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2008 Draft: 25 College Players to Watch

For the better part of the past week, I have been sifting through the thousands of Division I baseball players, looking for the cream of the draft-eligible crop. This is the third year that I have comprised a list prospects, and hopefully this will be my best list yet. Just like last year, I used a rating formula that factored in the different styles of play and talent levels within conferences. However, the rating system is quite different. Most notably, strikeouts are absent from both hitter and pitcher rankings. However, when digging in and trying to separate players close in the rating system, things such as strikeouts became quite important. I also took age into consideration much more than I have in the past, and I found video of all the players that I could. Video especially mattered for pitchers, where I looked to make sure that their windups are relatively clean. I know the Mariners emphasize clean mechanics when they look at pitching prospects, and in the last couple years they have done a great job at finding quality pitchers even in later rounds. My basic premise is that the best college players will make the best professionals, but things like age and mechanics certainly impact their future potential.

Even though I applaud the Mariners ability to find pitchers in the draft in recent years, they should not be the gold standard as far as farm systems go. There is a gaping hole in the organization at first base (even at the major league level), and I have been hoping that they would address it every year that I have compiled a list of prospects. At this point they pretty much have to draft a first baseman, but luckily for them plenty of good options are available.

Overall, this draft is considered by most a relatively weak one, with little star power. I am a little more optimistic, but in general I would agree. The draft appears to have a number of good first baseman and several quality bullpen arms, but everywhere else is somewhere between average and thin. Still, I ended up leaving several players off of my 2008 list that I certainly like, so there is talent to be had.

I made this list, as I do every year, with the Mariners in mind. To this point, they are yet to draft a player off of the list, but this may be the year that changes. The Mariners are a logical fit for any of the first baseman on the list, and additionally rumor is that they are definitely interested in one pitcher on the list as well. Without further ado, the 2008 edition of the 25 to watch:

25. Nate Freiman, 1B, Duke
  • STATS: .381 AVG, 11 HR, 46 RBI, .447 OBP, .671 SLG, 13 BB, 16 K, 1 SB, 0 CS
  • REPORT: At 6'8" playing first base, Freiman is quite reminiscent of Richie Sexson. That may sound damning, but Richie made some All-Star games in his prime. Taller hitters tend to struggle in the majors, most likely because they have a larger strike zone to cover and naturally longer swings as well. The combination is a recipe for many swings and misses. Really, Richie Sexson is probably the best hitter in major league history 6'6" or taller, and the main keys to his former success were a discerning eye and quick, compact stroke. With only 16 strikeouts and a high batting average in the ACC, Freiman makes contact remarkably well for his height, leading me to believe he can beat his own size too. He even found success in the Cape Cod League over the summer, which uses wooden bats. In addition, Freiman has played some outfield and even catcher, so he is a pretty good athlete. Freiman is getting little attention, but he was one of the better hitters in the best baseball conference this year, and there are reasons to believe he can be a good hitter despite his height.
24. Scott Gorgan, RHP, UC-Irvine
  • STATS: 11-3 REC, 2.31 ERA, 109 IP, 66 H, 36 BB, 115 K, 7 HR
  • REPORT: Gorgan has been a mainstay in the Anteaters rotation for three years, and has anchored the staff through the best years in the program's history. His fastball sits in the high 80s and can get into the low 90s, but his best pitch is a change-up. Most teams like his repertoire and production, but are shying away from him because he is only 5'11". Gorgan's windup is fairly clean, he has no injury history, and he has performed at a consistently high level throughout college, so I do not see much reason to worry about his height at all.
23. Collin Cowgill, OF, Kentucky
  • STATS: .361 AVG, 19 HR, 60 RBI, .483 OBP, .687 SLG, 49 BB, 52 K, 23 SB, 4 CS
  • REPORT: Based purely on production, Cowgill should be higher on the board, especially considering that he has shown success hitting with wood bats in the Cape Cod League. However, at 5'9", the ability for his power to translate is questionable. Judging from Cowgill's strikeouts, it looks like he was swinging hard to produce his power, and I am guessing he will shorten up his stroke as a professional and have mostly gap power. Still, Cowgill has a great feel for the strike zone, runs well too, and just flat-out knows how to play the game.
22. Shooter Hunt, RHP, Tulane
  • STATS: 9-4 REC, 2.68 ERA, 100.2 IP, 62 H, 56 BB, 126 K, 8 HR
  • REPORT: With prototypical size, a live arm, and the ability to make hitters swing and miss, it is easy to see why teams like Shooter Hunt. While I also like him, I have my concerns. He certainly has a wild streak, as shown by all the walks. He was even more wild in the Cape Cod League over the summer too. On top of that, his home run rate is not so great either, leading me to believe that when he is not on, he really struggles. Hunt's stuff is among the nastiest draft, and he has been steadily improving throughout his college career. However, he still is not as polished as some higher on my board, and home runs may always be a concern with him. Hunt is a player I have seen linked to the Mariners with their first pick.
