the first catchers off the board in 2012.
The final round of eight of the College World Series kicked off this weekend, and boy were we treating to some excellent games. The second-day nightcap that pitted last year's champion South Carolina against Texas A&M was especially exciting.
And while all but one of the teams will end up going home without the hardware, a few of the members of their teams will likely one day be going into professional ball, with a million-dollar bonus.
But I'm not talking about the guys who were drafted a few weeks ago, the Danny Hultzens, Taylor Jungmanns and Sonny Grays of the world. I'm talking about the sophomores, who will rise to junior status next year and play a major role in the 2012 draft.
Here's who has some helium for the 2012 MLB draft, broken down by team, starting with the nation's No. 1 overall seed, the Virginia Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers should take a hit next year after losing Danny Hultzen and Tyler Wilson, but they should be bolstered by the addition of RHP Branden Kline to the rotation.
Kline, a 2009 sixth-round draft pick by the Red Sox, has pitched the last two years out of the bullpen, saving a combined 20 games. This year he has posted a 49:18 K:BB ratio and a 2.15 ERA in 30 contests.
Kline has good size (6'3", 190) and is a former Louisville Slugger Maryland State Player of the Year. He throws in the low-to-mid 90s and complements his fastball with a curveball and a slider. He has already proven himself as a reliever, and with the Hultzen and Wilson departing, along with Will Roberts and Cody Winiarski, Kline might finally get his shot as a starter.
If he can have a strong year, he could boost his stock greatly.
INF Chris Taylor hasn't gotten the opportunity to play too much, but he showed his clutch nature in the Cavs' super-regional finale against UC-Irvine. He was also a Virginia State Player of the Year during his senior year of high school.
INF/C Rob Amaro got very little time on the field this season, but could next year. He was a 40th-round pick of the Phillies back in 2009, mostly because of his relation to his uncle, Ruben Amaro, the Phillies GM. He could really benefit from seeing some time behind the plate.
INF Stephen Bruno saw very little time this year after a breakout freshman season that saw him hit .388 in 36 games. A native of New Jersey, Bruno is a baseball rat, who can do a little of everything on the field.
He is somewhat limited by his size (5'9", 165), but he was already drafted once by New York back in the 26th round of the '09 draft.
Another interesting player should be LHP Aaron Stull, who logged only two innings on the mound this season. He has prototypical pitcher's size (6'6", 185) and is a former record-setting QB at Croatan HS, where he also won Jacksonville (NC) Daily News Player of the Year honors.
The Gators are loaded with talent, and next year will be no different. Yes, they’ll lose Preston Tucker and Alex Panteliodis, but their star-studded roster will be led by their top draft prospect for 2012, LHP Brian Johnson.
Johnson had a great season, posting a 3.66 ERA and a 70:15 K:BB ratio in 15 starts before an errant Mike Zunino throw plunked him in the head and sidelined him with a concussion (see above). He has yet to make an appearance in the NCAA tournament but is scheduled to return sometime during the CWS.
Johnson had a fantastic freshman campaign as well, making 14 starts and picking up six victories. He also made an impact at the plate, hitting .405 in 84 at-bats, bashing four home runs and driving in 21 runs.
Like most of the players on the UF roster, Johnson was already drafted once, back in the 27th round of the 2009 draft by the Dodgers. He spurned that offer to come to UF, where he has continued to grow into his 6'3", 225 pound frame and develop his stuff.
Johnson has been excellent at keeping his low 90s fastball down but in the zone during his time with the Gators. He has shown a great curveball that got better as the 2011 season wore on.
After Johnson, it’s a who’s who of talent.
There’s athletic 3B Nolan Fontana, the team’s first-ever Rawlings Gold Glove winner. Fontana was one of the Gators' most consistent hitters during this past season, despite finishing sixth on the team with a .301 average.
He rapped 12 doubles, legged out five triples and slugged five home runs. He also drove in 47 runs, good for third on the squad. He also played sterling defense again, making only 10 errors in 66 games.
There’s also C/INF Austin Maddox, who exploded onto the scene as a freshman, hitting .333 with 17 home runs and 72 RBI in 2010. Maddox turned down a 37th-round offer from the Rays to attend UF, and despite suffering through a tough season (.280, 6 HR, 35 RBI) should be one of the top corner infielders available in 2012.
C Mike Zunino, the reigning SEC Hitter of the Year, should also get some love after a season that saw him pace the Gators with a .376 average and 18 home runs. He finished second on the squad with 66 RBI.
