20. Alabama SR 3B Jake Smith
Players coming off of more accomplished collegiate seasons precede Smith on this list, so take this aggressive ranking as a show of good faith that the Alabama senior’s tools will trump his up-and-down college career when it comes to his success or failure in the pros. Hey, speaking of aggressive, one of Smith’s biggest current issues is a tendency to get too aggressive at the plate, jumping out at pitches before they reach his happy zone. He’s gotten away with it to some extent in college, but hacking at anything 16 inches (give or take) off, up, or away from the plate is no way to advance up the minor league ladder in the enlightened age of baseball we’re lucky to be living in. Smith’s tremendous raw power and excellent defensive tools play in any era of baseball, but he’s been slow to recover from a serious ankle injury. I get the feeling based on all of the above that we’re talking about another four-corners backup type here. Fun fact: Replace “serious ankle injury” with “labrum injury” and you’ve got a very similar situation to what the number eight overall prospect on this list is dealing with. Any guesses about the identify of our mystery prospect?
19. Clemson SO 3B John Hinson
John Hinson was a tough player to rank because of his status as a redshirt and thus draft-eligible sophomore and his positional versatility across the infield. He was an easy guy to rank this high because of the really nice things that anybody who has seen him play this year had to say about him. Hinson was a highly touted prospect out of high school who was considered advanced enough after his freshman year to be asked to play for Hyannis in the Cape Cod League. Back surgery cost him all of his 2009 season, but the fully recovered version of Hinson put up a 2010 statistical line that reads a lot like Pittsburgh’s Joe Leonard’s work this season. A plus hit tool combined with above-average speed and power will get you far professionally, but people smarter than myself that I talked with told me some teams question his ability to play any one particular spot in the infield with the consistency needed of a regular. Based on the limited looks of Hinson that I’ve seen, I can’t say that I necessarily agree with that assessment, but his defensive skillset (good athlete, iffy arm) may make him better suited for second base than third. At either spot, he’s got the bat to make him a potential regular with a couple breaks along the way.
18. Tarleton State JR 3B Chris Casazza
Like Jayson Langfels and Jake Smith before, and Jason Martinson and Mike Olt after, Chris Casazza’s biggest deficiency is a long swing with holes in it that winds up waving and missing at the ball far too often. Like Martinson a few spots ahead of him, Casazza’s good batting eye and sneaky power upside should keep his secondary statistics afloat even when the K’s are trying to drag his prospect stock below the surface. In many ways he’s quite simply the better version of Alabama’s Jake Smith, especially at the plate – more power, more patience, less strikeouts, and better all-around bat. Definite sleeper to watch.
17. Tennessee JR 3B Matt Duffy
Duffy was a deep sleeper top five rounds candidate of mine heading into the season, so you know his underwhelming, but still solid, junior season won’t downgrade his stock too much for me. The Vermont transfer has all of the defensive tools to play a decent shortstop professionally, but profiles better as a potential plus defender at the hot corner. For Duffy, a Jack Hannahan (with more raw power) or Andy LaRoche (with less raw power) type of career is possible.
16. Azusa Pacific SR 3B Ryan Delgado
Delgado earned his way on the list because of his ridiculous power numbers over the years, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that Azusa Pacific has one of the most fun college names to say out loud. Try it, you won’t be disappointed. Besides the cool college name and plus power potential, Delgado has a true plus arm and a well above-average overall hit tool. His defense at third isn’t currently at the level where you could project him as above-average professionally, but the tools are there for him at least wind up a decent defensive player at least through his twenties. If it doesn’t work at third, however, there’s a backup plan that I know for a fact is actually Plan A for some teams. Delgado’s future for some teams might be donning the tools of ignorance behind the plate every day. It’s a stretch and it’s based largely on the 3B/C future that could be in store, but I can’t shake the Jake Fox comp for Delgado that I heard way back when.
15. Coastal Carolina JR 3B Scott Woodward
It’s very easy to envision Scott Woodward playing in the big leagues someday. He’s got an outstanding approach to hitting, a discerning batting eye, and a really good idea of his fundamental strengths and weaknesses at the plate. Woodward ably uses his plus-plus speed to leg out infield hits, turn balls driven to the gaps into triples, and steal bases at a tremendous success rate (46 steals in 52 tries). Home runs will likely never be a big part of his game, but his is a game based more on speed and plate discipline anyway. He could have the type of career many once projected for former Dodgers prospect Joe Thurston. Another comp that I like a lot is Phillies minor leaguer Tyson Gillies, a comparison made more interesting due to the fact both players are hearing impaired, but one not at all dependent on that fact as the basis of the comp. When I first thought of it a few weeks ago the connection didn’t even occur to me, but the two players share enough distinct offensive similarities to make it work.
