Top 5 NCAA Junior Hitters

December 8, 2007

Compiling this list was not an easy one as this is one of the most talent filled classes we have ever seen. The order of this list can be debated all day long as any one of these players could have a case made for them to be named “number one” in this highly coveted class of Juniors. Much like I update my Top 25 Prospects list, this list will also begin to be updated during the college season as we head towards the 2008 draft. Our first installment of these lists are the top hitters in the junior class which will be followed by the top pitchers of the junior class sometime down the road. As always, please feel free to comment your feelings on anything regarding this list.

[1] Brett Wallace | 1B | Arizona State
The Wallace vs. Alvarez argument of who should be the number one junior is one that is going on everywhere across the country. I’m giving the edge to Wallace because his stats are a little bit better in two very important categories (OBP and strikeouts). As the biggest offensive weapon in all of the juniors class, Wallace destroyed opposing pitchers through all of last season. Named the 2007 Pac-10 Player of the Year, the first baseman ripped a .404/.484/.687 line with 17 doubles, 16 homers, 78 RBI and 12 stolen bases all the while compiling a massive 182 total bases for Arizona State. Wallace’s numbers were so superior that he picked up the Triple Crown as well as lead the Pac-10 in seven offensive categories. His raw, gap-to-gap power is truly a sight to be seen and can even handle a glove as he finished with only four errors on the season. Wallace may not be tops on everyone’s list, but here certainly is on mine.

[2] Pedro Alvarez | 3B | Vanderbilt
It took a pretty incredible player to knock Pedro Alvarez out of the top spot but that doesn’t mean he isn’t out of reach from claiming it. Like Wallace, Alvarez is a masher and put together yet another solid year for Vanderbilt. The third baseman posted some great numbers with a .386/.463/.684 line with 21 doubles, 18 homers and 68 RBI as well as compiling 186 total bases. Many feel that Alvarez will most likely be the number one pick in the upcoming 2008 draft with his incredible bat skills and monster power. Defensively the jury is still out on him as he isn’t a bad third baseman but isn’t a great one either. Regardless, my guess is based on his past performance as well as what he has yet to accomplish, he will most likely land the top spot in the 2008 draft.

[3] Justin Smoak | 1B | South Carolina
Yet another first baseman lands in the top five with the switch-hitter Justin Smoak. Smoak made a huge impact in his freshman season with the Gamecocks which got everyone’s attention. For his encore performance in his sophomore season, the first baseman posted a .315/.434/.631 line with 16 doubles, 22 home runs and 72 RBI with a grand total of 164 total bases. What makes this kid so special is his incredible eye at the plate, especially for a power hitter, as he has amassed more walks than strikeouts in each of his first two seasons. Smoak also posses a very sweet swing with the ability to hit productively from both sides of the plate as well as having power to all fields. Smoak is a shoe in to be in the top 10 of the 2008 MLB draft.

[4] Kyle Russell | OF | Texas
Our fourth offensive player in the top five brings us the slugging outfielder from the Longhorns, Kyle Russell. This youngster seems to hit everything hard and his numbers showed it putting up a .336/.456/.807 line with 11 doubles, a Longhorn record 28 homers and 71 RBI which all added up to 180 total bases. Other than a strong arm in the outfield, his defense is pretty average. What will make or break this kid when he moves to the next level is his consistency in making good solid contact. Russell has the tendency to strikeout a lot (set Cape Cod League record for strikeouts) so he will need to improve in this area before becoming an elite prospect. For now his power is more than enough to bring attention his way.

[5] Yonder Alonso | 1B | Miami
Yet another hard-hitting first baseman makes the list with Yonder Alonso from Miami. Named the top first baseman in the Cape Cod League in 2007, he definitely made a name for himself this past season. As for his year with the Hurricanes, Alonso hit .376/.519/.705 with 13 doubles, 18 homers and 74 RBI while amassing 148 total bases. His defense is nothing to get excited about as he has a lot of room for improvement. Look for him to continue to develop his power, especially during the upcoming season, as we draw closer and closer to the 2008 draft.

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Top 5 of the Rule 5

December 5, 2007

With the Major League Baseball Rule 5 draft growing closer and closer I thought now would be an excellent time to take a look at the top five players that will be available in this year’s crop of players. This annual tradition is an excellent way for a club to swipe a young talent such as Johan Santana, Dan Uggla, or Josh Hamilton for virtually nothing. This year’s batch of players could have that next big superstar just waiting for their opportunity to show what they have. So with that being said, here are the top 5 players ranked 1-5 that teams should give a shot to:

Brian Barton | CF | Cleveland Indians | Age: 25 | Bats/Throws: R/R
Brian Barton was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 38th round of the 2000 entry level draft. Then in 2004 he joined the Cleveland Indians as a non-drafted free agent after leaving the University of Miami. The outfielder has produced very solid numbers as a professional putting up a .316/.416/.473 career line and has developed into a solid defensive player. While he doesn’t possess the power or run production of a corner outfielder, he does hit well enough and has the ability to steal bases (could steal 15-20 as an everyday player) but would be a great (and cheap) option for many teams to fit in as a fourth outfielder. He is definitely worth the roster spot for a team that is looking to fill out their 40-man or could use some outfield help.

Justin Hedrick | P | San Francisco Giants | Age: 25 | Bats/Throws: R/R
Justin Hedrick was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 6th round of the 2004 amateur draft out of Northeastern University. Hedrick made the move to the bullpen in the Minors and made a nice transition posting very solid career numbers with a 2.65 ERA and 10.94 K/9. Since teams are always looking for bullpen help, Hedrick may fit in nicely for a team looking to fill out their bullpen going into 2008.

