Summer Collegiate : : Rankings
Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Team USA prospect breakdown

Kendall Rogers        

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MORE COVERAGE: List of Team USA top 20 prospects

In many ways, it wasn’t a typical summer for Team USA.

The collegiate national team is accustomed to playing a schedule that tends to occupy much of the summer. However, that wasn’t the case this summer as the squad only played 14 games and compiled a solid 11-2-1 record.

The Americans’ only losses were to the New England Collegiate League All-Stars and a single contest to Japan. Team USA actually went 3-1-1 in their series with the Japanese as the historically important series was renewed.

In addition to the shortened schedule, Team USA also lacked balance. The squad was loaded with premier prospect pitchers such as Stanford’s Mark Appel, LSU’s Kevin Gausman, Arkansas’ Ryne Stanek, Texas A&M’s Michael Wacha and, of course, Duke stud reliever Marcus Stroman, who increased his stock a great deal this summer.

Team USA lacked significant star power with its position players. Arizona State’s Deven Marrero could be the top pick in the 2012 MLB draft. But outside of him, Texas A&M’s Tyler Naquin and Cal State Fullerton’s Michael Lorenzen were the next best pure position players, and they were No’s 12 and 13 overall, respectively, on our list of the team’s top prospects.

Our detailed reports on Team USA’s top-20 prospects are unveiled.

1. Deven Marrero, ss, Arizona State (Junior in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: Though it was a down year for prospect talent for Team USA and is expected to be a down year in terms of draft prospects in this junior class, Marrero most certainly is an elite talent. Marrero made significant strides for the Sun Devils last season and was one of the club’s key offensive cogs, hitting .315 with two home runs and 20 RBIs. This summer for Team USA, he batted .322 with 14 RBIs. But what makes Marrero such an intriguing prospect is his combination of tools. Marrero is a very gifted infielder and a plus runner. He has solid bat speed at the plate, while in the field he possesses solid range and has a tremendous arm. Marrero could be more consistent in the field. He had 18 errors for the Sun Devils in the spring, and also collected nine errors in just 14 games for Team USA. Marrero has a tendency to try too hard at times, but there’s no doubt he has the ability to be special at the next level. He has an uncanny ability to judge hops and also to set his feet on any throw he makes from any part of the field, and from any arm angle. Marrero began the summer with Cotuit, played for Team USA, and returned to Cotuit, where his summer was cut short due to a hand injury. Marrero already has the mentality and actions of a big leaguer.

2. Mark Appel, rhp, Stanford (Junior in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: From a physical stature and tools standpoint, it simply doesn’t get better than the tallish right-hander from Stanford. Appel already has a big league type of body and his makeup is off the charts. Still, he only recorded 86 strikeouts in 110 1/3 innings for Stanford this past spring, and tallied 11 strikeouts in nine innings for Team USA this summer. Appel might not yet be a premier strikeout pitcher, but that is expected to come together as his stuff becomes more refined. Appel has a relatively easy motion and has simple projection. Appel was consistently 94-97 with his fastball during the spring with Stanford, and was working hard to refine his changeup. Appel also threw a curveball in the 75 mph range in the spring. This summer, Appel was consistently in the upper 90s, even touching 99 at times. There’s no question about his overall ability, but his strikeout totals need to start matching up with his pure stuff. Still, there’s a very good chance he’s the top pick in the 2012 MLB draft.

3. Kevin Gausman, rhp, LSU (Sophomore in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: Paul Mainieri and the LSU Tigers received an early Christmas present last summer when Gausman, who would’ve been drafted higher if not for signability concerns, turned down the Dodgers after getting drafted in the sixth round. With the Tigers light on starting pitching depth this past spring, Gausman was forced into the weekend rotation, where he compiled a 3.51 ERA in 89 2/3 innings. He finished the season particularly strong, striking out 86 and walking 23. This summer with Team USA, the hard-throwing right-hander started two games and had a 2.08 ERA in 8 2/3 innings. He also struck out nine and walked three. Gausman stands at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds, and still is very slender. The good news is he has plenty of body to grow into in the months leading up to his draft-eligible sophomore season with the Tigers. Gausman is a very projectable right-hander that touches the mid 90s with relative ease. Gausman could refine other aspects of his pitching arsenal, but throws with a velocity and command that makes him one of the most attractive prospects from an upside standpoint.

