We’re now a couple weeks into the college/scouting season which gives us enough data to start making almost-semi-quasi-usable assumptions from what we’ve seen so far. As the nation’s collective attention falls to college athletics -- although on the hardwood, not the diamond -- and with heavy emphasis on the caveat that it’s still very early in the process, let’s take a gander at the MLB draft's top prospects.
The 2011 class’ best player, and future holder of a restraining order against Project Prospect, Rice 3B Anthony Rendon has struggled a bit in the early going. Rendon currently sits at .358/.500/.627 – which does count as struggling for him – with 17 walks and 10 strikeouts in 86 plate appearances.
After an ankle injury late last season (his second serious ankle injury of his college career), Rendon does have some heath questions that could prevent him from being 2011's first overall pick. Unfortunately, those questions remain. While the ankle appears healthy, Rendon’s been relegated to DH/1B duties recently thanks to a bout with shoulder soreness. The shoulder injury doesn’t sound serious but a string of injuries, even unrelated, isn’t good. Still, when healthy Rendon looks the part of a superstar. He has phenomenal hit/power tools and is smooth defender with a plus arm and soft hands. An underrated athlete, he can do it all on a ball field.
I maintain that Anthony Rendon was not born of human parents. He crash landed on this planet as a baby after a team of scientists saved him just before his home planet, RENDONIA, was destroyed.
To give you an idea of how great the 2011 draft class is, UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole is only the second best player in this draft -- I will give Cole credit as the best human in the draft. Cole would be a deserving 1-1 choice in most drafts, and there are people who would take him over Rendon right now. He's a big, strong, athletic right hander with ace-quality stuff. His fastball sits 93-96 MPH with outstanding life. His changeup is a true weapon thrown with deceptive arm speed and late tumble. Cole’s fastball/changeup mix would rank with just about anyone right now. Not just in this draft, anyone. Cole compliments his repertoire with an above-average slider and strong control. He has struck out 37 and walked only 5 of the 110 batters he’s faced this season for the Bruins. Though I’m not wild about his follow-through -- it's slighlty remincent of Jake Peavy -- Cole does a lot of things well in his delivery. He has grown by leaps and bounds in that regard at UCLA, the coaching staff deserves kudos for their handling of such a talented young player -- pitch counts, not included.
While Cole is setting up an exciting duel for the No. 1 spot, his Bruin teammate Trevor Bauer is a bit more divisive. Bauer will draw easy comps to Tim Lincecum due to his size and similarities in their deliveries. The comparison, in this case, is apt. While Bauer isn’t as good as Lincecum, few are, He has a legit plus fastball and a plethora of quality off-speed pitches. His fastball command must improve, but Lincecum walked over 6 per nine innings while at the University of Washington. Granted that’s cherry picking, but a guy like Bauer with similar mechanisms in his delivery may need a little extra time to develop advanced fastball command. I’d be shocked if he didn’t go somewhere in the first round. It could be anywhere from top 10 to the end of the round. For me, he’s a top 10 prospect.
A sure-fire top 10 pick on tools, UConn outfielder George Springer has struggled during the Huskies' 7-7 start. Sporting a .265/.400/.531 line with 9 walks and 12 strikeouts in 86 plate appearances, Springer continues to struggle consistently barreling the ball. That 18.46% strikeout rate is actually an improvement from the 22.0% strikeout rate he posted as a sophomore. Still, it's well above the 17% threshold I found to be vital for college hitters. Simply put, if you keep swinging and missing at college pitchers, you’re going to have a really hard time facing big league stuff. The talent’s there, and it’s worth giving Northeastern guys a little bit of a mulligan in the early going but, as of right now, I’m not sure if I’d spend a first round pick on Springer.
TCU lefthander Matt Purke entered the year as the top lefty hurler on most draft boards. But the big southpaw has struggle a tad in the early going, thanks mostly to a blister led to him being scratched from one start. Purke allowed four runs in just 3.2 inning in his last outing, although only one of the runs was earned. His stuff was down a tick in that outing, versus Houston Baptist which took home their first victory of the season.
Unsigned as a mid-first round pick out of high school, Purke dominated his freshman season and ought to continue his winning ways in short order for the Horn Frogs. I actually dropped Purke out of my top 30 in 2009 based partially on fears that he was unsignable but mostly due to concerns about his mechanics. He repeats well and his command is an asset, so it’s not so much of a performance thing as a concern about an elevated injury risk. Purke can really sling the ball and doesn’t get his lower half involved a ton, leaving some velocity on the table (he’s usually 91-93 MPH). This isn’t a Chris Sale situation, where I see very little chance he’d hold up as a starter, but it’s enough to dock him a few points. Purke is definitely a first rounder and he may have a terrific career ahead of him, but he’s not in my top five.
I inadvertently left Georgia Tech 3B Matt Skole off of my first RENDON rankings (he'll be in the next), but the Yellow Jacket's slugger deserves praise. A Freshman All-American in 2009, Skole hit 20 home runs as a sophomore and is off to a very respectable .339/.500/.607 start to the 2011 season, with 18 walks and just 8 strikeouts in 74 plate appearances. He’s built like a first baseman physically and has the power to handle a shift across the diamond. If he can handle third base defensively, Skole may be a first rounder.