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Published: Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Outside of the formidable presence of the big-league Rockies, Colorado doesn’t get its due as a viable baseball state.
That stems mainly from the often raw, late-spring weather conditions that can play havoc with baseball schedules, and was instrumental in mainstream colleges like Colorado and Colorado State abandoning their programs through the years.
Colorado’s only remaining Division I baseball programs are the Air Force Academy and Northern Colorado, two schools that are hardly-known for funneling players on to professional baseball. So the state often doesn’t get the credit it deserves as a talent source.
Over the last six years, the draft has produced 127 players that attended Colorado high schools, including the likes of righthander Luke Hochevar, the No. 1 overall pick in 2006 who attended high school in Wray, Colo., but spent his college career at Tennessee because there were no equivalent major-college options in his home state. Colorado’s home-grown total trumps states like Utah (54) to the west, Kansas (98) to the east and Nebraska (48) to the north, which all have perceived reputations as being superior talent producers than Colorado.
Philadelphia Phillies righthanders Roy Halladay and Brad Lidge, both of whom graduated from Colorado high schools in 1995, are among a distinguished list of former first-round pitchers who have come from Colorado through the years.
Despite its inclusion among the nation’s top 20 talent-producing states, Colorado is routinely overlooked, mainly because almost every top high-school player the state produces heads elsewhere to play college baseball. With the University of Colorado steadfast in its reluctance to reinstate baseball, there are no elite Division I baseball programs in the state to fend off the steady talent drain.
Once again this year, every Colorado high school player with even an outside shot of being drafted, roughly 15 players in all, has a college scholarship offer to an out-of-state Division I program. Arkansas, Boston College, Dartmouth, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas State, Louisiana State, Nebraska, San Diego State and Stanford are some of the elite college programs that have picked Colorado clean again this year.
At one point this spring, it appeared that Colorado’s high school ranks might have a first-round draft pick for the first time in 12 years, as 6-foot-4 Grandview High righthander Kevin Gausman, an LSU recruit, showed all indications of being one of the nation’s elite prep arms, with a fastball consistently in the mid-90s. But Gausman’s stock has slipped slightly as he has struggled to dominate hitters, even as he has often maintained his superior velocity.
Not since well-traveled outfielder Darnell McDonald, a 1998 draft pick who surfaced this spring with the Boston Red Sox, has Colorado had a high school first-rounder. But in a three-year period from 1993-95, Colorado actually had four first-rounders come out of its high schools, highlighted, of course, by Halladay in 1995.
The real heyday of grassroots baseball in Colorado, though, probably hasn’t occurred since the mid-1970s. In successive years, University of Colorado catcher John Stearns (a future big league all-star) was the No. 2 pick in the 1973 draft; the University of Northern Colorado reached the College World Series in 1974 (for the 10th time in school history, but the last time by a Colorado college team) and the powerful Boulder Collegians summer club, with a roster loaded with future major leaguers, won the 1975 National Baseball Congress World Series (the Collegians repeated the feat in 1978).
But that was 30-plus years ago. The Buffaloes haven’t fielded a baseball team in years and the Collegians are long-since defunct. Northern Colorado even abandoned its baseball program at one point, but later reinstated it and the team’s current 37-win season is one of the best in years, though UNC players should be little factor in the 2010 draft.
Only one Colorado college player (from Division II Metro State) was drafted in 2009. While there is a chance 3-4 could be taken this year, none is expected to go in the top 20 rounds. By contrast, 10 Colorado high school players were drafted a year ago, only one of whom signed.
Grand Junction, Colo., is the long-time home of the Junior College World Series, and it very nearly had a local representative this year as Lamar CC went 47-10 and climbed into the top 10 nationally. But it was stopped one step short, losing in district play to the College of Southern Nevada (and probable No. 1 draft pick Bryce Harper). The team has no draft picks of any significance.
Most of the focus in Colorado this spring has been on Gausman and state prep power Rocky Mountain High, which is bidding to win a fourth straight state 4-A title, and had advanced to the championship game. Two of the school’s best recent products are Kentucky third baseman Andy Burns and Stanford center fielder Jake Stewart, and Rocky Mountain could produce two more draft picks this year in lefthander Marco Gonzales, who was the winning pitcher in each of the last three state championship games, and righthander/shortstop Pierce Trumper. If the draft doesn’t intercede, Gonzales is headed to Gonzaga, Trumper to Arkansas.

STRENGTH: High-school arms.
WEAKNESS: College talent.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 3.

BEST COLLEGE TEAM: Northern Colorado.
BEST HIGH SCHOOL TEAM: Rocky Mountain HS, Fort Collins.

PROSPECT ON THE RISE: Kevin Walter, rhp, Legacy HS, Westminster. Size (6-5, 215), raw stuff (above-average FB/breaking ball) keep pushing him up draft board.
WILD CARD: Marco Gonzales, lhp, Rocky Mountain HS, Fort Collins. A lefthander and the best pure pitcher in Colorado, Gonzales’ advanced sense of pitchability could have high appeal for a couple of clubs.
BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, Colorado Connection: Cole Leonida, c, Georgia Tech (Attended high school in Aurora).
TOP 2011 PROSPECT: Brandon Kimbrel, c, Ponderosa HS, Parker.
TOP 2012 PROSPECT: Ryan Burr, rhp, Highlands Ranch HS.
Highest Pick, Draft History: Luke Hochevar, rhp, Wray (2006, Royals/1st round, 1st pick).
Highest Pick, 2006 Draft: Luke Hochevar, rhp, Wray (Royals/1st round, 1st pick).
Highest Pick, 2007 Draft: Colin Allen, rhp, Lamar CC (Orioles/22nd round).
Highest Pick, 2008 Draft: Tyler Sample, rhp, Mullen HS, Denver (Royals/3rd round).
Highest Pick, 2009 Draft: Geoff Baldwin, 1b, Grand Junction HS (Royals/10th round)

Best Hitter: Paul Donahue, c, Kent Denver HS, Englewood.
Best Power: Patrick Farrell, c, Regis.
Best Speed: John Pustay, of, Pine Creek HS, Colorado Springs.
Best Defender: John Pustay, of, Pine Creek HS, Colorado Springs.
Best Velocity: Kevin Gausman, rhp, Grandview HS, Aurora.
Best Breaking Stuff: Kevin Walter, rhp, Legacy HS, Westminster.

Full scouting reports available on players ranked on national Top 250 list (click on National Top 300)
GROUP ONE (Projected ELITE-Round Draft / Rounds 1-3)
1. KEVIN GAUSMAN, rhp, Grandview HS, Aurora                                            National Top 250 (Rank 43)
Still pumping 90-96 heat, but hittable (5-2, 3.66, 44 IP/45 H); needs to mix other pitches with 4-seam FB

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