College baseball preview: Top returning sophomores
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The 2013 college baseball season is just over a month away with opening day scheduled for February 15. After discussing the top incoming freshmen in my most recent college baseball preview, it’s now time to take a look at the best returning sophomores. This is an extremely talented class, headlined by some great pitching, as well as some outstanding outfield prospects. Here are the top returning sophomores to keep an eye on this season, as well as for the 2014 MLB draft:
Carlos Rodon, LHP, North Carolina State
If Rodon was eligible for the 2013 MLB draft, he would be the top overall pick. The 6’-3”, 235-pound southpaw put together one of the most brilliant freshman seasons ever, going 9-0 with a 1.57 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 135 K/41 BB over 114.2 innings for the Wolfpack last season. He ranked fourth nationally in ERA and third in strikeouts. He also held opponents to a .176 batting average. He was a finalist for the Golden Spikes award, the consensus National Freshman of the Year and first team All-American. He features a mid-90s fastball that can touch 99 mph. He also mixes in a power slider, a lethal 88-91 mph cutter, an above-average curveball and an ever-developing change-up. His ability to throw any of his pitches, at any time, keeps hitters baffled at the plate.
Michael Conforto, OF, Oregon State
Established himself as one of the premiere hitters in the country, regardless of class last season. Over 58 games, the 6’-1″, 200-pound left-hander hit .349 with 14 doubles, 13 home runs, 76 RBI and a slash line of .438/.601/1.039. He drew 24 walks to 37 strikeouts, showing a good approach at the plate. His 76 RBI led the Pac-12 and also set an Oregon State record. Was named to every freshman All-American team and was a second-team Baseball America All-American. Knocked in 15 runs over a five-game stretch and 30 over a 15-game span. Was a member of 2012 Collegiate Team USA, knocking in 12 runs over 16 games with two home runs and seven walks.
Derek Fisher, OF, Virginia
Fisher, a 6’-3”, 210-pound left-hander, hit .288 over 56 games with 11 doubles, eight triples, seven home runs and knocked in 50 runs for the Cavaliers last season. He was a consensus freshman All-American and tied a Virginia season record for triples. Went 4-for-6 with two doubles, a triple, home run and seven RBI against Towson on March 28. Was named Freshman All-American by Louisville Slugger and NCBWA.
Tyler Beede, RHP, Vanderbilt
Beede is a 6’-4” flamethrower who gave Vandy fans glimpses of the stud he going to be for them. While his overall numbers — 1-5, 4.52 ERA — don’t jump out at you, he was much better once he became a starter. Over one four-game stretch, he had a 2.25 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 26 K/6 BB in 24 innings. Armed with a mid-90s fastball, he struck out 68 batters over 71.2 innings, good for an 8.6 K/9 ratio. He also features a deceptive change-up with great sink and an above-average curveball. Should be one of the best pitchers in the country this season and one of the top players selected in the 2014 draft.
Andrew Vasquez, LHP, UC Santa Barbara
At 6’-6” and 200 pounds, the left-hander established himself as one of the best strikeout pitchers in the nation as a freshman. His 10.6 K/9 ratio was among the leaders and he became the first freshman UC Santa Barbara pitcher to record 100 strikeouts since Barry Zito. Over 12 starts, he went 6-3 with a 1.93 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and 104 K/63 BB over 88.2 innings. Opponents hit just .176 against him but his 6.4 BB/9 innings show a much needed area of improvement. If he can harness his control issues over the next two seasons, Vasquez will be one the first pitchers taken off the board in 2014.
Trea Turner, 3B, North Carolina State
Turner was successful on his first 29 stolen base attempts en route to leading the nation with 57 in 61 chances. The 6’-1”, 175-pound right-hander hit .336 with 13 doubles, two triples, five home runs, 43 RBI and drew 41 walks for a .432 OBP. He only struck out 38 times over 63 games, showing an advanced approach at the plate to go along with his great speed on the base paths. Had a 10-game stretch in which he went 24-for-44 (.546) with 13 runs, four doubles, 12 RBI, eight walks, 12 stolen bases and a 1.305 OPS. An electric player who you should definitely check out this season.
Travis Radke, LHP, Portland
A 6’-4”, 200-pound left-hander, Radke was named the West Coast Conference Player of the Year as a freshman by going 7-4 with a 2.09 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 85 K/29 BB over 86 innings. He also held opponents to a .197 batting average. He was named the WCC Player of the Month for March after going 4-1 with a 0.93 ERA and 29 strikeouts over 29 innings, allowing just 12 hits. Radke features a fastball that sits around 88-90 mph, a mid-70s curveball and a developing change-up. He commands all three and has great mound presence and feel for pitching.
Benton Moss, RHP, North Carolina
An extremely hard throwing right-hander, Moss was among the freshmen leaders in the nation with a 9.5 K/9 ratio. Over 16 starts, he went 7-2 with a 1.94 ERA and held opponents to a .219 batting average. Had a season high 10 strikeouts in six innings against Maryland on March 18. During a three-game stretch between April 1-April 15, he struck out 27 batters over 17.1 innings. Named Freshman All-American by Louisville Slugger and NCBWA.
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