4. Ryne Stanek, rhp, Arkansas (Sophomore in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: Much like LSU and Kevin Gausman, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn received great news last summer when Stanek spurned the Mariners as a third-round pick in the MLB draft. Stanek had his great moments in his first season with the Razorbacks, but also had what I’ve come to call some “freshman moments”, too. Stanek compiled just a 3.94 ERA in 64 innings and only recorded 41 strikeouts, a number that must increase for his stock as a prospect to improve. This summer with Team USA, Stanek started one game and made two appearances. He allowed 13 hits but just one run. Additionally, he struck out 12 batters in nine innings. Though Stanek still has some work to do from an overall standpoint, his upside is outstanding and he has the potential to be a stud for the Hogs and at the next level. Stanek was consistently mid 90s for Team USA, and also touched velocities higher than that at times. Stanek has a very projectable body and with a little more leverage, will once again light up the radar guns in the spring. Like many young prospects and as we alluded to earlier in the report, Stanek’s stock ultimately will swing back and forth based on his production, particularly his strikeout total. That number must improve to take the next step as a prospect.

5. Michael Wacha, rhp, Texas A&M (Junior in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: Wacha’s natural progression as an elite pitcher hasn’t surprised anyone. Wacha earned Freshman All-American honors with the Aggies for what he accomplished his first season. Then, last season, the hard-throwing right-hander again earned All-American honors after compiling a 2.29 ERA in 129 2/3 innings. He also struck out 123 and walked 30 while teams hit him at just a .243 clip. This summer with Team USA, Wacha made two starts and had a 0.79 ERA in 11 1/3 innings. He also struck out 12 and walked three. As a prospect, Wacha has many scouts salivating and curious as to his production and velocity in 2012. Wacha, physically-speaking, will remind people of Texas pitcher Taylor Jungmann, a signed first-round pick of the Brewers this summer. He stands at 6-foot-6, 210 pounds, and certainly has some room to grow from a weight standpoint. Wacha has a solid makeup and throws well downhill. He has a solid breaking ball and an excellent changeup, which some such as Rice coach Wayne Graham called a circle-change. Velocity-wise, Wacha was consistently 91-94 mph with his fastball in the spring, while his changeup was 81-84 mph. Wacha has a fantastic makeup, above-average stuff, a good presence and is a fierce competitor.

6. Marcus Stroman, rhp, Duke (Junior in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: The old saying that big things can come in small packages perfectly applies to Stroman and his pitching ability. Stroman split time as a reliever and starting pitcher for the Blue Devils this past spring, compiling a 2.80 ERA in 64 1/3 innings. He also struck out 90 and walked 21 and limited teams to a .241 average. Though he had a solid spring in the ACC, Stroman’s work for Team USA put him on the map for good. Stroman had an incredible summer, not allowing a run in seven appearances and 8 1/3 innings. Amazingly, Stroman struck out 17 of the first 18 batters he faced with Team USA (the other was a hit-by-pitch). Stroman displayed some electric stuff throughout the summer, and as one Team USA coach said, he was simply unhittable. Stroman was consistently 95-98 mph with his fastball and also displayed a power breaking ball. The only concern with Stroman is his size at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds. There’s some concern about his durability considering his velocity dropped after being used by Team USA on back-to-back days. Still, he’ll be a high pick despite his size, because as one coach said, “When he comes in, it’s lights out. It’s game over.”