Behind the plate, he was excellent, making only two errors, good for a fielding percentage of .996. He was so good in fact that he forced freshman sensation Austin Maddox off of the position. Zunino was a former 30th-round pick back in 2009.
Last but not least is this year’s ace, RHP Hudson Randall. Randall was an all-everybody freshman last year, winning eight games and posting a 3.24 ERA. This year he stepped it up a notch, winning 10 games and posting a minuscule 2.29 ERA.
He is not, and never will be, a big strikeout guy (only 62 K in 110 IP), but he’s also got great control (12 BB). He’s also durable as a horse, as he proved consistently this season. Pitching on Friday nights in the SEC takes a certain kind of pitcher, and Randall proved himself worthy this year.
Beyond the big five (Johnson/Fontana/Maddox/Zunino/Randall) the Gators might also have a couple of guys coming back, assuming they don’t sign, including 1B Preston Tucker (16th round), LHP Nick Maronde (third), RHP Anthony DeSclafani (sixth) and LHP Alex Panteliodis (ninth).
The Longhorns produce more big leaguers than almost any other NCAA program, and next year will be no different. While there won’t be any players of Taylor Jungmann’s caliber, there will be a decent group of veterans led by RHP Hoby Milner.
Milner was one of the Longhorn’s hardest working players this season, making nine starts and 21 relief appearances. He finished third on the team with seven victories and notched an impressive 2.53 ERA and struck out 60 in 81.2 innings.
His first appearance this season came in the form of an early season start in which he struck out 10 in eight innings, while his most recent outing came in the form of 1.1 scoreless innings of relief in a regional-clinching victory over Kent State.
Milner also excelled out of the bullpen in 2010, posting an ERA under 2.00 and about one strikeout per inning. The scrawny (6'2", 165) left-hander was drafted back in 2009 by the Nationals in the 44th round.
Milner seems like a good bet to move into the rotation full-time in 2012, although his professional future will likely be pitching out of the bullpen unless he puts on some more bulk.
Sophomore RHP Josh Urban is another solid bet to end up getting drafted, most likely earlier than his 19th-round selection by Pittsburgh back in 2009. He only made 13 appearances this season but was solid, striking out 23 batters in 17 innings, while posting a 2.65 ERA.
He too figures to get some more time on the mound as a good chunk of the Longhorns bullpen was drafted this season.
Urban has more prototypical size at 6'4" and 215 pounds and seems like a better bet to make the jump to starting.
OF Cohl Walla was supposed to be a breakout star this year, but instead, he finished the season very poorly, with a .231 average, zero home runs and only 18 RBI in 49 games. He struck out way too much (40 K in 143 ABs) and stole only three bases all season.
Last year he showed much more potential, hitting .316 with 12 doubles, eight homers, 41 RBI and 14 steals.
Walla is very athletic and will no doubt go higher than his 43rd-round selection back in ’09, but if he doesn’t have a strong bounce-back season in 2012, he won’t have much of a future as anything other than an organizational player.
With rising sophomore Jacob Felts likely to stick behind the plate, it’s going to be tough for INF Jonathan Walsh to find regular playing time, likely limiting his exposure, but he has a strong, powerful swing and some impressive raw power. He could be an interesting prospect that gets a late look.
No team in the CWS field will lose as much talent as Vandy, who will likely see Sonny Gray, Grayson Garvin, Taylor Hill, Aaron Westlake, Jason Esposito, Jack Armstrong and Navery Moore. In all, the Commodores had an SEC record 12 players drafted.
Still, they’ll have some talent prepped for next year’s draft. First, there’s any player who doesn’t sign this year, with Armstrong the most likely. With a strong season, he could be top three or four rounds talent.
Of the players who will become draft-eligible next year, OF Connor Harrell leads the way. An incredible athlete that has a ton of raw power, Harrell got he chance to play regularly in 2011 and responded well, hitting seven home runs in 60 games.
He struck out a good amount (43 in 185 ABs) but also showed great instincts on the basepaths, swiping seven bases in the same number of tries.
Harrell made headlines last year with his 10th-inning suicide squeeze bunt that drove in the game-winning run in Vandy’s regional victory over Louisville. With Joe Loftus and Aaron Westlake moving on, the Commodores will have to find a way to get Harrell’s bat into the lineup.
Speedy OF Mike Yastrzemski will likely be a day-one pick and should be a major catalyst for Vandy next year. He had a breakout season this year, hitting an even .300 with 42 RBI and 22 steals.
He also showed an incredible eye at the plate, notching seven more walks (43) than strikeouts (36). He should easily eclipse all of those numbers next year as he continues to grow and mature.
