College Baseball Revisited
In college baseball, rankings are obsolete nearly the minute they are compiled. Since the season is so short, with pitchers only having a limited number of outings each season, scouting directors don't have long to evaluate players. As a result, every weekend, draft boards are changed to reflect the weekend's happenings.
With that being said, I was thrilled when Sports Illustrated approached me with the opportunity to write an article for their On Campus College Baseball Preview. My top 20 draft prospects article ran Friday, preceding yet another weekend that would go far in making me look dated. However, my heart and soul is poured into this article, as I researched, interviewed, and read in detail to prepare. My top 20:
1. Andrew Miller - LH SP - North Carolina
This final ranking was decided on weeks ago, and even since, my draft board has been changed. Of note, Evan Longoria, Joba Chamberlain and Brandon Morrow are the largest climbers. Longoria has continued to show the power he displayed over the summer, making him one of the top two hitters in the country. Chamberlain has zoomed right past Dallas Buck, especially since Baseball America reported his fastball hit 96 mph against NC State. Finally, Morrow is continuing to strike out batters at a torrid pace, though his six walks in six innings this past weekend are a cause for concern.
I mentioned Buck as someone who has dropped, as even against Brigham Young on Thursday he has not turned the corner with a great outing. His 2005 was built on a great non-conference record, so Dallas really can't afford to start slow out of the gates. I have also been disappointed with Mark Hamilton, who has not shown the power out of the gate that I expected. It will come, and I still think my Ryan Klesko comp applies, but he has slipped a bit. And finally, in talks with Rich Lederer, I realized that Jared Hughes and Brad Lincoln should really swap places.
Andrew Miller has not shifted at all, instead, he has only helped his status as the 'player to beat' atop draft boards. Miller has shown much improved control this season, walking only two batters through his first two starts. It also should be mentioned that in his Sunday start yesterday, there was only one out that Miller recorded that was not a groundball or strikeout. Yes, you should be drooling.
In fact, North Carolina is a team worth talking about. My pick for the 2006 College World Series title has stormed out of the gates to an undefeated record, albeit to a fairly weak schedule. Yes, they started hot last year, coming out 9-0 to begin the year. However, during that 2005 spree, the offense was averaging just 6.4 runs per game. Flash forward to 2006, and UNC is 7-0, but has scored 84 runs for an average of 12 runs per game. While most of my focus is on juniors at this site, it should be noted that Josh Horton makes quite a strong case for being the first shortstop drafted in 2007.
Speaking of 2007 hitters -- as offensive players will obviously be back on the map by then -- there has been no bigger story this year than NC State third baseman Matt Mangini. While the sample size police are surely on their way to arrest me, it is safe to say the best hitter in the country thus far (through 50 AB) has been Mangini. In a lineup that already features insane firepower from the likes of Aaron Bates and Jon Still, Mangini is hitting an insane .680/.730/1.080 this season. Not the most athletic player in the nation, Mangini will go as high in the draft as his bat takes him. Right now, that is pretty damn high.
Another ACC team that impressed me this weekend was Wake Forest, where Mr. Irrelevant (number 20, above) Matt Antonelli plays third base. The Demon Deacons, in the past plagued by a lack of pitching, threw well enough to get upsets of Missouri and Florida en route to an undefeated weekend. Antonelli wasn't fantastic, but continues to impress me with his discipline-upside combination.
Getting away from the top twenty, another noteworthy team -- and a surprising one at that -- has been Hawaii. The Rainbows entered the weekend 9-2, winning series over San Diego State, UC Irvine and Loyola Maramount before hosting USC this past weekend. The Trojans stumbled in Honolulu, dropping the first two games of the series before saving themselves from the sweep on Sunday. Hawaii is led by (a bit of a sleeper) in Friday night starter Steven Wright, another solid contributor from the Cape Cod League. In four starts already, Wright has pitched 29.2 innings, giving up just 15 hits and five walks while striking out 27 batters. He bears watching.
While Wright didn't garner a lot of consideration for the top twenty, there are a lot of other players who did. As I generally do with rankings, below are my eleven honorable mentions (displayed alphabetically) for the top 2006 draft-eligible prospects:
Chris Coghlan - 3B - Mississippi - Saber-friendly third baseman with limited upside.
Again, rankings are only as good as the date in which they are compiled. With each weekend as we inch closer to June, performances become more and more important. As was the case with Lance Broadway last year, a few dynamite starts in May can go a long way towards turning someone into a first round pick.
This spring I will try to update my personal draft board often, trying to reflect the times when breakthrough performances happen. Thanks go out to Sports Illustrated for making me stick out my neck for the first time.