College Review: Week 2

March 4, 2008

As the season continues I hope to keep everyone abreast with what’s going on in collegiate ball. I will use this space each week to give a glimpse into the metal bat game with emphasis on which highly regarded prospects are dominating and which are in cold spells. With well over 250 teams playing NCAA baseball it will be impossible to single out everyone who deserves attention. If you feel like I’ve left out someone truly deserving…well, that’s what they invented the forums for.

The Hot List

Lance Lynn, Jr. RHP Ole Miss

After striking out roughly 28.6% of the batters he faced last year, Friday night starter Lance Lynn was one of the top collegiate prospects coming into the season – I had him ranked 7th in the country. Lynn is now putting his very good 2007 numbers to shame. After two starts for the undefeated Rebels, Lynn has 21 strikeouts (45.6%) and just 3 walks (6.5%). What’s even more amazing is that one could build a case for Lynn being unlucky. Despite his 2-0 record, 1.64 ERA, and the fact that he yet to surrender a home run, he has been victimized by several bloopers and dying quails. Opponents are hitting .429 against him on balls in play. Lynn is the real deal, his BABIP is not. He could soar up draft boards at this pace.

Aja Barto, Jr. CF Tulane

Taken 11 picks before Pedro Alvarez in the 2005 draft (427th overall), Barto came to a Tulane program struggling to regain its former glory after Hurricane Katrina. Barto’s first two seasons at with the Green Wave were disappointing. He had his hand broken after he was hit by a pitch at the beginning of his freshman year and was pretty much lost for the season. Barto also struggled with assorted, nagging injuries last season but still lead the team in most offensive categories. 2008 could be a breakout year for the 6-foot-5 centerfielder. He’s currently hitting .357/.441/.714 and is 6-for-6 in steal attempts. With the dearth of high ceiling college outfielders in this year’s draft class, Barto could make himself a lot of money with a great spring.

Reese Havens, Jr. SS South Carolina

Havens came into the season as a talented defender with a little pop but was overshadowed by fellow infielders Justin Smoak and James Darnell. While Smoak is off to an amazing start (.400/.531/.840) and is now clearly the best healthy hitter in college ball, Havens has posted an otherworldly stat line of .500/.606/1.000 through six games. The 6-foot-1 shortstop has 4 home runs to Smoak’s 3. Making his accomplishments even more impressive is the fact that South Carolina plays in a big pitchers park (85 PF) and has opened the year with five home games and one of the more difficult schedules in the country – Clemson, UNC Ashville, and East Carolina...all tournament hopefuls. There’s no way Havens will keep up his Beau Mills-ian power output but even when it comes down a little, the junior could still be one of best college shortstops in the game – maybe the best.

Gordon Beckham, Jr. SS Georgia

Beckham has basically been Reese Havens South this year. Like Havens, Beckham is hitting over .500 and has a 1.000 slugging percentage. Georgia plays in an even more pronounced pitchers park (79 PF). The Bulldogs’ opponents thus far have been No. 1 ranked Arizona and back-to-back CWS champs Oregon State. Beckham is 14-for-27 on the season with 3 home runs and 2 doubles and a triple.

Matt Harvey, Fr. RHP North Carolina

You won’t find Harvey’s name on my 2008 top 20 draft prospect list but that’s because he’s a true freshman. He had first-round talent out of high school but fell in the draft due to bonus demands and a strong commitment to North Carolina. The Tar Heels will be careful with Harvey’s right arm. They chose to break him in on Tuesday, Feb 26th against a good Old Dominion team. And while the Heels got their first loss of the season is wasn’t Harvey’s fault. After the first batter he faced tripled, Harvey struck out 4 of the next 6 and 8 overall in 4.2 innings. What separates Harvey from many other precocious flame-throwers is his control. In his first start Harvey only walked two batters. He could very well be the No. 1 pick in 2010. UNC may have the best collection of premium talent in the underclass ranks with Harvey teaming in the rotation with super sophomore Alex White and…

Dustin Ackley, So. 1B North Carolina

Ackley is one of the hottest hitters in the country, actually improving on last season’s work this far – he was the consensus National Freshman of the Year in 2007. Ackley, who hit .402/.448/.591 playing everyday as a true freshman, is currently 17-34 (.500/.537/.824) on the young season (8 games). As if that was not impressive enough, he has only struck out twice while walking five times – a walk improvement from about 10% his freshman year to nearly 15% this season – and gone yard thrice. The lefthanded hitting Ackley has also stolen two bases after swiping 11 a year ago. He’s an above-average athlete who has played some outfield in the past. While Ackley has drawn universal praise he has already reached mythical status for his broken bat grand slam. Yes, Dustin Ackley broke a metal bat. He’s well on his way toward becoming a top draft pick in 2009.

Cold Spell Victims

Pedro Alvarez, Jr. 3B Vanderbilt

Alvarez had the worst beginning to his season of any top prospect in the country. During his first at bat of he injured his hand but stayed in the game. After Alvarez missed the rest of the Commodores opening series it was reveled that Alvarez had broken a bone in his hand. Turns out, it is a worse than that as Alvarez broke his hamate bone which is actually in the wrist. If the No. 1 prospect in the country had just fractured a metacarpal, his recovery time would be reduced and his short term prognosis would be better. Wrist injuries, like hamate breaks, have a longer recovery time – since the wrist experiences more force and torque as a joint – and can require surgery then cause a noticeable decrease in power upon return. Power is a big part of what makes Alvarez special. Long-term however, his convalescence should be complete and it appears this may be a bigger hit to Vanderbilt than fans of whichever team lands Alvarez in the June draft.

Brandon Crawford, Jr. SS UCLA

Virtually no player with Crawford’s expectations is off to a worse start (.192/.267/.308 after six games). He has gone deep once – no other extra base hits – and walked twice while striking out seven times. UCLA is one of the few good hitters’ parks on the west coast and half of the Bruins games have come against Southern, UC Santa Barbara, and the nationally televised game versus Bethune-Cookman. Many players rack up gaudy stats against small schools early in the season but Crawford has struggled.

Lincoln Hamilton can be reached at