And yes, he is related to Carl Yastrzemski. Mike is his nephew.
SS Anthony Gomez fought off Jason Esposito and clinched his spot as the team’s starting shortstop for next year with a very strong season at the plate. He finished fifth on the squad with a .343 average and fourth with 45 RBI.
He doesn’t have much power in his bat (two career HR), and he rarely walks (eight BB in 62 games), but he also doesn’t strikeout too often, racking up only 13 K's all season.
On defense, Gomez struggled, committing 19 errors, despite the fact that he was throwing to one of the best defensive first baseman in the SEC. Even so, with his strong arm and good range, he should be one of the first college shortstops off the board.
California Golden Bears
Virginia’s CWS opponent, California has had an exhausting, exhilarating ride of a season. They began the season under the assumption that this season would be the last for the program, which was being axed for budget reasons.
Somehow they managed to get off to a great start, using their “elimination” as motivation. Near the mid-way point of the season it was announced that former players and alumni had raised enough money to keep the program going.
And the players aren’t the only ones who are glad. Scouts for next year’s draft won’t have to travel all over the place looking for guys who used to play for Cal, putting a huge smile on their face.
Speaking of smiles, if you’re looking for a good one, check out the video to the side.
Cal’s top draft prospect for 2012 is 2B Tony Renda, the 2011 Pac-10 Player of the Year. Renda had a sensational season for the Bears, taking on the role of team leader, despite having sophomore status.
He paced the squad with a .335 average, 85 hits, 112 total bases and nine steals. He also scored 37 runs and drove in 42. He was also an integral part of one of the best defensive units in the Pac-10. Renda made nine errors, good for a .967 fielding percentage.
Renda isn’t likely to be a first-round guy, but he should most certainly improve upon his standing from the 2009 draft, when he was selected by the Dodgers in the 42nd round. Renda spurned their offer to head to Cal, where he made an immediate impact as a freshman, winning Pac-10 First-Team honors after hitting .373 with 21 doubles, four triples, three HR and 37 RBI. He also swiped 13 bases.
After Renda, the next top guy is floppy-haired LHP Justin Jones. Jones will be searching for his 10th victory of the season in the CWS, and if he gets it, he would have posted back-to-back 10-win campaigns.
As a freshman, Jones made an immediate impact, going 10-6 with a 4.22 ERA in 18 games (15 starts). He tossed two complete games and joined Renda on the Freshman All-American Team.
This season, Jones stepped up his game, posting a 2.93 ERA, tossing three complete-games, and finishing first on the team with 119.2 innings. He also led the Bears with four pickoffs.
The scouting report on Jones isn’t anything special, but he controls his high 80s fastball very well. His curveball and changeup both have slightly above-average potential. That was enough to get him tabbed in the seventh round out of high school by the White Sox.
With both Dixon Anderson and Erik Johnson moving on after this season, the role of staff ace will fall to Jones next year, and with a strong campaign, he could force his way into sandwich-round discussions.
RHP Logan Scott is another intriguing option. After making only three appearances as a freshman, Scott was utilized often this season, making 23 appearances, including one start.
He finished with a 2.89 ERA and 29:9 K:BB ratio in 43.2 innings. Despite having ideal size (6'4", 216 lbs) Scott doesn’t have premium stuff (mid-to-high 80s fastball), but he does have two average offerings in a changeup and a curveball.
1B Devon Rodriguez might get a call late on draft day. He has posted .288 and .289 averages over the past two years and only has a combined eight home runs, but he does have some raw power in his bat, and his defense is slightly above-average. He made only four errors this season in 532 chances.
OF Vince Bruno has some good speed and showed a great approach at the plate (18 BB, 18 K) in his first season after transferring from Los Medanos JC.
Texas A&M Aggies
It might seem like A&M is the biggest surprise team, aside from maybe Cal, to make it into the final field of eight, but when you take into account the fact that they have arguably the top 2012 draft prospect in RHP Michael Wacha, it doesn’t seem that odd after all.
What’s even harder to comprehend is how major league teams could have missed on Wacha when he was coming out of high school. He went undrafted, despite having an ideal frame (6'6", 180 lbs) and great athleticism (three-year letter-winner in basketball).
It’s not likely that teams will miss on him in 2012, when he’s projected to be a first-round pick and potentially a top-10 selection.
After a breakout freshman campaign that saw him go 9-2 with a 2.90 ERA and a 97:22 K:BB ratio, Wacha got even better this season. He posted one fewer victory, but lowered his ERA to a ridiculous 2.10.