7. Brian Johnson, lhp/1b, Florida (Junior in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: Opinions on where Johnson’s future sits varies from person-to-person in the baseball industry. Some believe Johnson is a straight pitcher, some thing he’ll actually be better as a hitter. And others just think a National League team should draft him so he can do both. For Florida this past spring, Johnson batted .307 with five home runs and 29 RBIs, while on the mound he was a weekend starter and had a 3.62 ERA in 79 2/3 innings. He also struck out 72 and walked 15 and limited teams to a .253 batting average. For Team USA this summer, Johnson batted .417 with three home runs and five RBIs. On the mound, he had a 2.25 ERA in four innings. Johnson is legitimately a guy an organization could draft as a two-way player. He has solid power at the plate, though some wonder how he’ll consistently hit against high-velocity pitchers. Johnson was consistently 90-93 on the mound during the spring, and was 92-94 for Team USA this summer. He’s very aggressive on the mound and is a hard worker. He’s also a left-handed pitcher with very solid command. He has the potential to increase his stock.

8. Branden Kline, rhp, Virginia (Junior in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: Kline going to college at Virginia after getting drafted in the sixth-round by the Red Sox a couple of years ago still is a surprise to some. Kline has had two productive seasons with the Cavaliers, splitting time as a starter and reliever as a freshman and serving only as a reliever last season. For the Cavaliers in 2011, he made 32 appearances and had a 1.88 ERA in 43 innings. He also struck out 56 and walked 22, and earned high praise from South Carolina coach Ray Tanner for his gutsy relief performance against the Gamecocks in the College World Series. For Team USA, Kline didn’t allow a run in three appearances and 3 2/3 innings. Kline likely will return to the weekend rotation for the Cavaliers in 2012, and it’ll be interesting to see how he performs back in that role. Despite being gassed from a rigorous end to the ’11 campaign, Kline was consistently in the lower-to-mid 90s for Team USA, while also mixing in a low 80s nasty slider. He’s a physical pitcher with a very good presence on the mound. Kline has good command and makeup, and is expected to be a high draft pick next summer.

9. Brady Rodgers, rhp, Arizona State (Junior in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: Few players on this prospect list have improved their stock more the past couple of seasons than Rodgers. Rodgers is coming off quite an impressive campaign for the Sun Devils. He started 15 games and compiled a 2.75 ERA in 98 1/3 innings. He also struck out 87 and walked nine and teams hit him at a .237 clip. Rodgers also did some nice things for Team USA this summer, making three starts and tallying a 2.08 ERA in 17 1/3 innings. He struck out eight and walked three. Rodgers doesn’t have particularly overpowering stuff on the mound, but has nearly impeccable command and doesn’t give many hitters second chances. Rodgers’ fastball is good at 88-91, but not great, as he won’t blow hitters away. Still, he has very good pitchability and a great presence on the mound. He also throws a sharp curveball and has a changeup that sits around 80 mph. His stuff is above-average but not yet great. Rodgers reminds Team USA head coach Tim Jamieson of Ian Kennedy, though, he admits Kennedy certainly had a fastball a notch above Rodgers.

10. D.J. Baxendale, rhp, Arkansas (Junior in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: The talented right-handed pitcher has never been drafted, but that’s destined to change next summer as his stock rose in a big way over the past year. Baxendale had an efficient and successful 2011 campaign for the Razorbacks, making 12 starts and 19 appearances and compiling a 1.58 ERA in 85 1/3 innings. He also struck out 77 and walked 21 and teams hit him at a .228 clip. For Team USA, the righty made three starts and had a 3.38 ERA in 13 1/3 innings. He also struck out 12 and walked four. Though he was tired from a rigorous workload in the spring throughout the summer, he still made his presence known. Baxendale, as with Rodgers and Johnson, won’t blow you away with a tremendous fastball on the mound. But he does sit 88-91 most of the time with a sharp curve and a changeup. Baxendale isn’t a big guy at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, but is a fierce competitor and a pitcher that will always be consistent. It’ll be interesting to see his stock should he add a few ticks to his fastball.

