Where Have College Hitters Gone?

Melina Vastola-US PRESSWIRE

In June of 2010, Austin Wilson was among the best of the high school hitters. Despite his reputation, his Stanford scholarship made drafting him early a huge risk. Wilson, on signability concerns, slipped to the 12th round to the Cardinals, and went the college route. Ever since Wilson arrived on Stanford's campus, scouts have had one over-riding question. Where have all the college hitters gone?

Before I continue talking about Austin Wilson, I want to take a paragraph to thank Al for bumping me up to Article Writer status. While I've enjoyed Fan Posts, I appreciate the support I've received from the masses at Bleed Cubbie Blue. My plan is to write mainly on College/International/Draft Prep topics. That said, when I make it to a Kane County Cougars game this year, I'll post a review of that as well. I look forward to the opportunity, and I encourage feedback, on or off site. And if the headline got you humming some Kinks or Van Halen, all the better.

The Draft news today comes from a "Perfect Game" Draft chat. If you want any new MLB Draft knowledge, these are both essential and free. One from November 12th is chronicled here. The key news is that the MLB Draft will be on June 6-8, which is a Thursday through Saturday. Usually, the Draft is from a Tuesday to Thursday, but the timing was apparently wrong. This is important, not only for the teams, but for players like Gandy Stubblefield. He is now considered Draft-eligible, due to his birth date. The Texas A&M RHP features mid-90s gas, though his off-speed stuff still needs some improvement. The 2013 Draft appears to be very catcher-heavy.

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It was getting late in the 1985 college baseball season. Coach Skip Bertman's team had been successful, but suddenly, he seemed a bat or two short. He reached on a hunch for a rarely-used freshman outfielder. He came to LSU with a reputation for power, but had made scant contact in his first year in Baton Rouge. However, faced with no other options he preferred, Bertman plugged Joey Belle into the lineup. Yeah, that Joey Belle. Belle responded with two home runs that night. LSU failed to reach Omaha and the College World Series, but buoyed by Belle (an All-American the next two seasons), LSU pulled off the feat the next two years. Joey (later better known as Albert) Belle went on to a successful big league career as a slugging outfielder.

The year Austin Wilson headed to Stanford, college baseball instituted a new type of aluminum bat. Tired of four-hour, 13-9 games, the new bats limited the "sweet spot" on the bat... and the scores in the games. Scoring was more typical, game times reduced, and pitchers faced less wear-and-tear due to the new bats. Instead of a routine fly carrying to the seats, the new bats would tend toward about 30 feet less in carry. It isn't that the hitters are getting worse. They're simply getting fewer cheap homers.

Since pitchers are realizing every mistake won't become a quick wind-up inducing souvenir, the college pitcher is pitching inside more. He's getting better results in the process. There are still home runs, and mediocre pitching can still get pounded in 'old school' ways, but pitchers are being more successful as pitchers, not as just throwers.

Since college coaches are realizing that a power guy will be good for 12 or 13 homers a season, not 25, the lineup tends to be made up of quicker baserunners and better defenders, instead of slow-pitch softball blaster types. The question of playing a slick-fielding third baseman versus the .240 hitting BP Superstar leans toward the former now. The guy who can really hit for power will still have a place, but it is less likely to be sixth in the order behind four teammates with similar skillsets. To that extent, the hitters may be 'worse' now than before. Principally, though, the new bats are weeding out prospects who couldn't hit pro pitching anyway.

I'm very confident Austin Wilson is a much better hitter now than he was coming out of high school. Many mock drafts have him going in the first 10 picks, though November mocks are beyond speculative. If the Cubs were drafting eighth or so, I'd be following his stat line this season. As of now, I have bigger preferences. There are hitters of quality in college baseball. I would say that they are merely harder to pick out now. I don't know that I agree with that, either. It's easy to say a college junior in a major conference bashing 28 homers, following up a campaign with 23 the year before, has power. That doesn't mean it will project into big league success.

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That dovetails into a term I've started to not like in regards to the Draft in general. Crapshoot. Many of us have seen craps played, or even slung the dice to the other rail in efforts to roll that winning number. With Theo at the helm, the Draft is nothing like that. To be a crapshoot, here's what would have to happen. Theo would be armed (in June), not with medical records, scouting reports, and a big board created off of hours of researching players numbers, pasts, and anything else our scouts come up with. No, this is a crapshoot.

He rolled out of bed forty-five minutes ago, grabbed a February listing of a Baseball America mock draft, and loaded up 8 different dog litter boxes. He also filled up a few food dishes with some Purina Extra Fiber, and set his dogs "Punt" and "Slough" loose on the vittles.

When he is due to make a pick, whichever box the dog chooses has a letter, which corresponds to a player. Punt went in Box D, so we select the RF from Virginia Tech.

The Cubs spent a bit over $10 million on Draft bonuses last year. With that basket of spending, it totals to 2 WAR -- for the entire basket of picks. While I want all of them to do well, if the team nets, say, 10 Wins Above Replacement, that is a very good draft. Not for Albert Almora, or Pierce Johnson. For the entire class. In the olden days, 10 WAR Drafts were probably rather unlikely for the team. If Team Theo doesn't routinely have solid drafts, he and his should be fired. Until such point as that, I'll cut him some slack on using derisive terms dismissing his selecting/development skills.

Along with that, in the International portion of proceedings, the Cubs will have around $5 million to spend next year. Depending on trading players for extra slot money, that could easily jump a bit higher. (I hope we have a Shawn Camp-like reliever that in 2013, we can trade for a million in International spending room this July. If we aren't contending.) When the list of the Top Ten International players comes out, the top few might demand a seven-figure bonus. The teams with cap room and good scouting Intel will be in line for the spoils. Will they be guarantees? Of course not. Will there be a possibility of an Aroldis Chapman/Yasiel Puig/Jorge Soler (you knew I had to work him in, no?) type to be available? Probably. And since a 3 WAR from the entire International basket would be a coup, I kind of like Theo's odds. Much better than throwing a buck on 407 in Pick Three. That would be akin to a crapshoot.

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By the way, The Kinks, by a slight bit, since it was their song first.

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