21. Jacob Thompson, RHP, Virginia
  • STATS: 6-4 REC, 4.30 ERA, 81.2 IP, 90 H, 31 BB, 70 K, 2 HR
  • REPORT: Based on this season alone, Thompson would not be on the board. However, he was among the best pitchers in the country the last two years running. Thompson has great size at 6'6" and has always been good at inducing ground balls and keeping the ball in the ballpark. Neither of those positive traits abandoned him even through his struggles this year. Additionally, his good command did not leave him either. Thompson does not have overpowering stuff, but I still think he is much closer to the pitcher that dominated as a freshman and sophomore than the one that struggled somewhat this year.
20. Michael Schwimer, RHP, Virginia
  • STATS: 3-1 REC, 1.72 ERA, 31.1 IP, 19 H, 10 BB, 36 K, 1 HR
  • REPORT: Schwimer is the oldest player on my board this year, though he is still just 22. The senior right-hander is an imposing figure on the mound at 6'8" and 240 pounds, and pitched out of relief the vast majority of his college career. However, he was used as a starter in the Cape Cod League over the summer, and was rather successful. Somehow, Schwimer has really flown under the radar, but he has performed at a high level his entire college career and shown an ability to succeed as both a starter and a reliever. His size and strikeout rate suggest that he throws hard too, though I cannot confirm that because I could not find video on him. Still, I am curious to see where Schwimer goes in the draft, because I think he is underrated.
19. Eric Thames, OF, Pepperdine
  • STATS: .407 AVG, 13 HR, 59 RBI, .513 OBP, .769 SLG, 35 BB, 30 K, 11 SB, 1 CS
  • REPORT: Thames posted solid numbers last year in his first year at Pepperdine, but really exploded on to the scene this year before a leg injury ended his season. I am generally leery of players that explode to the extent that Thames did, but the West Coast Conference is underrated, and by all accounts Pepperdine's home park is difficult to hit in. The injury has probably hurt his draft status, which seems ridiculous to me since he will be completely fine by next season anyway. Thames is too intriguing of a bat for me to put him much lower on this list.
18. Reese Havens, SS, South Carolina
  • STATS: .359 AVG, 18 HR, 57 RBI, .486 OBP, .645 SLG, 58 BB, 44 K, 1 SB, 4 CS
  • REPORT: Reese really began to emerge in the Cape Cod League over the summer, and continued his success into his junior campaign. He has good hands and a good arm, but limited speed, so there is some thought that he will eventually move from shortstop. However, especially if Haven's bat continues to progress at the rate it has been, any position is an option. I am not sold on his power potential, but he hits too well from a middle infield position to not take notice.
17. Scott Bittle, RHP, Mississippi
  • STATS: 7-1 REC, 1.78 ERA, 70.2 IP, 35 H, 30 BB, 130 K, 3 HR
  • REPORT: Bittle should have replaced Cody Satterwhite in Ole Miss's rotation, but instead he pitched in middle relief the whole season and dominated. Satterwhite and Lance Lynn are still generally considered Ole Miss's top two pitching prospects, but it is Bittle that has steadily improved and struck out batters left and right. I do not know how hard he throws, but he appears to command both a fastball and curve from the same armslot. I never thought I would put a middle reliever in college on my watchlist, but here Bittle is, and he has certainly earned the spot.
16. Clayton Shunick, RHP, North Carolina State
  • STATS: 7-5 REC, 2.16 ERA, 95.2 IP, 77 H, 23 BB, 108 K, 5 HR
  • REPORT: Like several pitchers on my list this year, there is virtually no buzz around Shunick and I am not sure why. He was arguably the best pitcher in the ACC this year, and on top of that he has had strong performances in the Cape Cod League the last two years. Interestingly, his summer success in 2006 did not translate his sophomore season, but Shunick said that he realized he had dropped his arm angle. So, he worked on throwing over the top more, and he regained his 2006 Cape Cod form. Shunick seems to be a fairly bright young player, and he should be receiving a little more attention than he has so far.
15. Conor Gillaspie, 3B, Wichita State
  • STATS: .425 AVG, 10 HR, 79 RBI, .510 OBP, .706 SLG, 38 BB, 22 K, 16 SB, 2 CS
  • REPORT: Gillaspie was not on anybody's radar until he tore up the Cape Cod League, and he followed up his strong summer by tearing up the Missouri Valley Conference. He does not seem to have a ton of power, nor great fielding ability, but he can flat-out hit.
