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Friday, February 12, 2010

College 2010: Ohio Valley

David Rawnsley        

In an earlier state preview for the 2010 draft, we discussed how South Carolina had become a strong factor in the fabric of college baseball, despite having rather modest amounts of in-state high school talent. Much the same can be said about the state of Kentucky.

There are 11 college players from that state listed in Groups 1 and 2 (i.e., roughly the first 10 rounds) for the 2010 draft, according to PG Crosschecker’s master follow list, and an even more impressive 14 such players for the 2011 draft. That total of 25 premium draft prospects is still less than South Carolina (30), but more than Georgia (23), a noted hotbed for prep talent.

Of those 25 premium Kentucky college prospects, only eight attended high school in the state, meaning Kentucky has become a prime destination state to play college baseball.

The flagship school for Kentucky’s rapid improvement as a meaningful baseball state has been the University of Louisville, which has won 47, 41 and 47 games in the last three years and begins the 2010 season ranked 20th in the PG-X Top 100 rankings.

Fourth-year coach Dan McDonnell’s team will have to rebuild much of its pitching staff, but should field one of the top run-producing clubs in the country with the return of junior 3B Phil Wunderlich (.367-18-78), senior 1B Andrew Clark (.355-9-55, 55 BB) and senior 2B Adam Devall (.328-11-51).

As much of a factor as Louisville has become from a draft standpoint, the potential exists for 34th-ranked Kentucky to be even more prominent – not only in 2010, but even more so in 2011.

The Wildcats feature no fewer than five pitchers on this year’s club that have first-round potential in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 drafts – senior LHP James Paxton and junior LHP Logan Darnell this year, sophomore RHPs Alex Meyer and Braden Kapteyn a year from now, and freshman LHP Taylor Rogers two years hence.

Paxton’s on-going legal issues with the school and the NCAA, stemming from his alleged use of an agent in last year’s draft when he was an unsigned first-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays, cost the Wildcats several spots in the Top 100 pre-season rankings as his availability for 2010, on the eve of the season, remains somewhat unclear. Even with Paxton in the lineup, it would still be a matter of matching performance to potential for Kentucky as the Wildcats finished a disappointing 28-26 in 2009.

The state has a third school of some note at the college level, Western Kentucky, which is ranked 70th in the PG-X pre-season rankings. The Hilltoppers came within a game of their first appearance in the College World Series in 2008, and then set a school record for victories last year while going 42-20, leading to another regional appearance. Junior C Matt Rice (.399-10-72) can hit and led a defensive unit that fielded at a .979 clip last spring.

The talent in the rest of the Ohio Valley region looks very strong for 2010, as well.

Ohio State, looking to recapture some of its past glory when it won the College World Series in 1966, enters the spring ranked No. 22, just two spots back of Louisville, and is the heavy favorite in what looks like an improved Big 10 race.

Despite the ominous presence of Louisville and Kentucky talent, Buckeyes RHP Alex Wimmers (9-2, 3.27, 104 IP/136 SO) could be the first player picked in June from the Ohio Valley region. His power curveball is one of the country’s top strikeout pitches. C Dan Burkhart (.354-10-62) is one of the nation’s top catching prospects and should be one of the better senior signs in June.

Kent State is another Ohio college that should make inroads on this year’s draft. The Flashes will have their usual stable of hard-throwing pitchers, highlighted by closer Brett Weibley, a converted third baseman. Area scouts will also beat a path south to Ohio University and its duo of athletic outfielders, Gauntlett Eldemire and Robert Maddox, two more early-round possibilities.

Michigan should be the top college team in that state and produce the first college pick in this year’s draft in well-rounded OF Ryan LaMarre (.344-12-62). Overall, though, Michigan’s impact will not approach Kentucky and Ohio, particularly the former.

With that as a backdrop, here’s how we see the top talent in Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio for the 2010 draft.


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