Draft : : Top Prospects
Thursday, February 16, 2012

Top 100 College Freshmen

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Vanderbilt

Top 100 Seniors
Top 100 Juniors
Top 100 Sophomores

Led by Unsigned First-Rounder Tyler Beede, 
Plenty of Talent in College Freshman Crop

Unlike in football and basketball, the strength of any freshman class in baseball is invariably tied to the previous year’s draft.

With all high-school seniors automatically eligible to be drafted, most of the elite talent is routinely skimmed off and swallowed up by major-league teams. But there are generally plenty of juicy pickings left over for college teams.

In just the last two baseball drafts, three first-rounders have gone unsigned, including Massachusetts prep righthander Tyler Beede, a top selection in 2011 who opted for Vanderbilt instead of the Toronto Blue Jays.

While the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Beede has understandably been deeded the No. 1 spot on the accompanying list of the nation’s Top 100 Freshmen, at least to begin the 2012 season, there are plenty more talented freshmen where Beede came from who should give him a run for his money as the current college campaign unfolds.

From last year’s draft, a total of 503 high-school players were selected, yet only 178 (or 35.4) ended up signing pro contracts. Obviously, a majority of the first-year players on the Top 100 list are unsigned draft picks—in fact, 88 in all.

But recent draft history quickly reveals that not all top college baseball players were drafted out of high school.

Perfect Game’s recent ranking of the nation’s Top 100 Juniors—essentially the elite college players eligible for this year’s draft—shows that 43 players were not drafted out of high school, including Texas A&M righthander Michael Wacha, ranked at No. 6.

The 6-foot-6 Wacha has positioned himself squarely in the first round after going 9-4, 2.29 with 30 walks and 123 strikeouts in 130 innings as a sophomore—all achieved with command of a four-pitch mix, including a fastball at 92-96 mph.

PG’s ranking of the Top 100 Sophomoreshas 29 players who passed through 50 rounds of the draft out of high school without being selected, including Texas closer Corey Knebel, ranked No. 20.

Even as an undrafted player, Knebel had a banner freshman season for the Longhorns, going 3-2, 1.13 with 19 saves (second in the nation). He also struck out 61 in 56 innings, while walking just 12 and allowing 28 hits.

North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran ranks No. 24 on the same list. Even though he was unheralded coming out of high school and went undrafted, he hit a robust .335-9-71 for the Tar Heels and was the nation’s consensus top freshmen.

Among the dozen previously-undrafted players on the Freshmen 100 list, 6-foot-7 Loyola Marymount righthander Trevor Megill (at No. 9) and Vanderbilt catcher Chris Harvey (at No. 16) rank 1-2.

In both cases, Megill and Harvey weren’t eligible for the 2011 draft as they were ostensibly high-school juniors at the time. Harvey subsequently decided to enroll at Vanderbilt a year ahead of schedule, precluding him from being drafted until after his junior year of college, while Megill followed essentially the same path by enrolling at Loyola Marymount at the Christmas break. Had the two players decided to remain in high school through their senior years, they would have been legitimate candidates for the first round this June.

Among the elite 2012 freshmen who were eligible for last year’s draft but simply passed over are Texas righthander Parker French (No. 25 on the Top 100), Oregon State righthander/outfielder Dylan Davis (No. 26) and North Carolina righthander Benton Moss (No. 27). All were closely scrutinized by scouts as prep seniors, but the determination was made in each case that they were so committed on attending college, or had too high a price tag for their projected worth, that it didn’t warrant wasting a draft pick on them.

Invariably, more and more undrafted freshmen will surface as genuine prospects as the 2012 season unfolds, but for now most of the attention is on those freshmen who spurned opportunities to play professional baseball out of high school for a chance to develop their skills over the next three years at the college level.

Beede is the headline talent, much as Florida righthander Karsten Whitson was a year earlier. Whitson, a first-round pick of the San Diego Padres, was the highest unsigned pick from the 2010 draft, and remains the top talent in his class heading into his sophomore year at Florida.

Only time will tell if Beede maintains his grip on the No. 1 spot in the current freshman class, but he earned it over and above his lofty draft position with his polished, mature approach and a three-pitch arsenal that includes a fastball that was clocked at 90-93 mph, topping at 95, at a Massachusetts high school.

Beede has been slotted into Vanderbilt’s weekend rotation as a freshman, tentatively as the Sunday starter, though there were reports from the fall that his fastball was more customarily in the high-80s as opposed to the low-90s.

In all, 19 high-school players, led by Beede, were selected in the first 10 rounds of the 2011 draft, but went unsigned.

Sixteen of the 19 are represented in the Freshman Top 100, including Southern Mississippi shortstop Connor Barron (Marlins/3
rd round) at No. 2, Texas Christian first baseman Kevin Cron (Mariners/3rd round) at No. 4 and North Carolina State catcher Brett Austin (Padres/supplemental first round) at No. 7. Along with Beede, they were the four highest unsigned high-school picks to end up in college.

The three prep players taken in the top 10 rounds that didn’t sign and also didn’t crack the Top 100 are infielder Tyler Palmer (Marlins/4
th round), lefthander Andrew Chin (Blue Jays/5th round) and lefthander Jamaal Moore (Dodgers/10th round).

Palmer, originally a Georgia signee, was expected to sign with the Marlins until he sustained a severe injury to his right forearm last summer when he stuck his hand through a window. The incident resulted in severe muscle, tendon and never damage to his throwing hand, and there were doubts, even after surgery, that Palmer would ever be able to play again. In addition to a long rehabilitation process, he has since enrolled at Illinois’ Oakton Community College, and not only plans to resume his career there this spring but hopes to be drafted again in June.

Chin also had a disabling injury as he continues to recuperate from Tommy John surgery. He is enrolled at Boston College, but isn’t expected to be a factor as a freshman, and may not pitch at all this spring. Moore, meanwhile, is enrolled at Los Angeles Harbor Junior College and therefore is not eligible for the list of top freshmen.

Numerous other freshmen who were drafted out of high school last spring didn’t crack the Top 100 list, either, but they’ll have plenty of opportunity over the next two or three years in college to prove their worth, and possibly even surface among the nation’s elite talent by the time they become draft-eligible again.

With 43 players on PG’s list of the Top 100 Juniors that went undrafted out of high school, 29 on the Top 100 Sophomore list that were passed over and 12 such players in the current crop of top freshmen, the evidence clearly says that a player’s ultimate draft worth matters more on how well he performs over the course of his college career than it does on where he was drafted out of high school.

In that sense, the end result is more important than the beginning.

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