14. North Carolina State JR 3B Russell Wilson
Betting on Wilson is betting on upside, a worthy risk to take when you are considering which mid-round college hitter to gamble on. See, the sad little truth about lists like this are that the players, while undeniably impressive and accomplished and talented, are more than likely never going to play in the big leagues. Heck, many of them won’t see AA. Once you get past the top two or three names on any of these college lists, it’s all a big guessing game. Educated guessing, to be sure, but guessing all the same. To make a long intro slightly less long, if you’re are going to bet on a mid-round college player, go for the rare guy with untapped potential. That’s Wilson. Here’s why…
I tend to overuse this word when writing about draft prospects, but it applies to Wilson so well here that I can’t help myself. Wilson is an interesting prospect. More than one team affiliated employee I spoke to used that word to describe Wilson in some way – “interesting upside,” “interesting bat,” and “interesting future.” Watch him for just a couple of innings and you’ll see evidence of all five tools right away. His bat is, well, interesting, and his power, while mostly to the gaps at this point, could top out with homer totals in the teens professionally. As a former quarterback unafraid to take off with the ball when needed, it comes as no surprise that his speed rates as an easy 60, with startlingly quick acceleration. Defensively he may have the speed, instincts, and athleticism to play up the middle (2B or CF), but his presence on this particular list is a bet on his plus arm playing best at third base over the long run. Wilson’s numbers this year were solid across the board, but his performance must be judged with his lack of college ball experiences prior to 2010 in mind. He needs more reps on the diamond, but if a team is patient with him they could be rewarded with a player who closely mirrors the Melvin Mora developmental path, something that will no doubt interest a big league club or two come draft day.
13. Texas State JR 3B Jason Martinson
The more I do this, the more I begin to gain an appreciation for the way certain college programs recruit and develop talent. The job Ty Harrington has done in San Marcos is nothing short of spectacular. I relate it to a college football team with very specific offensive and defensive schemes recruiting not based on consensus overall talent levels, but rather best fits for the program. You’d think these less talented players would succeed mainly due to the system in college, but then, lo and behold, draft day comes and teams start taking these supposed system talents left and right. Turns out that players overlooked in high school can turn out to be pretty valuable prospects after three years of quality college coaching. I suppose that’s really just my long way of saying that even though it’s common the best high school players sign out of high school, and even though it’s common the best unsigned high school players go to the big name schools in Texas, it’s still possible to have some really talented players wind up at non-traditional baseball schools. Schools like that often have coaching staffs more familiar with coaching guys up than allowing them to coast by on natural abilities they may or may not have.
Martinson is a plus athlete with very good defensive tools who, similar to Tennessee’s Matt Duffy, may be good enough with the leather to stick up the middle (either shortstop or second base) in some organizations. For me, however, his hands, range, and arm all play best at third, a position where he could eventually be a decidedly above-average defender. Offensively the rap on Martinson coming into the year was that he swung and miss too often to ever hit for an acceptable average professionally. That may or may not be true going forward — his 2010 performance has been very similar to his 2009 — but his quick wrists and above-average plate discipline should help keep his on-base percentage up even when he is striking out more often than you’d like. Teams will worry less about the low contact rate if Martinson can begin to tap into some of the long awaited above-average raw power that hasn’t really showed up through three seasons of college ball. If he can begin to apply some of his brute physical strength into homerun power professionally, he’s got a chance to be a starter. If not, his best chance of earning the big bucks will be in the good defender/patient pinch hitter role.
12. Wichita State FR 3B Johnny Coy
Coy has taken a long, strange trip to get to this point, but the eventual payoff could very well make it all worth it. Coy’s story began as a two-sport high school star, regarded by many as a better basketball prospect than baseball. After getting drafted by the Phillies in the 7th round, protracted and sometimes testy (allegedly) negotiations between player and team led to the two sides opting to go their separate ways. Coy’s older brother was reportedly heavily involved with negotiations, strongly pushing his bro to either a) get every last penny from the Phillies as possible (making him a greedy villain to many) or b) go to school and get a quality education (a far more admirable position, some might say). Coy wound up enrolling at Arizona State, but never made it to baseball season. He left the Sun Devils to move closer to home after his father suffered a stroke in late 2008. That led him to Wichita State. As a Shocker, Coy has been able to focus on honing his considerable baseball skills. All of his raw tools grade out as average or better – 55 speed, 60 arm, 65-70 raw power, average hit tool, and, perhaps most controversially, above-average upside with the glove at third. I remember not believing for a second that he’d ever stick at third after seeing video of him in high school, but all of the noise regarding his defensive progress coming out of Wichita has been positive. I’m a big believer in the big (6-8, 210 pound) righthanded freshman. As mentioned, Coy was a 7th round pick by the Phillies back in 2008. The questions concerning his signability will probably keep him from hitting that mark here in 2010, but his true talent level makes him a top ten round candidate worth pursuing if he even begins to hint that he’ll consider signing.
11. Fresno City College FR 3B David Rohm
Rohm hits and hits and hits. He can also steal a bag when left unattended (great instincts on the bases), smack a ball the other way (very mature hitting style), and crank it out of the ballpark when the mood strikes (above-average present power). Mostly though, he hits. His defense ranks in the bottom third of players here in the top 30, but he still has a better than 50/50 shot to stick at the position through his first six years of big league control. Ah, the defense update is appreciated, you’re thinking, but, wait, can the guy hit? Excellent question; yes, David Rohm can hit.