The widely-anticipated blockbuster sequel to last week's Part 1. Straight to it:
Nate Irving - C
Riverdale Country Day School (NY)
Not one of the most heralded prospects in the signing class, but at least one of the biggest. Irving hasn't stopped growing all throughout high school and measures in at 240+ pounds. He was invited to the Power Showcase in Arizona this past January, and despite his size ran a respectable 7.28 in the 60-yard dash - a very solid time for a player his size. Better yet, his pop time (the amount of time between the ball hitting the catcher's glove and hitting the infielder's glove on a throw to second base to cut down a basestealer) was third-best at the showcase: an excellent 1.83 seconds.
Irving's bat is about average for a college-bound prospect; in other words, very good, not excellent. As a junior he batted .360 with a couple home runs and then chose UVA over offers from Vanderbilt and Wake Forest, among others. He's been playing varsity since he was an eighth-grader and serving as the starting catcher almost that long.
However, catcher is maybe the touchiest position on a baseball team. Irving comes in at the same time as two juco catchers, who will naturally be more polished behind the plate and be ahead of the game in terms of winning the trust of the pitching staff. He's got very good athleticism for his size and looks able to develop into an excellent defensive catcher. Barring a big surprise, I wouldn't expect to see much of Irving at all for the first year of his UVA career, just to get him up to speed on catching a college pitching staff. But juco players are only around for a year or two, and as a sophomore and junior, Irving should come around and start earning front-of-the-line privileges for the starting job.
Brett Lisle - LHP
ThunderRidge HS (CO)
Lisle is a rare commodity and one that coaches the world over wish they could have: a 6'8" left-hander on the mound. He's big enough that he also played center on his school's basketball team. Lisle's stats this year weren't overwhelming - an ERA of 3.52, though he also struck out 12 batters per nine innings - but he was named first-team all-league in what his coach called the toughest league in the state. (Coaches do that, but still.)
At 6'8" and less than 200 pounds, Lisle is still a big beanpole, and his fastball doesn't yet reach 90 consistently. But a college strength-and-conditioning program could change that. It wouldn't surprise to see a couple mph added to Lisle's velocity between fall practice and the new season in February. Not every pitcher brought into a college baseball program pans out, but at 6'8" it's hard to see there being no role for Lisle at all as he develops. You'd love to have a big lefty like that be able to go a consistent seven innings out of the rotation; even if not, that kind of height from a lefty can screw up a batter's eye and Lisle could just as well be effective out of the bullpen as well. This is not a recruit you expect to be able to jump right into the college game, but a projectability pick, so to speak. It'll be interesting to see what Lisle will be molded into by the coaching staff.
Kevin Matthews - LHP
Richmond Hill HS (GA)
1st round, Texas Rangers
Just to let you know what could've been. Matthews has already been signed by the Texas Rangers.
Chace Mitchell - C
Florida State College at Jacksonville
As with Nolan Clark, I've touched on Mitchell's potential a little bit already. Good thing, too, because my post mentioning him is on the second page of Yahoo's results. So there ain't much out there. Mitchell was brought aboard for his defensive skills, underscored by the fact that he hit .243 this spring for FSC. He'd been hitting much better (.462) in Terre Haute where he was playing summer ball, until he broke his hand last month. Bummer. He should be ready for fall ball, but his summer season is over.
Mitchell's playing time next spring will largely be a function of how good his fielding/hitting combination is as compared to Clark's. Chances are that Mitchell is much less likely than Clark to be position-flexible, since it's his defense at catcher that induced Brian O'Connor to sign him up. It'll be very interesting, in the fall, to see how he and Clark pan out in the Orange and Blue World Series.
Barrett O'Neill - RHP
Dexter School (MA)
It's been almost two years since O'Neill committed to UVA, having done so in the fall of 2009. In contrast to the last pitching prospect on this list, O'Neill should come to UVA with a lot of polish. Originally he was a member of the class of 2010, but reclassified a year backwards after transferring to Dexter, meaning he originally would have been a UVA freshman this spring. Even back then he was able to top his fastball out at 92; these days he can do that consistently.
Dexter is a brand-new school to the baseball scene, but with O'Neill and his teammate John Magliozzi, who's headed to Florida in the fall, they've become a New England powerhouse. O'Neill is one of the better athletes and all-around baseball players of this class, having grown up playing hockey, and also plays the middle infield when he's not pitching.
O'Neill picked UVA over Boston College and was getting a look from Clemson and Vandy, too. And he plays against perhaps the best competition in New England. I wouldn't put much stock into his undrafted status; his teammate Magliozzi has better stuff and also went undrafted. Of the four pitchers in this recruiting class that'll be at UVA in the fall, I would judge O'Neill as the most college-ready, even despite a bout of mono that cost him part of his junior year.
Mike Papi - OF
Tunkhannock Area HS (PA)
30th round, Los Angeles Angels
One of the higher-profile players coming to UVA in the fall. Maybe it has to do with hitting .531 with six homers this year, to improve on a .410 showing last year. Papi is a do-it-all type; the Angels drafted him as a right fielder and corner outfield is his likely destination, but he played shortstop "out of necessity" this year, and has taken a few spins on the mound as well. This year, he helped his team get to the state championship game before finally losing in the final, in no small part by throwing six innings of no-hit ball in the semifinal.
Rated the #84 high school player in the country by Baseball America, Papi will be the biggest freshman hitter coming in the fall if Derek Fisher signs with the Rangers. Personally, I'm fairly optimistic that Fisher won't sign, which would give UVA a dynamic set of outfield bats in this freshman class. With so much playing time in the outfield up for grabs for next year, look for Papi to be a well-known name this spring.
Kenny Towns - IF
Lake Braddock HS (VA)
Only one player in this class coming from our backyard this year, so if you're only gonna take one, make it a good one. Towns is pretty much the consensus player of the year in the state of Virginia. He's another two-way guy who hits and pitches; a 1.77 ERA on the mound and .544 batting average at the plate, slugging 1.108 in the process. And in the multiple-sport realm, we've had players in this class who played hockey and basketball; how about golf? Towns also happens to be an outstanding golfer, which actually is very different because swinging like a golfer will screw up your baseball swing, and vice versa. But again: .544. So no worries.
The infield will be a lot harder than the outfield to break into in 2012. So the best case for Towns as a freshman probably involves early-season at-bats that get people excited for 2013, kind of how Stephen Bruno did in 2010. Only third base has much playing time available, and there are players (like Bruno himself) that will come higher in the pecking order. But the infield in 2013 will likely be as wide open as the outfield is now, so Towns will be in the middle of the conversation.
Ultimately, this is a crucial recruiting class. Last year's was brutally whittled down by transfers and the draft, and it's about to take another hit with the news that Derek Justice might be transferring. That'll leave exactly two position players in that class: Mark Podlas and Mitchell Shifflett. If this class makes it to Charlottesville intact (which is mostly to say, if Derek Fisher doesn't sign with the Rangers) then it'll be a badly-needed infusion of position-player talent. I think there's a lot to be excited about with this class. Many of these guys have played against top high school competition. The general theme is that there's, for the most part, enough talent already on the team to get through 2012 in good shape, with a few contributions from the freshmen, but in 2013, this class will step up and come into its own. It's a great group, and it's truly the future of UVA baseball.