<
>
Insider

Top infield prospects excel over weekend

3/5/2012
ASU's Deven Marrero shined this past weekend, hitting his first home run of the season. Brad Williams

With the middle infield among the most difficult positions to fill at the big-league level, it's interesting that Keith Law's Top 50 consists of seven talents that project to play either shortstop or second base. Three of those are in the college ranks, if Stanford's latest experiment with Kenny Diekroger sticks.

Diekroger, who ranks No. 49 on the preseason Top 50, is a natural shortstop but was moved to second base last week. The junior went 4-for-12 against Fresno State this weekend, including three doubles, and is hitting .356/.423/.489 with six doubles on the season. One supervising scout on the West Coast believes Diekroger can learn to handle the position adequately. "He's not there now, but in time he can serve at second base."

The top shortstop prospect in the class is Arizona State's Deven Marrero, who hit his first long ball of the season on Friday and had five hits in nine at-bats until he injured his ankle Saturday. He's hitting .387/.444/.484 with walks to only one strikeout in 36 plate appearances in nine games, but the ankle kept him out of action Sunday. Marrero is considered day-to-day.

Florida's Nolan Fontana had a big series versus Miami at Alex Rodriguez Park, smacking his second home run of the season, going 7-for-15 overall. For the season, his offensive numbers aren't gaudy, but he's displaying some pop -- a .537 slugging percentage -- and has shown he can play the table-setter role at the top of the lineup. He's drawn five walks, stolen two bags and dropped down four sacrifice bunts from the leadoff spot. As a left-handed hitter and fine defender, Fontana is a rare commodity and could land in the first round.

One under-the-radar sleeper talent is California's Tony Renda, a 5-foot-8 second baseman who gets results beyond his physical stature. It's no fluke, however. He's a plus runner and a solid defender at second and got off to a torrid start versus the soft portion of the Bears' schedule. In 10 games, Renda is 16-for-40 with six steals and three doubles -- two this weekend. He's not likely to receive first-round consideration, but sometime early on Day 2 Renda could hear his name called.

On the offensive

• Florida catcher Mike Zunino hit two homers and two doubles against Miami this weekend to lift his triple-slash to .425/.489/.775 with three long balls and a 6:6 walks-to-strikeouts ratio. He also gunned down one of two runners attempting to steal a base.

• Stanford's Stephen Piscotty had a seven-hit weekend, improving to .340/.411/.640 on the year, but scouts are scrutinizing his defense as much as his bat. If he has to move to left field or first base, he could lose enough value to push him toward the bottom of the first round, rather than a potential top-10 selection, unless he shows he can produce like a corner bat.

• Clemson's Richie Shaffer outhit South Carolina's Christian Walker in the three-game series, going 7-for-9 with a home run, three doubles and six bases on balls. Walker ranked at No. 39 on the pre-season Top 50, but Shaffer is the one producing like a Day 1 pick thus far. With 14 hits in 31 at-bats -- eight of those for extra bases including four home runs -- Shaffer is perhaps the hottest bat in the country. He's playing third base for the Tigers but is likely a first baseman in pro ball. Indeed, he does have the arm to play anywhere on the field, as he touchws the low-90s from the mound in high school.

But Shaffer's swing is long, creating ways for pitchers to get him out, which is also a reason he's not a first-round talent. The approach and strike zone judgment should get his name called fairly early.

Arms of note

The top arms in the class did not disappoint over the weekend, even with the seven earned runs surrendered by Stanford's Mark Appel. The right-hander issued three walks and allowed eight hits in eight innings, but did punch out 11. This is significant because one of the knocks on him coming into the season was the lack of strikeouts despite the big fastball.

Appel's fastball command was poor Friday and Fresno State took advantage, clubbing two home runs and a key, bases-clearing double in a four-run sixth inning.

Appel wasn't the only top right-hander to struggle some Friday, as LSU's Kevin Gausman yielded 10 hits and three earned runs, and St. Mary's Martin Agosto who was tagged for four earned runs in six frames Thursday versus Oregon State.

• Duke's Marcus Stroman , on the other hand, was the statistical star of the weekend, fanning 17 in seven innings and avoiding walks. The 5-foot-9 Stroman had his fastball-curveball combo working as he allowed just two hits and struck out the side three times. Stroman enters his next start -- Friday versus Florida State -- with a 30:8 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 19 innings of work.

A close second to Stroman was Stanford southpaw Brett Mooneyham, who struck out 13 Saturday, while allowing just five baserunners.

• The scouting star of the spring thus far might be San Francisco right-hander Kyle Zimmer, who again was 93-98 mph with his fastball to go with what might be the best curveball in the class -- one scout rated it as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Zimmer whiffed seven batters in six innings versus Cal State Northridge, and did not walk a batter. On Friday he'll see the same Fresno State team that Appel faced this past weekend, a solid early-season test for Zimmer.

• Georgia left-hander Alex Wood went eight innings and struck out 14 without issuing a walk. He will take on UCLA on Friday having given up only one free pass in 20 innings.

Georgia Southern's Chris Beck shared Appel's pain, as he served up seven earned runs of his own, allowing nine hits in six innings versus North Florida. Beck can't afford to struggle with his command and needs to impress when crosscheckers and scouting directors are in attendance. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Beck ranks No. 31 on the preseason Top 50.