Much to the dismay of many of our readers, summer is nearly over. Instead of soaking up rays on the beach, catching up with old friends, or flipping burgers, most elite college baseball players spend their summers plying their craft in leagues all across the country.
While there are literally hundreds of players whose accomplishments and promise deserve mention, I'll restrict myself to only a handful of the top performers and prospects.
Georgia Tech hurler Kevin Jacob spent his summer months mowing down hitters in the Alaska League -- I tried to think of a Sarah Palin joke here, but I just quit halfway through. Jacob struck out 45 of the 93 batters he faced and walked just four while closing games for the Anchorage Bucs. Beyond his statistical summer success, Jacob's velocity makes scouts drool. While his fastball sat in the 90-94 mph range this spring, Jacob has seen a sudden rise in velocity and now sits 96-98 mph with his heater, according to Baseball America. Jacob has a bit of Lincecum in his delivery, as he generates a tremendous amount of drive from his legs and throws almost straight over the top. Used primarily as a reliever last spring, Jacob did start seven games and could become a fixture in the Jackets' rotation next to probable first round pick, Deck McGuire. If Jacob shows enough off speed stuff to start, he could go very high next June. If not, he's still likely to be the first reliever drafted.
Fullerton's stud shortstop Christian Colon spent his summer hitting .362/.459/.617 leading Team USA in home runs (5) and stolen bases (24-for-26). Colon stuck out a meager six times in 111 plate appearances, showcasing his remarkable contact ability. He walked only 9.1% of the time, which is a bit low, but otherwise it's hard to poke a hole in Colon's performance this summer. Unfortunately things didn't end well for Colon, in the second to last game of the summer he was covering second base on a double play. The runner on first slid in hard, trying to break up the play. Colon ended up with fractures to his tibia and fibula. A small consolation, if any, Colon still got the out, converting a 5-6-3 double play and preserving Team USA's 1-0 win. A full recovery is expected, and Colon should be healthy and ready to go for Fullerton next spring. Assuming he shows no lingering effects for the injury, Colon's summer has cemented his status as the top college middle infielder in next year's draft class.
Colon's Team USA teammate Tyler Holt lead the team in average hitting .371 (tied with Rice infielder Rick Hague), walks with 24 and, obviously, OBP (.513). The Florida State center fielder showcased his plus speed, 19-for-21 stealing bases, and only whiffed in 12 of his 117 plate appearances. Holt profiles as a prototype lead off hitter, with a consistent line-drive stroke, uber-disciplined approach at the plate, and projects as a plus defender in center.
While many of Team USA's pitching stars aren't draft eligible until 2011 (Gerrit Cole, Sonny Gray, and Trevor Bauer) Ole Miss ace Drew Pomeranz made his case as the top of the 2010 crop. Entering the summer as a my No. 1 college draft prospect, Pomeranz dominated the competition striking out 48 of the 101 batters he faced while only walking nine. Combining smooth mechanics, a good fastball, and devastating curve ball, Pomeranz should make SEC hitters happy they only have to face him for one more year.
Alex Wimmers from The Ohio State University dazzled in the Cape, striking out 46.8% of batters he faced. He walked way too many (16.4%) but has above-average stuff across the board and solid mechanics. Wimmers was in consideration for my top 10 list going into the summer, but he did little to alleviate the concerns I had about his control -- he walked about 12% of batters for the Buckeyes last spring. If his command and control make strides next spring he could be in the first round mix.
In the same boat as Wimmers, San Diego state righty Kyle Blair has good stuff and high strikeout rates but has struggled with his command. Blair lead the Cape in strikeouts with 51 in just 44 innings but walked a staggering 30 hitters. The jump in walk rate for Blair is confusing considering that he only walked 7.5% of hitters he faced while pitching for the San Diego Toreros. It could be small sample size variance, it could be that Blair was just trying to work on some things, it could be that he was a little banged up. If Blair's command returns to form he's back in first round consideration. Combining a low-90's fastball with a big time curve, Blair has big-league stuff. His sudden lack of control was the most perplexing development of the summer.
While Jacksonville State University has only produced four big leaguers in its history, center fielder Todd Cunningham could become the fifth. Playing for Falmouth in the Cape, Cunningham hit a league high .378 while walking nearly as often (19) as he struck out (21). Cunningham has a solid set of tools across the board, with the ability to control the strike zone and hit the ball with authority to all fields. He has the athleticism to stay in center field and could be an everyday big leaguer.
I'll end with a couple of high upside outfielders from Team USA. Michael Choice from the University of Texas at Arlington and Bryce Brentz of Middle Tennessee State, both hail from small schools, both have big raw power and are probably just corner outfielders. Choice hit .350/.453/.550 while Brentz tallied a .366/.416/.563 line. While neither player showed the ability to control the strike zone that they had during their college seasons, they both showed an ability to hit for power and make contact. Brentz would likely be a top 10 pick if the draft were today, and Choice might be a first rounder as well. Both hitters showed that their statistical success is not just the byproduct of playing in a small conference.
Lincoln can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org