2012 draft: LSU’s Raph Rhymes — best hitter in the draft?

LSU outfielder Raph Rhymes has a .500 batting average through 41 games. (Mark Cornelison/The Lexington Herald-Leader)

Raph Rhymes, a 6’-1”, 180-pound, junior outfielder for ninth-ranked LSU, is making Ted Williams look like Mario Mendoza the way he is hitting a baseball this season. Alright, so I may be pushing it a bit, but hey, the guy is hitting .500 through his first 41 games. I mean, the best Teddy Ballgame ever hit was .406, which is still like a Marlon Byrd away from Rhymes’ current average. His 78 hits over 41 games would project to 308 over a 162-game major league season, which would obviously be some sort of record, and also cause an influx of kindergartners named Raph in about five years. As I recall, there were a lot of Fernando’s when I was growing up.

Seriously, though …

Raphael Rhymes, his full name, has always been able to hit a baseball better than most. The one knock on him has been his defense and where he fits in the field. He tried to walk-on at LSU in 2008 only to be informed there wasn’t a roster spot available for him. Let’s not forget, LSU is routinely a baseball powerhouse, and the SEC as a whole is arguably the toughest conference in college. Rhymes opted to enroll at nearby LSU-Eunice, a junior community college in Louisiana, where he could get regular at-bats and hopefully transfer to LSU after two years.

In 2010, he led LSU-Eunice to the Division II National championship and was named the JUCO Player of the Year. He hit .483 with 34 doubles, four triples, 12 home runs and drove in 98 runs over 65 games. He also only struck out nine times over 238 at-bats.

He enrolled at LSU in 2011, made the team, then went out and hit .360 over 56 games, mostly as the designated hitter for the Tigers. He added 18 doubles, three home runs, 42 RBI and hit .413 (28-for-68) with runners in scoring position.

He then had Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow. Something not very common for a position player.

He came into this season fully healed and ready to resume his duties as the team’s best hitter. He started out the season human, going 7-for-23 (.304) over his first seven games. Since then, he is 71-for-133 (.534) over his last 34 games. He has recorded a hit in 36 games, has reached safely in 39, and over his recent 11-game hitting streak, is 25-for-42 (.595) with five doubles, two home runs and 12 RBI. He has only struck out once over those 42 at-bats.

Some of his numbers are just plain ridiculous. He is hitting .655 with runners in scoring position, including a perfect 5-for-5 with the bases loaded. He has only struck out eight times all season. He has 12 three-hit games and four four-hit games. He is on pace to become the first college player to hit .500 since Ron Dziezgowski went 44-for-88 for Duquesne in 1991, and he already has almost twice the at-bats.

While Rhymes may not have prodigious power, and he doesn’t take a lot of walks (just 12 on the season), scouts are filling the stands lately to watch him hit. With his level swing, and aggressive approach, no one can match his contact rate or ability to put it where they ain’t.

As the draft nears, the question is, what’s rising faster, his stock or his batting average?

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