Dusty Hughes | P | Kansas City Royals | Age: 25 | Bats/Throws: L/L
Coming out of Delta State University, left handed pitcher Dusty Hughes was drafted in the 11th round of the 2003 amateur draft by the Kansas City Royals. I’m a little confused as to why the Royals are leaving Hughes eligible for the Rule 5 Draft especially considering how lefties are a very hot commodity in Major League Baseball which means he will most likely be picked up. This is especially true when you consider his 3.26 career ERA and the fact that he is a former all-star and best pitcher award winner in the Arizona Fall League. There is little doubt that Hughes will be selected in this year’s draft and will help fill a lefty void in some MLB team’s roster.

Jamie D’Antona | 3B | Arizona D-Backs | Age: 25 | Bats/Throws: R/R
Jamie D’Antona was drafted out of Wake Forest University in the 2nd round of the 2003 amateur entry draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. D’Antona started his pro career out on a pretty mediocre note. But over the past two seasons he has improved immensely and managed to increase his OPS by almost 170 points. He also a little pop to his bat (combined for 73 doubles and 30 homers the past two years) and posted a low 10.7 K% in 2007 cutting it nearly in half from the previous year. D’Antona would be a nice bench player as he has shown the potential to hit as well as having the ability to play third base, first base, and even catcher.

David Smith | OF | Toronto Blue Jays | Age: 26 | Bats/Throws: R/R
Coming out of West Virginia State College, David Smith was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 15th round of the 2002 amateur entry draft. Smith is most likely the most powerful hitter to be available in this year’s draft which will catch the attention of many teams. He hit 24 homers in 2007 and has driven in 68 or more runs in each of the last four seasons. While he is a little old (26) to still be in Double-A, he has shown improvements and is able to play all three outfield positions and could be a nice fourth outfielder for many teams.

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The Ultimate Question: Hughes or Ellsbury?

December 3, 2007

It has been discussed for days in the comments section here as well as sites and blogs across the internet. If you were running the Minnesota Twins, who do you want more in a deal for Johan Santana, the young phenom pitcher Phil Hughes or the scrappy table setter Jacoby Ellsbury?

(click here to continue…)

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The Diamond Cutter vs. MiLB.com

December 1, 2007

MiLB.com just finished presenting their top 50 prospect list heading into the 2008 season. Today I thought it would be fun to take a look at their top 25 and see how theirs compared to my top 25 list. While there are some players we ranked quite differently, we seem to be in the same ballpark on most. Here’s a look:

DIAMOND CUTTER MiLB.com
Official List Official List
1.) Jay Bruce 1.) Jay Bruce
2.) Clay Buchholz 2.) Evan Longoria
3.) Cameron Maybin 3.) Cameron Maybin
4.) David Price 4.) Clayton Kershaw
5.) Evan Longoria 5.) Joba Chamberlain
6.) Joba Chamberlain 6.) Clay Buchholz
7.) Clayton Kershaw 7.) Colby Rasmus
8.) Colby Rasmus 8.) Andrew McCutchen
9.) Ian Kennedy 9.) Homer Bailey
10.) Homer Bailey 10.) Adam Miller
11.) Andrew McCutchen 11.) David Price
12.) Jacoby Ellsbury 12.) Wade Davis
13.) Jacob McGee 13.) Jacoby Ellsbury
14.) Rick Porcello 14.) Rick Porcello
15.) Travis Snider 15.) Travis Snider
16.) Carlos Gonzalez 16.) Franklin Morales
17.) Brandon Wood 17.) Fernando Martinez
18.) Reid Brignac 18.) Nick Adenhart
19.) Johnny Cueto 19.) Brandon Wood
20.) Josh Vitters 20.) Jacob McGee
21.) Mike Moustakas 21.) Matt Wieters
22.) Andy LaRoche 22.) Mike Moustakas
23.) Jeff Clement 23.) Carlos Gonzalez
24.) Daric Barton 24.) Gio Gonzalez
25.) Fernando Martinez 25.) Eric Hurley

As you can see we are pretty close for the most part. The biggest difference seems to be how we both view Yankees pitcher Ian Kennedy. MiLB doesn’t even include Kennedy in their top 25 as they have him just missing at number 26. I however have him nestled in at number nine. Part of the reason many overlook Kennedy is due to the hype of Phil Hughes and the giant splash Joba Chamberlain made last season. MiLB also mentions how they feel he will most likely begin 2008 in Triple-A due to the possible crowded Yankee rotation. But if Andy Pettite retires, Roger Clemens doesn’t return and depending on the Phil Hughes/Johan Santana trade situation, the Yankees may need Kennedy to step in as a number five starter.

The other glaring difference is how we view Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto. While I have him ranked at number 19, MiLB barely has him cracking the top 50 at number 47. I couldn’t really tell by their synopsis why he was so low, but I’m guessing it may have something to do with Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey garnering all the attention. Regardless of why, Cueto isn’t far off from Bailey’s level of talent. He’s still very young and has some great pitches that the Reds organization can take their time developing. Look for him to force their hands as he shoots through their system in no time.

Over all I thought MiLB did a nice job with their rankings. I question a lot more of their choices than I thought I would but when you have something as subjective as evaluating talent you are bound to have difference of opinions. They really didn’t make me rethink any of my choices or my scouting reports but it was nice to hear their “professional” opinions. As always don’t hesitate letting me know how you felt about our lists by emailing me at mwhipps@mvn.com.

Catch my column “Twins Killings” every day only on the Most Valuable Network.

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