State Preview: Colorado

Draft : : State Preview
Allan Simpson        
Published: Wednesday, May 25, 2011

In the weeks leading up to the draft, Perfect Game will be providing a detailed overview of each state in the U.S., including the District of Columbia, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico. These overviews will list the state's strengths, weaknesses and the players with the best tools, as well as providing mini-scouting reports on all Group 1 and 2 players.

Colorado State-by-State List

Colorado Overview:
Rare Off Year For Colorado, One of Draft’s Most Unappreciated States

Colorado rarely gets its due for producing the volume of baseball talent that is typically churned out of the state’s high schools each year. Over the last seven drafts, a total of 145 players (roughly 21 per year) were selected that played baseball at Colorado high schools.

States like Kentucky (119) and Kansas (115) have greater reputations for producing baseball talent than Colorado does, but lag far behind. Other mainstream states such as South Carolina (151), Mississippi (152) and Indiana (154) barely outstrip Colorado’s normal annual production.

It’s all about perception vs. reality, and Colorado’s reputation undoubtedly suffers because of the paucity of meaningful Division I baseball institutions in the state. Colorado’s only remaining D-I baseball programs are the Air Force Academy and Northern Colorado—two schools that are hardly-known for funneling players on to professional baseball.

The often-raw, late-spring weather conditions that blanket Colorado typically play havoc with baseball schedules, and is the chief culprit in mainstream colleges like Colorado and Colorado State abandoning their programs through the years. Given few options at home, Colorado’s best prep talent inevitably ends up at D-I programs in other, more baseball-friendly states. When the cream of the crop is subsequently drafted after three years in college, Colorado generally receives little or no credit for their development.

The simple fact of the matter is that almost all of the best talent in Colorado gets siphoned out of the state each year. Just last year, 20 players signed with out-of-state Division I colleges, the most noteworthy being righthander Kevin Gausman, who is a prime-time player at Louisiana State and projects as a first-round pick in the 2012 draft.

Righthander Luke Hochevar, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft, and third baseman Jeff King, the top selection in 1986, further accentuate the point. Hochevar grew up in Colorado and attended high school in Wray, but spent his college career at Tennessee because there were no equivalent major-college options in his home state. King, a Colorado Springs product, developed his baseball skills at Arkansas.

Because of these developments, the state rarely gets the credit it deserves as a talent source. This year’s draft won’t enhance Colorado’s reputation, either.

Only one Colorado player, Grandview Prep catcher Greg Bird, is expected to be drafted in the top 10 rounds directly out on in-state school this year. He should be taken any time after the fourth round, and would otherwise attend college at Arkansas if he elects not to sign.

Once again this year, almost 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. In addition to Arkansas, schools such as Columbia, Creighton, Duke, Evansville, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, Pepperdine and Wichita State have come into Colorado and pretty much picked the state clean again.

Fewer than normal premium former Colorado high-school players attending college elsewhere are expected to be taken this year. Only three such players—Howard (Texas) JC righthander/outfielder Derrick Bleeker, University of Arizona third baseman Andy Burns and Central Arizona righthander Zach Dando—have a realistic chance of being drafted in the first 10 rounds. There is no player of Hochevar’s or King’s skill level in the mix.

All that evidence suggests that this will not be a good draft for Colorado talent, even by its own unappreciated standard.

Not since well-traveled big-league outfielder Darnell McDonald, a 1998 draft pick who is a reserve player with the Boston Red Sox, has Colorado had a high-school first-rounder. But in a three-year period from 1993-95, the state actually had four first-rounders with Colorado roots, highlighted by Philadelphia Phillies righthanders Roy Halladay and Brad Lidge, both of whom graduated from Colorado high schools in 1995.

At one point last year, when he was Bird’s batterymate at Grandview Prep, Gausman looked like he may end Colorado’s 12-year drought. He showed all the indications of being one of the nation’s elite prep arms, with a fastball consistently in the mid-90s, but teams ultimately got cold feet and Gausman slid to the sixth round. His situation was clearly dictated by signability issues, not talent, as Gausman turned down a reported $1.7 million bonus offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers at last year’s signing deadline.

