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Digging the longball: big hitters for 2010

3/11/2010

We talked earlier this season about the 2008 draft and the plethora of bats that went in the first round; most are on the cusp of a big-league job just two years later, including Buster Posey, Brett Wallace and Justin Smoak -- with Gordon Beckham already hanging onto a starting spot. But that kind of talent does not exist in this year's class, which may be the biggest reason the Top 10 may ultimately consist of as many as eight arms.

"It's both," said one area scout. "There are a lack of college hitters and some pretty good arms with power stuff, especially the high school stock. That will make for an interesting first 10-15 picks, because some clubs just don't like to take the teenage pitcher that high."

But since the hitter comes with less risk and clubs often prefer the bat over the arm, I polled a handful of talent evaluators to come up with the best power-hitting college bats in the class, and below I have broken them down by position.

First Base

Andy Wilkins, Arkansas; Christian Yelich, Westlake HS (Calif.); Hunter Morris, Auburn; Cody Hawn, Tennessee

Third Base

Zach Cox, Arkansas; Nick Castellanos, Archbishop McCarthy HS (Fla.); Jedd Gyorko, West Virginia; Chad Lewis, Marina HS (Calif.); Kris Bryant, Bonanza HS (Nev.); Stetson Allie, St. Edward HS (Ohio); Derek Dietrich, Georgia Tech; Ross Wilson, Alabama; Rick Hague, Rice

Catcher

Bryce Harper, College of Southern Nevada; Cameron Rupp, Texas; Jake Hernandez, Los Osos HS (Calif.); Blake Forsythe, Tennessee

Outfield

Bryce Brentz, Middle Tennessee State; Austin Wilson, Harvard-Westlake HS (Calif.); Josh Sale, Bishop Blanchett HS (Wash.);

Brentz and Harper are among the Top 10 in our preseason top 50 and aren't likely to move very far from their current rankings despite the vast changes we expect in the coming weeks. Wilkins has yet to prove his numbers can translate -- scouts doubt the swing -- and Brentz has the misfortune of playing the majority of his schedule versus conference foes that don't provide the kind of pitching matchups necessary to erase any doubts about the big numbers he's producing.

A couple of names I was expecting to hear did not get mentioned: Virginia Tech's Austin Wates and Virginia's Jarrett Parker. Wates is a legit first-round talent, but Parker is all over the map, depending on who you ask. One area scout said "he's interesting, but nothing jumps out at you, and certainly not the hit tool. It's still a little unrefined for me."

Rupp's presence is intriguing as well, with a scout calling him "a possible sleeper for the Top 40 picks," and the prep outfielders Wilson and Sale could both crack the top 10, but are certainly first-rounders in terms of talent.

The abundance of third baseman is both curious and unsurprising, due to the shortstops and second baseman that don't profile as ideal defenders at their natural positions, but the one area scout I spoke to about Castellanos says he's probably a first baseman, but the bat is good enough and he could play right field as a pro, too.

Forsythe may have problems sticking at catcher and his bat may come up a little short as a first baseman and like Rupp, Hawn got a strong vote for being among the underrated in the draft. The same scout wanted to make a special mention for Oregon State's Stefan Romero, a potential first-day pick "with above-average power and a good idea."

The telling statement of the process came from an agent's assistant and former AL scout.

"It's a down year, but strangely it plays right in with the way clubs are valuing skills. The guys that can hit some, but also play their position well are being evaluated as complete players. The one-dimensional players aren't top-tier guys much anymore, even if the power grades very high."

On the Diamond

• Speaking of Brentz, the right fielder had two more home runs Wednesday to get to five for the year, all in the past five games. He's hitting .389/.468/.741 with nine extra-base hits heading into a weekend series with Louisiana-Monroe.

• Virginia's Parker fanned twice but hit a three-run home run -- his first of the year -- but has been uninspiring at .348/.426/.565 with seven extra-base hits and a 4-9 BB/K ratio in 12 games. There's talk that teammate Dan Grovatt is catching up to him. Grovatt, a junior outfielder, is hitting .378/.483/.489 with four extra-base hits and a 9-3 BB/K ratio. Both are left-handed hitters, and it's Parker's 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame that intrigue scouts beyond his results.

• Redlands East Valley left-hander Griffin Murphy mowed down nine batters -- six by way of strikeout -- and left with a 7-0 lead after three perfect frames. Murphy sat 89-91 mph with his fastball, which is above-average for a southpaw, 80-81 with a change and in the mid-70s with his curveball.

• The slate of prep games picks up quite a bit this week, including Blanchett's Sale and Pine View HS (Utah) shortstop Marcus Littlewood.