Last weekend marked the opener for the 2009 college baseball season for Division I baseball. Roughly 50-60 scouts were in attendance for the consensus top pick Stephen Strasburg’s first start against Bethune-Cookman. Strasburg is largely considered the top right handed pitcher to come from the collegiate ranks since Mark Prior was drafted out of USC in 2001. Baring an injury, he’ll be the top pick by the Washington Nationals on June 9. Let’s take a look at the top five talents for the 2009 draft.
1. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, San Diego State
Arguably the best right handed pitcher college baseball has seen in the last five years. He has the size, stuff, athleticism, and still projects to get better, if you can imagine. He started his career at San Diego State in the bullpen, so his arm doesn’t have a lot of miles on it, although you’d assume it does when watching how advanced of a pitcher he is. You may remember him from last season, when he struck out 23 batters in a 1-0 complete game shutout against Utah (a game that Sox prospect Stephen Fife started for the Utes). He has the ideal pitchers body, and can still manage to add 20 lbs to his frame. His fastball sits between 93-95 with solid late break, and could comfortably be in the mid-upper 90’s once he adds more muscle. He was once clocked at 102 mph last year, but that was in the bullpen where he was allowed to air it out. All his off-speed rate as at least average. He can come at hitters with either a high 70’s 11-5 spike curveball or a low 80’s sweeper, both of which are legit out-pitches. His change-up is average, but has the potential to become an out-pitch as it has decent sink and deception. What separates him from the rest is not only his stuff, but the ability to control all four pitches very well as he’s had some pretty low walk totals in his entire collegiate career. He has great mound presence and attack hitters from both sides of the plate. Anything here is probably nitpicking, but his mechanics are unorthodox. His arm action is very long and, like about 95% of pitchers, his body isn’t entirely synced with the rest as he tends to lead with his elbow and not his hips. He’s also a Scott Boras client, but with his talent, it’d be a mistake for the Nationals, or any other team, to pass up on.
2. Grant Green, SS, USC
A dynamic SS prospect who will make his name with the bat. While he was a top prospect entering USC, his arrival was overshadowed by his teammate and classmate Robert Stock. However, in the last three years, he has emerged as the team’s top player and top prospect. He has a potent bat and has proved that this summer in the famed Cape Cod League. There, he finished ranked 2nd in the league in slugging percentage and 5th in OBP. He has present power, but he can still stand to add more power in the future. He ranks as a solid-average runner and has an arm that is strong enough to stick at SS. As a polished bat coming out of one of college baseball’s premier divisions, he offers teams the rare chance to acquire a cornerstone SS with a very high degree of reliability in his past performance. Some have questioned whether he will be able to stay at SS in the future as he gains strength and his base thickens. A good deal of his errors at USC and Yarmouth-Dennis can be attributed to lackadaisical effort or non-chalanting in the field. Additionally, in the pros he will have to learn to rely less on arm strength and charge balls.
3. Alex White, RHP, UNC
The second most talented pitcher features a fastball-slider combo and an improving changeup, though he doesn’t use it as much right now as he will need to in the future. His fastball ranges from 91-95 and can hold it late into games. His slider is a legit out pitch and is a true strikeout pitch but will need to add a third pitch to complement it. If the changeup doesn’t develop as it should, he could be a two pitch closer in the Brad Lidge mold, but if the changeup develops, he could be front-line starter. After a mediocre freshman year, he dominated college his sophomore year to the tune of 13-3 with a 2.83 ERA, a 113/45 K/BB ratio and only 78 hits allowed in 101 innings pitched. Prototypical pitchers body, what scouts look for, two Major League pitches with a chance of a solid third. Nice, easy, athletic delivery and maintains velocity deep into games. Will need to rely on more than the slider against professional hitters. Control isn’t an issue, but command will be essential against more patient hitters who could sit and wait for a mistake pitch.
4. Matthew Purke, LHP, TX (HS)
A left-handed pitcher from Spring, Texas, attends Klein High School, committed to Texas Christian University. Has everything you’d look for in a pitcher, complete with pure stuff, outstanding mound presence, efficient mechanics, and a highly projectable frame. Uses 3/4 arm angle to throw a heavy fastball with plenty of life that sits around 92-93, but once his body fills out, he could be sitting in the mid-90’s. He has ace potential and has plus-plus 11-5 slider is already a legit major league out-pitch, rating as a 70 on the 20-80 scale. While he hasn’t needed it thus far, he can flash a change-up that he has shown an advanced feel for. He is the total package and has arguably the most dominant stuff of any prep arm. He has ace potential and his demeanor fits the bill perfectly. His fastball is already above-average, and you can expect to throw even harder as he grow into his thin frame. At the 2008 National Showcase, he demonstrated a good changeup with plus tail. He has pitched at the varsity level since he was a freshman, and has faced many of the top hitting prospects. He can truly take over in a game and once he gets into a groove, the opposing hitters don’t stand a chance. His command is average at best right now and still may need to make a few adjustments mechanically. Like the majority of high school pitchers, he’s primarily a two-pitch pitcher right now, with the change-up being a bit raw.
5. Dustin Ackley, 1B/OF, UNC
A pure hitting 1B/OF that may be the best hitter in college baseball. His smooth stroke from the left side is a thing of beauty, and he project to always hit for a high average. He has a high level of pedigree, as his dad played in the Red Sox organization. He has plus power to all fields by using his remarkably quick wrist and compact swing that translates better to wood than it does to aluminum, as made apparent by his dominant Cape Cod play (.415/.586/.707 in 12 games). He has outstanding plate discipline, and models his game after Pete Rose. He is a pretty good athlete, and has the instincts, coordination, and footwork that makes him incredibly versatile (a lot of people see second base as his future). He’s also the ultimate team player and likes to be very vocal in the dugout. Although his build may make you assume he’s not fleet of foot, he actually have surprising speed (stole 30 bases last year) and uses quick reactions and smart base-running to be an asset on the basepaths. Much like Brett Wallace last year, he may not have the power, or the frame, to add power a
nd stick at a power positi
on such as first base. His arm is below-average, which makes him limited to left field or second base. Other big obstacles working against him are the fact that he is a Scott Boras client and that he just underwent Tommy John last August.