11. Hoby Milner, lhp, Texas (Junior in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: Milner’s stock should increase over the course of the next year barring a surprise. Milner has had two solid seasons for the Longhorns, but there’s no doubt he has been upstaged by starting pitchers Taylor Jungmann, Cole Green and Sam Stafford in the past year. This past spring, Milner made 32 appearances and started nine games and had a 2.45 ERA in 84 1/3 innings. He also struck out 62 and walked 33 and teams are hitting him at a .201 clip. Look for Milner to factor heavily in the Longhorns’ 2012 weekend rotation alongside Stafford. For Team USA, the lefty made six appearances and had a 1.35 ERA in 6 2/3 innings. He also struck out five and walked two. As a prospect, Milner throws in the upper 80s and into the 90s at times. He also has a big breaking curveball and adds in a changeup at times. The biggest question mark with Milner is his size. Milner is 6-foot-2, 165 pounds, and there’s some concern on his durability throughout an entire season. The lefty, though, has above-average stuff and has good arm action despite his size. Still, getting bigger and stronger between now and next summer would improve his stock.

12. Tyler Naquin, of, Texas A&M (Junior in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: Naquin has evolved into a very solid prospect over the past year. He hit below .300 in his first season with the Aggies, but made major strides last season with an All-American campaign, where he batted .381 with 23 doubles, two home runs and 44 RBIS. He also had a .449 OBP. For Team USA, Naquin batted an impressive .321 with two home runs and 10 RBIs. He also swiped five bases. As a prospect, it would be a surprise to some if Naquin wasn’t a top two or three-round pick next summer. Naquin has solid range as a corner outfielder, but his arm is his most impressive attribute. Naquin has arguably the strongest arm in college baseball. Naquin is a fantastic athlete that can run well and he’s extremely consistent in making contact at the plate. He also has solid bat speed. The only concern with Naquin is his lack of power production for his position, but it’s believed the talented outfielder will improve his power production in 2012. If so, his stock could rise even more.

13. Michael Lorenzen, of, Cal State Fullerton (Sophomore in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: Lorenzen will most certainly be one of the top prospects in the 2013 MLB draft. The Titans were ecstatic when Lorenzen turned down overtures last summer as a seventh-round pick of the Rays to go to college at Fullerton. He didn’t disappoint as a freshman, hitting a team-best .342 with eight doubles, three triples, two home runs and 31 RBIs. He also had a .427 OBP and swiped 19 bases. For Team USA, the talented outfielder hit .317 with three doubles, a home run and 10 RBIs. Lorenzen is a an extremely athletic and physical center fielder that can run extremely well, while also putting on display a cannon for an arm. Lorenzen is loaded with tools and should only improve the next two seasons if he shortens up his swing at the plate.

14. Andrew Mitchell, rhp, TCU (Sophomore in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: Mitchell was used as a reliever for Team USA this summer, but he gained valuable experience as both a starter and reliever (at times) for the Horned Frogs this past spring. For the Frogs, Mitchell made 10 starts and appeared in 22 games and had a 2.84 ERA in 76 innings. He also struck out 73 and walked 31 and limited teams to a .197 clip. For Team USA, Mitchell made seven appearances (all in relief) and had a 1.08 ERA in 8 1/3 innings. He also struck out 13 and walked eight. Mitchell has a bulldog and aggressive mentality on the mound, and that can get him in trouble at times. Mitchell has a fastball that sits in the upper 80s and lower 90s. The only concern with Mitchell is that his command of the strike zone tends to be very loose at times. Still, he has the potential to be a very good power guy in the 2013 MLB draft.

15. Corey Knebel, rhp, Texas (Sophomore in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: There were few players in college baseball more surprising than Knebel this past spring. Knebel didn’t get a sniff from an MLB organization out of high school, and that worked into the Longhorns’ favor. Replacing stud closer Chance Ruffin, Knebel was absolutely electric. He made 38 appearances, recorded 19 saves and had a 1.13 ERA in 55 2/3 innings. He also struck out 61 and walked 12 and limited teams to a .151 clip. For Team USA, Knebel made five appearances and had a 1.80 ERA in five innings. As a prospect, Knebel has the height and weight that you want, but his quirky over-the-top arm motion could certainly turn some scouts off. Still, Knebel has a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s that he commands exceptionally well. Knebel must refine his secondary stuff to grow as a prospect, but has an aggressive mentality and attacks hitters from the get go.

