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The first team to get the full College World Series preview is your North Carolina Tar Heels. The setup up for this is about as simple as can be: first category is for players drafted in 2011, second category is for players eligible for the 2012 draft, and the last category is for, you guessed it, players eligible for the 2013 draft.
1.30 JR SS Levi Michael (Minnesota Twins) | 34th ranked prospect overall
I’ve mentioned it before, but it is so incredible to me that it bears repeating: Levi Michael graduated high school early to enroll at UNC mid-year, and then went on to tear it up as a freshman playing as a starter in the ACC. Occasionally we’ll see pitchers do this, and last year we had the whole Bryce Harper skipping his senior year to go destroy wood ball junior college ball thing, but it is still pretty rare to see a hitter do what Michael did in the manner he did (repeat: he smashed the ball all over the place back in 2009 as an 18-year-old) that it is worth pointing out over and over again. Michael has plenty of bat speed, double-digit homer upside, and the footwork and instincts to potentially stick at his junior season college position of shortstop.
Big fan of Michael the college player and Michael the new Minnesota Twins first round prospect. He’s a joy to watch as a big play college shortstop and team leader who also projects as a potential above-average regular with plus defensive upside at second. I’ve always been a sucker for guys with the kind of plate discipline that have you wondering if they know the strike zone better than the men in blue actually paid to call balls and strikes.
8.247 SR RHP Greg Holt (Washington Nationals)
Huge raw power, but one of three natural first basemen vying for playing time behind Dustin Ackley on 2009 team; Moneyball listed as favorite book, so he has that going for him
How’s that for a blast from the past? Back in March 2009 Holt was battling Tarron Robinson and Brett Thomas for whatever at bats could be had behind eventual number two overall pick Dustin Ackley. Now Holt is a relief prospect with a fastball that sits 88-91 (93 peak) and a good low-80s slider.
24.730 SR 1B Jesse Wierzbicki (Houston Astros) | 164th ranked prospect overall (2010)
Wierzbicki’s tools grade out as solid across the board, especially if you’re like me and willing to grade a catcher’s running speed on a curve. I tend to think of backup catchers falling into one of three general archetypes. The first group of backups are the sluggers (big raw power, capable of popping an extra base hit or two in that one start a week), the second are the defensive aces (nothing mesmerizes big league coaching staffs more than a catching with a plus arm), and the third are the players that do everything pretty well, but nothing great. Wierzbicki falls squarely in with that last category of player. He’s known for having power to the gaps, a consistent line drive generating swing, and a solid arm. He’s also a tireless worker who knows his own athletic limitations, two of those tricky intangible qualities that either mean a lot to a team or nothing at all.
That was written back in 2010 when I thought Wierzbicki could play behind the plate as a pro. I still think he’s got the athleticism and enough catch-and-throw ability to play back there. As a first baseman, however, I don’t see how his bat will work at all. Hopefully the Astros will be creative and try him in a utility role going forward.
25.768 SR RHP Patrick Johnson (Colorado Rockies)
Starter for UNC in the past, but profiles better as a reliever in the pros; too early to predict, but he could be on the Robert Woodard/Adam Warren four year path; good numbers, but has done it all against inferior mid-week competition; lack of size may doom him to the bullpen long-term, but his performance pitching largely out of the pen this season give hope that his stuff will play
Fairly prescient 2009 prognostication, if I do say so myself. Warren, who has been so much better as a pro than I ever would have imagined, is probably Johnson’s absolute best case scenario at this point. He throws an upper-80s fastball (92 peak), good upper-70s curve, and average change.
42.1285 JR C Jacob Stallings (Cincinnati Reds) | 158th ranked prospect overall
There is no question about Stallings’s plus defense; that alone could be his ticket to the show as a backup catcher. Like Kometani, there’s more raw power here than he has shown so far. Stallings isn’t really talked about as a top college catching prospect, but he’s a really talented prospect with a plus-plus arm that could make him an interesting mound conversion if things don’t work out behind the dish.
I won’t lie here. I’m baffled about Stallings falling as low as he did. I suppose acceptance that strange things happen during the draft is the only way to survive in these topsy turvy times. Players with a legit upside of backup catcher/middle reliever are more useful than his draft pick warranted. I haven’t heard anything to back this up, but perhaps his signability is in question.
