Interesting College Hitters for 2009 Draft
We are about five weeks away from the 2009 draft, and no one really seems to have a good handle on what is going on. San Diego State ace Stephen Strasburg is the class of the draft, but after him the talent level drops quickly.
There is decent depth in college pitching (which we will talk about soon), but college hitters are in shorter supply. The high school ranks have the usual mixture of projectable arms and toolsy athletes, but there are no Joe Mauers, Josh Becketts or Justin Uptons available this year who clearly stand out as the absolute best available. Everything is in flux, though overall it looks like there is more depth in pitching than in hitting.
Today we will begin our look at some hitters with a good chance to go in the early rounds. Players are listed alphabetically. This is NOT intended to be a comprehensive draft preview, and I will have more guys to talk about later. Today's report covers nine hitters. Tomorrow we'll do another nine.
Dustin Ackley, 1B-OF, North Carolina
Ackley is a pure hitter with developing power. Although playing first base this year, scouts say he has enough athleticism to play the outfield, perhaps even center field. He's hitting .395/.505/.716 for North Carolina, excellent numbers in context. His strike zone judgment is very good (34 walks, 20 strikeouts in 162 at-bats). He could go just about anywhere in the first round after Strasburg, depending on his bonus demands.
Kentrail Davis, OF, Tennessee
A tremendous athlete, the draft-eligible sophomore may have the best pure tools of any college player in the draft, but is still putting his game together. He's hitting .297/.428/.525 this year, which isn't too good for his context. He's shown the willingness to take a walk, but his strikeout rate is also high. He is still more tools guy than baseball player, but he won't have a cheap pricetag. Like Ackley, he could go just about anywhere in the first round, or perhaps fall out of it altogether if he asks for too much money.
Chris Dominguez, 3B, Louisville
Hitting .340/.450/.613 with 10 homers, Dominguez has made huge strides with his strike zone judgment and has refined his previously hack-type approach at the plate. He still strikes out (33 in 150 at-bats), but his walk rate is much higher this year. He's also stolen 15 bases in 19 attempts. His defense at third remains an issue (.888 fielding percentage this year) and there is still some concern about what his batting average and contact rates are going to look like against better pitching. He was drafted in the fifth round as a sophomore by the Rockies last year, but will likely go in the supplemental round this year, or perhaps in the second half of the first round.
Grant Green, SS, USC
Green got off to a slow start this year, but has boosted his production lately and might still be the first college hitter drafted. Hitting .372/.439/.577 for Southern Cal, excellent for a middle infielder in this context. He also has 13 stolen bases in 17 attempts, and continues to impress scouts with his overall tools. His strike zone judgment needs work: 13 walks against 27 strikeouts in 137 at-bats is fairly mediocre. He also needs to reduce his error rate, though scouts believe he has the range, hands, and arm strength to remain at shortstop. Green will definitely go in the first round, probably in the top ten, depending on his bonus demands.
Brett Jackson, OF, California
Jackson is another tools guy with a spotty performance record, though he's certainly improved this year, hitting .331/.401/.586, which isn't terrific but isn't bad. His biggest problem is plate discipline, as shown by a 16/44 BB/K ratio in 157 at-bats. Like Davis, Jackson has first-round physical talent but is still learning how to get the most use out of his tools. He could go anywhere in the second half of the first round or in the supplemental round.
Ryan Jackson, SS, Miami-Florida
This Jackson (no relation to the other) is hitting just .260/.368/.390 for Miami, not very good for a college hitter, but he's received some early-round buzz due to his defensive ability and overall polish. Frankly I think it would be a big stretch for him to go in the first round, but if someone falls in love with the glove it could happen, sort of an Adam Everett thing. He does control the strike zone reasonably well and makes contact, and scouts like his 6-3, 185 athletic build.
Jason Kipnis, OF, Arizona State
Traditional scouts aren't super wild about Kipnis, rating his tools as just average. But his performance is outstanding: .403/.506/.763, 11 homers, 15 steals in 19 attempts, 29 walks against just 16 strikeouts in 139 at-bats. He's polished, does a lot of things right, and has thrived this year against tough competition. One of the performance-oriented teams could consider him in the first round, and I doubt very much that he'll get past the second round. He turned down a fourth-round offer from the Padres last year, and it looks to have been the right move.
D.J. LeMahieu, SS, LSU
Hitting .349/.439/.500, LeMahieu has been a bit streaky this year but has solid across-the-board offensive skills. The main doubts revolve around his defense: does he have the range for shortstop? He might not have enough pure power to play third base at higher levels, and where he falls in the draft will depend on how teams decide where he fits into future lineups.
Kent Matthes, OF, Alabama
One of the best seniors available, Matthes is hitting .394/.481/.976 with 20 homers and nine steals in 10 attempts. He's a solid athlete and his senior status could make him an attractive pick, not likely in the first round, but anytime after that for a team looking to save money on a player is affordable, but who still has good tools and skills. I suspect that the down economy could have a lot of teams looking for senior bargains this year, and Matthes would be a great fit.