JC crop starting to take shape, but notable lack of headline talent
In somewhat stark contrast to the 2010 and 2011 drafts, the current crop of top junior-college prospects is seen as so mediocre that it shows little sign of producing anything resembling a potential impact talent in 2012.
So far, at least.
Perfect Game has identified a preliminary list of the nation’s top 100 junior-college prospects for the 2012 draft and there isn’t a single player projected to go in the top three rounds—let alone in the first round.
That hardly is in keeping with recent drafts, when College of Southern Nevada catcher Bryce Harper was the first player selected in 2010, or even 2011, when Indian River State (Fla.) JC infielder Cory Spangenberg was taken with the 10th overall pick. In both years, junior-college players populated the first three rounds of the draft.
At this point in the 2012 process, Bellevue (Wash.) CC sophomore righthander Adrian Sampson is the nation’s top ranked juco prospect, according to Perfect Game.
But the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Sampson, an unsigned 16th-round pick of the Florida Marlins in the most-recent draft, is viewed as only a consensus fourth- to fifth-round talent, though scouts in the Pacific Northwest acknowledge he could elevate his stock in the spring if he can pitch consistently to the form he displayed late last spring as a freshman in leading Bellevue to a Northwest regional championship and early in the summer for Bellingham of the West Coast League, when his fastball would occasionally peak at 95 mph, though was more customarily in the 90-93 mph range.
Sampson’s No. 1 standing could be short-lived, however, as it is anticipated that a number of players currently enrolled in four-year colleges will find their way to the junior-college ranks after the Christmas break. Recent history suggests it will happen.
Last January, the most-notable such transfer was outfielder Brian Goodwin, who left North Carolina midway through his sophomore season and enrolled at Miami-Dade JC. In June, he was the 34th overall pick in the draft, the second JC player selected after Spangenberg.
The coincidental emergence of Spangenberg, a transfer from Virginia Military Institute following his freshman year, and sudden arrival of Goodwin on the Florida JC scene, quickly pointed out the hazards of ranking the top JC players in the fall of their draft year. At this point in 2010, five prospects from Texas topped the list of the nation’s top junior-college prospects.
Angelina righthander Ian Gardeck, a transfer from Dayton, was ranked No. 1, mainly on the strength of a 97-98 mph fastball. But Gardeck struggled with command issues all spring at Angelina and slipped to the eighth round of the 2011 draft. He elected not to sign and has since transferred to Alabama.
Spangenberg upstaged everyone in the 2011 juco draft class with his huge sophomore season for Indian River State, leading to his selection by the San Diego Padres with the 10th pick overall. His stature paled, however, compared to 2010 when Harper made draft history by becoming the only junior-college player ever selected with the No. 1 pick overall in the draft.
Suffice to say, there are no Harpers in this draft class, or even players of the stature of Spangenberg or Goodwin.
But that could all change in January when a handful of as-yet unidentified college freshmen or sophomores will opt for junior college, making them eligible immediately for the 2012 draft.
Two known players not currently enrolled at either a four-year school or junior college will almost certainly find their way onto junior-college rosters in January. And both have the talent to move immediately to the top of the 2012 JC crop and possibly work their way into the first 2 or 3 rounds in June.
One player is sophomore outfielder Andrew Toles, a fourth-round pick in 2010 who was dismissed from the baseball program at Tennessee earlier this fall. Toles is scheduled to enroll at Chipola (Fla.) JC in January.
A second player who is also slated to make his way to the top of the list is California prep infielder Fernando Perez, who has stated his intentions to leave high school a semester early and enroll at Central Arizona College in January.
For now, the distinction of top prospect in the 2012 junior-college class belongs to Sampson, a standout Washington high-school prospect as a sophomore and junior before Tommy John surgery in July of 2009 cost him his senior year and nearly derailed his career.
After sitting out 2010 and passing on an opportunity to pitch at Oregon State out of high school, Sampson began his comeback last fall by enrolling at Bellevue CC. His junior-college career started slowly, but Sampson’s final outing as a freshman for the Bulldogs, just prior to the draft, was a dominant three-hit, 15-strikeout effort in a key 3-0 playoff win over traditional area power Lower Columbia that helped to propel Bellevue to the Northwest JC title.
While his fastball velocity is generally slightly above average, by pro standards, the qualities that set Sampson apart are his off-speed stuff, pitchability and projectable frame. He has an excellent curveball and complements it nicely with his fastball and a changeup.
Those attributes were prominently on display in his first several outings for Bellingham in the West Coast League, but he suddenly hit a wall late in the summer when his velocity dropped off to 87-90 mph and his stuff flattened out. He elected to return to junior college for a second season rather than sign with the Marlins, and recently committed to Oregon in this week’s NCAA early-signing period.
While Sampson tops the list of presently-enrolled JC prospects, several players who elected to transfer to junior college following their freshman seasons at four-year schools are also prominent. Among them are former Oregon catcher/outfielder Stefan Sabol, now at Orange Coast (Calif.) College; ex-Arizona righthander Daniel Ponce de Leon, now at Cypress (Calif.) JC; former Nebraska lefthander Logan Ehlers, now at Howard (Texas) JC and ex-San Diego State righthander Kyle Hayes, also at Howard.
Led by Ehlers and Hayes, Howard has eight players on the accompanying top 100 list, more than any other school. That should position the 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association champion Hawks as one of the top junior-college teams again in 2012. An equally-talented Hawks team began 2011 ranked No. 1.
While most of the top JC players are sophomores, the highest-rated freshmen are Los Angeles Harbor outfielder Jamaal Moore and Parkland (Ill.) third baseman Kevin Koziol.
Moore, a 10th-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers last June, is the highest unsigned pick from the 2011 draft to enroll in a junior college, while Koziol transferred to a junior college near his Illinois home after being dismissed from Louisiana State last fall after an off-field indiscretion.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Perfect Game will issue a revised list of the nation’s Top 200 Junior College Prospects in late January, just prior to the start of the 2012 season, along with a preview of the nation’s Top 50 Junior College Teams.
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