general overview of the top teams and players at the NCAA Division II, NCAA Division III and NAIA levels, as well as a list of the Top 100 Prospects for the 2011 draft.' />
College : : Rankings
Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Small Colleges: Top Prospects, 2011

Allan Simpson        
Mt. Olive Righthander, Carter Capps,
Tops List Of Non-Division I Prospects

Over the 46-year life of the baseball draft, a total of 31 players have been selected in the first round from non-Division I four-year colleges. That includes the likes of righthander Tim Belcher, who was chosen first overall in 1983 out of Ohio’s Mt. Vernon Nazarene College, an obscure NAIA school.
The impact on the draft by NCAA Division II and III, and NAIA colleges has lessened in recent years as record-setting Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) first baseman Beau Mills and Southern Arkansas righthander Hayden Simpson have been the only two first-rounders produced by non-D-I schools in the last eight years. Mills (Indians) was the 13thpick in 2007 after bashing an NAIA record 38 homers and Simpson (Cubs), a D-II product, was a surprise selection a year ago as the 16th pick overall.
The 2010 draft produced just two players in the top 100 selections—Simpson and Florida Southern righthander Daniel Tillman (Angels), the 81st pick—that were products of small colleges. On PG CrossChecker’s current list of the Top 500 Prospects for the 2011 draft, there are three such players in the top 100, and a total of 14 overall.
We’ve unveiled a separate listing of the Top 100 Small-College Prospects for this year’s draft, and it begins with 6-foot-6 Mt. Olive (N.C.) College sophomore righthander Carter Capps, whose fastball has been clocked up to 97 mph. As Capps is ranked at only No. 80 on the overall list for 2011, the chances of a player being drafted in the first round are considered remote, though Capps has made huge strides in his development as a prospect over the last year and could dominate the D-II ranks this spring.
Capps originally enrolled at Mt. Olive, the 2008 NCAA Division II World Series champion, as a catcher and red-shirted as a freshman while in the process of being converted to a pitcher. He went 10-0, 3.06 as a red-shirt freshman for the Trojans, then cemented his status as a potential high-round pick last summer in the Coastal Plain League, where he was the hardest thrower in the circuit and made significant headway in developing a third pitch, a slider (to go with his fastball and changeup), while fine-tuning his command.
Extenuating circumstances are usually the reason why players emerge from the small-college ranks to become high-round drafts, especially first-rounders, as it is rare for a prospect with a significant upside to ever slip through the cracks out of high school and land at anything but a Division I program, or junior college.
Mt. Olive was the only college that seriously considered Capps out of a North Carolina high school, mainly because he was playing out of position at the time. The Nos. 2 and 3 players on the accompanying list, meanwhile, are transfers from Division I schools.
Oklahoma City is a long-standing NAIA national power and was able to secure the services of righthander/shortstop Ryan O’Sullivan, a former 10th-round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants, at the Christmas break. O’Sullivan, who is ranked No. 2 among small-college players (No. 97 overall) for the 2011 draft, endured injury and academic issues as a sophomore at San Diego State, and pitched in only one game for the Aztecs in 2010. Had he not transferred to Oklahoma City, he would have been academically ineligible this spring at San Diego State. O’Sullivan is a viable two-way prospect, but his professional upside appears to be highest on the mound. His fastball has been clocked in the mid-90s.
Another NAIA school, California’s Fresno Pacific, landed its own prospect of note when righthander Jesse Darrah, No. 3 among small-college talent (No. 100 overall), transferred from Cal State Sacramento for his junior year.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Darrah owns a lofty draft ranking, even as he went just 3-6, 5.05 as a sophomore at Cal State Sacramento. Scouts, however, say he appears primed for a breakout season at Fresno Pacific after he flashed an impressive four-pitch mix in the fall that included an outstanding changeup, in addition to his 92-95 fastball.
Belcher remains the poster child for small-college players, though he was something of an aberration himself as the No. 1 pick overall in the draft 28 years ago.
Most big-league clubs were unfamiliar with Belcher little more than two months before the 1983 draft, but his fastball suddenly spiked to 96 mph and he began dominating his modest competition over the latter half of his junior year. He was subsequently drafted by Minnesota with the top pick, though left the Twins holding the bag when he refused to sign. He was re-drafted by the New York Yankees the following January.
Belcher went on to win 146 games in a 14-year major league career. He ranks with British Columbia lefthander Jeff Francis (2002, Rockies/9th pick), Tampa first baseman Tino Martinez (Mariners, 1989/14th pick), Ferrum (Va.) lefthander Billy Wagner (Astros, 1993/12th pick) and Biola (Calif.) righthander Todd Worrell (Cardinals, 1982) as the most successful first-rounders to come from the small-college ranks through the years.
Not surprisingly, the top half-dozen small-college prospects for this year’s draft are pitchers. In addition to Capps, O’Sullivan and Darrah, Massachusetts-Lowell lefty Jack Leathersich, Nebraska-Omaha righthander Joe Holtmeyer and Cal State San Bernardino righty Aaron Brooks are all expected to command scouting interest this spring consistent with the top five rounds.
All six come from the traditionally-stronger Division II and NAIA ranks. Of the 100 small-college prospects listed by PG CrossChecker, 53 are products of D-II schools, 37 are NAIA players and just 10 attend Division III schools.
Clarkson (N.Y.) outfielder Jerry Coleman is not only the highest-rated position player on the small-college list (No. 7), but the first player listed from an NCAA Division III school.
Scouts will get an early opportunity to view many of the top small-college prospects over the next 2-3 weeks, especially those playing for traditional Sun Belt schools, as their counterparts in the more powerful Division I ranks won’t kick off their 2011 season until Feb. 18, the uniform starting day for D-I teams.
Upstart Southern Indiana (52-14 in 2010) won its first NCAA Division II national title a year ago, and the D-II field appears to be wide open again this spring, although Franklin Pierce, Mt. Olive (the 2008 national champion) and Tampa (the 2006 and 2007 national champions) all have three players on the national Top 100 list and also have plenty of recent experience playing in the NCAA D-II World Series. This year’s event is again scheduled for May 28-June 4 in Cary, N.C., the home site of USA Baseball’s national training complex.
At the NAIA level, Fresno Pacific and Cal Baptist, two California schools that have little prior record of success nationally, have four players each in the small-college top 100. If talent counts for anything, they should be primed to challenge 16-time NAIA World Series champion Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) and defending champ Cumberland (Tenn.) for the 2011 title, which will be contested May 27-June 3 in Lewiston, Idaho.
L-C State failed to win another national title a year ago, despite a 48-5 record, and will be without the services this season of Ed Cheff, its long-time and highly-successful coach who stepped down after last season, his 35th with the Warriors. The program has historically relied on transfers to make it a contender year-in and year-out, and righthander Zach Arneson (No. 14 on the accompanying Top 100), an unsigned 21st-round pick of the San Francisco Giants in 2010 who played at Cal State Bakersfield a year ago, has become the team’s top prospect. His fastball was clocked in the mid-90s in the fall.
The D-III World Series was won a year ago by unheralded Illinois Wesleyan, which won 11 of its last 12 games after taking a 19-19 record into post-season play. That tournament should be totally up for grabs again as there is no team with an abundance of pro-level talent, or a clear front runner. It will be played in Appleton, Wis., from May 27-31.

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