He tossed two complete games among his 17 starts and posted a K:BB ratio of 110:23 in 115.2 innings.
Wacha sits comfortably in the low 90s, touching 94-95 mph occasionally and complementing his fastball with a mid 80s slider and a low 80s changeup. He also throws a curveball, but he mostly scrapped the pitch this season to focus on his slider.
Without a doubt, the Aggies top offensive player this season was OF Tyler Naquin, who could be a very interesting prospect on draft day next year. Naquin was a 33rd-round pick of Baltimore’s back in ’09, but honored his commitment to A&M, where he blossomed into one of the best hitters in the Big-12 this season.
In 65 games, he hit .390 with a team-leading 23 doubles, seven triples and 65 runs. He also hit two home runs, drove in 44 runs, posted a 29:33 BB:K ratio and swiped six bases.
But Naquin didn’t just contribute at the plate. He utilized his cannon arm in the outfield to rack up seven OF assists.
RHP Kyle Martin was one of the Aggies’ most effective relievers this season, helping to fill the huge hole left by John Stilson who moved into the rotation. Martin finished with a 3.60 ERA in 30 appearances and notched 37 strikeouts in 40 innings.
He also picked up one save and served up only one home run the entire season. Martin was a 39th-round pick of the Washington Nationals back in 2009.
OF Brandon Wood had a tough year with the new bats, hitting only .259 with one home run. Given another year, the talented athlete who played football for three years in high school, should adjust and become a late-round talent.
LHP Dylan Mendoza lacks the size (5'10", 175 lbs), but he should be given a chance to win a spot in the rotation next year, which should increase his exposure, giving him a chance to earn a spot somewhere in the draft.
North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels have been one of the few teams to march through the regional and super-regional rounds, despite the lack of a truly elite draft prospect, either for this year or next. SS Levi Michael was a first-round pick, but most of the other Tar Heels that were drafted aren’t expected to have very bright pro futures.
The same can be said of their 2012 draft crop, which will be led by 2B/SS Tommy Coyle. Coyle is the older brother of Sean Coyle, who was drafted by the Red Sox in the third round of the 2010 draft, and while he is arguably one of UNC’s top position players, he isn’t likely to break into that three-rounds territory.
Coyle had a stellar sophomore campaign, hitting .318, second on the team, with 36 RBI, a 38:22 BB:K ratio and 18 steals. He led the Tar Heels with 83 base hits. On defense, he was solid, posting a .963 fielding percentage while splitting time at second base and shortstop.
RHP Cody Stiles should be a mid-round target for some teams. He was selected by the Yankees in the 39th round back in 2009, but spurned their offer to join the Tar Heels in the hopes that he would someday squeeze his way into the rotation.
He made eight starts this season, in addition to four relief appearances and pitched very well, posting a 4-0 record, a 2.43 ERA and a 29:13 K:BB ratio in 37 innings. With the departure of Patrick Johnson, it looks like Stiles might get that chance.
While he is definitely undersized (5'10", 160 lbs), OF Chaz Frank might get some attention if he can put together a better season that he did this year.
He hit .278 and finished tied for the team lead with three triples. Like most Tar Heels, he too posted more walks (41) than strikeouts (31) and also showed good speed on the basepaths, swiping 10 bases in 13 tries.
Expect UNC’s closer RHP Michael Morin to get some looks as well. He hasn’t had the best year (4.71 ERA, .263 avg against), but he has locked down 10 saves for the Tar Heels. He has also posted a 65:18 K:BB ratio in 63 innings.
He also shared duties as a weekday starter for UNC, making six starts, leading many to think he could be in line for an expanded role next season. Morin has great size (6'4", 180 lbs) and was already drafted once, by the Royals in the 40th round of the ’09 event.
RHP Chris Munnelly was the Tar Heels third starter this season and he filled the role admirably, winning six games and posting a 4.11 ERA. You could tell he didn’t have near the experience on the mound or the composure of Patrick Johnson or Kent Emanuel, as evidenced by his 57:31 K:BB ratio in 70 innings.
Coming out of high school Munnelly was ranked the No. 5 prospect in the state of North Carolina by Impact Baseball. He throws in the mid-to-high 80s, occasionally scraping the low 90s and complements his fastball with a changeup and a curveball.
LHP R.C. Orlan served as the Tar Heels lefty specialist this year, appearing in 30 games but logging only 14.1 innings. He struck out 19 batters but also issued 10 walks, plunked two batters and threw two wild pitches.
