Thursday, June 30, 2011

baseball recruits, part 1

Continuing with yesterday's theme about next year's baseball team, we'll get in a look at the freshman class of next year.  There're a lot of caveats to keep in mind here, of course.  The big one, as always with baseball recruiting, is the MLB draft.  How many players will we lose to the minor league ranks?  Happens every year, and one commit has already signed on the dotted line.  And even then there's attrition; we thought we'd dodged a bullet last year when top incoming recruit Tyler Skulina turned down the pros, only to transfer to Kent State in the fall. 
Another is that the baseball recruiting info that's out there is far, far less extensive than for football and basketball.  There's a whole cottage industry for football; not even the best baseball sites even list every single committed prospect.  So there's a lot of imperfect info.  I may not even be listing everyony.  Nevertheless, we press on in the face of adversity.  I'll divide this into two parts, as I did last year, because this is a lot of googlehunting.

Nathaniel Abel - LHP
Battlefield HS (VA)

The guy just sounds like he should be at Virginia, no?  With an American Revolution-sounding name like that?  Anyway, Abel was a late-ish commit to UVA as baseball commits go, offering his verbal to the coaching staff just last summer.  (Players often commit before their junior years.)  UVA's coaches make it a point to find lefty arms for the pitching staff every year, and Abel is one of two that'll join the team this fall.  Accolades include first-team all-district and honorable mention to the Washington Post's All-Met team.  Battlefield had some turbulent times and a losing season in 2010, but turned it back around to win a regional championship and reach the state semifinals, where they lost to eventual champion Great Bridge.

Abel's not an accomplished hitter, but obviously that's not why he's here.  He finished the season with a 2.79 ERA and five complete games, and brings with him an 88-mph fastball.  With Kyle Crockett likely to move to the starting rotation, Scott Silverstein is the only bullpen lefty with more than three innings of college experience, and he's probably got an outside shot to be a starter too.  So as soon as he shows up, Abel will find himself in direct competition with Ryan Ashooh and Aaron Stull to be the second lefty out of the pen.  That's not a job that earns a ton of innings, but it's a start.

Christian Binford - RHP
Mercersburg Academy (PA)
30th round, Kansas City Royals

Those of you who dug the '90s sitcom scene, you'll have to put away your tool jokes because Binford is a pitcher and most of those hardware jokes deal with hitting.  Binford is a tall right-hander who brings a powerful fastball to the mound.  He was completely dominant during his senior season, allowing just five earned runs in 55 innings (and one in 39 innings in league play for an 0.18 ERA), an accomplishment made all the more impressive as it was two years after Tommy John surgery.  Yes, Binford's already made the dreaded trip to Birmingham, Alabama to see Dr. James Andrews.  That might have helped drop him to the 30th round of the draft, a little later than he might have gone.  Mercersburg also won the Mid-Atlantic Prep League tournament and made it to the state semifinals for Pennsylvania's independent schools.  You never really know how it'll go when a player is drafted, but most high schoolers drafted down in the 30th round typically choose college, especially when that college is UVA.  If Binford indeed chooses college, we'll get us a good one who could challenge for the rotation in his sophomore year.

Nolan Clark - C
Yavapai CC (AZ)

I touched on Clark a little yesterday.  This is one of the guys UVA will be counting on to help fill the vacancy behind the plate.  Clark feasted on the juco pitching in Arizona and earned a third-team all-American nomination in the NJCAA as well as assorted regional, league, etc. first-team selections.  UVA's gotten terrific contributions from juco players in the past, especially at catcher where you look for more maturity than you get from the average freshman.  Kenny Swab and Cody Winiarski were both juco transfers, as was Swab's (and John Hicks's) predecessor behind the plate, Franco Valdes.  Clark will hopefully jump right into the lineup and hit well.

