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Draft : : State Preview
State Preview: Connecticut
Published: Saturday, June 04, 2011

In the weeks leading up to the draft, Perfect Game will be providing a detailed overview of each state in the U.S., including the District of Columbia, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico. These overviews will list the state's strengths, weaknesses and the players with the best tools, as well as providing mini-scouting reports on all Group 1 and 2 players.

Connecticut State-by-State List

Connecticut Overview:
Team For The Ages Being Challenged to Live Up to Lofty Expectations

This was supposed to be the year when it all came together.

With the greatest assembly of talent on one college team in New England history, this was supposed to be the year that the University of Connecticut blew past every team, and every record imaginable and established its rightful place as the greatest team ever to come from the region.

The Huskies gave sign of things to come in 2010, when they set a school record for wins while going 48-16. But that was just supposed to be a lead-up to this season, when they were expected to not only top that mark and make a serious run at a College World Series bid, but smash draft records of all kinds for a team from the Northeast.

Long-time area scouts said that this year’s version of the Huskies were the most physical, athletic team they had seen in years, and believed that they would produce double-digit draft picks, including the two highest selections in school history, outfielder George Springer and righthander Matt Barnes, two home-grown products.

It hasn’t been that easy, though.

The Huskies struggled out of the gate on an ambitious, season-opening road trip to Florida, Texas and California, and limped home with just a 7-8 record. Though they righted the ship and easily finished atop the Big East Conference standings, the Huskies hit another speed bump at the end, with their very season on the line.

They failed to win the Big East post-season tournament and then got trounced 13-1 in the opening game of regional play. Suddenly, they find themselves a single loss away from a season of immense promise coming crashing down, far short of what was expected.

Springer and Barnes have enjoyed fine seasons overall, solidifying their status as first-round picks, but both players have had their challenging moments, too.

Springer played well below expectations to begin the season, when he was heavily exposed to scouts in other areas of the country, but managed to pick up his pace considerably as the season progressed, and led UConn in batting (.354), home runs (12), RBIs (74) and stolen bases (31) as regional play began.

Barnes was stellar throughout the 2011 season, and took an 11-3 record with a scintillating 1.13 ERA into regional competition. But he picked the worst time to have the worst outing of his 2011 season, when he was rocked for seven runs and nine hits in four-plus innings in his team’s one-sided regional tournament loss to Coastal Carolina. Springer was no better in that contest as he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

It’s unlikely that one bad game will impact the draft status of both players as they had pretty much secured spots in the top half of the first round, which would make them the two highest drafts picks in school history. Righthander Charles Nagy was the 17th pick overall in 1988, and represents the only other first-rounder produced by the Huskies.

It’s even possible that one or the other among Springer and Barnes, more likely the latter, could challenge former Stamford High shortstop Bobby Valentine to become the highest draft pick in state history. Valentine was taken with the fifth overall pick in 1968.

Barnes has been a revelation since going undrafted in 2008 as a little-known, lightly-recruited prospect out of a Connecticut high school. He started slowly in college, but by his sophomore year with the Huskies, he had added 7-8 mph in velocity to his fastball, peaking at 97, and significantly developed his off-speed pitches. He went 8-3, 3.92 a year ago, and had a standout summer with Team USA, going 3-0, 1.42 with 26 strikeouts and five walks in 19 innings. All that set the stage for 2011.

Though the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Barnes was largely unheralded when he enrolled at UConn, he has always had a loose arm and projectable frame. Along with his significant increase in velocity, his feel for pitching has also improved by leaps and bounds. He gets a good downhill angle on his fastball, and generates more arm-side run on the pitch than sinking action, though he does get good sink on his two-seamer. Besides his above-average fastball, Barnes has a chance for three average secondary pitches. His hard, sharp 75-78 mph curve is his best off-speed pitch.

Springer was part of the same vaunted 2008 Connecticut prep class that included Barnes, plus the Salisbury School’s Chris Dwyer (signed with Kansas City in 2009 for $1.4 million) and Anthony Hewitt (first-round pick of Philadelphia Phillies), and Amity Regional High shortstop Jason Esposito (Royals unsigned seventh-rounder, now at Vanderbilt). As a 48th-rounder that year, Springer was relatively overlooked at the time, but he has a chance to surpass the accomplishments of that high-profile trio.

Springer immediately put himself on the map with a breakout freshman season in 2009 for UConn, hitting .358-16-57 with a school-record 75 runs, and has only added to his profile over the next two years. As a sophomore, he hit .337-18-62, was successful on 33 of 35 stolen-base attempts and broke his own school record with 84 runs scored. With his elite combination of power and speed, Springer may rank as the top five-tool athlete in this year’s draft.

He also receives high marks for his right-field arm strength and sound defensive ability, even as a center fielder. The area of Springer’s game that continues to evolve is his hitting—both his mechanics and approach. He has always swung with a lot of effort and tended to come off pitches too quickly, resulting in a long swing path that sophisticated pitchers have been able to exploit. When he gets his bat head through the zone and is direct to the ball, though, he can hit pitches a long way. He can especially punish fastballs, but tends to get over-anxious against off-speed stuff, especially with two strikes.

While Barnes and Springer have been the main focus of the many scouts who have followed UConn this spring, they are hardly the only players on the team that have been closely evaluated.

Slick-fielding shortstop Nick Ahmed is also expected to be a premium draft, possibly as early as the sandwich- or second-rounds. He has endured his own challenges this spring as he missed 15 games at mid-season when he was involved in an on-field collision that led to his being hospitalized with a punctured lung. But he recovered from that ordeal and was hitting .325-2-31 with 21 stolen bases as regional play began.