As a lefty specialist, he likely won’t get many looks, but if the Heels expand his role, he could do better than his 44th-round selection back in ’09.
And last but not least is a very intriguing arm that hasn’t seen too much work, RHP Cody Penny. Penny was up to 89-90 mph his senior year of high school but has only seen 25 innings as a Tar Heel. The 6'3", 195-pound right-hander also throws a wicked slider.
South Carolina Gamecocks
The Gamecocks have reached the CWS for the second consecutive year and appear to be one of the favorites to win a back-to-back championship. Thanks to their stellar recruiting class of 2009, it seems like they’ll be a good bet to come back next year too.
The South Carolina 2012 draft class kicks off with 1B/3B Christian Walker.
After a stellar freshman campaign that saw him earn Freshman First-Team honors from Baseball America, Walker took up the offensive burden left when Jackie Bradley Jr. started the season terribly and then was lost with an injury for most of the season.
Walker had an incredible offensive year, leading the Gamecocks with a .359 average, 60 runs, 18 doubles, ten home runs, 60 RBI and a .560 slugging percentage.
He turned up his play in the super-regionals, scoring three runs, driving in two, bashing one home run and playing stellar defense en route to a two-game sweep of UConn.
Walker came to South Carolina after a sterling high school career that culminated in a No. 1 individual ranking in the state of Pennsylvania his senior season and a 49th-round selection in the ’09 draft. He also won the ’09 International Power Showcase Home Run Derby.
In addition to his light-tower power, he is also an incredible athlete. In addition to third base, he also played first and catcher in high-school. He was clocked in the low 80s off the mound at a few Perfect Game showcases and he has good enough range to handle either first or third as a pro.
After Walker, there is a significant drop-off in talent, but one of the guys who will be the most intriguing to keep an eye on is 6'7", 270-pound LHP Adam Westmoreland.
Westmoreland was South Carolina’s Mr. Baseball back in 2008 and was drafted by the Dodgers in the 35th-round that same year. After a solid freshman campaign, Westmoreland tore his elbow ligament in his pitching arm just before the 2010 season began.
He missed the entire season after having Tommy John surgery and was forced to redshirt.
He struggled when he finally did get back on the mound this season, posting a 5.77 ERA in 11 games, nine of which were starts. He pitched only 34.1 innings and had some issues with his command, posting a 26:18 K:BB ratio. He also hit three batters and issued two more wild pitches.
If the injury was good for anything, though, it forced Westmoreland to get in shape. After weighing in at nearly 300 pounds as a freshman, he’s reportedly down to about 265.
It still remains to be seen if he is going to fully recapture his low-to-mid 90s velocity that he had before the injury, and whether or not he’ll ever regain full control over his pitches, but it he can and puts together a fine 2012 campaign in the rotation, he could move up draft boards really quick.
OF Evan Marzilli exploded onto the scene as a freshman, hitting .385 in 91 at-bats. He came on strong as the season progressed and was named to the CWS All-Tournament Team after hitting .370 with seven runs scored in Omaha.
And he was the Gamecock’s best hitter throughout the NCAA tournament, hitting .417. And in USC’s two-game sweep of UCLA, Marzilli went 4-for-9 with an RBI.
Marzilli just about defines the term “spark-plug.” He was a central piece of USC’s SEC co-championship squad in 2011, hitting .299 with 12 doubles, two triples and 36 runs.
He also swiped six bases and played flawlessly in the field, posting a .975 fielding percentage, two points higher than the defensive-wizard Jackie Bradley Jr.
If one thing is going to keep Marzilli’s draft stock down, it’s going to be his propensity to strikeout. He whiffed 56 times this year, 19 more than the next closest Gamecock.
RHP Colby Holmes was the Gamecock’s Sunday starter this season, and he benefited from having one of the best defensive units in the country. He went 7-3 with a 3.78 ERA in 12 starts (17 total appearances) and posted a 70:20 K:BB ratio in 81 innings.
Holmes has strung together a couple of gutsy efforts in the regionals and figures to get at least one more start before the season is through.
Holmes throws in the low 90s and has always gotten rave reviews for his great command, but his breaking stuff isn’t all that impressive, as evidenced by the 12 home runs he surrendered this year. Holmes is also a former ’09 draft pick, in the 47th round by the Atlanta Braves.
RHP Patrick Sullivan doesn’t have premium stuff, but he got results this season in limited time on the mound. He kept his ERA to 1.35 in 20 innings, spanning 10 appearances. He struck out 21 batters and walked nine.