General : : Crack The Bat
Crack of the Bat: The Next Big Deal
Published: Friday, March 19, 2010
Quite often one player can define any given draft year. Last year we followed the exploits of Stephen Strasburg, whose success has carried into this spring as one of the bigger stories in Major League Baseball out of the Washington Nationals spring training camp. With the ability to throw his fastball consistently in the mid-to-upper 90s, to go along with a killer breaking ball and impressive command, he has been the most hyped (and so far deservedly so) draft prospect ever.
This year we’re following an equally interesting story in Bryce Harper.
Harper’s story is unprecedented as a 17-year-old who should be a junior in high school, but currently is playing for the College of Southern Nevada. There is more skepticism about his game and eventual ceiling than what surrounded Strasburg, but nevertheless, Harper remains the top prospect available for this year’s draft.
Following in the footsteps of those two players will be no easy task, at least from a media and interest standpoint, but fans of teams that could pick at or near the top of the 2011 draft should prepare themselves for the next player who is poised to receive a considerable amount of attention and hype between now and next year.
That player is Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon.
Rendon is coming off a very successful freshman campaign in which he was named the national freshman of the year by numerous publications. And he’s picked up where he left off, and then some, this season.
Scouts who have seen Rendon rave about his hitting ability, with a great swing, bat speed and the ability to master the strike zone. While you can never take statistics posted by amateur players too seriously, a quick glance of Rendon’s leads you to believe he is clearly dominating his competition.
That comes down to walks and home runs.
Rendon is leading the nation in walks with 29 and has slugged seven home runs. Ten of those walks and four of those home runs came last week, in which four of his games were played against a Cal team that boasts some pretty good pitching. He recently added another pair of bases on balls and a home run in his most recent start, a mid-week game against the Texas Longhorns.
Basically, when he gets a pitch to hit, he crushes it, and when he doesn’t, he doesn’t swing at it. He’s getting on base at better than a 60 percent clip, and he has struck out only six times in 18 games.
His freshman year was very comparable to another college star, former Vanderbilt Commodore Pedro Alvarez, the second overall pick of the 2008 draft.
Rendon hit .388/.461/.702 in 242 at-bats last season, with 14 doubles, 20 home runs, 72 RBI and 170 total bases. He walked 31 times versus 23 strikeouts and committed 12 errors at the hot corner.
Alvarez hit .329/.456/.675 in 240 at-bats in 2006, his freshman year, with 15 doubles, 22 home runs, 64 RBI and 162 total bases. He walked 57 times versus 64 strikeouts and committed 16 errors at third.
Outside of the offensive numbers the two are capable of posting, that is pretty much where the comparison ends for the two players.
Rendon, a right-handed hitter, has a modest build, listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, as compared to the 6-foot-3, 230-pound plus Alvarez, a left-handed hitter. Rendon also profiles to play third base at a Gold Glove level, as some have even suggested he could play second base given his quickness and natural athleticism. Alvarez’s size, especially if he continues to add weight to his large frame, may cause him to slide across the diamond to first base in the next few years.
None of this is meant to take anything away from Alvarez, who is one of the top prospects in the game and a cornerstone-type of talent the Pittsburgh Pirates can build around. However, it does illustrate just how good of a hitter and overall player Anthony Rendon could be at the next level.
Of course there is a lot of baseball left to be played not only this year (he will once again be in the national spotlight this weekend as Rice travels to San Diego to face prominent draft-eligible pitching prospects Sammy Solis and Kyle Blair), but next year as well. As it stands right now, Rendon is my pick to become the next big thing when it comes to following draft-eligible prospects over the next 12 to 15 months.
Competition for the Top Spot
UCLA’s Gerrit Cole and Texas’ Taylor Jungmann would likely take offense to this proclamation, as they too are very talented sophomores who are off to very good starts this year.
Coming off of a dominating 17-strikeout performance over Iowa, Jungmann leads the nation in strikeouts with 43. Just behind him is Cole, tied for second with 41. Cole is also among the leaders in opponent’s batting average at .136, as few players can dominate a game with their fastball alone like he can.
Most impressive for Cole this season is how drastically improved his control has been. In more than 25 innings of work he has issued only four walks, after he walked nearly a batter every-other inning a year ago.
Jungmann has given up only three earned runs this year in 29 innings, leading to an ERA (0.93) below 1.00. Command hasn’t been an issue for him so far during his college career, as he was equally impressive a year ago as a freshman playing off of his fastball-slider one-two punch.
Both Cole and Jungmann serve as the Friday aces for their respective teams. Both UCLA (currently ranked fifth in the country by Perfect Game) and Texas (sixth), boast arguably the two most dominating pitching staffs in the nation, currently ranked second and third in the nation, respectively, in team ERA.
In a previous column, I detailed that the 2011 draft will be strong in college pitching. The presence of these three players in particular from the college level could make next year’s draft not only strong at the top, but one of the stronger collections of talents overall in recent years.
The thoughts and opinions listed here do not necessarily reflect those of Perfect Game USA. Patrick Ebert is affiliated with both Perfect Game USA and Brewerfan.net, and can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.