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2012 MLB Draft All-Big East Prospect Team

The best prospect at each position is featured in our “everyday eight.” The “starting rotation” is made up of pitchers who are all lumped together in one bit lefty/righty/starter/reliever mess. For the “bench,” we tried to follow the guideline of at least one backup catcher, a backup middle infielder (or two), a backup corner infielder (or two), and at least one reserve outfielder (though typically two). Remaining spots went to the best available pitching prospects who are no doubt thrilled to be a part of our “bullpen.” Add it all up and we should have a 25-man roster of interesting 2012 MLB Draft Prospects from the Big East.

Everyday Eight

Notre Dame JR C Joe Hudson

Hudson gets the slightest of edge over the similarly talented C Joe Pavone (Connecticut). I admit that the fifth-year senior Pavone might be the safer bet to be drafted based while Hudson will likely wind up as a 2013 senior sign assuming his bat didn’t transform over this past offseason. Both players profile as defensive-first organizational catchers. These are the types of prospects that you draft knowing that you need somebody capable of helping along young pitching prospects. Deep down, however, there is no shame in hoping that your late-round defensive-first catcher might show enough pop to someday pop up as a viable third catcher worth stashing in AAA.

Louisville JR 1B Zak Wasserman

Wasserman hasn’t done much at Louisville yet (after park/schedule adjustments, he barely slugged his weight in 2011), but his big raw power and pro frame make him the best of an uninspiring group of Big East power hitters.

Connecticut JR 2B LJ Mazzilli

Spoiler alert: Mazzilli isn’t just the best Big East second base prospect, but the best overall position player prospect in the entire conference. His speed, athleticism, and defense all have stood out as I’ve watched him grow in a big way as a hitter over the past two seasons.

Villanova SR SS Marlon Calbi

There’s simply nothing in the way of interesting Big East shortstop prospects this year. Calbi’s strong 2011 season gives him the nod, but he’s really not a viable pro prospect at this point. I debated on cheating and putting St. John’s SR 2B Matt Wessinger at shortstop, where he’s played some in the past, but left him on the bench in favor of the truer shortstop in Calbi.

Connecticut SR 3B Ryan Fuller

Like the man chosen to stand to his left on this fictional team of 2012 prospects, Fuller isn’t a pro prospect in any traditional sense of the term. He does stand a better chance to be drafted due in large part to his athleticism and just enough pop and speed to intrigue as a fill out the roster kind of late round pick.

St. John’s JR OF Jeremy Baltz

St. John’s rSO OF Kevin Grove

Georgetown SR OF Rand Ravnaas

Much has been written about Baltz by the experts already, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. As a corner outfield prospect with little in the way of tools besides his bat, he’ll need to hit a ton as a pro if he ever wants a shot at regular playing time. It is probably worth nothing that I was impressed last year (in an admittedly quick viewing) with his non-hit tools, so much so that I came away thinking he’s universally underrated both as an athlete and as a defender in left. That’s not to say anything but the bat will ever get him in the lineup, and I would never say he’s good at anything but hitting baseballs, but he’s not a total slug out there, either. Grove is under the radar as a redshirt sophomore who has legit pro power and enough ability in a few other areas (average runner, strong enough arm) that he could develop into an interesting draft with more at bats. Ravnaas is more solid college outfielder than intriguing pro prospect, but his skill set is well-rounded and his production has been consistently strong. A more refined approach, especially with two strikes, might be too much to ask at this point for the senior, but a little less aggression (or, more aptly, better controlled aggression) would go a long way.

Bench 

Connecticut rSR C Joe Pavone

The aforementioned Pavone gets a spot on the bench as the Big East’s second best catching prospect thanks to his steady defensive work behind the plate.

South Florida SR 1B/OF Todd Brazeal

Brazeal, an eighth-year senior for the Bulls, has always intrigued with the hit tool, but has never been able to reign in his long swing enough to make consistent enough contact to succeed. Positional versatility (1B, OF, and 3B are all on his resume) could get him drafted, as could his well-earned reputation of being a great teammate and hard worker. Never hurts to fill out low minors rosters with guys like Brazeal.

