2012 draft: Five college players on the rise

Richie Shaffer is flying high for the Clemson Tigers. (Mark Crammer/Anderson Independent-Mail)

The 2012 Major League Baseball amateur draft is less than three months away. Some players who started the year off some people’s radars, or not considered first-round picks, have put together strong seasons and are forcing more and more scouts to watch their development. Here are five college players who have played their way into first-round conversations so far this season.

Kyle Zimmer, RHP, San Francisco

Zimmer, a 6’-4”, 220-pound right-hander has been mentioned as the possible number-one overall pick recently, and some scouts have said that he is way better than Stanford’s Mark Appel, widely regarded as the most polished pitcher in the draft. The upside with Zimmer, who is relatively new to pitching, may be too enticing to pass on for teams picking at the top of the draft. His fastball has been clocked at 99 mph and routinely sits in the 93-96 mph range, even late in games. He also owns a hammer-curve that sits around 85 mph and his change-up is a straight and deceptive pitch that sits around 85 mph. His slider is also an above-average offering.

Zimmer has been lights-out for the Dons this season. Through six starts, he is 2-1 with a 1.62 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 45 K/6 BB over 39 innings. His 7.5 K/BB and 10.4 K/9 ratios show the kind of power and command he has of his four pitches. The team was careful with him at the start of the season, keeping him on a strict pitch count as to not wear out his arm. They have since loosened the reigns, and over his last two starts, he has thrown two complete games shutouts, allowing just eight hits, with 20 strikeouts and five walks over 18 innings.

Andrew Heaney, LHP, Oklahoma State

Left-handed pitchers will always get more notice as they are forever considered a hot commodity. Heaney has been the best southpaw in the nation this year, and the flock of scouts at every game he pitches is getting bigger every Friday, which is his day on the mound. Heaney doesn’t have quite the power as Zimmer, but his fastball has improved a couple ticks this year and now can reach 93 mph. His command and off-speed stuff is better, however, and he is a workhorse on the mound. He mixes in a sharp curve, a deceptive change-up and a cutter to keep hitters off balance and uncomfortable on the plate.

The 6’-2”, 185-pound junior has thrown three consecutive complete games for the Cowboys, two of them shutouts. Over those 27 innings, he has allowed two runs, 13 hits and 34 strikeouts to zero walks. On the season, he is 5-1 with a 1.13 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 65 K/8 BB over 48 innings. He leads the nation in strikeouts, and his 8.1 K/BB and 12.2 K/9 ratios rank among the top.

Richie Shaffer, 1B/3B, Clemson

Shaffer has as much power as anyone in the draft. At 6’-3″ and 215 pounds, the right-hander can hit the ball out to all fields. He showed off that power at last year’s Cape Cod League where he won the home run derby at Fenway Park. In a one-round shortened event due to scheduling constraints, he smashed six home runs over the Green Monster — two deposited into Lansdowne Street after hitting light towers atop the wall.

Aside from his power, he also has a great approach at the plate. He had a .438 OBP as a sophomore, and with his 23 walks over 23 games this year, his .476 OBP is among the best in the nation. Overall, he is hitting .329, with 10 doubles, five home runs, 20 RBI and a 1.135 OPS.

Barrett Barnes, OF, Texas Tech

Barnes mixes power and speed along with a patient approach at the plate. At 6’-1”, 210 pounds, the junior has the size, strength and speed to be a legitimate 30/30 guy down the line. After an impressive freshman year, in which he hit .341 with 14 home runs, 53 RBI, 12 stolen bases and 1.106 OPS over 57 games, he was named to the Baseball America all-freshman team. His numbers dipped a bit his sophomore year, hitting .290 with 10 home runs, 38 RBI, 19 stolen bases and a .923 OPS over 57 games.

This year, he has put it all together for the Red Raiders, hitting .345 with eight doubles, five home runs, 26 RBI and a 1.089 OPS. He has drawn 16 walks and is a perfect 11-for-11 in stolen bases. He has also reached base safely in 23 of his 25 games.

Brady Rodgers, RHP, Arizona State

Rodgers is a superb control pitcher with sneaky stuff. His fastball isn’t overpowering, but it can reach 93 mph with late movement. His curve and change-up both sit around 85 mph and compliment his fastball nicely. At 6’-2”, 210 pounds, he has shown the ability to be a workhorse at the next level as he has averaged eight innings per start this season.

Over his first two seasons with the Sun Devils, he had a 2.47 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 154 K/20 BB over 171 innings. He has picked up right where he left off this season as he is 4-0 with a 1.31 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 39 K/6 BB over 48 innings. He has thrown three complete games, including a shutout against St. Louis on March 1.

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