2012 draft: Five college players on the rise

UConn's L.J. Mazzilli is hitting his way up the draft board. (Marvin Gentry/US Presswire)

About a month ago, I wrote an article on five college players who have made major improvements in their games, propelling them to first-round draft pick discussions. Here are five more players who have done the same, and now are in the conversation for hearing their names called on the first day of the draft.

L.J. Mazzilli, 2B/SS, Connecticut

Mazzilli has been doing his thing all season. He started the year by getting a hit in 22 of his first 23 games, then homered in four straight games from March 16-21. Through 35 games, the junior is hitting .343 with 12 doubles, two triples, nine home runs, 32 RBI and nine stolen bases. His slash line of .420/.643/1.063 shows the kind of patience and power he has developed between his sophomore and junior years. Over 65 games last season, he hit .338 with 23 doubles, five triples, three home runs, 32 RBI, 11 stolen bases and an .883 OPS. He could always hit, but the power numbers, along with his ability to steal bases, are what is going to make him a high draft pick. He plays both shortstop and second base, however, second looks to be his natural position at the next level. At 6’-1” and 190 pounds, the right-hander has the frame to add more power as he matures. His father, Lee Mazzilli, was a 14-year major league veteran and a first-round draft pick (14 overall) by the New York Mets in 1973.

Luke Maile, C, Kentucky

The easiest way to improve your all-around offensive numbers is to work on your approach at the plate. After striking out 49 times to just 18 walks over 51 games as a sophomore, Maile has fanned only 14 times over 34 games this season. He also has walked 19 times, one more than all of last season. The results? After hitting .282 with 10 doubles, nine home runs, 36 RBI and a .886 OPS over those 51 games, he is now hitting .336 with nine doubles, nine home runs, 36 RBI and a 1.078 OPS in 17 fewer games this year. The 6’-3”, 220-pound right-hander has reached base in 30 of his 34 games, has had an eight-game RBI streak and was also hit by a pitch in five straight games, showing a willingness to do whatever it takes to get on base. He has the size to be a solid back stop at the next level, and the offensive potential to be a star.

Matthew Reckling, RHP, Rice

Reckling was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 22nd round of the 2011 draft. He decided to stick around at Rice for his senior season and his improvements in his control have made him one of the top pitchers in the country. After walking 5.5 batters per nine innings last season, he has cut that number down to 3.5 this year. He hasn’t sacrificed any of his power, either, as his 10.6 K/9 is among the best in the nation. Overall, the 6’-4”, 215-pound right-hander is 6-0, with a 1.66 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 70 K/23 BB over 59.2 innings. He has also held opponents to a .159 batting average.

James Ramsey, OF, Florida State

There are certain players that you just know are going to make it. Players who have that aura about them that separates them from the rest, regardless of their talent level. Ramsey is one of those players, and he also happens to have a high talent level. A hitting machine, the 6’-1”, 190-pound left-hander has added more power to his game this season and is now one of the best all-around hitters in the draft. He started the season on an absolute tear, hitting .588 (20-for-34) with 16 walks, 21 runs and four home runs over his first 10 games. He has obviously cooled down a bit since, but he is still hitting .380 with seven doubles, four triples, nine home runs, 33 RBI and a 1.211 OPS over 36 games. He has already drawn as many walks (31) as he did over 65 games as a junior, when he hit .364 with 18 doubles, 10 home runs, 65 RBI and a 1.022 OPS. May not have the arm to play right field at the next level, but he has to commit an error this season and would play perfect in left. He is also an Academic All-American.

Alex Keudell, RHP, Oregon

Keudell was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 38th round of the 2011 draft. His decision to come back has not only helped Oregon to a first-place standing in the Pac-12, it also has improved his draft status by about 36 rounds. One of the most competitive pitchers in the country, the senior plays his best in the biggest games. Against top prospect Brady Rodgers and Arizona State on March 31, he threw a shut out in a 1-0 win by the Ducks. He allowed four hits and struck out two while coming up with big pitch after big pitch. On April 13 against Stanford and projected top-five pick Mark Appel, he went the distance again, this time allowing one run on five hits while striking out seven to no walks in the 4-2 win. Over his last four starts, he is 4-0 with a 0.55 ERA and 0.82 WHIP, and on the season, he is 5-3 with a 1.92 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 37 K/11 BB over 65.2 innings. His stuff may not be overpowering, but he has control over his four pitches and is a savvy veteran who just knows how to pitch, something that is invaluable at the next level.

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