College | Story | 2/2/2011

College Impact Sleepers

Patrick Ebert        
Every year I assemble a team made up of draft-eligible college players that I view as break-out candidates for the coming spring as they attempt to improve their value in the eyes of scouts in relationship to the June Amateur Free Agent Draft.  Some of those players from a year ago included eventual first-round pick Kolbrin Vitek, second rounders Drew Smyly and Jimmy Nelson, and third round selection Rob Segedin.
Whether it be due to injuries, opportunities or simply based on performance, the players listed below may not be household names in the minds of fans of the college game at this point in time, but I project that they very well be more known commodities come June.

Zach Kometani, San Diego
A big arm and big power are Kometani’s most exciting tools.  His bat is ahead of his defense at this stage of his career, showing good mechanics, instincts and a disciplined eye at the plate.  He has good bat speed, and can really put a charge in the ball when he connects.  While he does have good arm strength, he needs to improve his release.  Overall he is a work in progress behind the plate, and there is some concern that he will have to move to first base or a corner outfield spot down the road.  Kometani was used in a part-time role last spring for the Toreros, and barely saw time during his freshman year, but is expected to receive regular playing time behind the dish this spring.  How he embraces that opportunity while leading a young pitching staff is obviously key for him to start reaching his potential and significantly improving his value in the eye’s of scouts.
First Base
Cody Asche, Nebraska
Asche broke out last summer playing in the Northwoods League, leading the circuit in runs batted in (61) and finishing tied for second in both home runs (nine) and doubles (19).  He has a solid approach at the plate that he has exhibited throughout his career at Nebraska, and many felt it was only a matter of time before his bat emerged for him to recognize his full potential.  He has played third base in the past, but is expected to see more time at first base this coming spring.  There’s a chance he could succeed at third base, with more than enough arm and good enough lateral quickness to play there, and shows the ability to put backspin and loft on balls driven to right and right-centerfield.
Second Base
Tyler Hanover, LSU
The 5-foot-6, 155 pound Hanover plays much bigger than his stature, with a fiery, competitive approach to the game that is somewhat similar to Dustin Pedroia during his collegiate career with Arizona State.  Hanover doesn’t have the same set of tools, but he makes the most of his ability.  He has strong, compact swing made for scorching line drives to the gaps, and will surprise you with how hard he can hit the ball.  He has a fearless approach in the batter’s box, and does a good job managing the strike zone, although he does need to cut down on his strikeouts.  He has good speed, although he’s not a huge stolen base threat, and he along with LSU shortstop Austin Nola will form one of the strongest middle infields in the nation.  Even if he maxes out as a utility player, he has some versatility with the ability to play third base as well.
Third Base
Travis Shaw, Kent State
Travis is the son of former big-league reliever, Jeff Shaw, who finished his 12-year career with 203 saves.  The younger Shaw has the same big arm, to go along with big-time power potential as a left-handed slugger.  He improved that power output from seven home runs during his freshman year to 15 last season, and while he has done a good job improving his approach (he drew 49 walks last year), he also must limit the amount of strikeouts he accumulates.  There is also some concern about whether or not he will be able to stick at the hot corner, but his power/power profile would fit well in right field at the next level.  Shaw returns to a Golden Flashes team that boasts solid professional talent overall, including southpaw Andrew Chafin, two-way performer Kyle McMillen and outfielder Ben Klafczynski.
Peter Mooney, South Carolina
Mooney is almost a mirror image of Hanover at second base, similarly built at 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds.  Like Hanover, Mooney is a solid defender up the middle, with enough arm and range to play the shortstop position.  A left-handed hitter, he shows a good eye with a line drive stroke, and he will surprise you with his power from time to time. He played his first two years at Palm Beach State College, where he was named the defensive player of the year at the juco level in both 2009 and 2010.  His size is always going to be a bugaboo during his baseball career, but as long as he continues to perform at a high level, he will continue to silence concerns about his size.  Head Coach Ray Tanner has a knack for procuring talent from the juco ranks, and will be counting on Mooney to play an important role for the defending champion Gamecocks.
Ronnie Richardson, Central Florida
Richardson is a draft-eligible sophomore this coming year, and was drafted in the 11th round of the 2009 draft coming out of high school by the Twins.  The 5-foot-7, 175 pound outfielder is never expected to hit for much power, but he will surprise you by the way he can put a charge into the ball.  His electrifying quickness and foot speed are his calling cards, and he is a fine defender in centerfield, committing only one error last spring during his freshman season at Central Florida.  Richardson has shown a very patient eye at the plate, maximizing his speed potential by drawing walks, and he also recognizes the importance of putting the ball in play to use his speed to get on base, making him an ideal candidate to lead off.  He proved to handle a wood bat capably on the Cape last summer, where he was named to the league’s all-star team.
Jeremy Rathjen, Rice
Rathjen isn’t as polished of a defender as Drew Stubbs was for the Texas Longhorns, but he’s a similar athlete, with long and lean proportions that takes long, gliding strides in the outfield.  Rathjen is still somewhat raw in almost every facet of his game, but he has shown dramatic improvement.  At the plate he has good bat speed and power potential, but he has the tendency to swing and miss, and needs to show better pitch recognition.  He has plus speed and the potential to be a threat on the basepaths, but needs to get better reads and jumps.  In the outfield he can cover a lot of ground and has a good arm, but is working to improve his routes to get better jumps on fly balls.  Everything is there for it all to come together for him to become a true five-tool athlete this spring, and a few more finishing touches could lead to a big bump on draft boards.