Gausman will be draft-eligible again as an LSU sophomore, and should have another golden opportunity to pursue first-round bonus money as he is one of the elite talents in this year’s college freshman class.

Though Bird may end up going in roughly the same draft position this year that Gausman did a year ago, there won’t be any confusion by big-league clubs that they are roughly equivalent talents.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Bird has superior hitting skills and has enjoyed back-to-back productive seasons, hitting .660-13-42 with a 1.766 slugging average as a junior and .591-12-37 with a 1.568 slugging average as a senior. It’s apparent, though, that Bird will have to take all his hitting skills to first base in the future as he struggles with his big frame behind the plate.

With his big bat, Bird led Grandview Prep to a No. 1 seed in this year’s Colorado 5-A state tournament, but his team bowed out quietly in district play without even advancing to the Final Eight. Four-time defending state champion Rocky Mountain High also fell.

Bird is the only Colorado player pretty much assured of being drafted in the top 10 rounds this year, but two others would have been in the mix had they not sustained injuries.

Regis Jesuit High outfielder Connor McKay, who hit .429 with 10 homers as a junior, might have challenged Bird to become the state’s first draft, but he tore the ACL in his knee playing football last Dec. 4, and missed almost the entire 2011 baseball season. At one point, the 6-foot-6, 190-pound McKay was cleared to hit, but not run the bases, and he didn’t become a full-time player again until a game or two was left in his season.

Chances are a team will take a mid-round flier on McKay, who has an intriguing package of raw power, speed and arm strength, and monitor his progress through the summer before making a decision on trying to sign him. He has committed to Kansas.

Righthander Arturo Maltos-Garcia was also seen as a solid bet to go in the top 10 rounds after going 11-1, 2.11 with 139 strikeouts in 94 innings for Lamar Community College. But Maltos-Garcia, who has a 91-93 mph fastball and an excellent breaking ball, walked off the mound in his final start of the season at the National Junior College Athletic Association Western District tournament clutching his elbow. His status for the draft is unclear.

Colorado’s normally-lean college ranks actually had the potential to have a player drafted in the top 10 rounds this year, but Northern Colorado outfielder Jarod Berggren (.363-7-56) may not have done enough with the bat to build on his success from last summer in the Alaaka League. It’s now a toss-up whether Berggren or another Alaska League alum, Mesa State outfielder Jeff Popick (.417-11-47) will be the initial four-year player drafted.

From the standpoint of making an impact nationally at the four-year college level, Colorado hasn’t been a factor 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. Only Northern Colorado survives, and even the Bears abandoned their baseball program for a number of years before later reinstating it. The team has never been a factor in the draft.

Colorado in a Nutshell:

Out-of-state talent with Colorado connections.
WEAKNESS: Depth in every demographic.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 2.

Mesa State (NCAA Division II).
BEST HIGH SCHOOL TEAM: Grandview Prep, Aurora.

BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, Colorado Connection:
Andy Burns, 3b, University of Arizona (attended high school in Fort Collins).
TOP 2012 PROSPECT: Ryan Burr, rhp, Highlands Ranch HS.
TOP 2013 PROSPECT: None established.

Draft History: Luke Hochevar, rhp, Wray (2006, Royals/1st round, 1st pick).
2006 Draft: Luke Hochevar, rhp, Wray (Royals/1st round, 1st pick).
2007 Draft: Colin Allen, rhp, Lamar CC (Orioles/22nd round).
2008 Draft: Tyler Sample, rhp, Mullen HS, Denver (Royals/3rd round).
2009 Draft: Geoff Baldwin, 1b, Grand Junction HS (Royals/10th round).
2010 Draft: Kevin Gausman, rhp, Grandview Prep, Aurora (Dodgers/6th round).


(Projected HIGH-Round Draft / Rounds 4-10)

1. GREG BIRD, c/1b, Grandview Prep, Aurora
State’s highest-profile talent; ++ LH power bat (.591-12-37) will carry him; making inevitable switch to 1B.
Status unclear after apparent elbow injury; 6th-10th round talent (91-93 FB/+ CU), + year (11-1, 94 IP/139 K).

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