Juco : : Rankings
Wednesday, January 25, 2012

JUCO 2012 Top 50 Teams

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Howard College
Top 50 JUCO teams with reports

Howard Repeats as Pre-Season No. 1, Aims for Another National Title Run

Texas’ Howard College will probably never duplicate its stunning 2009 season, when it won a junior-college record 59 games in a row on its way to handily winning that year’s Junior College World Series title with a jaw-dropping 68-1 record.

But it won’t be for lack of trying.

Howard was ranked No. 1 in Perfect Game’s pre-season poll of the nation’s Top 50 junior-colleges teams a year ago, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion in the district final, one step away from a return visit to the World Series, played annually in Grand Junction, Colo.

The Hawks are ranked No. 1 once again to start the 2012 season, and Howard coach Britt Smith believes his team has the talent to take care of unfinished business and get the job done this year, though is realistic enough to know that duplicating his team’s 2009 feat is highly improbable.

“I feel that the ranking is appropriate for this year’s team,” Smith said. “In the time I have been at Howard, I really feel that this is the most talented team that we have had. The 2009 team was the best “team” that I could ever imagine being around—not really for the record they had, but for the way the players genuinely cared for one another. That was a special bunch, but a team with very little depth and we were blessed enough to stay healthy all season.

“The team we have right now is full of talent and deep not only from a position-player standpoint, but certainly is the deepest on the mound than I could really ever imagine. I literally feel that we have eight No. 1 and 2-type starters on this staff, not to mention three guys that could be closers for about anyone in the country.”

Howard, which went 46-13 a year ago and is 202-34 over the last four years, has 11 players who have committed to major NCAA Division I programs. The Hawks also have eight players on its roster this spring that transferred in from D-I schools, including the likes of righthander Clayton Crum and outfielder Dexter Kjerstad (both from Texas), lefthander Logan Ehlers (Nebraska), righthander Kyle Hayes (San Diego State) and righthander Spencer Davis (Texas A&M). Four new players transferred in at the Christmas break, including Ehlers, a former eighth-round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays.

All are expected to play prominent roles for the Hawks this spring, but the cupboard was hardly bare to begin with as Texas Christian-bound shortstop Paul Hendrix (.379-2-42), Oregon-bound closer Nick Sawyer (2-2, 1.96, 4 SV) and Florida International-bound righthander Michael Franco (10-2, 2.84), the team’s top winner a year ago, all return.

Righthander Reid Scoggins, another FIU recruit, is also scheduled to return after missing last season while undergoing Tommy John surgery. He will join Sawyer as part of a dominant tandem out of the Hawks bullpen. Both closers have been clocked upwards of 94-95 mph.

Sawyer, Ehlers and Hayes are considered the top prospects on the team for purposes of the 2012 draft, with each having a shot of being selected in the top 10 rounds.

Smith believes his team not only has the talent to win another national title, but the resolve to stay on course and not get victimized at a critical point of the season as happened a year ago.

“Our biggest area of concern,” Smith says, “is the ability to stay on course and not lose sight of the ultimate goal. If we can play the entire season as a team and put individual goals behind the team’s goals, then we will be extremely successful.”

Smith acknowledges his college’s location in Big Spring, in remote West Texas, plays a hand in his team’s impressive run of success in recent years.

“We are in the middle of the West Texas desert and there are very few distractions at Howard,” Smith says. “We have good facilities, not the best, but everything is in place for our players to succeed academically and athletically. We really just make the kids aware of the resources that they have available to them in our program and then push them each and every day to maximize their use of them.”

“As far as our talent goes, I have two assistant coaches in J-Bob Thomas and Roberto Martinez that are tireless recruiters. But really, the biggest feather in our cap as a program is that players come here and get better. We are really focused on player development and helping kids to be the best that they can be as players and people.”

Needless to say, scouts have beaten a steady path to little Big Spring, Texas, over the last few years, and have every reason to do so en masse again this year as Howard could conceivably have as many players drafted in June as any four-year college.

“I think we have 6-7 players that will really open some peoples’ eyes this spring,” Smith said, “guys that were cast away from D-I’s and some under-the-radar high-school kids that will really make a name for themselves this year.

“Kjerstad, Crum, (freshman first baseman Levi) Scott, Hendrix, Franco, Scoggins, (sophomore righthander Rob) Tasin, Davis and (sophomore lefthander Ethan) Carnes are all guys that we are expecting big things from this year. Obviously Ehlers, Sawyer and Hayes are getting plenty of play as far as exposure, and we expect them to do well, but the others are getting less hype and they probably need it.”

While Howard is thriving as a big fish in a small pond like remote Big Spring, the Nos. 2 and 3 teams in Perfect Game’s pre-season Top 50, not coincidentally, also are located on the back roads of mainstream baseball hotbeds.

No. 2-ranked Chipola JC is located in Marianna (pop. 6,000) on the Florida panhandle. No. 3 Central Arizona’s home base is Coolidge (pop. 8,000), located on the Arizona desert, midway between Phoenix and Tucson. In both cases, top-flight junior-college baseball is the big attraction in town.

Unlike Howard, both Chipola and Central Arizona participated in the Junior College World Series last year, with CAC finishing second to Navarro (Texas) JC. Both schools also have rich baseball histories, with Chipola winning a national title in 2007 and Central Arizona in 2002.

