NCAA Monday: Born on the USA

Exceptions to the rule noted, when we look at the collegiate players drafted in the first round each June, most have one similarity: they either spent the previous summer playing in the Cape Cod League, or with the USA Baseball Collegiate National team. While players have turned down the national team for the competitiveness and exposure of the Cape, there is still no greater honor in college baseball than being selected to represent the country in competitions like the World Baseball Challenge. The alumni speak to the selectivity of the fraternity: Mark Teixeira, Ryan Zimmerman, Geoff Jenkins, Robin Ventura, Matt Wieters, Stephen Strasburg, and many, many more.

In 2008, the team flexed their dominance with a perfect 24-0 record on the heels of a 0.88 team ERA. So, if you don’t believe the 2010 draft is going to be shallower than last year’s, look no further than the 2009 team ERA: 2.16. Furthermore, the team’s two best pitchers, Vanderbilt’s Sonny Gray and UCLA’s Gerrit Cole, will not be eligible for the draft until 2011. The team still managed a 19-5 record, however, thanks to an offense that scored 57 more runs than their predecessors. Considering the glut of quality draft-eligible position players, there is no question we will see the stars of the USA Baseball offense drafted early and often in June. And there was no bigger star on this team than Cal State Fullerton junior shortstop Christian Colon.

In reviewing the history of this team, there is a case that no player has had as complete a summer with this squad than Colon did in 2009. In 94 at-bats, the six-foot shortstop struck out just six times, versus 11 walks, 34 hits, 11 extra-base hits, and 31 runs — good for a .362/.459/.617 batting line. While the shortstop did commit seven errors in 23 games at shortstop, scouts still gave positive reports to his range and hands up the middle. Colon is now looking as a possible top twenty pick in the draft, and will compete with USA teammate Rick Hague (Rice) for the honor of first drafted shortstop.

In 125 starts over two years at Cal State Fullerton, Colon stole 28 bases in 39 attempts. In 23 games with the USA Baseball team, he went 24-for-26 on the basepaths. This speaks to two things: first, there is untapped potential left with Colon, and two, the Japan, Canada and Guatemala Collegiate teams’ catchers must have not been great shakes. Still, Colon has above-average speed, and is harnessing his ability to translate it to stolen base success.

Major League Scouting Directors love drafting hitters with potential to lead off one day — I once even did a series on this — and Colon certainly could be at the next level. If we include his USA Baseball stats and his two years at CSF, Colon has just 55 strikeouts (versus 54 walks) in 592 at-bats. He also gets on base at a higher clip because his stance is prone to hit by pitches, now with 37 plunks over two-plus seasons. If the whole package doesn’t read a touch like Craig Biggio to you, I’d be surprised.

Other notes on Team USA”s finest:

— Scouts love summer baseball because it puts players on an even plane, not to mention using a wooden bat. So it is no exaggeration to say that for outfielder Bryce Brentz and right-hander Asher Wojciechowski, hailing from Middle Tennessee State and The Citadel respectively, those baseball games in red, white and blue were the most important of their life. Both thorougly impressed scouts, with Brentz hitting .366/.416/.563 and Wojciechowski sporting a 29/4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 21 innings. Brentz is a lock for the first round, while Wojciechowski will have to prove the command problems that have plagued him in the past are behind him.

— Every summer, the team manager and assistant coaches are allowed to bring 1-2 of their own players. When Tim Corbin brought Pedro Alvarez and David Price no one blinked an eye, but oftentimes, the players are overmatched and their inclusion smells of nepotism. This summer was interesting, because when Tulane coach Rick Jones brought right-hander Nick Pepitone, it didn’t seem like he belonged. But Pepitone raised his profile considerably by dominating in international play. Pepitone allowed just two hits in 14.2 innings as the team’s set-up man, and should function as Tulane’s closer this spring. Pepitone brings good tilt to a hard sinker and slider combination, and could be one of the first relievers off the board.

— File this away, but we already have a wonderful argument developing for the top of the 2011 draft board between Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon and UCLA ace Gerrit Cole. The latter dominated on the national team, allowing just 11 hits in 34 innings. Cole, like Stephen Strasburg before him, can pitch into the high 90s until the late innings, and has a nasty wipe-out breaking pitch. Cole’s decision to not sign with the Yankees as a first rounder out of high school is looking better by the day, as he is in for a huge payday in 16 months.

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Mike Rogers
14 years ago

I’ll take Anthony Rendon in 2011 if I had the first pick.