We are counting down to college baseball’s 2011 opening day with position-by-position looks at some of the top college baseball players to keep an eye on this year. With some 9,000 Division One players out there, we have pared the list of candidates down as best we can.
Let’s start with the guys who have their eyes on everything that happens on the diamond: Catchers.
The Daytona Beach, FL school is small, but the 2011 list of top catchers starts with this big man. At 6’5, 220 lbs., O’Brien is one of many on this list whose size defies what used to be the mold of the prototypical sub-6’0 squatty catcher. His bat defies most pitchers’ best pitches as well. O’Brien batted .386 with 56 RBIs, while swatting 20 home runs with an 1.193 OPS as a sophomore last season. His efforts helped the Wildcats to an 18-0 MEAC record. O’Brien was also the USA Collegiate National Team’s catcher over the summer.
Bandy batted .356 with six home runs and 42 RBIs in 2010, up from .299 with 39 RBIs as a freshman in 2009. His .982 OPS, helped by a team-high 23 doubles, was the second-best on the Wildcat roster. In fact, he has stroked a whopping 44 doubles in 108 games in his first two seasons in Tucson. The junior was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 41st round coming out of high school, but the preseason All-American looks to be a much higher selection when this June’s draft roles around.
Catchers are known as “field generals”, but it says something that, as a sophomore, McCann was named a captain of a 2010 Razorback squad that was coming off a trip to the College World Series. The 6’3 backstop started 35 games as a true freshman, including all four of Arkansas’ games in Omaha. He kept that going last year by starting in all but six of his team’s 64 games. The junior batted .286 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs. The 2008 draft pick of the Chicago White Sox has committed just five errors in 108 career games to date.
Doyle grew up in the shadow of Coastal Carolina Conway, SC. However, a move across the Palmetto State has served him well. Doyle smacked a grand slam against Virginia Tech in his first game in a Wofford uniform, and he hasn’t looked back since. Doyle totaled eight home runs and 30 RBIs in 2009 and then batted .375 with 16 HR and 75 RBIs and a 1.204 OPS last year. His long ball total was nearly a fourth of his team’s home run production. After off-season shoulder surgery, Doyle is expected to start the season at DH and transition to catcher as his health allows.
After serving primarily as a part-time DH and pinch-hitter as a freshman in 2009, Ogle took over a more full-time role behind the plate last year. Ogle was OU’s top pinch-hitter in ’09, batting .545 (6-for-11). His overall numbers were even more impressive last year, after batting .336 with 11 HR and 36 RBIs en-route to the program’s first College World Series berth in more than a decade. He made a splash last year by going 5-for-9 in Oklahoma’s Super Regional upset at Virginia. He started behind the plate in all three of those games as well as all four of the Sooner’s games in Omaha.
The big man (6’4-230) has split time catching and at first base over his first two seasons at Utah, but no matter where he’s played he has hit…a ton. Cron led the Utes with 11 home runs, 19 doubles and 58 RBIs while batting .337 as a freshman in 2009. He was also the only player in the nation to get three hits in a game off future 2009 overall #1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg. He suffered no sophomore slump last year, batting .431 with 20 HR, 16 doubles and 81 RBIs (all team bests). He also managed an astounding 1.304 OPS. The reigning Mountain West Conference Player of the Year also played for the USA Collegiate National Team last summer.
The senior has started in 118 of his team’s 120 games over the last two seasons, and he has been a vital cog in the Hilltopper offense. Rice batted .399 with 10 home runs and 72 RBIs for WKU’s 2009 NCAA Regional team. His sophomore campaign was also highlighted by a school-record 31-game hitting streak. For an encore, the 6’3 backstop hit .369 with 10 HR, 16 doubles and 65 RBIs (all team-highs) last season. He even had three triples and wound-up with a 1.031 OPS.
A guy like Brantly might get lost in the shuffle a little in the always competitive Big West Conference, but he made a name for himself as a sophomore in 2010. Brantly was named to the All-Big West First Team after batting .373 with seven home runs, 18 doubles and 39 RBIs for the 32-win Highlanders. Brantly was one of 16 semi-finalists for the Johnny Bench Award last year. The 6’2 junior was also named Baseball America’s top prospect in the Northwoods Summer League.
Trent was a 2010 Johnny Bench semi-finalist as well. In 2010, his .348 average made him one of five Bucs to hit .344 or better on the season. Trent launched 13 home runs with 66 RBIs and 17 doubles during his junior campaign. Along with Trent’s bat, ETSU has four players who combined to hit 71 home runs in 2010. He was also one of four Bucs to start all 60 games last season.
Smith split time behind the plate in 2010 with Cory Brownsten, who is now gone. The 6’4, 240 lb. senior earned All-Big East First Team recognition after more than doubling his RBI total to 46 in 2010. He also batted .361 with five home runs and 16 doubles. His efforts helped his team to a 38-18 mark that just missed an NCAA, thanks in part to St. John’s Big East Tournament championship run. Smith looks to pick-up where he left off at the end of a 2010 season that ended with a 20-game hitting streak.
Crank was Michigan’s primary DH last season, but he looks to get more playing time behind the plate this year after the departure of 2010 Johnny Bench semi-finalist Chris Berset. Crank got his sophomore season started on the right foot in ’10 when he cranked three home runs in one game on opening day against Jacksonville State. The 6’0, 220 lb. junior batted .324 while leading the Wolverines with 14 HR and 65 RBIs. He was the only player on his team to reach double-digit home runs.
Casali was Vanderbilt’s primary catcher two years ago, but he delayed arm surgery until after last season so that he could primarily DH and play first base. The move paid-off in spades for both he and his team. He batted .309 with eight home runs and 42 RBIs while helping the Commodores reach the Super Regionals. Casali had an RBI and scored the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning of Vandy’s Regional title game win over Louisville. He also went 7-for-14 with six RBIs, three doubles and a home run in three Super Regional games against Florida State. Now a senior, Casali hopes to get back on the field and behind the plate again this season.
Others To Watch…
Tony Caldwell – Auburn
Chris Cowell – Richmond
Beau Fraser – Portland
Chadd Krist – Cal
Jeremy Rodriguez – Cal State Bakersfield