St. John’s SR 2B/SS Matt Wessinger

Wessinger is a nice college infielder who does enough well across the board to get a look by pro teams in the market for a mid- to late-round senior sign. He’s more second baseman than shortstop, but can handle the left side of the infield well enough in a pinch to profile as a utility guy in a perfect world.

West Virginia rSR 3B Dan DiBartolomeo

DiBartolomeo is another highly productive player who feels like he’s been in college for the better part of a decade now. He fits in nicely on a roster full of high makeup, grinder college players who don’t necessarily project for much in the pros. Still a fun player to watch, though.

Connecticut rJR OF Billy Ferriter

Louisville SR OF/LHP Stewart Ijames

Ferriter and Ijames: two long-time favorites that I’m very close to admitting defeat on. Ferriter can run, defend, and handle the bat, but will need to clean up his approach in a big way if he hopes to make it in pro ball. Ijames has been my guy going on three years now; unfortunately, it is time to face the music and admit he’s more of a college standout than a pro prospect. I’ll always appreciate his solid approach, strong arm, and power to the gaps, but if it hasn’t all come together by now, I’m not sure it ever will. Even if Ijames puts together a big final season for the Cardinals and gets drafted higher than I think this June, he’ll still face the daunting challenge of being one of the few players — I can think of none off the top of my head — that have turned 24 during their first pro season and then went on to big league success.

Starting Rotation

St. John’s JR RHP Kyle Hansen 

St. John’s JR RHP Matt Carasiti 

Louisville JR RHP Matt Koch

Louisville JR RHP Justin Amlung 

Louisville JR RHP Andy Flett 

The Big East is deep in pitching, but lacks the type of early round impact talent that tends to get a conference noticed early on in the season. The depth of talent will change that as the season moves along. Heading up our rotation is the big righthander from St. John’s, Kyle Hansen. Hansen has the three pitches needed to start professionally (low-90s FB that peaks at 94-96, a consistently average low-80s SL that flashes plus, especially when thrown harder, and a raw low-80s CU that has gotten much better since his high school days) and should get the chance to do exactly that, despite what some have said about his delivery being better suited for the bullpen. His teammate Carasiti joins him in our “rotation,” but there is little doubt his pro future is as a reliever. He’s got the heavy hard fastball, good upper-70s slider, and emerging splitter to profile as a fine middle reliever in the big leagues.

The two St. John’s pitchers are joined by our trio of Cardinals. Matt Koch is another reliever all the way. He has similar stuff when compared to Carasiti (arguably a better fastball, though I prefer Carasiti’s slightly slower but more difficult to square up offering), but loses out due to a slightly less exciting overall repertoire (Koch is FB/SL all the way) and less flashes of collegiate dominance. Amlung’s on the border between starter and reliever. He throws four pitches for strikes, but might be best off if he streamlined his arsenal and stuck with his two best pitches, a good sinking fastball and a tight low-80s slider. Flett is a personal favorite who succeeds in large part due to superior fastball command and a good mid-70s curveball. There’s still some projection left in his 6-7, 185 pound frame, so envisioning a future where his low-90s fastball (mostly 90-93) picks up a few ticks isn’t exactly out of line.

My only regret here is leaving off the slew of interesting pitchers for South Florida. Seriously, any one of just about any arm on their staff could have been included. Andrew Barbosa, Ray Delphey, Derrick Stulz, Austin Adams, Trey Dahl (who I recently noticed was no longer listed on the 2012 roster), and Joe Lovecchio are all firmly in the mix to be drafted in 2012, but I’m in a little bit of a continued wait and see mode due to many of their arms having questionable health backgrounds heading into this year. So far, so good for many of the hurlers, both in terms of good health and production. The combined numbers of Stultz, Adams, Delphey, and Lovecchio so far (3-0 record): 24 IP 28 K 10 BB 19 H 3 ER.

