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Wait Til Next Year: 2011 Draft Preview – Hitters

The draft year has three seasons: (1) Summer, when college players play in leagues with good talent distributions and wooden bats and high school players showcase their talent at an event every weekend, (2) Fall, when prospects work semi-privately with their coaches to clean up the unpolished aspects of their game and (3) Spring, when a player puts the finishing touches on his resume before the draft. With the college season and high school year both about to close, the time for reflecting on the 2010 draft class has closed, and scouts across all 30 organizations are shifting their focus to the 2011 draft crop. It’s a group unanimously more favored than 2010, with a chance at becoming one of the most adored draft classes in history.

In the first in a series of 2011 Draft previews we’ll have around here (June, August, February, June), I’m going to look at how the college crop looks from a year out. We’ll update that with the summer breakouts in August, when we’ll be able to add the high school talent to our follow lists. I will start with the position players, with the insanely deep pitching class coming this afternoon.

Corner Infield

Best Player: Anthony Rendon, 3B, Rice, .394/.530/.801. I wanted to start with the likely 2011 #1 overall pick, who followed up the best freshman season in Rice history (.388/.461/.702), with probably the best offensive season the school has ever seen. A very good defender and good baserunner, Rendon does not have a discernible hole in his game. His 21.5 BB% is more reflective of the fear he strikes in opposing teams, and rightfully so. Rendon is worthy of Orioles fans to begin rooting against their team.

Middle Infield

Best Player: Levi Michael, IF, UNC, .346/.480/.575. Michael skipped his final season of high school to attend North Carolina a year earlier, but his polish is such that you wouldn’t guess he’s a year younger than his peers. Probably a second baseman in the end, Michael cut down his strikeout rate (12.1%) by nine percent, and upped his walk rate (15.7%) by seven perfect as a sophomore. Michael is a good base runner (20-for-22 this season), has power in his bat, and will stick in the middle infield.

Catcher

Best Player: Jett Bandy, C/3B, Arizona, .354/.444/.538. By far the thinnest position of the draft class, I don’t think there is a college catcher that will be drafted on the first day. However, Bandy has an invitation to play for USA Baseball this summer, and if the 6-foot-4 slugger proves that he can stick behind the plate, he has a chance. Bandy threw out 24-of-67 runners this year, while hitting 23 doubles and posting a 10.3 K%.

Outfield

Best Player: Jackie Bradley Jr., CF, South Carolina, .367/.468/.585. Those of you that follow Aaron Fitt on the college beat at Baseball America know his affinity for Bradley Jr., who is the best combination of tools and performance in this draft class. Bradley Jr. is a very smooth baseball player that has never been out of sorts in the SEC, and has just started to tap into his power potential. The Gamecocks were simply not the same when he was out of the lineup with a broken hand earlier this season.

After the jump, you get 950 more words, and a few dozen more players at each position to start thinking about.

Corner Infield

The rest of the top tier: The best first baseman in the class is USC’s Ricky Oropesa (.353/.434/.711), one of the first highly touted recruits to live up to the hype during Chad Kreuter’s tenure as coach. He’s got massive power … And right behind him is Preston Tucker (.345/.448/.576) from Florida, who has the prettier swing, improved his patience, but saw his home runs drop as a sophomore … In 2008, then-shortstop Harold Martinez (.298/.371/.605) was a projected top 10 pick before a terrible high school senior season that sent him to Miami. Martinez, now at third, has the prototypical power hitter profile: 21 home runs, 30 walks and 52 strikeouts for a 37.9 TTO% … Battling Martinez for all-ACC honors will be Georgia Tech’s Matt Skole (.335/.437/.682), who offers the same power as Martinez, but trades less athleticism for better contact skills.

Small School Sleeper: Kyle Gaedele, 3B, Valparaiso, .373/.429/.610. The most heralded player to ever make it to campus, Gaedele is a great athlete with a career 25-for-27 mark on the bases. A team might see him as a second baseman, where his gap power would profile better.

Follow List: Troy Channing, 1B/3B, St. Mary’s; Johnny Coy, 1B/3B, Wichita State; Dan Gamache, 3B, San Diego; Mark Ginther, 3B, Oklahoma State; Greg Hopkins, 3B, St. John’s; Matt Juengel, 3B, Texas A&M; Steven Proscia, 3B, Virginia; Nick Ramirez, 1B/LHP, Cal State Fullerton; Harold Riggins, 1B, NC State; Ronnie Shaban, 3B, Virginia Tech; Travis Shaw, 3B, Kent State; Matt Snyder, 1B, Ole Miss; Zach Wilson, 3B, Arizona State.

