Draft : : Top Prospects
Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Top 100 College Juniors

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Stanford

Top 100 Seniors
Top 100 Sophomores
Top 100 Freshmen

Decision to Attend College a Wise Choice 
For This Year’s Top-Ranked Juniors

Top-notch high-school baseball players invariably face difficult decisions each year on whether to attend college, or skip college and play at the professional level immediately.

The ultimate goal for most, regardless of the route taken, is to play Major League Baseball, and various studies on the topic are inconclusive whether players have a better chance of achieving their goal by attending college first or starting their pro careers.

Insofar as players that are drafted out of high school, history has shown that players who elect to attend college generally have roughly an equal chance of being drafted (a.) in a higher round out of college than they were out of high school, (b.) in approximately the same round and (c.) in a lower round.

Every player on the accompanying list of the nation’s Top 100 College Juniors is projected to fall into the first category when the 2012 draft is conducted in June. Unless they stumble this spring, all 100 should profit from their decision to attend college first before playing pro ball. That includes Stanford shortstop Kenny Diekroeger, who holds the distinction of being the highest unsigned high-school pick from the 2009 draft to be eligible for this year’s draft.

Diekroeger was a second-round selection of the Texas Rangers out of a California high school, and gambled that he could improve his draft position by spurning the Rangers and attending Stanford for three years. That gamble appears to be paying off as Diekroeger projects as a first-round pick in June—even as he comes off a relatively-subpar sophomore season for the Cardinal.

Arizona State righthander Jake Barrett (third round), Virginia righthander Branden Kline (sixth round) and California lefthander Justin Jones (seventh round) are other college players drafted in the first 10 rounds in 2009 that should safely improve their draft stock as college juniors, although Barrett has been bothered somewhat by a sore arm in the pre-season that has curtailed his workload.

Conversely, a total of 43 players listed among the nation’s Top 100 Juniors weren’t even drafted out of high school three years ago, including four returning players that were selected a year ago for the first time as draft-eligible sophomores. Among those who weren’t drafted out of high school but have a solid shot of being drafted in the first round in June are Texas A&M righthander Michael Wacha (No. 6 overall in the Top 100), San Francisco righthander Kyle Zimmer (No. 11), Stony Brook outfielder Travis Jankowski (No. 14), Jacksonville outfielder Adam Brett Walker (No. 15) and Rice righthander J.T. Chargois (No. 16).

All but the 6-foot-6 Wacha were relative unknowns to scouts coming out of high school, and obviously made a prudent choice in attending college, and developing their games at that level.

Not every high-school player develops at the same pace in college as Wacha, or from the time he enrolls in school to a point, generally three years later, when he is eligible for the draft again as a junior. We’ve taken Perfect Game’s list of the Top 100 College Freshmen from 2010, and identified where those players are now and what their prospects are for the 2012 draft.

A total of 39 players were ranked in the Top 100 then and are still ranked in the Top 100 now, including Stanford righthander Mark Appel (No. 5 then, No. 1 now) and Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero (No. 4 then, No. 2 now), the two top-ranked college juniors for the 2012 draft. Appel entered college as an unsigned 15th round pick of the Detroit Tigers, Marrero an unsigned 17th-round selection of the Cincinnati Reds

Obviously, both players have significantly enhanced their draft standing by attending college vs. signing out of high school, although both would have been drafted much higher three years ago had they not been so intent on attending college and made those feelings known.

While Wacha is the classic exhibit this year of the player that has enhanced his draft position after being passed over altogether out of high school, Florida catcher Mike Zunino, and Georgia Southern teammates Chris Beck and Victor Roache are three obvious college players drafted out of high school that have done as much as anyone to bolster their stock for this year’s draft. They rank 3-4-5 among the nation’s top juniors.

Zunino (29th round), Beck (35th round) and Roache (25th round) were all mid-round drafts out of high school, and none projected to emerge as first-rounders three years later. Zunino was ranked the 33rd best freshman in the nation two years ago, while Roache was at 86 and Beck wasn’t ranked at all. All three made enormous strides in their games as sophomores. Zunino was the Southeastern Conference player of the year, while Roache led Division I schools with 30 home runs.

Led by Zunino, Florida has more players (six) on the list of Top 100 Juniors than any other college, and with that motherlode of talent it’s little surprise that the Gators are the nation’s consensus pre-season No. 1-ranked team. Coincidentally, Stanford follows with five players, led by Appel, and the Cardinal is ranked No. 2 in the country to begin the 2012 season.

With Florida and Stanford as prime examples, it goes without saying that college teams can prosper significantly from the decisions that players make on their future coming out of high school, almost as much as the players themselves.

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