The Bullpen

Rutgers rSO RHP Charlie Law 

Seton Hall JR RHP Ryan Harvey

St. John’s JR RHP Jerome Werniuk

St. John’s JR RHP Anthony Cervone                                                                                  

Cincinnati JR RHP Zach Isler

Seton Hall JR RHP Frank Morris

St. John’s is heavily represented in both the rotation and the bullpen on this squad. Charlie Law has been on the radar long enough that it is hard to call him a sleeper, but injuries and erratic command have some forgetting about how solid his three-pitch mix is when on. Werniuk is somewhat similar as another bigger guy (6-5, 210 pounds to Law’s 6-7, 235) with a history of trouble throwing strikes. You could say the same thing about Cervone, come to think of it. Ryan Harvey’s big 2011 season (park/schedule adjusted 15.11 K/9 in 44.2 IP) was more impressive than his raw stuff (upper-80s fastball, plus slider) indicates, but, as you can read, it isn’t like his stuff is bad. His teammate Frank Morris joins him as an athletic projection peak capable of hitting 93-94 with his fastball. Finally, we have Cincinnati’s Zach Isler. Isler is the kind of guy the bullpens were designed for. His stuff isn’t particularly exciting when stretched out over longer appearances, but in short bursts he can let it fly with a fastball hitting 94-95 and an above-average low-80s slider.

Game Notes: Connecticut @ Villanova

Connecticut 2011 MLB Draft First Round Prospect George Springer

Connecticut JR OF George Springer

JR OF George Springer looked nothing like the player I had read so much about this spring. His results may not have been what you’d like to see, but the improved process stood out. Good pro coaching will do wonders for him, though it will be really interesting to see how much tinkering his future employer will really want to do after investing a hefty bonus in the college version of Springer’s swing. He looks a little bow-legged in the photo above, but it isn’t a great representation of his swing setup because it captures him just as he started his stride. I had great video of him swinging the bat, but it disappeared into the ether during a file conversion. As for Springer’s swing, again, I’m not a scout, but I was really impressed with his balance at the plate, both in his approach and follow through. I didn’t like his collapsed back elbow, but found many of his flaws to be those decidedly under the “Coach Him Up and He’ll Be Alright” umbrella. This may be a cop-out, but the rise of so many other prospects could really be a boon for Springer’s career. Taking him in the top ten scares the heck out of me, but if he slips closer to the middle or end of the round, watch out. Lowered expectations + more stable pro organization, especially at the big league level (less need to rush him) = transformation from overrated to underrated almost overnight.

Another quick note I’ll pass along without much comment: George Springer cares. I realize this is a dangerous game to play because, really, how can we ever know such a thing, but George Springer (his name just sounds better when you use the first and the last) cares, or, at worst, is one heck of an actor. I’d never get on a player for not reacting to a strikeout with anger (and, by extension, showing that they care) because, as a quiet guy myself, I know demonstrative displays of emotion shouldn’t be the standard by which we judge effort and dedication. But the way Springer reacted to an early strikeout — pacing back and forth in front of the bench seemingly in search of a tunnel to pop into and blow off some steam (soon enough, George) until finally settling to the far end of the dugout, just off to the side, where he took a knee, closed his eyes, and started pantomiming his swing — really stood out to me. Probably nothing, but there you go.

None of that changes my view of George Springer the prospect, by the way. Just thought it was a relatively interesting tidbit worth passing along. I have to admit that I do kind of love the idea of a player with a wOBA approaching .500 getting that worked up over a bad at bat. Or maybe I love the way a player who is is clearly pressing at the plate has still somehow managed to put up a league/park adjusted triple slash of .386/.482/.667 (as of mid-April).

Two pro comparisons for Springer came immediately to mind. The first is 100% physical and in no way any kind of projection of future pro value. Something about Springer’s body, swing, and overall on-field demeanor reminded me a great deal of Florida’s Mike Stanton. Again, the two are very different players, but the physical similarities were interesting. A comp like that is probably why most people don’t like comps, but they’ll live.

