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The 2011 baseball draft is shaping up as one of the strongest ever, and the unusual quality in this year’s crop of college left-handers may be the biggest contributing factor.
Led by the talented trio of Georgia Tech’s Jed Bradley, Virginia’s Danny Hultzen and TCU’s Matt Purke, who all are expected to be among the first 10 picks in June, there are as many as six to eight left-handers who are drawing first-round interest this spring from scouts.
That doesn’t even take into account a couple of prominent southpaws at the high-school level, notably Tennessee prep star Daniel Norris, whose fastball has reached 96 mph this spring.
Given the wealth of left-handed pitching talent for scouts to sift through, this could be a historic year for that demographic from a draft standpoint. On three previous occasions (1976, 2004, 2007) in the draft’s 46-year history, there have been as many as seven lefties taken in the first round. In both 2004 and 2007, a record six such pitchers came from the college ranks.
Though left-handers only make up roughly five percent of the population at large, left-handed pitching is always at a premium in baseball and there has been at least one left-hander selected in every draft. Oddly, only one college left-hander (Arizona State’s Eddie Bane in 1973) was taken in the first round in the first 10 years of the draft, and yet a college lefty has been selected in that round every year since 1979.
On four occasions, the first pick in the draft has been a left-hander -- college pitchers Floyd Bannister (Arizona State) in 1976 and David Price (Vanderbilt) in 2007, and prepsters David Clyde (Texas) in 1973 and Brien Taylor (North Carolina) in 1991. No draft has ever witnessed an early run on lefties quite like 1976, when Bannister became the first of four lefthanders scooped up in the first five picks.
This year could be another landmark year for left-handers at the college level. In addition to the 10 left-handed starters noted below (seven of whom are eligible for the 2011 draft), several other lefties like Washington State’s Adam Conley, Oregon State’s Josh Osich and Florida’s Nick Maronde could work their way close to or into the top-round mix.
Conley, Osich and Maronde have all been clocked consistently in the mid-90s this spring, and yet are projected as relievers/closers at the next level, even though Conley and Osich have been used exclusively in starting roles this spring for their respective teams. That trio will be highlighted next week when we take a close-up look at the 10 best potential closers in college baseball.
The first group listed below, focusing on the top prospect left-handers, has more than its own share of hard throwers, but almost all have a full allotment of three or more pitches that they can command for strikes, making them ideal for starting roles as they progress through college and into the professional ranks.
The second group of pitchers highlights those that have thrown at an elite level, thus are ranked on a performance-based criteria.
WHAT’S NEXT? RHP prospect and performance-based power rankings
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