General : : Crack The Bat
Friday, September 03, 2010

Summer’s Best

Patrick Ebert        

This is another one of my annual columns, assembling a team made up of the best players I had the opportunity to see this summer one way or another.  I think it’s easy to say that the talent that is stacking up for next year is going to make the 2012 draft special.

Catcher:  Austin Hedges

This was a tough call between Hedges and Blake Swihart, but I went with Hedges who I believe is the better pure catcher defensively, even if Swihart may very well be the best hitter not named Anthony Rendon available for next year’s draft.  Hedges’ soft hands, footwork and arm strength were immediately evident, and he also proved to be no slouch in the batter’s box with a quick bat and a line drive approach.  He should add more power to his swing as he matures, and overall is a good athlete for the position.

The Aflac All-American Classic was loaded with talented catchers, as Tyler Marlette and Cameron Gallagher also deserve to be mentioned, as does former Aflac All-American and Cape League all-star Andrew Susac.

First Base:  Daniel Camarena

Camarena also plays the outfield and pitches, topping out in the low-90s, but I really liked what I saw from him at first base.  He looks very natural playing the position, and showed a disciplined approach and smooth left-handed swing at the plate.  He reminded me somewhat of Adrian Gonzalez, as there is also budding power in Camarena’s swing, and he should continue to be developed as a hitter showing a good eye at the plate and easy loft power.  Should he honor his commitment to San Diego, he likely would be allowed to both pitch and hit similar to Josh Romanski from a few years ago.

Cam Seitzer and Jacob Anderson both showed sweet swings and slick gloves around the first base bag.

Second Base:  Kolton Wong

Wong did it all for the Orleans Firebirds on the Cape this past summer on his way to being named the league’s MVP.  He finished second in on-base percentage (.426), tied for second in stolen bases (22), third in batting (.341, one of five hitters that finished above .300 among those that qualified) and hits (46), and fourth in slugging (.452).  He displayed a very controlled approach at the plate, walking more times than he struck out (18 to 13), proving to be a valuable asset atop a lineup while also flashing a very good glove at second.

Chris McFarland would be my utility infield if I made a spot for one, but I’ll mention him here since I think second base will be his best position at the next level.

Third Base:  Cody Asche

Asche continued to show his knack for driving in runs, leading the Northwoods League in RBI (61) while hitting .304/.361/.504 with 19 doubles and nine home runs.  He had a pair of hits in the league’s all-star game, including a big two-run jack that led to him being named the game’s MVP.  Reviews on his defense were mixed, but most seem to believe he will be able to stick at third base at least for the next few years, although Nebraska may have him play first base next spring.

Tyler Hanover, Sean Trent and Dante Bichette, Jr. also looked impressive at the position.

Shortstop:  Francisco Lindor

Smooth is the first word that comes to mind when watching Lindor play the game.  On the field he’s a natural at shortstop, with the range, hands and arm strength to make all of the plays to both sides that will allow him to stick at the position long-term.  There is also promise with his bat, and while he’s not a big slugger, winning the Aflac home run derby proved that there is some thunder in his swing.  He’s a switch hitter with a solid tool-set that currently projects to be a premium pick in next year’s draft, and he could go among the top three to five overall picks next June if he continues to progress at the plate.

I don’t think either one remains at shortstop long term, but Michael Ratterree and Steve Nyisztor (the Northwoods League MVP) proved this summer that they didn’t miss a beat swinging a wood bat.

Outfield:  Travis Harrison, Kyle Gaedele, Billy Flamion

This trio offers a little bit of everything between Harrison’s power, Gaedele’s athleticism and Flamion’s bat speed.  Harrison looks somewhat like a brute, with a physically mature, barrel-chested frame and large, strong forearms and hands that gives him very good bat speed and overall power potential.  He’s a pretty good overall athlete, although he’s probably best suited for left field or possibly even first base down the road.  Gaedele garnered several Jeff Francoeur comparisons given his size and five-tool potential, as he runs like a deer, has a strong arm and can hit for both average and power.  Flamion showcased the best bat speed this summer, and is also a pretty good overall athlete with good speed and a strong outfield arm.

Dwight Smith, Jr., Mason Robbins, Brandon Nimmo, Caleb Ramsey, John Ruettiger and Jordan Smith were among some of the other impressive outfielders I had the opportunity to see play.

Designated Hitter:  Dwight Smith, Jr.

This spot is usually reserved for the best pure hitter that didn’t get named above.  There were plenty of names to choose from, including another son of a former big-leaguer, Dante Bichette, Jr., as well as Blake Swihart as profiled above.  Smith is one of the better pure hitters available for next year’s draft, with the ability to spray line drives to all parts of the park.  The left-handed hitter has proven that he’s able to handle some of the top pitchers in the nation, although he’s more of a gap-to-gap hitter at this point in time than an over-the-fence slugger.

Starting Pitchers:  Archie Bradley, Jed Bradley, Kevin Gausman

It may be tough to sign Archie Bradley away from playing quarterback at Oklahoma, as he has the size and arm strength to excel in both sports.  Baseball followers always cheer when they steal a premium athlete away from the gridiron, so Bradley could be the next to follow a path similar to Zach Lee, who may have set the standard of what it will take to sign Bradley next summer.  Jed Bradley was the best pure pitcher that I saw this summer, with pretty good stuff as well.  The Georgia Tech lefty was leading the Cape League in punchouts (44) before he ended his summer, and should assume the role as the Yellow Jackets Friday ace now that Deck McGuire has begun his pro career.  Gausman really impressed me with how much he has progressed over the last year, filling out his body and throwing his fastball consistently in the mid-90s this summer.  He will be draft-eligible as a sophomore in 2012, and likely will be looking to serve as one of LSU’s weekend starters during his freshman year, with size and stuff similar to that of former Tiger Anthony Ranaudo.

It’s hard to limit this spot to a dozen players much less three, but others that stood out to me include a handful of Aflac All-Americans (Michael Kelly, Henry Owens, Robert Stephenson, Tyler Beede, John Magliozzi), USC transfer Austin Wood, and a pair of Vanderbilt lefties in Sam Selman and Grayson Garvin.

Closer:  Tony Zych

Popping a few 97s on the radar gun will quickly get your attention, and while Zych’s delivery isn’t the prettiest with substantial herk and jerk, it’s part of what makes him so effective in a short relief role.  He also complements his fastball with a violent slider that continues to get better.  He is a very good athlete, originally arriving to Louisville as a two-way prospect with a good bat and slick infield glove.

R.J. Alvarez preceded Zych in the Cape all-star game, pitching the eighth inning for the West division all-stars and forming what looked like the back end of a big-league bullpen with Zych.

Utility:  Lance McCullers, Jr.

This was the toughest position to pick, as I was also extremely impressed with Bubba Starling and Jake Cave.  Starling in particular is a player whose name has risen significantly this summer, and McCullers isn’t even draft eligible until 2012.  But McCullers gets the call with his nearly unrivaled power/power toolset given his arm strength and left-handed swing.  Pitching in the mid-90s with the ability to creep towards triple digits probably has most thinking his future lies on the mound at this point in time, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him drafted in a couple of years as a strong armed third baseman.

The thoughts and opinions listed here do not necessarily reflect those of Perfect Game USA.  Patrick Ebert is affiliated with both Perfect Game USA and 5 Tool Talk, and can be contacted via email at

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