GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The state of Florida is always loaded with baseball talent, and this year is no different. After you give thanks to our long history of playing host to Grapefruit League spring training, there's the small matter of Major League Baseball raiding the Florida Gators' current roster AND their outstanding class of 2012.
One glance at a projected first round of this summer's MLB draft, and you'll see two to four Gators as well as a couple of UF's best recruits. Here are some of the top hits:
UF catcher Mike Zunino, of course, is the lead dog. He's followed up his breakthrough 2011 season with another campaign full of eye-popping stats. Couple that with his reputation for terrific defense, and Zunino is pushing the top of the first round this summer. ESPN senior baseball analyst Keith Law had Zunino as high as No. 2 on his list of prospects, but the backstop now dwells at No. 4 on the top 100 list.
ESPN's Jason A. Churchill says Zunino remains the No. 1 college position player available and is the best catcher (not even by a close margin). The lack of solid college catching prospects, Churchill writes, could push Zunino even higher on teams' draft boards.
In this recent blog, ESPN MLB draft blogger Kiley McDaniel scouts Florida left-handed reliever Steven "Paco" Rodriguez, who could make the first round.
McDaniel has also seen Florida's top prospect, five-star pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. (Tampa, Fla./Jesuit), in person a couple of times and hasn't been disappointed. McDaniel checked out McCullers' season debut and felt he projects as a big-league closer. A more recent visit only added to questions about McCullers' delivery, but ultimately he still carries a first-round grade. But McDaniel's most recent scouting update shows McCullers has done much to quiet his delivery and could be a high first-rounder if teams see him as a possible starter.
Law says in a late-April blog that some MLB teams are starting to lock in on certain prospects, and Oakland general manager Billy Beane (of Moneyball fame) was spotted at one of McCullers' recent starts. That's not good news for Gator fans hoping to ever see Lance Jr. in orange and blue.
McDaniel ranks only the prospects he has seen in person, and in his most recent rankings (just published today, in fact) Zunino, McCullers, pitcher/DH Brian Johnson, shortstop Nolan Fontana, centerfield recruit Lewis Brinson and Rodriguez are among the top 25. Closer Austin Maddox also made McDaniel's top 25 as recently as May 4.
Law's top 100, published on May 8, includes Zunino (4), McCullers (25), Johnson (28), Fontana (44), Brinson (55) and Rodriguez (71).
ESPNHS continues its search for the nation’s top high school baseball player, regardless of school year and based solely on on-field performance. Every two weeks, they rank the nine players in order in The Starting Nine. And at the end of the season, whoever is in the top spot is crowned The Diamond Gem, the award given to the nation’s most outstanding player. Today's Starting Nine includes McCullers, who is holding steady in the No. 2 spot. McCullers has dominated on the mound this season, giving up his first earned run of the season just recently. McCullers is 12-0 with a 0.11 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 65.1 innings.
Another one of Florida's top recruits is Olympia (Orlando, Fla.) senior Jesse Winker, who has raised his draft stock while dominating for the No. 1 team in the ESPNHS FAB 50.