Like Howard, those schools have been bolstered by a significant infusion of new talent and it certainly didn’t hurt the cause of either when the top two rated players in this year’s junior-college draft class ended up at those colleges after the Christmas break.

Shortstop Felipe Perez was projected to be a top pick in this year’s draft, possibly as early as the second or third round, while at a California high school before graduating a semester early and ending up at Central Arizona. Similarly, outfielder Andrew Toles, a fourth-round draft pick in 2010, wound up at Chipola in January after being dismissed from the baseball team at Tennessee.

Both players are considered solid third- to fourth-round picks in June, but not even the arrival of the two players has been enough for their respective schools to pose a serious enough challenge to powerful Howard, a relatively easy choice as the No. 1-ranked junior-college team in the country.

RK Team ST '11 Record Top Prospect (Commitment)
1 Howard TX 46-13 Nick Sawyer, rhp (Oregon)
2 Chipola FL 42-20 Andrew Toles, of (none)
3 Central Arizona AZ 56-15 Fernando Perez, ss (NONE / freshman)
4 Orange Coast CA 32-10 Brandon Brennan, rhp (Houston)
5 Iowa Western IA 43-20 Damek Tomschka, 3b/rhp (Auburn)
6 Middle Georgia GA 37-21 J.D. Wendelken, rhp (NONE / freshman)
7 Grayson County TX 42-17 Luke Moran, rhp/of (Oklahoma State)
8 Palomar CA 28-13 Nick Carmichael, rhp (none)
9 Walters State TN 43-15 Cody Poarch, rhp (none)
10 Miami-Dade FL 33-18 Michael Heller, rhp/ss (none)
11 Riverside CA 23-16 Ryan Garvey, of (NONE / freshman)
12 ^ Bellevue WA 37-14 Adrian Sampson, rhp (Oregon)
13 San Jacinto TX 40-16 Daniel Stumpf, lhp (none)
14 USC Sumter SC 41-11 Tyler Smith, rhp (Tennessee)
15 Santa Fe FL 37-11 Mallex Smith, of (NONE / freshman)
16 ** Western Oklahoma State OK 51-16 Michael Cruz, ss (none)
17 * Navarro TX 46-18 Ryan Ford, 1b (NONE / freshman)
18 Western Nevada NV 45-15 Tyler Spencer, rhp (California)
19 Salt Lake UT 49-17 Domonique Taylor, of (UC Irvine)
20 Wabash Valley IL 45-17 Conor Fisk, rhp (Southern Mississippi)
21 Eastern Oklahoma State OK 38-22 Koda Glover, rhp (NONE / freshman)
22 Spartanburg Methodist SC 38-17 Bruce Caldwell, ss (NONE / freshman)
23 Northwest Florida State FL 39-15 Ryan Butler, rhp/of (none)
24 Cypress CA 23-16 Damon Ponce de Leon, rhp (Houston)
25 Jefferson MO 43-22 Dalton Friend, lhp (none)
26 LSU-Eunice LA 43-15 Stuart Turner, c (Mississippi)
27 Shelton State AL 36-19 Darren Whatley, rhp (NONE / freshman)
28 Santa Ana CA 30-14 Dylan Jones, of (none)
29 Seward County KS 46-20 Gavin Glanz, rhp (Oral Roberts)
30 Blinn TX 39-17 Trevor Seidenberger, lhp (Texas Christian)
31 Polk State FL 43-12 Alec Asher, rhp (Tampa)
32 Feather River CA 31-7 Alex Vetter, rhp (none)
33 Neosho County KS 46-14 Matt Strahm, lhp (Nebraska)
34 + San Joaquin Delta CA 35-12 Andy Scott , ss/rhp (none)
35 Georgia Perimeter GA 42-17 Chris Madera, of (NONE / freshman)
36 John A. Logan IL 39-17 Derek Thompson, lhp (NONE / freshman)
37 Yavapai AZ 36-27 Jonathan Rodriguez, of (Oral Roberts)
38 Louisburg NC 26-27 Steve Nyisztor, ss (none)
39 McLennan TX 36-22 Eric Brooks, rhp (Texas A&M)
40 Diablo Valley CA 28-11 Alex Palsha, rhp (NONE / freshman)
41 Cowley County KS 43-15 Griffith Roark, 2b (Western Kentucky)
42 Gulf Coast FL 25-24 David Trexler, rhp/of (none)
43 Lamar CO 41-17 Ben Lahn, of (Creighton)
44 Pitt NC 38-13 Jay Gause, rhp (NONE / freshman)
45 Weatherford TX 36-23 Cameron Cox, rhp (NONE / freshman)
46 Edmonds WA 26-17 Aaron Brooks, rhp (none)
47 Meridian MS 33-21 Wade Wass, c (Alabama)
48 South Mountain AZ 39-20 Scott Hoffman, rhp (NONE / freshman)
49 Chattahoochee Valley AL 38-19 Zach Helewski, rhp (Columbus State, Ga.)
50 Mt. Hood OR 29-13 Taylor Williams, rhp/2b (Kent State)

* Defending NJCAA Division I champion
** Defending NJCAA Division II champion
+ Defending California state junior-college champion
^ Defending Northwest CC Athletic Association champion

Copyright 1994-2018 by Perfect Game. All rights reserved. No portion of this information may be reprinted or reproduced without the written consent of Perfect Game.