The 2011 draft class has a lot of good hitters, including the likely top overall draft pick, but the depth of the pitching, and the number of college pitchers taken in the first round next year will be the talk of the spring. There are just an unbelievable number of players that have already achieved Division I success, and have the caliber of stuff that big league teams are looking for. Since we started with Rendon this morning, I want to hit the best off the bat in this piece, too.
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
Best Players: Gerrit Cole, UCLA, 2.92 FIP, 11.63 K/9, 4.17 BB/9. Taylor Jungmann, Texas, 3.79 FIP, 9.78 K/9, 3.20 BB/9.
While Cole is the best pitcher in this draft class, it would have been unfair to sink Jungmann into the article, as he’s a likely top ten overall pick next year, too. There was a great article detailing Jungmann’s arsenal at Prospect Insider this spring: 92-96 mph with the fastball (he’s touched 99 in the past), power 80 mph breaking ball, and a developing “screw-change”. He has the perfect pitcher’s build, and under Augie Garrido at Texas, the best experience that three years in college can buy.
However, the diamond of this class is Cole, which probably kills Yankees fans after he spurned the Bombers in the 2008 draft. Cole appeared to have a deal after New York took him in the first round, but he had a late change of heart, and wanted to experience college. UCLA head coach John Savage is also one of the renowned pitching instructors in the nation. Cole has made significant strides under Savage to get his fastball under command and to add a changeup to an arsenal good enough to succeed with two pitches. He’s regularly 95-97 mph, touches 99 often, and has shown occasionally plus movement in the past. His slider is inconsistently fantastic, and at 85-87 mph, it’s coming at a hitter hard.
Cole is the prohibitive favorite to be drafted second overall next June, especially considering that one last fall with Savage should tighten the screws on his entire arsenal.
Left-Handed Starting Pitcher
Best Player: Matt Purke, TCU, 3.37 FIP, 11.52 K/9, 2.55 BB/9.
The only draft-eligible sophomore in this series because of the lack of clarity about who exactly is eligible and who is not, but Purke’s eligibility has been understood since he spurned the Rangers last year. Purke has been better than anyone could have expected in his freshman season with the Horned Frogs, with his 2.55 walk rate really speaking to his polish. Purke is 91-94 mph with ease from the left side, and is capable of amping it up into the mid 90s. His power curveball is absolute death on left-handed hitters, as the guys at CollegeSplits tweeted last week: “0 HR, 15 K/9, insane 23/3 g/f out ratio vLH.” And with an improving change-up, Purke should be better suited to get his $6 million bonus demands than he was a year ago.
Best Player: John Stilson, Texas A&M, 2.53 FIP, 12.99 K/9, 2.62 BB/9. The 2.53 FIP doesn’t really do it justice, as Stilson had a 0.80 ERA in 79 innings with the Aggies, striking out 114 batters. A junior college transfer, Stilson went from pitching in the low-90s in junior college, to regularly throwing 97-99 mph in the Aggies bullpen. He has a knockout slider, and relentlessly attacks hitters. We didn’t see a reliever taken in the first round this year, but in 2011, we might see one taken in the top ten picks.
After the break: a whole lot more.
The rest of the top tier: I have to start with Vanderbilt ace Sonny Gray (3.28 FIP), who is just a tick behind Cole, Purke and Jungmann, mostly due to the bias about his slight build. But Gray is just as consistently 93-96, and his power curveball is more developed than either of the right-handers ranked ahead of him. Due to the 5-11 build and lack of a third pitch, though, some have Gray earmarked for the bullpen … No one will beat Kentucky’s Alex “Bubba” Meyer (4.28 FIP) in the size department, weighing in at 6-foot-9 and at least 220 pounds. But Meyer was a mess this season (7.06 ERA, 6.35 BB/9), an Anthony Ranaudo-like season. However, given his size and a fastball that touches 97 (better raw stuff than Ranaudo), it won’t take much to get him in the first round next year … I’ll just go ahead and quote Baseball America’s West Coast scout Dave Perkin, who filed the most recent scouting report on UCLA second fiddle Trevor Bauer: “He fires an explosive 92-94 fastball, adds an excellent 81-82 change, and sprinkles in a 76 curve now and then. Bauer’s best pitch is his 84 slider, already a plus big league pitch and a portion of his arsenal that is blatantly unfair to college hitters.” I can speak to the strength of his change-up after a televised start earlier this spring.
