There are two narrative roads diverging from the USA Baseball collegiate national team after the club’s first two games: Anthony Rendon, and everything else. The Rice third baseman, and the consensus top player in an obscenely deep draft class broke his ankle on Wednesday, ending his summer (and fall) in the national team’s first game against foreign competition. Rendon, the Baseball America Player of the Year, was coming off a spring where he hit .394/.530/.801, securing his place as college baseball’s most well-rounded offensive prospect since, at least, Alex Gordon.
This is the second injury to the same ankle for Rendon, who didn’t play summer baseball a year ago after tearing ligaments in Rice’s Super Regional. Aaron Fitt reported that Rice head coach Wayne Graham is hopeful that Rendon will be ready on Opening Day for the Owls next spring, but the rising junior has yet to even undergo surgery. Rendon looked bound for the same Hype Machine that touted Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper as Generational Talents, but now, unexpectedly, he’ll enter next spring with something to prove to scouts: his health. However, it’s unlikely that anyone will usurp Rendon at the top of the 2011 draft board before then.
Keith Law has rumored that Vanderbilt third baseman Jason Esposito, a projected first-rounder himself, could replace Rendon on the national team roster.
This all stands to overshadow the other story out of USA Baseball Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina: this team is really good. In two games against the Korean National team, the USA has thrown a no-hitter and a two-hitter, led by the arms of Vanderbilt ace Sonny Gray and Oregon reliever Scott McGough. This is surely a team that would be competitive with the 2008 team that went a perfect 24-0 thanks to a ridiculous pitching staff that featured Mike Minor, Stephen Strasburg, Mike Leake, Andy Oliver and Kyle Gibson as its five innings leaders.
There is no question that Gray and fellow staff ace Gerrit Cole have the talent to belong in that group, and that’s to say nothing of UConn’s Matt Barnes or TCU’s Kyle Winkler, two other arms that drew plenty of praise during team trials in early July. I’d also be remiss not to mention Florida State’s Sean Gilmartin, who wasn’t in my 2011 Draft Pitcher Preview in June, but came to Cary with more velocity (up to 92 mph, reportedly) than I’d previously heard. This is a pitching staff that will make the offense’s transition to wooden bats an easy one.
On that side of this year’s team is a four-man outfield of potential 2011 first rounders: Jackie Bradley Jr. (South Carolina), Alex Dickerson (Indiana), Mikie Mahtook (LSU), George Springer (UConn). I wrote about all these players a couple weeks ago, but since then, it seems all except Mahtook have taken a substantial step forward. Bradley Jr. was a revelation during the College World Series, leading the Gamecocks to a national championship, and winning Tournament MVP along with innumerable plaudits from scouts. Dickerson and Springer spent some time in the Cape Cod League before USA trials started, and both were fantastic with wooden bats. Dickerson erased concerns that his big spring (.419/.472/.805) was because of a light schedule, and Springer continues to be the athletic Three True Outcome star of his class, a spot that helped Michael Choice get drafted in the top 10 this year.
The nation’s best players that don’t make the National team roster — or decline the opportunity to try out — are usually found in the Cape Cod League. That summer season has almost reached its halfway mark, and the All-Star Game is just 12 days away. Pitching has dominated as usual, with more than a few pitchers rising up draft boards: Jed Bradley (Georgia Tech), Tony Zych (Louisville), Michael Palazzone (Georgia), and Grayson Garvin (Vanderbilt), to name a few.
One pitcher, Anthony Ranaudo, isn’t worried about his draft status, but instead of convincing the Boston Red Sox that he’s worthy of top 10 money. Ranaudo entered this spring as a potential #1 pick for the June draft, but after a spring of injuries and ineffectiveness, dropped to Boston at 39th overall. Ranaudo’s bonus demands haven’t wavered, however, even with a 2011 draft class that threatens to impact his leverage. Choosing to prove his worth on the Cape, Ranaudo has been nothing short of brilliant: 29.2 innings over five starts without an earned run, with just 10 hits and eight walks allowed. Jim Callis has been adamant in his belief that Ranaudo will sign, and with each start, his demands look seemingly less unreasonable.
Finding offensive standouts is difficult, particularly now that Dickerson and Spinger have left the league. The most impressive performance is probably Hawaii’s Kolten Wong, hitting .333/.423/.438, and showing all five tools at times. In a small sample, Arizona State second baseman Zack MacPhee has been brilliant, reaching base at a .469 clip. The other standouts will be revealed in the coming weeks, but the list is certainly shorter than the pitchers.
While the injury to Rendon threatens to put a dark cloud over the summer news from the college baseball beat, he should be fine, and his draft class’ status among amateur scouts across the nation is only growing stronger.