The second comparison is much, much better, I think. Springer’s upside and overall tools package remind me so much of Minnesota minor leaguer Joe Benson that it’s scary. File that one away…

***

He’s no speed demon on the basepaths, he won’t approach double digit homers as a pro, and he’s not build like a prototypical professional outfielder, but, boy, JR OF John Andreoli can swing the bat. The way he controls the bat through the zone is a sight to behold. Some of the guy’s hits couldn’t have been rolled by hand into holes any better than he hits them. Beyond the pure hit tool, I asked around about certain players before the game, and almost to a man I was told to watch out for Andreoli’s bunting. One gorgeous second inning push bunt for a single might not be stone cold proof of anything, but it gave the pregame prognostication a little extra weight. He’s a well above-average defender in a corner that might be stretched some in center, though I’m not so sure his 55ish speed wouldn’t also work up the middle. Andreoli is probably nothing more than a late round organizational player at this point, but he could make for an interesting senior sign in 2012.

SR LHP Greg Nappo‘s upper-80s fastball plays up because of good deception in his delivery. It is still probably a below-average pitch on balance because the command isn’t quite what you’d hope it would be coming from a typical pitchability lefty. He relied quite heavily on the heater, mixing in occasional cutters and an average slow curve that he could drop into the strike zone more easily as the game went on. He’s also probably an organizational guy at this point, but he can always take pride that he’s the player featured in my header.

SO OF Billy Ferriter disappointed me a bit. Definite pro body, but he made a habit of swinging at junk and watching meaty fastballs go by. Small sample size, I know, but scouts made note that he’s made a habit of getting himself out all year long. Still like the upside, but have to keep telling myself he is only in his second year college ball. He’s draft-eligible this year, but unlikely to sign.

Really impressed by SO 2B LJ Mazzilli‘s swing and approach at the plate. He has a little toe-tap timing mechanism that reminds me a little bit of Mark Reynolds’ swing, only without the swing-and-miss length. Good speed, good athleticism, and good hands should keep him up the middle, and a little physical maturation at the plate could help turn him into one of those super annoying scrappy middle infielders we all know and love (or hate, depending on the player).

Still think I prefer JR UTIL Kevin Vance as part of a battery, whether that be behind the plate or on the mound, than at the hot corner. I like his above-average fastball/plus curveball combo and plus command as a potential relief arm down the line. If he sticks as a position player, I think that arm would be best served as a catcher. Surprised to see his batting line as weak as it is because I really liked his level, powerful, and well-balanced swing. A team could gamble on his upside, but it is starting to look like his down junior year could keep him a Husky for another season.

Villanova JR LHP Kyle Helisek has one of the most extreme wrist wraps/curls in the back during his delivery that I can remember. I won’t pretend to be an expert on pitching mechanics, but his windup looked painful to me. My main focus on the day was watching the Connecticut bats, so I didn’t notice much more than that, but I’ll probably see Helisek a few more times before the end of the year and/or next season.

Connecticut 2011 MLB Draft Prospect Nick Ahmed

Connecticut JR SS Nick Ahmed

I’m way more excited about JR SS Nick Ahmed‘s pro prospects after a weekend watching him play. My favorite sequence came after a 1-1 bunt attempt. Ahmed was hit with a pitch, but the umpire ruled he didn’t pull the bat back as he attempted to bunt for a hit. It wasn’t until he was halfway down the first base line until the umpire actually made the call. Ahmed was visibly upset with the call and kept repeating “no chance, no chance…” as he took to himself and anybody that would listen. Fast forward to later in the at bat: 3-2 count, fastball up in the zone, home run drilled deep and gone to left. No woofing afterwards, just a quick sprint around the bases, and back to the dugout. I’m still not totally sold on his power upside, but think he’ll hit enough to be league average with the bat assuming he plays a premium defensive position. On that note…

Ahmed is more difficult to judge in the field. He doesn’t look like a traditional shortstop (listed at 6-2, 205, though he was eye-to-eye with the 6-3 Springer), but he’s got a plus arm (not a direct comparison, but he has a similar flick of the wrist style throw to Jose Reyes) and more than enough athleticism to range in both directions. If he’s not a pro shortstop, and I really think he is, then he’d be best served moving to center, so as to better utilize his athleticism and surprising first step quickness, with third base as a backup to the backup. He has a long way to go before he becomes the player he’ll eventually be (if you can follow that), but I feel pretty comfortable slapping a big league utility guy floor on him.