14. Sawyer Carroll, OF, Kentucky
  • STATS: .419 AVG, 19 HR, 83 RBI, .514 OBP, .782 SLG, 44 BB, 33 K, 12 SB, 0 CS
  • REPORT: Carroll hit well last year, but added significant power to his game this year. How well that power will translate at the professional level is debatable, and it ultimately is what kept him from being higher on my list. Still, he has a great approach at the plate and already has experience in the outfield and first base.
13. Blake Tekotte, OF, Miami FL
  • STATS: .371 AVG, 11 HR, 46 RBI, .480 OBP, .607 SLG, 39 BB, 30 K, 26 SB, 6 CS
  • REPORT: Despite playing at a major program, there is relatively little buzz around Takotte compared to some of his teammates. However, he was among the team leaders in batting average, on-base percentage, and stolen bases. Tekotte looks like a lead-off hitter waiting to happen with his good speed, plate discipline, and hitting ability. He may not hit many home runs, but he has the power to reach the gaps and the speed to turn some of those hits into triples.
12. Jemile Weeks, 2B, Miami FL
  • STATS: .366 AVG, 11 HR, 57 RBI, .447 OBP, .639 SLG, 30 BB, 36 K, 19 SB, 1 CS
  • REPORT: Jemile is the younger brother of Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks, so between that and playing for Miami he has received plenty of attention. It is deserved though. Jemile does not have Rickie's power, but he has more speed and the potential to turn into a good defender at second base. Weeks and Tekotte are virtually dead even in my eyes, but I decided to go with Weeks ahead of Tekotte because good middle infielders tend to be harder to find than good outfielders.
11. David Cooper, 1B, California
  • STATS: .359 AVG, 19 HR, 55 RBI, .449 OBP, .682 SLG, 37 BB, 35 K, 0 SB, 1 CS
  • REPORT: This is a strong draft for first baseman, so Cooper has not garnered as much attention as he probably would most years. In many ways, Cooper is everything the Mariners need. He is a good hitter from the left side of the plate with both patience and power. He has steadily improved throughout his college career, and even had a nice showing in some Cape Cod League at-bats over the summer.
10. Aaron Weatherford, RHP, Mississippi State
  • STATS: 3-1 REC, 0.85 ERA, 31.2 IP, 10 H, 10 BB, 62 K, 1 HR
  • REPORT: The general consensus is that there are a number of good bullpen arms in this college class, and I agree. Of all of them, I think Weatherford is the best, which is far from the consensus. Weatherford did not get many opportunities to pitch as the Bulldogs closer this year, but he certainly made the most of his opportunities. He was a highly regarded recruit out of high school, and has steadily improved throughout his college career. Though I could not find video of him, scouting reports say that he throws hard and has a good splitfinger too. Whatever Weatherford has been throwing, the SEC certainly struggled against it. The bullpen may not seem to be a major concern for the Mariners right now, but J.J. Putz is older than most realize, and Brandon Morrow should be a starter soon as well. A reliever like Weatherford would be a good addition.
9. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Vanderbilt
  • STATS: .317 AVG, 9 HR, 30 RBI, .424 OBP, .519 SLG, 28 BB, 28 K, 3 SB, 1 CS
  • REPORT: Pedro's production this year does not warrant such a high spot on the list, but he had surgery to remove the hamate bone in one of his hands during the season, so he put up those numbers recovering from that. In the past, Alvarez has displayed tremendous power, but also with a rather high strikeout rate. He is likely one of the top two picks in the draft, so there is no way he will fall to the Mariners. Even without the injury, I doubt Alvarez would be quite that high on my board though. He is slightly overhyped in my opinion.
8. Ike Davis, OF, Arizona State
  • STATS: .394 AVG, 16 HR, 73 RBI, .468 OBP, .778 SLG, 30 BB, 31 K, 5 SB, 2 CS
  • REPORT: Ike Davis has one of the highest ceilings of any college player in the draft. He is a gifted athlete that has only begun to recognize his potential. During his time at Arizona State he has played the outfield and first base while also pitching on a fairly regular basis. He was close to making this list on his pitching ability, but his innings have diminished as he has become a more important hitter in the lineup. Though Davis already hits for great power, he promises to hit for more as he fills out some and focuses more on hitting. Ike is one of the most exciting prospects in this draft, and it is debatable whether he will be available or not when the Mariners make their first selection.
