Spotlight Will Be on Texas
As 2011 JC Crop Takes Shape
The 2010 baseball draft took on historic proportions, insofar as junior-college talent. Not only did College of Southern Nevada teen prodigy Bryce Harper become the first JC player ever to be selected No. 1 overall, but Chipola (Fla.) JC infielder LeVon Washington became the first unsigned first-round pick to play at that level and re-enter the following year’s draft.
Harper, who was picked by the Washington Nationals, and Washington, who was re-selected by the Cleveland Indians in the second round, predictably went 1-2 last June, but the wave of JC talent hardly stopped there. Seven players from the junior-college ranks were selected in the top three rounds.
Moreover, had St. Petersburg (Fla.) JC righthander Austin Wood performed last spring like he did during the summer in the Cape Cod League, he might have joined Harper and Washington at the top of the draft board. Wood went in the fourth round to TampaBay, and became the highest unsigned JC pick from the 2010 draft to elect not to sign. He chose to enroll this fall at Southern California for his junior year, and projects as a mid-first round pick in 2011.
This year, the junior-college spotlight is expected to shine on Texas. There is no player of Harper’s magnitude in this year’s crop, or possibly even a player of Washington’s or Wood’s stature, but the Lone Star State should roll out more than its fair share of intriguing prospects.
On the accompanying list of the nation’s top 100 junior-college prospects in the 2011 draft class, as compiled by PG CrossChecker, the top five players hail from Texas, and all are pitchers.
At the top of the heap is Angelina righthander Ian Gardeck, whose fastball has been clocked this fall up to 98 mph, and has generally been in the 92-95 range with good arm-side life and sink. Gardeck, an Illinois high-school product, elected to transfer to a junior college after spending his freshman year at the University of Dayton. He subsequently committed to attend the University of Alabama in the NCAA early-signing period, which began Wednesday.
But Gardeck is hardly the only junior-college arm that has drawn the scrutiny of scouts in Texasthis fall. Among others that have prominently surfaced are Howard righthanders Derrick Bleeker, a transfer from Arkansas, and Damien Magnifico, a fifth-round pick of the New York Mets in the 2009 draft who missed his freshman year while recovering from an elbow injury. Both pitchers have been clocked in the mid-90s this fall.
Navarro righthander Drew Verhagen is yet another new arm on the Texas JC scene. He had shoulder issues as a high-school senior and pitched sparingly as a freshman at Oklahomalast spring, but the 6-foot-6, 230-pounder has been clocked this fall in the mid-90s.
San Jacinto lefthander Miguel Pena, a fifth-round pick of the Nationals in 2009, is also in the mix of high-profile Texas junior-college arms, but does not have the big fastball that others on the list do. Nonetheless, he went 13-1, 1.96 as a freshman ace for the nation’s top-ranked JC team entering last year’s Junior College World Series.
Besides Gardeck, others in the elite crop of Texans who have committed in the NCAA early-signing period are Magnifico (Oklahoma) and Verhagen (Vanderbilt). Bleeker continues to weigh options from several prominent NCAA colleges.
For the most part, most of the better players on the Top 100 list are four-year transfers and incoming freshmen. The highest-ranked freshman is Oxnard (Calif.) JC righthander Jesus Valdez, an unsigned fifth-round pick of the Los Angeles Angels in the 2010 draft.
With the highly publicized and talented Harper leading the way, Southern Nevada played a prominent role in last year’s draft. The Coyotes had nine players drafted altogether, but CSN’s impact on both the 2011 season and draft could be scaled back significantly as head coach Tim Chambers has moved on to Nevada-Las Vegas, and his replacement, Chris Sheff, was on the job for only four months before being fired amidst allegations of rules violations and mistreatment of players.
Former Green Valley High coach Nick Garritano recently took over the reins and may need time to rebuild the CSN program, especially with a freshman-dominated club in 2011.
While controversy has clouded the former school of the No. 1 JC pick in the 2010 draft (Harper), the same is also the case for the highest unsigned junior-college pick in 2010 (Wood).
Long-time and highly successful St. Petersburg JC coach Dave Pano was forced to resign late in the summer amidst charges of irregularities in the recruitment of a player. Pano was later replaced by former Mississippi assistant Rob Francis, but the program may also be hard pressed to be a factor in the short term, like it has been in recent years, as it has been hit with a number of penalties, including loss of scholarships.
Floridajunior colleges have traditionally had the greatest impact than any state on the draft, but it does not appear to have an elite prospect this year of the magnitude of Washington or Wood.
The top-rated prospects in Florida at this point are a pair of four-year transfers drawn to the state from remote locations – Indian River State JC sophomore second baseman Cory Spangenberg, a transfer from Virginia Military Institute, and Chipola sophomore catcher Geno Escalante, a transfer from Cal State Fullerton. Spangenberg signed with Miamiin the early period, Escalante with East Carolina.
But as the 2011 junior-college crop has begun to take shape, all eyes will be on Texas.