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Insider

Appel again leads strong college crop

2/21/2013
Mark Appel will be at the top of many draft boards for the second straight year. Larry Goren/AP Photo

The class of 2013 is somewhat similar to that of its 2012 brethren in that its strength appears to be in college pitching. Right-hander Mark Appel, the No. 8 overall selection from last June, is back at Stanford and may be the No. 1 overall prospect. However, he has company at the top.

The second weekend of the college season is headlined by Appel matching up against Fresno State, which features outfielder Aaron Judge, one of the more intriguing bats in the class. Judge is a 6-foot-7 physical beast who possesses big raw power but has yet to show it in games. He has launched two of his six career long balls off Appel, however, which makes for a fun Friday night showdown.

Appel, who probably has the best fastball among the college starters, is joined by Indiana State southpaw Sean Manaea among those receiving buzz as a possible No. 1 overall pick after a strong summer in the Cape Cod League. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound left-hander, who was not drafted out of high school, offers a 92-96 mph fastball and a slider that has improved since the start of last season and has flipped Manaea's long-term future from closer prospect to potential frontline arm.

Manaea's delivery is deliberate but fairly clean and he throws from a three-quarters slot to create some deception. He'll take on the College of Charleston on Friday in a tournament at Auburn.

Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek is the Razorbacks' Friday starter and he'll face Evansville this weekend. The Hogs aren't just about their ace, however, boasting legitimate high-round prospects in closer Colby Suggs, right-hander Barrett Astin and switch-hitting first baseman Dominic Ficociello. Stanek and Ficociello were each selected in 2010 out of high school.

Stanek sits 91-96 mph, holding his velocity deep into his starts, setting up a potentially-plus slider, and his 6-foot-4, 195-pound frame is athletic and fluid suggesting there's room for growth. He also employs a curveball and changeup, the latter of which could be the difference between a top-five grade and one that places Stanek in the middle or late first round range.

Scouts love the stuff of Florida ace Jonathan Crawford -- up to 98 mph with the fastball, a potential strikeout slider and a changeup flashing average -- but at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds he lacks the physical project of others ahead of him. Crawford will face Florida Gulf Coast on Friday after going just 3 2/3 innings last weekend against Duke in what is generally considered a warm-up start of sorts. Keith Law will be at Crawford's Friday start and will file a full report over the weekend.

Manaea isn't the only potential first-round lefty in the class, with Minnesota's Tom Windle in the mix. Windle is loose and lean and will tease 95 mph on occasion. He won't face a lot of big-time competition in the Big 10, but he did match up well with UCLA last weekend (four scoreless innings) and will go toe-to-toe with Manaea next month. One scout in attendance opined that Windle reminded him of Cliff Lee athletically, with the mechanics and feel of a young Barry Zito. His best pitch is a quality slider, and he'll face Western Michigan this weekend.

Ole Miss right-hander Bobby Wahl entered this season with a first-round grade and he did nothing to deter that with six strong innings versus TCU last Friday, including eight strikeouts. He'll probably get a chance to start in pro ball but a few clubs have already suggested he's a reliever down the line. "He's a big-league closer for me," said one crosschecker for a National League club.

Other college arms to watch this weekend include Oklahoma southpaw Dillon Overton (vs. Iowa), North Carolina lefty Kent Emanuel (Stony Brook), LSU right-hander Ryan Eades (Southeastern Louisiana), Arizona's Konner Wade (San Jose State) and Pepperdine's Scott Frazier (Texas A&M). Frazier impressed scouts last Friday commanding his fastball down in the zone with life. He's a potential late first-round pick.

Don't sleep on the hitters

It's true that the bats warm up with the weather, but the good ones can hit in their sleep, and North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran is perhaps the top college hitter in the class. He's a left-handed batter with a plus hit tool and power projection in a 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame. Moran, who managed just three home runs and 11 doubles in 2012, looks to provide evidence he's got the bat for third base at home against Stony Brook over the weekend.

Stanford's Austin Wilson and Brian Ragira will see a solid starter Friday in Fresno State sophomore William Munro, a 2014 prospect. Wilson has a shot to be among the first few hitters selected come June and there are scouts who like Ragira more than 2012 first-round pick Stephen Piscotty, the Cardinal's third baseman a year ago. Both are right-handed hitters with power potential. Wilson is further along as a hitter and also has a plus throwing arm and solid right field defense.

San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant is another first-round bat with power, and if he offers more evidence he can stick at third base could be a top-10 pick. He'll need to be more consistent in making contact -- he has a tendency to swing and miss quite a bit -- but he's matured in his two years in college and the physical profile suggests a potential star.

How far up the draft boards Moran, Bryant and Wilson can go remains to be seen, but their doesn't appear to be a college bat good enough to go first overall. The Astros have the No. 1 pick for the second straight draft and after selecting prep shortstop Carlos Correa last year may be in a similar position again in 2013: Either select the best college pitcher or go for upside on a prep bat that may save you some bonus money to spend on later picks.

Draft dish

• The high school schedules in the warmer states are starting to get under way, too, with left-hander Ian Clarkin of James Madison HS in San Diego among them. Clarkin has pulled no punches early, displaying his plus curveball and good feel for pitching.

Clint Frazier from Loganville (Ga.) HS began the season a potential top-15 pick and has been terrific early, by all accounts. "He's really, really good," said one scouting supervisor. "Maybe a top-five pick ." Frazier has speed, packs good power into a compact swing and has a big-time throwing arm.

• Shortstop J.P. Crawford (Lakewood HS, Calif.) has begun his trek to be the first prep shortstop off the board, but Gaither (Fla.) HS star Oscar Mercado isn't going to make it easy. "One is a surefire shortstop (Mercado) with Elvis Andrus-level offensive upside," said one national crosschecker. "The other is a better future hitter with athletic tools and a real shot to stick (at shortstop)."

• Prep star Kohl Stewart (St. Pius HS, Houston) injured his shoulder during football season and at last check was not expected to be on the baseball field until March 1. Stewart is committed to Texas A&M as a quarterback, but has reached the mid-90s with his fastball and could be a high pick in June.

• Stanford right-hander A.J. Vanegas, a seventh-round pick by the Padres in 2010 and a potential Day 1 selection this June, is expected to miss about another month after requiring surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back.