Middle Infield

The rest of the top tier: The most well-rounded player up the middle is Jason Esposito (.359/.453/.582), who really came into his own in year two under Tim Corbin at Vanderbilt. He’s now patient, with developing gap power and a threat on the bases (career 50-for-59). Maybe a third baseman in the end, but a five-tool one … Southern Miss star B.A. Vollmuth (.386/.490/.729), who Keith Law ranked as the ninth-best Cape Cod League prospect a year ago, is definitely a third baseman down the road, but he’s well-equipped. Vollmuth had a 39.6 TTO% this year, developing the patience he needed … Anytime the USA Baseball National Team brings you aboard for two seasons, you are a good prospect. Such is true with Clemson’s Brad Miller (.365/.469/.577), who has some funk to his game, but will stick at shortstop … I’d be remiss not to mention Carson Cistulli favorite Zack MacPhee (.394/.494/.697), who is a little second baseman with some speed (19 steals), patience (15.4 BB%) and more than enough pop (31 extra bases, nation-leading 14 triple).

Small School Sleeper: Dan Paolini, 2B, Siena, .369/.439/.816. The MAAC Player of the Year wouldn’t usually register on our radar, but the Park/Schedule Adjustment at CollegeSplits suggests his numbers weren’t too aided by an easy schedule, and his invitation to play summer ball with Chatham of the Cape Cod League suggests he’s a legitimate prospect. If he hits there, he won’t be a sleeper any longer.

Follow List: Taylor Featherston, SS, TCU; Casey McElroy, SS, San Diego; Taylor Motter, SS, Coastal Carolina; Austin Nola, SS, LSU; Joe Panik, SS/3B, St. John’s; Tyler Rahmatulla, 2B, UCLA; K.C. Serna, SS, Oregon; Adam Smith, SS, Texas A&M; Riccio Torrez, IF, Arizona State; Ryan Wright, SS/2B, Louisville; Kolten Wong, 2B/CF, Hawaii.

Catcher

Small School Sleeper: C.J. Cron, C/DH, Utah, .431/.487/.817. I know Utah doesn’t qualify as a small school, but it’s difficult to discern a top tier, and Cron is following his head coach Bill Kinneberg with the USA Baseball team this summer. That’s not to say it isn’t well-earned after his 20 home run season, but it will be his chance to prove his mettle against elite competition.

Smaller School Sleeper: Peter O’Brien, C, Bethune-Cookman, .386/.445/.748. The MEAC Conference MVP, I can’t give you a lot of background on O’Brien. He’s said to have a big arm, clubbed 20 home runs, and earned an invitation to the Cape Cod League for the summer. That’s good enough for me.

Follow List: Drew Fann, Vanderbilt; Zack Kometani, San Diego; Chadd Krist, Cal; Pratt Maynard, 3B/C, NC State; Tyler Ogle, Oklahoma; Jeremy Schaffer, Tulane; Jacob Stallings, UNC; Beau Taylor, Central Florida; Keith Werman, 2B/C, Virginia; Aaron Westlake, Vanderbilt.

Outfield

The rest of the top tier: While the best outfield prospect in the SEC, Bradley isn’t even among the two toolsiest. That honor belongs to either Georgia outfielder Zach Cone (.363/.403/.627, 13/13 SB), who I wrote about earlier this spring, or LSU outfielder Mikie Mahtook (.335/.433/.623, 22/32 SB), who many credit with propelling the Tigers to their national title a year ago. Scouts love both of them, but Cone isn’t patient enough, and Mahtook swings and misses too much right now. With huge junior years, they are potential top 10 selections … You can’t help but root for Connecticut outfielder George Springer (.337/.491/.658), who ranked seventh in Keith Law’s Cape Cod prospect rankings last summer. Springer followed it up with an amazing spring, where he went 33-for-35 in his steal attempts, hit 18 home runs, and walked SIXTY times. Throw in 70 strikeouts (ranking fourth in the nation), which will tell you his biggest weakness, and you have the draft’s Three True Outcomes star: 46.5%!

Small School Sleeper: Alex Dickerson, LF, Indiana, .419/.472/.805. There just simply doesn’t exist the possibility of putting up that batting line with Indiana’s tough non-conference schedule, and not be a prospect. Dickerson will decide between USA Baseball and the Cape this summer, and is in line to follow Josh Phegley’s path from Bloomington to the first few rounds of the draft.

Follow List: Willie Argo, Illinois; Jason Coats, TCU; Bobby Crocker, Cal Poly; Brian Humphries, Pepperdine; Nick Martini, Kansas State; James Ramsey, FSU; Jeremy Rathjen, Rice; Dusty Robinson, Fresno State; Johnny Ruettiger, ASU; Steve Selsky, Arizona.

So, who’d I miss?