The 2011 MLB Draft is just a few weeks away and the Mountain West Conference is likely to have three players selected over the first round and the supplemental first round. Based on Baseball America's latest top 60 prospects (subscription req'd) for the draft, Utah's C.J. Cron and TCU pitchers Matt Purke and Kyle Winkler will be late-first round picks or beyond.
Cron's blistered the ball this spring to the tune of .438/.514/.824 with 24 doubles and 14 home runs. His future rests at first base.
Purke entered the season battling with UCLA's Gerrit Cole to be the top pitcher taken in the draft, but a shoulder injury has kept him out for portions of the season and pushed him down draft boards. Kyle Winkler, in the meantime, has stepped up in Purke's absence and improved his stock by using a low- to mid-90s fastball and a slider (96 K in 85.1 innings).
So in whose footsteps will these three follow?
No. 18, Chicago White Sox, Royce Ring, San Diego State - Ring enjoyed a successful 2002 season with the Aztecs with 17 saves, a 5-1 record and a 12.5 K/9. The White Sox saw enough to make him the first reliever taken in the draft, but taking a college reliever is always risky (ask my Rockies about Casey Weathers in 2007). Ring threw 95 mph in college, but eventually saw a dip in velocity over the start of his minor league career.
He was traded to the Mets as part of the 2003 deal for Roberto Alomar. He worked his way up to the majors in 2005 with the Mets, bur eventually bounced around to the Padres and the Braves, appearing in a career-high 42 games with the latter in 2008. After a brief September call-up with the Yankees in 2010, Ring now toils with the Mariners' Triple-A team.
No. 15, Chicago White Sox, Lance Broadway, TCU - Broadway may be the subject of more jokes than actual baseball talk, all because his name sounds like it's from a certain industry. He was considered one of the more polished pitchers in the 2005 draft and started at Double-A in 2006, clearly putting him in line for the fast track to the majors.
He made it the Show in September 2007, starting one game in four appearances. But he went back to the minors and became quite hittable (over 10 hits per nine innings). Despite that, he wound up pitching in the majors over the next two years for both the White Sox and the New York Mets, struggling out of the bullpen. He moved to Toronto in 2010, but couldn't leave Triple-A, where he went 3-11 with a 7.66 ERA and nearly two base runners allowed an inning.
No. 19, Chicago Cubs, Andrew Cashner, TCU - Cashner spent his one season with TCU as a reliever and made his way into the first round with a fastball that reached 98 mph. The Cubs quickly converted him to a starter and saw him move up to Double-A in 2009 and Triple-A in 2010. He made his major league debut in 2010 on May 31 and went on to pitch 53 games in relief for the Cubs. He made the Cubs' rotation in 2011, but is currently out with a shoulder injury.
No. 1, Washington Nationals, Stephen Strasburg, San Diego State - Perhaps the most-hyped prospect in MLB Draft history, Strasburg kept meeting all his expectations and made his major league debut in 2010. For all the protection the Nationals provided, Strasburg wound up needing Tommy John surgery and won't pitch again until 2012 (he's doing long toss right now, but nothing off a mound). Will Strasburg be able to get back on track?
Both Broadway and Ring can be considered busts at this point, while injuries currently hand over Cashner and Strasburg. For this year's crop of draftees, Purke will already carry injury questions, Winkler doesn't project much and Cron does get a boost by playing in a few hitters parks in the conference. The MLB Draft begins on June 6.