Since we covered SEC pitching last week (the full list will be published tomorrow), why not start off the first full week of March with a look around college baseball’s best conference and see what kind of position player talent we can find…
- Florida JR C Mike Zunino
- Kentucky JR C Luke Maile
- Kentucky SR C Michael Williams
- South Carolina JR C Dante Rosenberg
- Georgia JR C Brett DeLoach
- Mississippi SR C Taylor Hightower
- Vanderbilt rSR C Drew Fann
- Mississippi State JR C Mitch Slauter
Zunino is a star and as close to a sure-thing as any prospect in this year’s draft. The skeptic in me doesn’t like his K/BB numbers, but the rest of his skill set is just too damn strong to worry about the one less than thrilling component (no, I won’t count his sub-glacial speed against him) of his game. His approach could keep him from being the star that some see him as, but nothing short of a meteor striking him down in the batter’s box (you can’t see me, but rest assured I’m knocking on wood) should keep him from being an above-average everyday catcher in the big leagues. That’s tremendously valuable, but you knew that already. Senior signs like Williams, Hightower, and Fann are all known for providing above-average (or, in Hightower’s case, better than that) defense behind the plate. Williams and Hightower both have exceptional arm strength. Rosenberg is an excellent defensive catcher as well; how he performs at the plate in 2012 will determine whether or not he gets popped early enough to sign in June or if he’ll suffer the same fate as Williams, Hightower, and Fann (seniors rule!). I’m most intrigued by the pair of players who may or may not stick behind the plate long-term. I think both Maile and DeLoach can catch professionally (ah, so that’s why they are included with the catchers!), but I understand the concerns on both. Maile has the tools, frame, and athleticism to catch, but lacks proper experience. DeLoach offers similar strengths, but his future defensive home might come down to matters of health. If his arm is sound, he should catch. If not, he’ll face the steep uphill battle of trying to hit enough to hold down a spot in either left field or first base. Maile’s bat has more of a chance of playing elsewhere due to his prodigious raw power.
Who Gets Drafted? Zunino, Maile (though perhaps not as a catcher), Williams, and Hightower. The juniors are all squarely on the bubble, but probably more likely to wind up as senior signs than juniors drafted early enough to leave school.
- Florida JR 1B Brian Johnson
- South Carolina JR 1B Christian Walker
- Florida SR 1B Preston Tucker
- Florida JR 1B Vickash Ramjit
- Mississippi SR 1B Matt Snyder
- South Carolina rSO 1B Brison Celek
- Arkansas SR 1B Sam Bates
- Louisiana State JR 1B Alex Edward
- Louisiana State SR 1B Grant Dozar
- Tennessee SR 1B Davis Morgan
I tend to err on the side of “pitch first, hit second,” but Brian Johnson is a better position player prospect for me right now so that’s where he sits. I believe in the power enough that I think his bat could be enough to hold down an everyday job at first in the big leagues someday. Check a first base minor league prospect ranking to see how rare that is these days. Walker is the only other player on the list with a realistic chance to play every day, but even that’s a stretch. That’s no slight against Walker, a really gifted natural hitter with solid power potential and a good approach, but rather yet another example of how difficult it is to seize one of the thirty MLB first base starting positions. The next few names all profile nicely as potential bench bats or, in an ideal world, platoon players. Tucker has been a long-time favorite who just keeps hitting, hitting, and hitting. A little bit of positional versatility shown at the college level has helped his stock just enough that some teams might view him as a viable spot starter in the outfield. Ramjit, the third Gator in this particular top four, might have the most untapped upside of the remaining players. He has the size, athleticism, and power upside to surprise people by playing better as a professional than he ever did in the Swamp.
Who Gets Drafted? Johnson, Walker, and Tucker are all locks to be drafted. Both Johnson and Walker will likely be off the board within the draft’s first three to five rounds. I could see Ramjit wanting to return for a shot at more playing time and a better draft standing in 2013. The rest of the seniors, with Snyder and Bates leading the way, are all legitimate mid-round depth selections for teams looking to round out their low minor league lineups.
- Mississippi JR 2B Alex Yarbrough
- Georgia SR 2B Levi Hyams
- Louisiana State SR 2B Tyler Hanover
- Vanderbilt SR 2B Riley Reynolds
- Arkansas SR 2B Bo Bigham
- South Carolina JR 2B Chase Vergason
- Louisiana State JR 2B Casey Yocom
As expected for a position where players are more often created than born, second base is thin in the SEC. Yarbrough has a strong hit tool and above-average speed, but he’s not a lock to stay up the middle defensively. Hyams and Hanover both do enough well to profile as potential utility infielders. If you’re feeling generous, you could probably say the same for fellow potential senior signs Reynolds and Bigham. I originally had Arkansas 2B Kenny Roberts on the list, but didn’t see his name on the Razorbacks roster last I checked.
Who Gets Drafted? Because teams need players capable of holding down middle infield spots, I could see Yarbrough and the four seniors all getting drafted at some point this June. Vergason’s slow start could cost him as younger players (and better long-term prospects) begin to eat into his playing time.
