Juco | Rankings | 2/24/2015

JUCO Top 25 Teams: Feb. 24

Allan Simpson        
Photo: St. Johns River

2015 Preseason Top 50 Junior College Teams | Top 200 Junior College Prospects

With 37 wins and a No. 5 national ranking a year ago as it entered state tournament play, St. Johns River seemed almost certain of eclipsing its school record of 38 victories, accomplished in 2013. That record run went up in smoke almost overnight, however, as the favored Vikings were bounced in two straight games in the highly-competitive Florida state junior-college tournament.

Fast forward to 2015, and St. Johns River seems like a lock to take care of unfinished business. With a 17-3 record through games of Feb. 22, the Vikings not only lead the nation’s junior colleges in wins but are nearly halfway to a school record for victories. And their fast start has propelled them to an unprecedented No. 1 ranking in Perfect Game’s first in-season ranking of the top jucos.

St. Johns River relied on the slugging exploits of third baseman Tyler Humphries and a deep, talented pitching staff to put the program on the map nationally in 2014, and are essentially relying on the same formula this season. Humphries finished just one home run off the national lead, with 18, on his way to becoming a seventh-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in last year’s draft, while freshmen righthanders Dustin Hersey (9-3, 3.05) and Trae Ratliff (6-0, 1.92) played pivotal roles on the pitching staff.

Hersey, a Florida State recruit, and the South Florida-bound Ratliff have combined to go 6-0 in the early going for the Vikings, while lefthanded-hitting sophomore first baseman Nate Lowe, who went only 3-for-31 and failed to go deep even once as a freshman at Mercer, has stepped in for Humphries and provided a powerful bat in the middle of a loaded Vikings lineup.

The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Lowe leads the nation with eight homers and 29 RBIs, though his .339 average is only fourth on the team. Outfielder Myles Straw, a South Alabama recruit, leads the Vikings with a .451 average, while Oklahoma State-bound shortstop Kyle Hann, a transfer from Mississippi State, is next at .397.

“Neither Hersey or Ratliff has been particularly sharp yet,” said SJR coach Ross Jones, “but both are hard-throwing righthanders and our top prospects for the 2015 draft. They consistently pitch in the 90-93 mph range and possess hard, tight breaking balls. Ratliff has a bit more pitchability and command at this point, but Hersey has the better fastball life and long-term projection.”

Both pitchers are expected to be taken in the top 10 rounds this year, with the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Hersey, whose fastball often peaks in the mid-90s, projected to go as early as the second or third rounds, but the two most-effective arms to date for the Vikings have been a pair of freshmen righthanders—starter Hunter Jones, who is 4-0 and leads the Vikings with a 0.47 ERA, and closer Tyler Carr, who has racked up a team-best five saves.

No pitcher in the national junior college ranks has been as dominant in the first month of the season, though, as the College of Southern Nevada’s Phil Bickford, an unsigned first-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013 and a projected first-rounder again in June.

Through four starts for the No. 5-ranked Coyotes, Bickford is 2-1, 1.77 with six walks and 40 strikeouts in 20 innings. In his most recent outing, against Southern Idaho, he threw five scoreless innings while striking out 13—mainly on the strength of a fastball that peaked at 96 mph.

Through games of February 22, 2015

Rk. Prev. Team ST Record
1 5 St. Johns River FL 17-3
2 7 San Joaquin Delta CA 10-0
3 3 Howard TX 9-4
4 6 Johnson County KS 7-0
5 8 Southern Nevada NV 11-5
6 9 Chipola FL 12-5
7 11 Florence-Darlington SC 10-1
8 4 Gulf Coast State FL 11-6
9 1 Iowa Western IA 3-3
10 2 San Jacinto TX 8-8
11 10 Grayson TX 7-5
12 12 Wabash Valley IL 6-1
13 13 State College of Florida-Manatee FL 12-4
14 15 Palm Beach State FL 13-4
15 16 Blinn TX 10-3
16 17 Spartanburg Methodist SC 9-3
17 19 Cochise AZ 12-4
18 23 Walters State TN 10-2
19 NR Riverside CA 11-1
20 NR Cypress CA 10-2
21 22 Seminole State OK 8-3
22 18 Chattahoochee Valley AL 8-5
23 25 LSU-Eunice LA 9-4
24 NR Palomar CA 10-3
25 24 Northwest Florida State FL 10-5

DROPPED OUT: No. 14 Georgia Perimeter (5-11), No. 20 Central Arizona (8-6), No. 21 Miami-Dade (7-8)

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