JR RHP Jimmy Messer (2012) | 10.80 K/9 – 3.60 BB/9 – 5.09 FIP – 10 IP
44th round pick in 2008; favorite foods are sushi and Swiss cake rolls, a winning combination if I ever heard one; fastball sits in the low 90s, above-average (present) curveball with definite plus potential; another top three round candidate
Messer hasn’t quite developed into the player many thought he would, but there is still time for the rising senior. His average fastball (88-90, 92 peak), above-average 75-77 slider, and solid command could make him an attractive mid-round senior sign relief prospect in 2012. If nothing else, we’ll always have that sushi and Swiss cake roll combo…
JR RHP Garrett Davis (2012)
Good size (6-4, 195); currently no spot for him in the rotation, but may be stretched out as starter next year; definitely has the repertoire to start; will be draft eligible next year as a redshirt sophomore, velocity has crept back up after TJ surgery in March 2008, but his command and availability to pitch back-to-back games remain question marks going forward
Deservedly lauded for great raw stuff, Davis has dealt with nagging injuries and bouts of wildness that have limited his college innings. Modern medicine has spoiled us into thinking Tommy John surgery always ends happily; hard as it is to say, we must now entertain the thought that Davis will never return to his high school, pre-injury form. Or we can continue to believe he’ll find a consistent release point and improve his control as a senior. I prefer the latter.
SO RHP Michael Morin (2012) | 10.05 K/9 – 2.40 BB/9 – 2.86 FIP – 60 IP
The good news is Morin’s changeup is a true plus pitch. The bad news is…well…there isn’t much bad news. Backed up by his solid fastball (88-92 with room for more), good sinking two-seamer, average curve, above-average athleticism, pro frame (6-4, 180 pounds), and outstanding college production, Morin is one of the best college arms of the 2012 class.
SO RHP Cody Penny (2012) | 10.69 K/9 – 4.50 BB/9 – 2.59 FIP – 16 IP
Penny has the present stuff of a dominant college reliever (mid-90s peak fastball and a really good spike curve), and the future stuff (CU and SL coming on) of a potential pro starter.
SO 2B Tommy Coyle (2012) | .337/.429/.451 – 37 BB/21 K – 19/25 SB – 255 AB
Coyle played his high school ball about fifteen minutes from where I grew up, so I was lucky enough to catch him a couple of times during his senior season. He’s got above-average speed and athleticism, a really solid line drive swing, and an outstanding batting eye. It is still really early in the process, but I think we’re looking at a player with the ceiling of a big league regular with the possibility of a utility future a realistic backup option. I’m looking forward to seeing where he stacks up against the rest of the 2012 college middle infield crop, but I have a feeling he’ll be up there.
SO RHP Cody Stiles (2012) | 7.54 K/9 – 2.92 BB/9 – 3.91 FIP – 37 IP
With two breaking balls with above-average upside, Stiles heads into his junior campaign with a chance to shoot up draft boards. This isn’t a realistic comp for a sophomore coming off a 37 inning regular season, but there is something about Stiles’ repertoire (94 peak FB, promising SL and CB, CU with sink) that reads a little like 2011 first round pick Matt Barnes.
SO LHP RC Orlan (2012) | 12.56 K/9 – 5.65 BB/9 – 3.54 FIP – 14.1 IP
Sometimes good college pitchers are just that. Other times they become good pro pitchers. On rare occasions, they become great pro pitchers. It may be easy to lump Orlan into that first category, but I think he ultimately could fall into the middle grouping. His raw stuff doesn’t jump out at you — upper-80s FB (92 peak), above-average mid-80s cutter, a pair of usable breaking balls — and his slight frame doesn’t scream big leaguer, but his total package is greater than the sum of his individual parts.
SO OF Chaz Frank (2012) | .287/.430/.349 – 43 BB/27 K – 11/14 SB – 209 AB
There may not be a whole lot of raw power here, but Frank has a good approach, above-average speed, and a solid hit tool. His best present tool is probably his defensive range in the outfield.
SO RHP Chris Munnelly (2012) | 7.84 K/9 – 3.73 BB/9 – 4.29 FIP – 70 IP
If I’ve learned one thing in doing this post, it’s that North Carolina’s pitching depth is crazy. I can’t even imagine how they’ll divvy up innings if some of their biggest recruits wind up on campus this fall. One of the top returning pitchers next year will be Chris Munnelly. Munnelly was counted on to throw a lot this past spring for North Carolina, and with good reason. His decent fastball (88-91) plays up because of plus command, and both his advanced change and rapidly improving breaking stuff could be even bigger weapons in time.