- Florida JR SS Nolan Fontana
- Georgia JR SS Kyle Farmer
- Louisiana State SR SS Austin Nola
- Tennessee SR SS Zach Osborne
- Vanderbilt JR SS Anthony Gomez
- Florida JR SS Cody Dent
- Mississippi SR SS Blake Newalu
- Alabama SR SS Jared Reaves
- Arkansas rSR SS Tim Carver
Fontana won’t go in the top five this year, but I’m pretty sure I like him as much as the player he was often compared to out of high school, Christian Colon. Zunino’s floor is arguably higher than any prospect’s in the country, but Fontana’s isn’t so bad either. He consistently catches the ball, gets on base, and has just enough pop to keep pitchers honest. He might never hit higher than 8th in a lineup (9th if he lands with the Cardinals…yes, I know that joke makes no sense now that LaRussa is gone, but that hasn’t stopped me before), but the fact that he’ll hit in a lineup at all is promising. Farmer, Nola, and Osborne all play good enough defense to make some noise as potential top ten round players this draft. Of the three, Farmer is the only one with an honest shot to make it as a regular. I wish I knew more about Jared Reaves because his 2011 park/schedule adjusted numbers (.369/.434/.535 – 25 BB/30 K – 241 AB) are intriguing.
Who Gets Drafted? Absolutely Fontana, and almost certainly Farmer and Nola. Osborne and Gomez have better than average shots to be drafted. Dent has just enough in the way of tools, not to mention the bloodlines that teams love, to warrant consideration, but his performances haven’t exactly lit the world on fire and he might be stretched defensively at short. Carver is a damn fine college player who hasn’t hit enough to justify a draft pick, at least not yet.
- Arkansas JR 3B Matt Reynolds
- Georgia SR 3B Colby May
- Kentucky SR 3B Thomas McCarthy
- Auburn SR 3B Creede Simpson
- Mississippi JR 3B Andrew Mistone
- South Carolina JR 3B LB Dantzler
- Alabama JR 3B Brett Booth
- Georgia JR 3B Curt Powell
The only thing keeping Matt Reynolds from being a slam dunk first day pick is a lack of raw power. As a pure hitter he compares favorably to former Razorbacks third basemen Logan Forsythe and Zack Cox, and his power upside likely falls somewhere between the two. The rest of his tools work just fine: his defense at third is excellent, his arm and speed are both above-average, and his athleticism is so good that some pro teams think he’ll be just fine playing second base or even catcher at the next level. From a tools-only standpoint, there are some blurry comparisons to the Virginia version of Ryan Zimmerman. A reality check reveals that Reynolds was a park/schedule adjusted .238 hitter last year, so…
Who Gets Drafted? Reynolds, for sure, with May (SS and 1B), Simpson (OF), Mistone (2B), and Booth (C) all in the mix as potential super-subs professionally.
- Vanderbilt JR OF Connor Harrell
- Louisiana State JR OF Raph Rhymes
- Tennessee JR OF Drew Steckenrider
- Alabama SR OF Taylor Dugas
- Vanderbilt JR OF Michael Yastrzemski
- Louisiana State JR OF Mason Katz
- South Carolina JR OF Evan Marzilli
- Arkansas JR OF Matt Vinson
- Louisiana State JR OF Arby Fields
- Georgia SR OF Peter Verdin
- Mississippi SR OF Zach Kirksey
- Mississippi JR OF Tanner Mathis
- South Carolina SR OF Adam Matthews
- Kentucky JR OF Brian Adams
- Arkansas rSO OF Jacob Morris
- Florida SR OF Tyler Thompson
- Florida SR OF Daniel Pigott
- Alabama JR OF Cameron Carlisle
- Vanderbilt rJR OF Jack Lupo
- Georgia JR OF Kevin Ruiz
- Auburn JR OF Cullen Wacker
- Alabama JR OF Andrew Miller
- Tennessee JR OF Chris Fritts
- Mississippi State SR OF Brent Brownlee
- Alabama SR OF Jon Kelton
The SEC is littered with outfielders with big-time tools and below-average production. Steckenrider, Marzilli, Vinson, Verdin, and Kirksey all have tools that have outpaced their collegiate performances thus far. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are grinders like Dugas and Yastrzemski who play above their modest tools. Rhymes doesn’t quite fit either group, but he’s such a gifted natural hitter that he deserves far more recognition than he gets; for me, there isn’t a ton separating him from the much better known Jeremy Baltz. The aforementioned Steckenrider is more or less the Brian Johnson of SEC outfielders. Both men are universally regarded as superior on the mound, but each has so much raw power at the plate that there is at least some question about their long-term baseball homes.
Who Gets Drafted? I’m inclined to say everybody from Harrell to Pigott, but even I know that’s probably more names than what we’ll really hear in June. I sent a quick draft of this to somebody in the know who didn’t particularly care for the order (“Rhymes second is crazy, Steckenrider is a reliever, and you need to knock off the cheerleading for Dugas”) who wanted me to also explicitly pass along that I’m crazy for having Morris where he is. He said, “Morris has the talent to be much closer to the top than his current standing near the bottom.”