Zeke DeVoss, Miami
Similar to Richardson, DeVoss is small on stature, but he is tailor-made for a leadoff role.  He handles the bat well, and was asked to lay down quite a few sacrifice bunts for the Hurricanes, a team that likes to pressure opposing defenses.  DeVoss also did that on his own with his speed, swiping 24 bases, and adding another 27 during his summer spent in the Northwoods League.  He held his own there with a wood bat as well, hitting .310 with three dingers, showing that he does have a little bit of pop.  Most of his power is to the gaps, where he can stretch extra base hits.  He only hit .251 during his freshman year, but after that strong summer campaign he’s poised to post big numbers this year as a draft-eligible sophomore.  While his arm strength is average at best, he shows both good instincts and range in centerfield, and has some experience at second base.
Braden Kapteyn, Kentucky
On a team full of little sparkplugs, Kapteyn would really stand out.  With a tall, sturdy and well proportioned build, he looks either like a workhorse or a middle of the order slugger.  He was drafted in the 39th round coming out of high school by the Giants before attending Kentucky, but has yet to live up to his considerable promise, and has been unable to receive regular playing time with the Wildcats.  That may come this year, as he could be used as the team’s closer to replace Matt Little.  On the mound he easily throws in the low-90s with the ability to reach the mid-90s on occasion.  A nasty slider is his bread-and-butter pitch, which is nearly unhittable when he’s throwing it as well as he can.  At the plate he has light-tower power, using his size, strength and bat speed to muscle balls out of the park.  Similar to his pitching style, consistency is the key to his development, which may point to the need for him to focus on one aspect of his two-way talents.
Starting Pitcher
I dug a little deeper among the college pitchers that I think have an excellent chance of having a big spring to put themselves in consideration for the early rounds of the draft.  There is a long list of pitchers that PG Crosschecker already has rated among top 100 prospects, including Carter Capps, Anthony Meo, Carson Smith, Sam Stafford, Adam Conley, Charlie Lowell and Andrew Chafin, that could be considered sleepers.  Because of that I decided not to pick any pitcher currently ranked in the top 100 for this list.
Adam Morgan, Alabama
Morgan is what you would quickly label as a prototypical lefty.  He pitches in the upper-80s most of the time with the ability to touch the low-90s on occasion, getting the majority of his outs by commanding the strike zone and changing speeds.  He has a nice, big slow curveball and a pretty good changeup as well, and when he’s at his best he does a really good job disturbing hitter’s timing.  Physically he has a modest build but overall is fairly athletic, and he has a quick arm and overall arm action that works really well.  Morgan started and finished last season strong, but had some rough spells in the middle of the season.  An all-star worthy Cape performance last summer may be the springboard he needs to carry into the coming year, where he will resume his spot as the Crimson Tide’s Friday ace.
Erik Johnson, California
Johnson got off to a really fast start last season, opening the year as Cal’s Friday ace.  He went 3-0 and didn’t give up a single earned run over his first three appearances, but wasn’t quite as sharp down the stretch.  He’s a big-bodied righty with the size and stuff to consistently work deep into games over the course of a long season.  His fastball regularly sits in the low-90s with the ability to approach the mid-90s with a little bit of movement on the pitch.  He throws a big, slow overhand curve and made a lot of progress with his changeup a year ago.  Johnson will enter his junior year looking to resume his role as the team’s Friday starter and will also be looking to be more consistently effective over the course of the season.  That won’t be an easy task, but at least he will get a lot of looks against fellow Pac-10 aces such as Adam Conley, Austin Wood, Tyler Anderson and Gerrit Cole.
Chris Reed, Stanford
The past several years, Stanford has seen quite a few pitchers that have special arms struggled to reach their potential largely due to command issues.  Left-handed pitcher Reed joins current teammate Brett Mooneyham and former teammate Jeff Inman in that conversation.  At 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, he still has a projectable and athletic frame that could add more strength.  His arm is electric, throwing in the low-90s with really good sinking movement on his fastball.  He also throws both a slider and a curveball, with the slider projecting as another plus pitch, and he’s working on a changeup.  Reed has been used primarily in relief each of the last two years, but has the stuff to start.  Because of that, his arm is relatively fresh, but he needs to hone his command.  When he’s at his best, he is inducing weak ground balls with the ability to miss bats when he needs to.
Relief Pitcher
Ray Black, Pittsburgh
Navery Moore is a little more obvious of a sleeper reliever prospect, but I’m going with Black here, who was incredibly impressive last summer pitching briefly in the Northwoods League before shutting it down.  He had Tommy John surgery in high school and is entering his redshirt sophomore season for the Panthers.  Black may even open the year as a starter, but his stuff may work best in relief.  That stuff consists of a 94-97 fastball when used in short stints, and a nasty slider giving him the requisite two plus pitches the game’s best closers possess.  The lack of consistency in both his command and on the break of his slider are Black’s two biggest weaknesses at this stage.  Should he improve in that area while also developing a changeup, it’s possible that he could have a future as a starter at the next level given his workhorse frame.
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 pebert@5tooltalk.com.

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