Working Through Wood
It should be no surprise that when you put wooden bats in the hands of aluminum-ready college hitters, they struggle. It's a pitching dream to make this 180, but an offensive nightmare.
However, despite depressed numbers, there is nothing better for a college player to spend his summer enduring the tribulations of using wood. Scouts flock to these leagues, trying to project how a player will handle the full-time switch. Some players see their stocks fly through the roof in these situations; other players watch their draft status fall.
No league is better in this regard than the Cape Cod League, which annually produces more top-round college talent than any summer destination. And even where the best of the best flock, struggles with wood follow. Twenty hitters drafted in the first five rounds of the 2006 draft spent their previous summer in the Cape; the group produced an aggregate .745 OPS.
We're nearing the end of the regular season in this year's version of the Cape, so it's time to look at potential names to add onto 2007 follow lists. While we'll save the pitchers for another day, here's my position breakdown of the best seasons/prospects that should be available for the 2007 draft.
Starting at the top, we have Matt Wieters, who I previously stated as the top-ranked player for the 2007 draft. While Vanderbilt ace David Price is riding an impressive scoreless streak for Team USA, things have not changed as Wieters has produced substantially in his first Cape Cod League summer. The Georgia Tech catcher, who I previously mentioned would be the tallest in Major League history (or near the top), is hitting .329/.447/.529 this summer. Wieters was fantastic in the collegiate postseason, and if he continues on his current path, should be a top-3 pick next June.
Another catcher enjoying a strong summer is Josh Donaldson, from Auburn, who splits his time between behind the plate and the hot corner. Donaldson did throw out 38% of baserunners in his sophomore campaign, however, so don't be surprised if teams take him with the intention of making a full-time catcher out of him. With his current summer in the Cape Cod League, where he's hitting .320/.393/.524, teams won't have reservations playing him anywhere. The other player to watch at the position is Mitch Canham, champion Oregon State's backstop. This summer, Canham is hitting .344/.446/.492 following a good experience in Omaha.
There's a small crop on the right side this season, as only one name really sticks out as a potential high-round 2007 draftee: Matt Rizzotti. Despite playing at a small school, Manhattan, Rizzotti is enjoying his second good summer in the Cape. Scouts have seen enough of the first baseman to think highly of him. This summer, he's currently hitting .236/.401/.377, showing a lot of patience, a good amount of hitting ability, and a workable amount of power. Behind Rizzotti, there's very little, as only non-high tier prospects Mitch Moreland (Mississippi State) and Jordan Pacheco (New Mexico) moderately stick out.
Clemson remained atop national rankings all season thanks to a fantastic offense that had no leader, but a high, high number of contributors. One of the better hitters for the Tigers was Taylor Harbin, who is continuing his good offensive production in the Cape. Harbin impressed often on television during the postseason, and scouts have high opinions of the second baseman, as well. Harbin doesn't have fantastic patience, but has a good amount of pop, all of which can be seen from his current .271/.304/.396 line.
Speed usually dominates this position, and a couple of other players find their way here because of their legs. Eric Farris is diminutive and offers very little pop, but his speed and patience should find him drafted next season. He's currently 10/12 on the bases in the Cape while hitting .344/.417/.406. Jeffrey Rea has not been as good at the plate or on the bases, but the Mississippi State middle infielder is the better prospect of the two. Rea will actually be a senior next season, so the leverage a team good have on him could yield a decent middle-round selection. This summer, Rea is hitting .293/.404/.358 with eight steals.
Surprisingly, the first position on the defensive spectrum has very few good players this summer, as many of the better players on this position currently play for Team USA. That leaves the best shortstop as Michael Fisher, another Georgia Tech player, which shows the reason for their big 2006 offense. Fisher's ability to play multiple positions might be his most attractive trait, because his bat has struggled a bit. This summer has been just OK, as Fisher is hitting .246/.342/.348. Another player to watch is Andrew Romine, from Arizona State, who didn't play often this spring due to returning from a scary blood clots surgery. Romine has all types of talent, but has yet to really put them on the field. He's a sleeper to look out for.
There's a couple players at the hot corner who stick out for me: Josh Satin (California) and Matt Mangini (Oklahoma State). The latter player is transferring there from N.C. State, where he made headlines with a huge start this spring. Mangini went on to have a decent second half, but his numbers remained solid. Teaming with Corey Brown next season, the Cowboys should have one of the nation's better 1-2 punches.
California looked to have a good 1-2 punch in Chris Errecart and Brennan Boesch at the beginning of the spring, but the two struggled, and Josh Satin emerged as one of the team's best hitters. His arrival has been prolonged this summer, as Satin seems to be upping his status to a top-3 rounder for next June. This summer, the Bear is hitting .262/.373/.346, and while the numbers don't look impressive, he's doing just enough to impress scouts.
Another player worth mentioning is Matt Cusick, the third baseman for USC. While Cusick offers nothing in the way of power, he's a good defender at third base and has great on-base skills. Rich Lederer has compared him to Bill Mueller. The comparison seems to be holding up in Cusick's wood bat trial, as he's hitting a defensible .283/.408/.349 on the summer. Teams will be scared off by his lack of power, but he should make the organization that gobbles him up in the middle rounds very happy.
This is another position experiencing a weaker year than many in the past, as only a few players look to be solid, bona fide selections in next year's draft. One of them is Warren McFadden, who hit well in his redshirt freshman season with Tulane, smacking more than 20 doubles. The move from a Triple-A park to the Cape has gone well, some of those doubles have gone for homers, and McFadden's .270/.366/.487 line looks solid.
All Michael Taylor, of Stanford, needs to do is to convince the scouts that some of his tools will convert once he makes the full-time switch to wooden bats. So far, so good, as Taylor has impressed this summer. His patience remains an obstacle, as he has just a .287 OBP in the Cape, but his .197 ISO is one of the better numbers we have to report. Taylor runs well and hits for power, a combination that almost always yields a higher pick.
Colin Cowgill had a big breakthrough year with Kentucky in 2006, and has had a decent-enough summer to keep some dreams alive for next year's draft. His .232/.308/.379 line could certainly use some sprucing up, but a recent hot streak should do wonders for his stock. Also, keep an eye out for Tyler Henley, an outfielder from Rice. In the midst of a pretty big summer, .234/.390/.453, Henley could be getting the breakthrough he needs for a high selection.
As mentioned, next time around we'll look at the pitchers...