Branden Cogswell - SS
Shenendehowa HS (NY)

No infielders in last year's class means plenty of 'em this year.  Cogswell is a lefty-batting infielder from New York who picked UVA over Purdue - the latter school being an option not because of a great baseball team, but Cogswell's desire to be a pilot and Purdue's aviation program.  He's moved steadily up the accolade ladder as he goes along - starting as a fourth-team all-state player as a sophomore, advancing to second-team as a junior, and as a senior....well, they haven't come out with that list yet.  Cogswell had nine home runs in fifteen games to start the season (can't find anything after that), and was first-team all-region and third-team all-American as named by the ABCA, so one imagines first-team all-state shouldn't be hard to achieve.  (That's a tough ABCA crowd.  Bubba Starling is Baseball America's top recruit and he only made second team.)  And Cogswell's coach has high, high praise for his glove.

There's little need for infielders in 2012, but Brian O'Connor didn't pick up three infielders for 2012 purposes.  Keith Werman graduates, Chris Taylor is a possible (if not likely) top-ten-round pick in the draft, and a good year might see Stephen Bruno leave too.  Cogswell is part of a wave of players that will inherit the infield in 2013.

Brandon Downes - OF
South Plainfield HS (NJ)
43rd round, Boston Red Sox

You have to like what we're getting in the outfield.  (Besides yet another "Brandon."  Various spellings of that name will be all over the field next year.)  Of the three outfielders, Downes was the only one I'd heard nothing of.  It's not like his name wasn't out there.  Last August, he was invited to the East Coast Pro Showcase in Lakeland, Florida so that scouts could get a good look at him.  He's described as a five-tool player with a cannon for an arm - he even does some catching as well as the outfield.  Scouting service Perfect Game named him as a preseason all-region player on the strength of his .484 season in 2010, in which he carried an 18-game hitting streak and hit for the cycle once.  Halfway decent 2011 season, too, as he played the starring role in New Jersey's All-Star Game.  This class of outfielders could have the current players looking over their shoulders a bit.

Derek Fisher - OF
Cedar Crest HS (PA)
6th round, Texas Rangers

If the Mariners are the good guys for drafting practically the majority of draftable players from the current UVA squad, the Rangers are the bad guys for drafting our prospects.  Every year there's a player you have to sweat the August 15 deadline for; this year, that's Fisher.  He's been a UVA commit since he was a sophomore, and now we'll have to see if he can resist the Rangers' overtures.  Some guys get compared to existing major-league ballplayers; Fisher gets compared to Roy Hobbs.  His MLB scouting report knocks his arm a little bit and suggests left field in his future, but also projects him as a 20-25 HR player in the majors, once he develops.  And I could go find any number of all-something-or-other selections, but we'll just summarize and go with Baseball America's placement as the 9th-best high school prospect in the nation.  Fisher has the potential to make an immediate mark on the lineup with his bat, and the fact that the 9th-best HS player in the nation (in the eyes of one service, at least) slipped to the 6th round is an encouraging sign for UVA fans.  (And articles about both Fisher and Downes call a UVA commitment an indicator of tough signability for drafted prospects.  So there's that.)

Nicholas Howard - INF
St. John's College HS (DC)

I think I know why Nick Howard was offered by the UVA coaches:
“I was just looking to center the ball up and drive something, home runs are an accident,” Howard said after hitting his first homer of the season. “I was just trying to hit a line drive right back up the middle.”
Yup, that's the O'Connor way.  Howard is his team's shortstop and top pitcher, though it's suggested the corner infield is in his future.  (This class is a touch light on pitching and Howard's arm is possibly college-worthy, but I don't think that's in the cards.  But you never know.)  He's the star player for a St. John's team that won the always-tough WCAC championship this year - the league is familiar to UVA fans as it includes football factories DeMatha (which St. John's beat for the title) and Good Counsel.  As with the rest of the infield class, Howard is likely to sit glued to the bench in 2012 and then join the no-holds-barred competition for one of the many open positions in 2013.

Check back either tomorrow or Tuesday for part 2 of this series.  Or Wednesday.  Depends on how my priorities look.  This is a lotta googlewebbing and the recruiting board is already woefully obsolete two days after its last update.


Danilo said...

Thanks for the info... looking forward to part2 of the series!

PO13 said...

Terrific work. Your blog really is underrated, as it is a lot better than other flashier-looking UVA blogs.

I think the biggest key of all in UVA's incredible success is the coaching staff. If they can keep O'Conner in place this team has a chance to truly become an elite program for not just his reign but for the next coach too.