The best sinkerballers in the class are Baylor’s Logan Verrett (3.47 FIP) and UConn’s Matt Barnes (4.34), who have seen the troubles that a lot of groundballs do for your hit numbers: both have BABIP’s above .320. However, both are also athletic and have run their fastball up to 94 mph. Verrett, the better of the two, has command of three solid pitches … Baseball America ranked Jack Armstrong (4.88 FIP) as the best from his draft class in the Cape Cod League last year, but he failed to build on the momentum this spring. He’s got great size and a really good fastball, but the rest of his game needs harnessing … One of the stars of this spring has been Coastal Carolina ace Anthony Meo (4.17 FIP), who won 13 games for the Chanticleers on Friday nights. He’s blossomed quite a bit in two years, reportedly reaching 96 mph with his fastball this spring.
Small School Sleeper: Nick Tropeano, Stony Brook, 3.74 FIP, 9.57 K/9, 2.62 BB/9. THIS is how you follow up a good summer. Named the top prospect in the Atlantic Collegiate League by Baseball America, Tropeano followed it up with a brilliant spring for Stony Brook. Teams love his projectable 6-foot-4 frame, and he already has feel for a curveball and changeup.
Follow List: Austin Dicharry, Texas; Erik Johnson, Cal; Braden Kapteyn, Kentucky; Andrew Kittredge, Washington; Greg Larson, Florida; Cory Mazzoni, NC State; Tyler Pill, Cal State Fullerton; Mark Pope, Georgia Tech; Tommy Toledo, Florida; Kevin Vance, RHP, UConn; Scott Weismann, Clemson; Kyle Winkler, TCU; Tony Zych, Louisville.
The rest of the top tier: This tier is a little bereft of first-round talent at the moment, but the key is that there are all sorts of arms that could find their way there next year. The only person that I think is a lock is Virginia ace Danny Hultzen (3.89 FIP), who gave up two-way duty this year to focus on pitching. My preseason player of the year pick didn’t make me look too stupid, either, leading one of the nation’s top-ranked team to a lot of Friday victories. Hultzen pitches in the low 90s, is uber athletic, has a great breaking ball, and commands everything … Stanford’s Brett Mooneyham (3.82 FIP) is the left-handed version of Alex Meyer, as he walked 6.4 batters per nine innings this year, but is all of 6-foot-5 with low 90s velocity. Size like that is a big commodity … Georgia Tech will be looking for back-to-back years with first round hurlers, following up Deck McGuire this year with Jed Bradley in 2011. The 6-foot-4 southpaw is 92-94 mph, and was around the strike zone all season.
Small School Lefty: Ryan Carpenter, lhp, Gonzaga. 3.91 FIP, 7.91 K/9, 4.33 BB/9. The ‘Zags had a banner recruiting class in 2007 led by Carpenter, the biggest recruit to ever make it to campus. But the bad defenses and aluminum bats of college baseball haven’t been good to Carpenter, who at 6-foot-5, will make his living off the tilt and sink he gets from a 90-94 mph fastball. He gave up just two home runs this season, but with a .344 BABIP, his ERA went north to 5.67. Don’t be surprised if the summer circuit is friendlier to Carpenter.
Follow List: Bryce Bandilla, Arizona; Matt Crouse, Ole Miss; Grayson Garvin, Vanderbilt; Will Lamb, Clemson; Andrew Leenhouts, Northeastern; Charlie Lowell, Wichita State; Nick Maronde, Florida; Scott Snodgrass, Stanford; Sam Stafford, Texas; Taylor Wall, Rice; Adam Westmoreland, South Carolina.
I won’t dare post a follow list in this section, because I have a lot of names, and it’s hard to discern who some teams might like, and others not so much. I know the collective opinion of Clemson reliever Kevin Brady has been rising of late, throwing 94 mph with consistency, and a solid curveball. He will likely be Clemson’s closer next year … Oregon may have had the best bullpen in the nation this year, with four people making my follow list. I’ll point out two, however: closer Scott McGough, who gets credit for being a great athlete, and already touches 94 mph. There is the feeling that he might throw even harder down the road. Set-up man Madison Boer had a 48/9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 52 innings this year, and is 6-foot-4 with a 90 mph sinker … LSU closer Matty Ott struggled this year after putting up a 69/6 K-BB rate as a freshman. He’ll touch 90 mph and is death on right-handed hitters … Small School Sleeper: Winthrop reliever Kevin Mizenko was great last summer, touching 95 mph from a three-quarters delivery, but his WHIP was higher than you’d like this year. I do think another good summer, and more consistency with the slider could mean big things for his spring 2011.
So, who’d I miss? I did deliberately make the follow lists smaller here to not inundate you guys too much. There are other names out there, but we’ll let this summer separate the top guys, and check back in August.