Doug Kroll is an editor for CSTV.com, focusing on baseball. E-mail here!
As teams across the country settle in for offseason conditioning after a busy fall, many coaches are asking themselves the same questions: Who is going to patrol our outfield? Do I stick him in right field and hope the ball doesn't find him or keep him at DH? Is he really that much of a defensive liability?
With defense being an underrated part of college baseball, thanks in large part to batting averages and the ping that comes with hitting a ball off a metal bat, finding three capable players to roam the vast outfields across the country isn't as easy as one would think.
You'll have a guy that can play great defense but can't hit a lick. Then there will be the player that will hit .400 with 20 home runs but can't track a fly ball to save his life.
The players that can exhibit both are obviously a coach's dream, and when they come along, they aren't too hard to miss.
The 2008 season is loaded with stars in the outfield, including a couple of guys that decided to come back to school for another year, which, for their head coaches, is another dream.
1. Dominic de la Osa, Vanderbilt - Just having junior superstar Pedro Alvarez would have the Commodores as one of the favorites to make it to Omaha. Throw in senior Dominic de la Osa, and they are likely to become one of the favorites to win it. De la Osa returns to Nashville after being drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 10th round of last June's draft. The Coral Gables, Fla., native was a First-Team All-American in 2007, thanks to his .378 average, team-leading 20 homers and 62 RBI. Throw in his 20 steals and de la Osa is a threat in every facet of the game. He is coming off one of the worst summers that he could of possibly had, as he went just 12-for-101 (.119) playing for Wareham in the Cape Cod League. Think he's ready for Feb. 22 to come?
2. Kyle Russell, Texas-Texas head coach Augie Garrido was sure happy when Russell, a draft-eligible sophomore, decided to pass up the St. Louis Cardinals' offer after they drafted him in the fourth round. Russell led the nation in home runs last season with 28 a year after hitting only 10. Not to mention he also hit .336 and his slugging percentage was well over .800, so it's not a long ball or nothing for the Texas native. He'll be back in Austin for his junior season looking to improve upon his Longhorns' record for home runs in a single season. Listed at 6-foot-5, 185 pounds, Russell still has some room to fill in, which should make opposing Big 12 pitchers a little wary of what he may do in 2008.
3. Jack Rye, Florida State - Tony Thomas Jr. stole the show for the Seminoles in 2007. Guys like Jack Rye and Buster Posey had outstanding seasons that went largely unnoticed thanks to their star second baseman. But that all changes in 2008. Rye returns for his senior season after being drafted in the 46th round by the San Francisco Giants in the June draft. The 2007 season saw him hit .372 on a team that hit .350 as a squad, knock out 10 homers and was second only to Posey with 61 runs batted in. Maybe most impressive? His .991 fielding percentage. That's one error in 117 chances while playing right field. If that doesn't impress you enough, let's look at his 61 RBI - how about 31 of them came with two outs. Head coach Mike Martin isn't the only one that will tell you he's clutch.
4. Tommy Baldridge and David Sappelt, Coastal Carolina - With so many great outfielders across the nation, it would be tough to tie up two spots with two guys from the same team. That's why Coastal Carolina's Tommy Baldridge and David Sappelt sit here together. The Chanticleers made history a year ago by hosting the Myrtle Beach Regional, and although in-state rival Clemson moved on, that was still an impressive end to the year. The Chants return two of the best in the game in 2008, making their outfield perhaps the best in the country. Baldridge led the team with a .383 average, Sappelt was second after hitting at a .359 clip, and they knocked in 58 and 50 runs, respectively. As for their defense, each committed only three errors and Sappelt had three assists, as well. It goes without saying that these two will lead Gary Gilmore's team once again in '08.
5. Mark Sobolewski, Miami - Deciding who goes into the final spot in any ranking is a hard thing to do, but especially when it comes to the outfield. Miami's Mark Sobolewski is the only sophomore on this list, but he definitely deserves to be here. After shifting into Miami's outfield more than halfway through his freshman season, the Sarasota, Fla. native sometimes single-handedly propelled the Hurricanes into the NCAA Tournament. He finished his first collegiate season with a .345 average, eight homeruns and 54 RBI. His average and RBI totals were second only to those of Yonder Alonso who put up monster numbers. Expect big things in an all-or-nothing year for Miami with their big juniors probably staying for only one more season.
On the Radar: Jordan Danks, Texas; Dennis Raben, Miami; Tim Fedroff, North Carolina; Ike Davis, Arizona State; Jordan Henry, Mississippi.