FR 3B Colin Moran (2013) | .348/.459/.583 – 48 BB/29 K – 230 AB
When he enrolled at North Carolina last fall, Moran’s name jumped out as the younger brother of former Tar Heels reliever Brian and nephew of former Tar Heel and big league star BJ Surhoff. I also knew he was a well regarded high school prospect out of New York, but, since we’re all pals now and have no reason not to be honest with one another, had assumed that the family legacy bit had way more to do with his scholarship than his ability. Take a look at his freshman year stat line and laugh at how very wrong I was. Moran is the real deal as a prospect, a hitter with legit big league upside, a gorgeous lefthanded stroke, and a great approach at the plate. He is an average defender at present, but there is enough there in the way of tools that makes you think he can become an above-average third baseman in time. Physically, he reminds me a little bit of former Ranger Hank Blalock.
FR LHP Kent Emanuel (2013) | 8.56 K/9 – 2.01 BB/9 – 3.56 FIP – 89.1 IP
Emanuel is another prospect who has far surpassed my expectations as a freshman. One thing I’ve enjoyed about Emanuel’s excellent freshman season has been the answer to the question “What would happen if a Tyler Skaggs/Henry Owens type went to campus instead of turning pro?” Emanuel tacked on over thirty pounds to his 6-4 frame (now up to 205) and upped his sitting fastball a couple ticks (now at 87-89 MPH). His change is already an above-average college offering, and could be plus pro pitch with the way he throws it with fastball arm speed. His best bet at another above-average pro pitch is probably a slider, but that is something to be developed down the line; for now, his cut fastball works as a usable college offering just fine.
FR C Matt Roberts (2013) | .237/.310/.316 – 2 BB/10 K – 38 AB
If Stallings signs with the Reds — hardly a foregone conclusion as a 42nd round pick — then Roberts should take over full-time duty behind the plate in 2012. On paper he has everything you’d want in a young catching prospect: athleticism, above-average defensive upside, and good power.
FR RHP Andrew Smith (2013) | 10.04 K/9 – 3.12 BB/9 – 3.55 FIP – 26 IP
I can’t wait to see what the super talented Smith does in an expanded role next season. He reminds me a bit of Cody Stiles (93 peak FB, potential plus mid-70s CB, SL with promise) and could really take off next year if his changeup, a pitch I’ve heard looked good in practice this year, comes around.
FR RHP Shane Taylor (2013) | 10.25 K/9 – 2.75 BB/9 – 3.01 FIP – 36 IP
Woodard, Warren, Johnson…Taylor? His upper-80s sitting fastball, good mid-70s curveball, and really impressive control and command definitely bring back memories of former Tar Heels pitchability righthanded greats.
FR RHP Jake Cole (2013)
Cole’s arm strength (92-93 peak) and the makings of a hard upper-70s slider make him a name to remember. There were some rumors that he will be given a retroactive redshirt for 2011; if that’s the case, he’ll remain a freshman in 2012, but also remain draft-eligible in 2013.
FR OF Jeff Bouton (2013) | .282/.378/.410 – 4 BB/21 K – 3/3 SB – 39 AB
Bouton came to school with the reputation of a good power/speed prospect, but almost all the power/speed in the world won’t work with plate discipline like that. Just a freshman, there is plenty of time for him to figure it out going forward.
FR 1B/OF Thomas Zengel (2013) | .214/.338/.313 – 20 BB/16 K – 112 AB
Zengel is a bat-first prospect who will have to keep on hitting if he hopes to get noticed. He strikes me more of a potentially really good college player more than a future big-time pro prospect, but the plate discipline shown in 2011 has me a little intrigued.
FR C Brian Holberton (2013) | .267/.352/.400 – 11 BB/13 K – 75 AB
Matt Roberts was the high profile catching recruit in 2011 and the expected heir apparent to the job, but Holberton has a chance to alter those plans. His defense behind the plate is his biggest strength and his gap power has been better than advertised.
FR 1B/2B Parks Jordan (2013) | .179/.343/.214 – 6 BB/10 K – 28 AB
There could be room for Parks Jordan to get some time at second base next year if North Carolina decides to shift Tommy Coyle to shortstop (i.e. the Levi Michael Special). There is some upside with the bat, but his glove is a question mark.
FR LHP Tate Parrish (2013): LOOGY upside; 6-0, 165 pounds; (9.39 K/9 – 5.28 BB/9 – 2.70 FIP – 15.1 IP)
Parrish is by all accounts a great guy and tireless worker. I could say that about a lot of the players on this list, but, when asking around about Parrish for this piece, almost every person I spoke to commented on Parrish the person before talking about Parrish the player. They also said that he’s got the stuff to get college lefthanders out consistently and, with continued development, perhaps pro lefthanders as well. That last sentence is structured horribly, but I’m losing steam here…
FR LHP Hobbs Johnson (2013)
Johnson is a pitchability lefty with an upper-80s fastball. That’s all I’ve got.