We started our position-by-position look at some of the top players with catchers earlier this week. Now we’re going to the middle of the infield with the shortstops. Here’s our look at some of the top men up the middle to watch heading into the 2011 college baseball season…
Heading into the new season it will be hard not to watch Wittels as he pursues college baseball immortality. The FIU junior slowly gained attention last year as he collected hit after hit in game after game, taking his hitting streak to 56 games to end the 2010 season. He hit .413 over the course of that streak and needs hits in his team’s first three games of the season against Southeastern Louisiana to break former Oklahoma State 3B Robin Ventura’s 1987 record 58-game streak. The junior’s other numbers last year looked like this: 100 hits, 60 RBIs, 21 doubles, and just 19 strikeouts compared to 22 walks.
As a freshman in 2009, Vollmuth’s offensive numbers (.237, 8 HR, 28 RBIs) were far from eye-popping. Vollmuth started just 25 games during that freshman season, but 23 of those starts came during USM’s Cinderella run to the College World Series. Vollmuth used that run and a trip to Cape Cod that summer to springboard to a monster 2010 sophomore campaign, when he batted .386 with 20 home runs, 17 doubles, 72 runs, and 76 RBIs – all team-highs. He also sported a 1.219 OPS. If not for Rice’s Anthony Rendon (whom we’ll talk about when we get to our 3B list), Vollmuth likely would have been the C-USA Player of the Year. He’ll look for a third straight NCAA berth and even bigger things in 2011.
Not too many players can walk-in the door as a freshman and have the kind of season Marrero did in 2010. Marrero set a Sun Devil freshman record by hitting a team-best .397 with 11 stolen bases while making most of his 37 starts at shortstop. He earned All-American status for his efforts in the spotlight at ASU while helping the Sun Devils reach the College World Series. The 6’1 shortstop didn’t just survive, but thrived in that spotlight en-route to Omaha. He had game-winning hit in the bottom of the 12th inning to beat Arkansas in game one of their Super Regional and then scored the winning run the next day to send ASU to the CWS.
Diekroger is another freshman who thrived as a true freshman in 2010 for one of the perennial top teams in the country. He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the second round out of high school, but instead of signing the Woodside, CA native stayed close to home to play for Mark Marquess. The decision has, so far, paid-off. Diekroger jumped into the line-up, leading Stanford with a .356 averaged and 41 RBIs. He started 54 of his team’s 55 games to help the Cardinal get back to the NCAA Tournament after a 2009 absence. Diekroger was named a New England Collegiate Baseball Summer League All-Star last summer. His younger brother, Danny Diekroger, joins him this year as a freshman on the Cardinal baseball team. He played third base last year, but moves to shortstop in 2011.
Miller led his team with a .357 batting average to help the Tigers reach the College World Series. Now a junior, the 6’0, 185 lb. Miller scored 71 runs with 49 RBIs, 8 home runs and a team-best four triples while starting all but one of Clemson’s 70 games in 2010. His 1.018 OPS was also the second best on the Tiger roster. After the run to Omaha, Miller played the rest of the summer with the USA Collegiate National Team. He was one of just three on the roster who played for Team USA in both 2009 and 2010, becoming the first Clemson player since 2000 and 2001 to have that distinction.
It’s hard to believe, but Michael is already a junior. The early high school graduate batted .290 with 13 home runs and 57 RBIs while helping UNC to Omaha in 2009 in what should have been his senior season in high school. He moved from second base to shortstop last year and his overall production moved-up as well. The 5’10 sophomore led the Tar Heels with his .346 average, and while his home run total dipped to nine, his slugging percentage still went up from .527 to .575. His OBP also went from .377 to .480 thanks to 44 BB and 17 HBP, compared to just 26 strikeouts. He also led his team with 20 stolen bases.
While fellow Sun Belt star Garrett Wittels garnered all the national acclaim for his hitting streak last season, Bryant had a monster “below the radar” campaign of his own. Of course, Bryant wasn’t below the radar as far as Sun Belt Conference pitchers were concerned. The 5’10 junior batted .356 with 65 RBIs, while leading the Sun Belt with 23 HR, 70 runs and a .744 slugging percentage. He struck out just 38 times in 250 at-bats and amassed an OPS of 1.175. Bryant smashed four of his home runs en-route to Troy’s run to the Sun Belt Tournament title game, which they lost 14-10 to Wittels and FIU to fall one win short of an NCAA bid. He committed just three errors in 295 chances for a spectacular .990 fielding percentage.
The junior has been in the line-up at shortstop for all but a handful of games in the two years since George Horton and Oregon brought baseball back to Eugene. From the lead-off spot in the order, Serna hit a team-high .348 last year. He also led the Ducks with 14 stolen bases and a .419 OBP, while helping the program to an NCAA Regional bid in just its second year of existence. He also belted five home runs with 13 doubles. The Ventura, CA native was the starting shortstop for the Western Division at the Cape Cod League All-Star Game as a member of the Falmouth Commordores last summer.
Fontana was a vital cog in the Gators’ run to the College World Series as a freshman in 2010. He started all but one of Florida’s 64 game and sparkled at shortstop, committing just four errors in 279 chances. That alone made him the first player in program history to earn a Rawlings Gold Glove Award. His overall offensive numbers (.283, 3 HR, 23 RBIs) aren’t eye-popping, but his move to the top of the order in early April helped solidify the Gator line-up and the drive to Omaha. Fontana’s .437 OBP with 53 walks were team-highs, while his 29 strikeouts tied Preston Tucker for the fewest of any batter with at least 200 at-bats. He also played for the USA Collegiate National Team over the summer.
Nyisztor is one in a long line of players from Toms River, NJ to wear the Scarlet Knight’s uniform for head coach Fred Hill. He batted .410 as a freshman at second base, but that wasn’t even good enough to earn first-team All-Big East honors. That went to Louisville star Ryan Wright. Nyisztor makes the move from 2B to SS this year after committing just three errors last season. His other offensive numbers included 17 doubles, 52 runs, 51 RBIs, four HR, three triples, 11 stolen bases, and a 1.013 OPS.
Stamets earned consensus Freshman All-American honors and was named the Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year after starting all 59 of Evansville’s games last year. He batted .321 with four home runs, 15 doubles and 27 RBIs, while leading the Purple Aces with 57 runs and 43 stolen bases. His school record stolen base total ranked fifth in the nation and were the most by any DI freshman. Stamets walked 33 times with 12 HBP and just 33 strikeouts in 234 at-bats. He had 75 hits and did not go back-to-back games without a hit all season.
Others To Watch…
Caleb Busheyhead – Oklahoma
Taylor Featherston – TCU
Ryan Lashley – Stetson
Taylor Motter – Coastal Carolina
Austin Nola – LSU
Joe Panik – St. John’s
Justin Roland – Charlotte
Tim Smalling – Virginia Tech
Darnell Sweeney – Central Florida
Chad Zurcher – Memphis
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