Coaches have high hopes for elite freshmen

Freshmen often can be the difference between sitting at home in June and playing the nation’s best teams at the College World Series.

Just ask Virginia coach Brian O’Connor.

O’Connor received good news last summer when left-handed pitcher and two-way star Danny Hultzen didn’t sign and decided to attend college. Just months later, Hultzen blossomed into an elite two-way player and led the Cavaliers to their first Omaha trip.

O’Connor and several college coaches hope the same scenario plays out with their elite freshmen over the next few seasons.

TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle is ecstatic first-round pick Matt Purke decided to attend college. Stanford also received an early Christmas present when infielder Kenny Diekroeger made the decision to go to college. Arizona State, Michigan and Virginia also benefitted from the MLB draft.

Five highly drafted freshmen have an opportunity to make an instant impact.

Photo Virginia coach Brian O’Connor once again is a happy man with the addition of an elite freshman.
(Crystal LoGuidice, US Presswire)

LHP Matt Purke (TCU). Let’s just call Purke the Gerrit Cole special for the Horned Frogs. Cole was a first-round draft pick last summer, but chose to attend UCLA instead of signing with the Yankees. Purke is following Cole’s footsteps. The talented left-handed pitcher signed with TCU and everyone considered him to be a lock to sign a pro contract when the Rangers drafted him as the 14th overall pick. Purke sent everyone for a loop on signing deadline day. Purke turned down a couple million dollars and called TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle to let him know he was going to college. Purke will be draft-eligible again as a sophomore, but the Horned Frogs at least can enjoy his services for two seasons.

SS Kenny Diekroeger (Stanford). It was a grueling countdown to the draft deadline, but Stanford was a big winner when Diekroeger decided to go to college. Diekroeger was an excellent student in high school, hence his special interest in going to school at Stanford. But the Cardinal also knew he would be a high-round draft pick. Tampa Bay drafted the infielder in the second round and was sure it was going to sign the high school star. However, he surprised everyone by deciding to go to college. After a tough 2009 campaign, the Cardinal looks forward to having Diekroeger in the program.

RHP Jake Barrett (Arizona State). Losing veteran right-handed pitcher Mike Leake to the professional ranks may not be too bad after all. First, the Sun Devils got a huge boost when veteran left-handed pitcher Josh Spence decided to return to college for his senior campaign. Then high school star Jake Barrett decided to join the fold. Barrett wasn’t expected to go to college a week before the draft deadline. However, the righty just wasn’t pleased with the deal the Blue Jays offered. Barrett sits in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball and should be a great asset for the Devils next spring. His addition to the program is icing on the cake for coach Pat Murphy.

RHP Branden Kline (Virginia). The Cavaliers once again have struck gold. Left-handed pitcher Danny Hultzen had an opportunity to sign a pro contract two summers ago, but chose to attend college. Hultzen earned Freshman All-America honors this past season and was one of the nation’s best two-way players. Kline isn’t a two-way star, but the 6-foot-3, 185-pound right-handed pitcher has the potential to be a front-line starter in his first season with the Cavaliers. Kline only was drafted in the sixth round this summer, but would’ve been a top-five rounder if not so adamant about going to college. Virginia is in business after adding Kline to the fold.

SS Derek Dennis (Michigan). Dennis could help the Wolverines take the next step. Michigan appeared to be in great shape a few seasons ago when it upset Vanderbilt and reached a super regional. But since that point, the Wolverines haven’t taken the next step and reached the CWS. They actually missed postseason play this past season. Michigan absolutely loved the skills provided by former shortstop Jason Christian. They also look forward to having Dennis in uniform. Dennis is a freshman that is expected to be an immediate contributor. In addition to being an elite baseball player, Dennis is an excellent athlete, as demonstrated by his superior basketball skills. Dennis only was chosen in the 10th round of the MLB draft, but would’ve been drafted much higher if not for his commitment to Michigan and a ribcage issue in May. He’ll be fun to watch.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Yahoo! Sports and Follow him on Twitter and follow Yahoo! Sports College Baseball on Facebook. Send Kendall a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Aug 24, 2009