Wednesday June 23rd, 2010

From All-Stars like Barry Bonds, J.D. Drew, Nomar Garciaparra and Robin Ventura to Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, future major leaguers are a regular part of the College World Series. Before Rosenblatt Stadium closes up shop next week, here are the 12 best pro prospects likely to join those players as big leaguers who first stepped onto the national stage in Omaha.

Purke turned down a reported $4 million signing bonus last summer after the Rangers drafted him No. 14 overall in 2009. He has all the most desirable physical tools: a 6'4" frame and power-throwing arm (94-96 mph fastball) from the left side. After winning his first start in Omaha, Purke is now 15-0 with a 3.03 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 110 innings. Arizona coach Andy Lopez, a 28-year Division I skipper who was previously at Florida and Pepperdine, called him "the best arm we saw all year." Jerry Ford, president of the scouting service Perfect Game USA, rated Purke the No. 1 high school pitcher last year. Ford says Purke is "very polished," combining the command and offspeed pitches of the Phillies' Cole Hamels with nearly the same arm strength as the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw.

Cole was already a first-round pick out of high school, when the Yankees selected him No. 28 overall in 2008, and he has only improved his stock since then. The 6'4", 220-pound fireballer hits 98 mph with his fastball, one of Cole's "potentially three plus pitches," Ford says. "His changeup is really underrated. When he goes to pro ball, his changeup might end up being his best pitch." This spring Cole led UCLA's killer rotation and has gone 11-3 with a 3.26 ERA and 151 strikeouts in 116 innings, a staggering 11.7 K/9 ratio for a starter. He's a future major-league ace.

The Rockies used a first-round pick on Parker but they may not be the only one to draft Clemson's slugging corner outfielder. The 6'1", 200-pound Parker is also the Tigers' starting quarterback, throwing for 2,526 yards and 20 touchdowns in the fall and could have a future in football too. But Parker also hit 20 home runs this spring, becoming the first Division I athlete to accomplish the 20-20 touchdown/home run double. He is also batting .351 with 64 RBIs. He doesn't run real well and is a middling defender, but the latter tool could improve if he concentrates on one sport.

Blair, a supplemental first-round pick of the Cardinals (No. 46 overall), spent the previous two seasons pitching in the shadow of Reds rookie Mike Leake and improved dramatically in the meantime. His ERA was 6.96 as a freshman and 3.64 this spring as a junior, a season in which he assumed Leake's role as Friday night starter and still went 12-1 matched up against the SEC's aces. Blair throws hard and has two very good secondary pitches that he throws for strikes, a changeup and his out pitch, the slider. "He has a real presence and purpose on every pitch," Lopez says.

As a second-round pick of the Cardinals, Swagerty could be Blair's major-league teammate too. He has a mid-90s fastball and a 12-to-6 curve ball that's his best pitch. Swagerty was Arizona State's closer and in that role had a 2.19 ERA and 14 saves, but he also played some first base, where he batted .352 in 15 games. "He's a very good athlete on the mound," says Lopez, adding that he could have a similar career path to Drew Storen, the former Stanford closer drafted by the Nationals in the first-round of 2009 and is already in the majors.

The No. 3 starter in the Bruins' stacked rotation is as good as most schools' ace, which is why UCLA Sunday starter Rasmussen was a second-round pick of the Marlins. The 5'11" lefty is 11-2 with a 2.73 ERA and has allowed just a .208 opponents' batting average. Lopez is impressed with the pitcher Rasmussen has become, given his low-90s fastball, good changeup and good mound presence. "If he's 6'3", he's probably in the first five, 10 picks," Lopez says.

Though Johnson only went 6-4 with a 4.03 ERA in his first season with the Gators, which ended when Florida became the first team to be eliminated on Monday, he drew praise from an American League scout, who complimented Johnson's low-90s fastball, "plus" breaking ball and good changeup. The scout said the young southpaw, who typically pitched in the second or third game of each weekend SEC series, could be a "top three-rounds guy" in two years. Johnson's future is as a pitcher, but he was also the club's designated hitter in 26 games, batting .413 with four home runs.

The Gators' closer, a fourth-round pick of the Royals, saved 11 games and had a 1.65 ERA in 31 appearances this season. He's a 6'4" lefty power pitcher who can hit 95 mph and can regularly pump 93 mph with a solid slider and a changeup he has rarely needed in college. Some past elbow surgeries are why he fell to the fourth round and why he won't start in the pros, says the AL scout, who adds, "He's probably going to be a quality setup guy, maybe the first lefty out of your 'pen in a close game."

Dyson, a fourth-round pick of the Blue Jays, likely lasted as long as he did in the draft because of his inconsistency. He threw complete-game shutouts at Georgia and Arkansas but also was knocked around by seemingly inferior opponents, such as Coastal Carolina and Vanderbilt. As a result, the 6'2", 195-pound righty only earned a winning record when he beat Arizona State 11-4 in the Gamecocks' second game in Omaha; Dyson is 6-5 with a 4.39 ERA.

The 6'1", 175-pound Bauer, a veteran of the USA Baseball National Collegiate team, lacks the eyepopping fastball of his teammate Cole but has terrific command. He has gone 11-3 with a 3.06 ERA in 17 starts, averaging 7 1/3 innings per outing, and was terrific in his first College World Series outing, throwing 11 strikeouts over seven innings in an 11-3 win over Florida. "Trevor Bauer is a real polished pitcher," Ford says. "I don't think he's quite the prospect that Gerrit Cole would be, but from a college perspective he may be every bit as good."

The 6'1" lefty-hitting center fielder was a fifth-round selection of the Mets after batting a team-high .352 with 13 home runs and 23 stolen bases as a senior, making up for a disappointing junior season in which he batted .296 with five homers and 17 steals. Plate discipline was the key problem, the AL scout says, noting that den Dekker was "out of sync and chasing out of the zone." The scout does, however, rank den Dekker as "one of the better defensive center fielders in the country" this season and projects his pro career as "Scott Podsednik with a little more pop in his bat."

Holaday, whom the Tigers selected in the sixth round, is stout at 5'11" and 190 pounds, with plenty of power, hitting 14 home runs to go with his .352 average at the plate. Lopez raves about his game presence and intangibles behind the plate. "He just really seemed to rub off on his teammates in a positive way," Lopez says. The coach also noted Holaday's quick feet and strong arm defensively, including an ability to throw behind runners on pickoff attempts that's "as good as I've seen in a long, long time."

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