7. Aaron Crow, RHP, Missouri
  • STATS: 13-0 REC, 2.35 ERA, 107.1 IP, 85 H, 38 BB, 127 K, 6 HR
  • REPORT: Crow had an awkward year and tenuously sits as the top pitcher on most draft boards. He was good last year as a sophomore, and then had an unbelievable summer in the Cape Cod League. On top of that, Crow put together a streak of over 43 consecutive scoreless innings this season! Obviously, he has shown the ability to completely dominate, but when he does not have his best stuff this year he was surprisingly poor. He will be picked before the Mariners draft, and I still think he is the best arm available this year.
6. Allan Dykstra, 1B, Wake Forest
  • STATS: .323 AVG, 16 HR, 50 RBI, .519 OBP, .645 SLG, 62 BB, 45 K, 7 SB, 1 CS
  • REPORT: Most years there would be plenty of talk about a guy like Dykstra, but this is a strong draft for first baseman. The indications are strong that he will be available when the Mariners pick at 20, and the M's would be wise to take a close look at him. The perception is that Dykstra does not have much upside, but he also is a safe pick. He has tremendous plate discipline and good power. He has performed at a remarkably high level throughout his college career and in the Cape Cod League as well. Even though Dykstra is generally regarded as a good prospect, I think he is underrated by most. The Mariners could really use a polished first baseman ready to move through the system quickly, so Dykstra would be a great fit.
5. Gordon Beckham, SS, Georgia
  • STATS: .397 AVG, 24 HR, 65 RBI, .505 OBP, .781 SLG, 47 BB, 29 K, 17 SB, 1 CS
  • REPORT: At first glance, Beckham does not look incredibly special, but with a bat in his hands he is. He consistently makes hard contact and generates surprising power out of his 6'0", 175-pound frame. Some do not think his power will translate to the pro level, but he hit well in the Cape Cod League over the summer. Beckham reminds me of Dustin Pedroia, though Beckham has a better arm on defense.
4. Justin Smoak, 1B, South Carolina
  • STATS: .383 AVG, 23 HR, 72 RBI, .505 OBP, .757 SLG, 57 BB, 28 K, 1 SB, 3 CS
  • REPORT: Smoak has been on Major League radars since his high school days, and really came into his own this year. A switch-hitter, Smoak has a beautiful stroke from both sides of the plate, and he generates tremendous power. Comparisons to Mark Teixeira are easy to make. Earlier on there was some thought that he could be available when the Mariners pick, but the odds look extremely slim now.
3. Brett Wallace, 1B, Arizona State
  • STATS: .414 AVG, 21 HR, 81 RBI, .531 OBP, .762 SLG, 45 BB, 31 K, 16 SB, 4 CS
  • REPORT: There is no doubt that Wallace is a complete hitter. He has power to all fields, good plate coverage, and great plate discipline. However, his stock is not as high as what might be expected because he is trapped in a "bad body." Especially in baseball, the list of bad body players that were good is long, and Wallace is more burly than pudgy. He even runs fairly well, as the number of bases he stole suggests. The best pro comparison I can come up with for Wallace is Lance Berkman, though Wallace only hits from the left side. Hopefully concerns over Wallace's body allow him to fall all the way to the Mariners, because he would be a steal with the 20th pick.
2. Buster Posey, C, Florida State
  • STATS: .468 AVG, 24 HR, 86 RBI, .572 OBP, .897 SLG, 53 BB, 23 K, 5 SB, 3 CS
  • REPORT: Posey will go very early in the draft, so I will not spend much time breaking him down. Posey started out as a shortstop, but has since moved to catcher and is catching on quickly. He exploded this season and had by far the best year of any college player in the country. While I think he is great, especially for a catcher, I have a hard time believing he is really as good as this season's numbers suggest. Nothing about his past performance indicated a season like this. Still, Posey is a great athlete with all the tools to be a great professional.
1. Yonder Alonso, 1B, Miami FL
  • STATS: .370 AVG, 21 HR, 66 RBI, .536 OBP, .767 SLG, 69 BB, 30 K, 9 SB, 6 CS
  • REPORT: As the draft approaches, Alonso's stock continues to rise. The only way he falls to the Mariners is if signability issues scare other teams away, because he is a tremendous prospect. Alonso is the most polished hitter in the draft thanks to an extremely developed eye at the plate. Though he has already displayed good power, he should develop even more as he turns on more pitches. If I had made a pre-season top 25 list, Alonso would have been at the top of it and never budged. With so many strengths as a hitter, it is hard to think that he will not pan out.
There are the 25 college players that I hope the Mariners are looking at this year. Many of them will likely be high draft picks, but not all of them. I certainly left some good talent off the list too, especially pitching talent. I like who the Mariners have drafted under Bill Bavasi and Bob Fontaine, but I am still hoping that they take someone off of my list one of these years. Especially considering the relatively weak high school crop, this could very well be the year.