Ahmed’s best tool is his arm. He didn’t pitch at all this season, but has done so briefly in the past, with impressive results, and there are teams that still may entertain drafting him with the idea of converting him to the mound. In short bursts, his fastball once reached 93-94 mph. A lot will depend on how Ahmed’s bat, considered his weakest tool, develops.

The Huskies still expect to have as many as 10 players drafted, which would be a single-season record for a team from the region. In addition to Barnes, Springer and Ahmed, ace closer Kevin Vance (0-0, 0.98, 13 SV) and fast-improving set-up man David Fischer have a shot to crack the top 10 rounds.

All eyes have understandably been on UConn this spring, and it has clearly monopolized the talent supply that will come from Connecticut this spring. No other college team is expected to produce a player in the first 20-25 rounds.

At the high-school level, Southington High righthander Sal Romano has quietly worked his way into the top-10 round picture. Romano snuck up on a few scouts this spring after missing most of last summer with a broken jaw, preventing him from gaining exposure on the showcase circuit.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound righthander bears a striking physical resemblance to former Southington High star and current big leaguer Carl Pavano, and also has similar stuff and mechanics. He gained significant scouting attention when his fastball reached 92-93 mph this spring, and his breaking ball, now a hard hammer, showed vast improvement.

Connecticut in a Nutshell:

STRENGTH:
UConn talent.
WEAKNESS: High-end high-school talent.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 5.

BEST COLLEGE TEAM:
Connecticut.
BEST JUNIOR-COLLEGE TEAM: Connecticut-Avery Point.
BEST HIGH SCHOOL TEAM: Avon Old Farms, Avon.

PROSPECT ON THE RISE: David Fischer, rhp, University of Connecticut.
Lost in the shuffle in the past on the ultra-talented UConn squad, the 6-foot-5 Fischer came out firing his fastball at 92-93 mph on the opening weekend of the 2011 season, and his draft stock took off. He could squeeze his way into the first 10 rounds.

PROSPECT ON THE DECLINE: Kevin Vance, rhp, University of Connecticut.
Considered an equal talent as a third baseman (.322-7-35 in 2010) and closer prior to this season, Vance focused only on his pitching duties this season, and dominated in that role (0.98 ERA, 13 SV). His draft worth may have taken a minor hit in the process, though, as his fastball velocity fell off from a customary 93-94 mph last summer to the high-80s, at times.

WILD CARD: Nick Ahmed, ss, University of Connecticut.
He missed 15 games at mid-season with bruised ribs and a collapsed lung, a result of an on-field collision. That openly caused scouts to re-think his draft position, and had them contemplating dropping him appreciably. Ahmed appears 100 per cent healthy again. His best tool is unquestionably his powerful arm, and there are clubs that believe he might have a higher upside on the mound.

BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, Connecticut Connection:
Jason Esposito, ss, Vanderbilt University (attended high school in Amity).
TOP 2012 PROSPECT: L.J. Mazzilli, 2b, University of Connecticut.
TOP 2013 PROSPECT: David Mahoney, lhp, University of Connecticut.

HIGHEST DRAFT PICKS
Draft History: Bobby Valentine, ss, Rippowam HS, Stamford (1968, Dodgers/1st round, 5th pick).
2006 Draft: Tim Norton, rhp, U. of Connecticut (Yankees/7th round).
2007 Draft: Matt Harvey, rhp, Fitch HS, Groton (Angels/3rd round).
2008 Draft: Anthony Hewitt, 3b, Salisbury School (Phillies/1st round, 24th pick).
2009 Draft: Dan Mahoney, rhp, U. of Connecticut (Marlins/4th round).
2010 Draft: Michael Olt, 3b, U. of Connecticut (Rangers/1st round, 49th pick).

BEST TOOLS
Best Hitter: Mike Nemeth, 1b, University of Connecticut.
Best Power: George Springer, of, University of Connecticut.
Best Speed: George Springer, of, University of Connecticut.
Best Defender: Nick Ahmed, ss, University of Connecticut.
Best Velocity: Matt Barnes, rhp, University of Connecticut.
Best Breaking Stuff: Matt Barnes, rhp, University of Connecticut.

TOP PROSPECTS, GROUPS ONE and TWO

GROUP ONE
(Projected ELITE-Round Draft / Rounds 1-3)

1. MATT BARNES, rhp, University of Connecticut (Jr.)
Has made huge strides in 3 years; FB now at 92-97, has developed off-speed stuff; now commands 4 pitches.
2. GEORGE SPRINGER, of, University of Connecticut (Jr.)
One of best athletes/5-tool prospects in draft; power/speed best tools, still needs to refine hitting mechanics.
3. NICK AHMED, ss, University of Connecticut (Jr.)
High-energy/athletic player; solid defender at SS with ++ arm; bat is suspect; recovered from collapsed lung.

GROUP TWO
(Projected HIGH-Round Draft / Rounds 4-10)

4. SAL ROMANO, rhp, Southington HS
Likened to ex-Southington RHP Carl Pavano in size, style; FB 92-93, + improved CU; has delivery issues.
5. KEVIN VANCE, rhp, University of Connecticut (Jr.)
Former 2-way player, settled in as ++ closer (0.98 ERA, 13 SV); 3 pitches, FB at 94 in past, more 89-91 now.
6. DAVID FISCHER, rhp, University of Connecticut (Jr.)
Fastest-moving UConn player; came out early with FB at 92-93, off-speed needs work; projectable 6-5 frame.



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