16. Brian Ragira, of/3b, Stanford (Sophomore in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: Ragira would’ve been drafted much higher two summers ago if not for a strong commitment to Stanford. As it stands, the talented utility player had a productive freshman campaign for the Cardinal, hitting .329 with 70 hits, seven doubles, five triples, four home runs and 46 RBIs. For Team USA, Ragira only played in five games and had a .111 batting average in nine at bats. First and foremost, Ragira is a very good athlete. Though it looks like he’s running slowly because of his exceptionally long strides, Ragira is a better runner than people give him credit for. Additionally, Ragira’s power production will increase in 2012 and ’13 for the Cardinal as he has plenty of room to gain some strength. The concerns with Ragira are where to put him in the field, and the fact he struck out too many times both in the spring and this summer with Team USA. Ragira is still a developing, yet likely elite prospect in the near future.

17. Nolan Fontana, ss, Florida (Junior in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: Fontana has had a couple of solid campaigns for the Gators, but there’s still room for improvement as a prospect. This past spring for the Gators, Fontana batted .289 with five home runs and 49 RBIs. He also had a .414 OBP and was 6-for-10 in stolen bases. Additionally, he tallied a solid .960 fielding percentage. For Team USA, Fontana hit .125 in just 16 at bats and committed four errors in five games. As a hitter, Fontana needs to be a bit more consistent to increase his prospect profile, but his power continues to improve and should be even better in 2012. His greatest strength is the defensive aspect of his game. Fontana has very good hands, good range and very smooth movements at shortstop. Fontana also happens to be blessed from a physical standpoint despite only standing at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds.

18. Dominic Ficociello, 3b/1b, Arkansas (Sophomore in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: One of the most often-asked questions last season was how a Fullerton, Calif., native ended up at Arkansas. No matter the story, the Hogs most certainly got a good one and potentially great one in Ficociello. He had a fabulous freshman campaign for the Hogs, hitting a team-best .335 with 15 doubles, four home runs and 50 RBIs. He also had a .364 OBP and struck out 45 times (he walked six times). In the field, Ficociello had a .968 fielding percentage. For Team USA, Ficociello batted .283 with four doubles and nine RBIs. He also struck out 10 times in 46 at bats. As a prospect, Ficociello comes off as a very natural hitter, though; he needs to find a way to get on base more often. Ficociello also has a dilemma from a position standpoint. With great hands, some like him better on the left side of the infield while others like him at first base. The Hogs likely will use him at third base as a sophomore. Physically, he is very skinny and must put on some weight to avoid durability concerns in the future.

19. Erich Weiss, infielder, Texas (Sophomore in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: Much like with UT pitcher Corey Knebel, many were surprised to hear Weiss wasn’t drafted out of high school after the freshman campaign he put together for the Longhorns. Weiss had a memorable freshman year, hitting a team-best .348 with 12 doubles, seven triples, four home runs and 45 RBIs. He also had a .483 OBP and struck out less times (37) than he walked (53). For Team USA, Weiss batted .161 in 31 at bats and struck out on 11 occasions. As a prospect, the primary concern surrounding Weiss is his future position. However, Weiss showed with the ‘Horns that he’s more than capable of playing the position. Whether the scouts will agree with that in two summers is to be determined. Weiss is 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, and has a solid arm, has solid speed, has good bat speed and does a tremendous job of working counts with nearly impeccable plate discipline. Don’t be surprised if his stock continues to rise over the next year.

20. Matt Reynolds, infielder, Arkansas (Junior in 2012)

SCOUTING PROFILE: If you’re aiming for an exceptional offensive infielder, you’re not going to find it with Reynolds. However, what you will find is a stable player on the left side of your infield. Reynolds had an iffy offensive sophomore campaign for the Hogs, hitting just .243 with three home runs and 22 RBIs. He also had a .359 OBP, swiped 16 bases and tallied a .921 fielding percentage. For Team USA, Reynolds hits .227 with just two RBIs in 22 at bats. As a prospect, Reynolds will turn some heads because he is a very good defensive infielder. He’s also a versatile guy that can play most every position in the infield. He solidified things on the left side of the infield for Team USA this summer. Reynolds, though, is just an average offensive player and his swing can be a little long at times. His stock will greatly increase if he improves at the plate.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at kendall@perfectgame.org

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