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College Hitters to Watch

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A Sleeper: Yahmed Yema of Florida International University

College Hitters for the Draft

Here is my opinion about some of the premier players in college baseball this year. I will have more of these updates as we get closer to draft day, so please do not regard this report as complete. Don't get upset if your favorite college hitter is not listed here. This is just a beginning.

I am concentrating on hitters today and will have some stuff about pitchers soon.

Alex Gordon, 3B, University of Nebraska:
I don't think there is much to say here. He's clearly the best hitter available in the college ranks, possessing plus power and a refined approach; he could be another Teixeira. The only questions are about his defense at third base. It looks pretty good to me; he's not a gold glove, but he has a strong arm and his range and hands are at least playable. Others disagree. A lock to go in the first three picks if his bonus demands are reasonable. Projection: Early First Round.

Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, University of Virginia
Hitting .401/.472/.609, 16 doubles, 26 walks, 13 strikeouts, 15 steals, 202 at-bats. A solid all-around hitter, Zimmerman is also an excellent defensive third baseman. He doesn't have Gordon's offensive ceiling, but he should move through the minors very quickly. Rumors indicate that the Washington Nationals, picking fourth, are interested in him. He would be a good fit.

Jeff Clement, C, University of Southern California
Hitting .380/.514/.663, 10 homers, 39 walks, 29 strikeouts in 166 at-bats. Excellent power from the left side, also has good plate discipline. The big thing for Clement this year is improved defense. While he won't be a gold glove, his defense is good enough now that he can remain as a catcher in pro ball. New rumors have him possibly going to the Diamondbacks first overall. If that does not happen, he certainly won't last past the first eight or nine picks.

Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Long Beach State
Tulowitzki has seen his stock rise this year. Currently hitting .363/.444/.627 through 124 at-bats, Tulowitzki features good power potential, although his plate discipline isn't wonderful (11 walks, 27 strikeouts). Scouts like his athleticism and defense, and he could go in the Top Ten picks.

Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Oregon State University
Interesting outfielder has boosted his stock with fine .426/.515/.619 season. Also has 28 walks, 11 strikeouts, 16 doubles, and 20 steals in 197 at-bats over 47 games. Note high walk rate combined with very low strikeout rate, a good combination that should interest teams taking a Moneyballish approach. He may have pushed himself into the first round, and a team on a budget might get a bargain here.

Stephen Head, 1B, University of Mississippi
May have raw power equal to Gordon or Clement, but is not as refined a hitter. Hitting .308 with 15 homers, 19 walks, 31 strikeouts in 211 at-bats; has problems with contact at times, but very dangerous when he gets his pitch. Head is also a starting pitcher (2.89 ERA this year) but is likely to be drafted as a hitter. On talent, a supplemental or early second round pick, but he may go earlier than that depending on what happens with the high school class.

Cliff Pennington, SS, Texas A&M
Talented infielder, hitting .368/.446/.574 with 31 walks, 23 strikeouts, 26 steals in 204 at-bats. Has pop, runs well, controls the strike zone, fundamentally sound. Recent rumors have him going to Kansas City as a bargain pick second overall, but the Royals strongly deny this and say they are looking at Gordon or high schooler Justin Upton. Pennington fits better in the supplemental round or early second round, and should go there to someone if the Royals denial is accurate.

Chase Headley, 3B, University of Tennessee
Hitting .386/.536/.696 this year, with 54 walks, 19 strikeouts, 12 homers in 184 at-bats. Outstanding plate discipline with power; this player should interest stathead teams like Oakland, Toronto, or Boston. I have heard mixed things about his defense, but his bat is extremely promising. Projection: perhaps as high as the late first round or the supplemental rounds to the right team.

Taylor Teagarden, C, University of Texas
Hitting .320/.452/.485, 38 walks, 35 strikeouts in 169 games. Scouts love his glove. Offensively, he has a line drive swing and good plate discipline, but not a lot of home run power. My guess (and this is a guess) is that he will be overdrafted a bit in the first round by a team looking for a college guy who can make a fast impact. Good defensive catchers with even adequate offensive skills are hard to find.

Trevor Crowe, OF, University of Arizona
Multi-skilled player who should interest both traditional teams and Moneyballish clubs. Hitting .427/.500/.759, with 22 doubles, 12 triples, 9 homers, 33 walks, 27 strikeouts, and 22 steals in 220 at-bats. Depending on how some of the high school players pan out, he could go surprisingly high.

Ryan Braun, 3B, University of Miami
Hitting .422.502/.778, 16 homers, 21 steals, 30 walks, 31 strikeouts in 180 at-bats. I love his bat, and I don't think he is far behind Gordon or Clement in what he could accomplish offensively. His defense may force a shift to the outfield, but even so I think he is one of the premium guys available. I would not be afraid to take him in the first ten picks, but he may last a bit longer than that.

THE SLEEPER
Yahmed Yema, OF, Florida International University
This guy is one of my favorite sleepers. He is hitting .404/.477/.716, 14 homers, 13 doubles, 22 walks, 11 strikeouts in 183 at-bats. More walks than strikeouts is always a good sign. His power production is strong, and he's doing it in a not-particularly friendly offensive context. The combined batting average of the FIU club and their opponents is just .282, so Yema's .404 average is excellent accounting for context. The combined SLG is.405, the combined OBP is .370. Put it together, Yema is playing in an offensive context of a .775 OPS. His own OPS is 1.193, giving him an OPS+ of 54 percent better than league. Yema is a left-handed hitting junior, not a huge guy at 5-11, 185. But he is dominating his competition and has good strike zone judgment. I don't know where he will go in the draft, but I'd like to take a chance on him.