Note: We’re less than six weeks away from the start of the college baseball season, and in celebration of that, the preseason board will be up next Wednesday. I try to update The Board at least a couple of times a month during the season, but Mocks don’t start til much around April.
There’s more depth in the position players than the pitchers as far the college side goes, but overall, the class is still fairly lacking. The strength of the class is up the middle, with several catchers and shortstops competing to start the year on The Board. Unfortunately, there’s very little in terms of corner infielders, and outside of the No.1 player, there just aren’t very many projected impact bats. This could all change as the season progresses, but as things stand now, if you’re hoping your home team adds a hitter who can help right away, you probably are going to be disappointed.
Enough introductions, here are the top twelve college position players to watch for in 2012.
1. Victor Roache / OF / Georgia Southern — There was very little separating the top three position players to start the year, and while the two guys below have more positional value, I went with Roache based on both his raw ability and project-ability at the next level. The Georgia Southern star possesses top-notch bat speed to go along with a well above-average approach at the plate with serious raw power to all fields. If he was a center-fielder, this would be no contest, but he has enough athleticism to play the corner outfield. He’ll need a monster year to stay at this position, but it should shock no one is Roache is the first position-player taken in the 2012 draft.
2. Deven Merrero / SS / Arizona State — Merrero starts the year at No.2, but don’t be surprised if he ends the year at No.1 with a bullet. He’s well above average defensively with a high baseball IQ, and offensively he has gap power that could develop into above-average for the position. To be an élite prospect though, the Sun Devil will have to show better plate discipline and the swing will have to be shortened. I don’t think Merrero is a star, but an average offensive shortstop with plus defensive ability is nothing to sneeze at, either.
3. Mike Zunino / C / Florida — The catching prospect is often the most scrutinized — and often overrated — but those who have placed Zunino high on their early boards have done so with good reason. The right-handed hitting backstop has power to all fields, with good pitch recognition (though there are reports that he struggles with off-speed stuff) and bat speed. Defensively, Zunino has a quick release with good arm strength and enough athleticism to block pitches at the big-league level.
4. Tyler Naquin / OF / Texas A&M — If you asked ten scouts about Naquin, you’d likely get ten different answers about what type of prospect he is. To me, he’s a potential lead-off hitter with the best throwing arm in college baseball with the potential for average power as he gets stronger. Some will throw out the word “tweener” with the Aggie, as his bat profiles better in center-field and probably doesn’t have the foot speed to stay at the position, but I think the overall offensive production will profile in right-field as well.
5. Kenny Diekroeger / SS / Stanford — A year ago, listing Diekroeger anywhere below the top three would have seemed impossible. Today, listing him in the top five is ambitious. The Cardinal shortstop puts on an impressive batting practice, but that hasn’t translated into results as of yet. Unlike Merrero, Diekroeger is no guarantee to play stick at short long term, and as a second-basemen the bat doesn’t play nearly as well.
6. Stephen Piscotty / 3B / Stanford — A plus defender at third who hit very well during his sophomore year and in the Cape, Piscotty is a name that must be followed in the 2012 campaign. He doesn’t walk much, and he’s more of a gap hitter at this point, but he does have some raw power and uses all parts of the field.
7. Travis Jankowski / OF / Stony Brook — Jankowski is a future center-fielder and lead-off hitter at his peak, and a fourth outfielder with above-average speed at his basement. There’s not much power in the swing, but he uses all fields like Piscotty and gets to everything in the outfield.
8. Josh Elander / C / TCU — Whether or not Elander starts the year off on The Board or is a fringe prospect will depend on how he develops behind the plate, where the term “work in progress” might be an understatement. He’s plenty athletic and has good arm strength, but doesn’t block balls well and his pop times have been inconsistent. There’s above average power in his bat — especially to the pull-side — but if teams believe he’s an outfielder in the future, he won’t be a day-one selection.
9. Richie Shaffer / 1B / Clemson – Plenty of power to all parts of the field, but lots of swings and misses and unlikely to be a third-basemen at the professional level, although he does have the arm strength to play right-field.
10. Stephen Perez / SS / Miami – A solid defensive shortstop, Perez’ issues come at the plate, where he doesn’t work counts and very little power from the right side. Very high baseball IQ, but projects as more of a utility infielder at this point.
11. Nolan Fontana / SS / Florida – Not much power in the Gator shortstop’s swing, and will probably have to play second-base professionally, but Fontana gets on base as well as anyone in the class and is an above-average runner.
12. Adam Brett Walker / OF / Jacksonville — Really struggled in the Cape Cod, but was one of the best sophomore power hitters last year with solid plate discipline and good speed.
Jeremy Baltz, OF, St. Johns
Tom Murphy, C, Buffalo
Brandon Thomas, OF, Georgia Tech