Talented seniors ready for last hurrah

Follow Kendall Rogers on Twitter at @ysportsncaabb.

Some players just like to save the best for last.

It’s customary for many drafted players to give up their senior seasons to focus on advancing their game at the professional level.

There are other players that are drafted relatively high, but feel they can come back for another season and improve their draft stock.

Several players on our list of top returning seniors fit that mold.

UC Irvine left-handed pitcher Danny Bibona had a stellar junior campaign, but wasn’t drafted as high as many thought he would. LSU’s Blake Dean, meanwhile, had an injury that kept him from being an incredibly high draft pick. With a strong senior campaign, Dean could increase his stock.

Photo LSU calls Blake Dean’s return to the program the best recruiting victory of the year.
(US Presswire)

Louisiana Tech’s Devon Dageford, Morehead State’s Drew Lee and Florida State’s Stephen Cardullo were undrafted last season, but hope to see their names on the board for the 2010 MLB draft after strong senior campaigns.

Danny Bibona, UC Irvine

It’s safe to say Bibona is a key reason UC Irvine is one of the nation’s premier programs. Bibona didn’t have a great freshman campaign, but bounced back with strong sophomore and junior seasons. He decided to return to school after being drafted in Round 16 by the St. Louis Cardinals last summer. Bibona will be a preseason All-American after tallying a 12-1 record last season with a 2.63 ERA in 106 innings. He also struck out 108 and walked 26 and opponents hit just .209 off him. Bibona looks forward to a huge senior season after adding another pitch to his arsenal.

Blake Dean, Louisiana State

LSU coach Paul Mainieri wasn’t kidding when he called Dean his team’s best recruit for the upcoming season. Instead of losing Dean – a 10th round pick to the Twins last summer – the Tigers welcome back the hard-hitting utility player for his senior season. Dean is coming off another productive campaign. He got off to a slow start last season, but still finished the year hitting .328 with 18 doubles, 17 homers and 71 RBIs. He also slugged .595 and had a .432 on-base percentage. In the field, the Tigers expect Dean to shift to first base this season.

Devon Dageford, Louisiana Tech

Dageford is part of a long list of very talented players in the state of Louisiana. Dageford spent two years at Cloud Community College before playing for the Bulldogs last season. He didn’t disappoint. Dageford led the team with a .385 batting average, 18 doubles, three triples, 23 homers and 68 RBIs. He also slugged .862 and had a .429 on-base percentage. Additionally, he was 9-for-11 in stolen bases. Interestingly, Dageford wasn’t drafted as a junior and hopes to improve his status in the eyes of the professional ranks this season.

Josh Spence, Arizona State

Former Arizona State coach Pat Murphy spent much of the fall two years ago telling us how good the left-handed pitcher could be. Who knew he’d turn out the way he did last season. Spence was fabulous for the Sun Devils en route to another College World Series appearance. He made 15 starts and went 10-1 with a 2.37 ERA in 102 2/3 innings. He also struck out 125 and walked 30 and teams hit him at a .240 clip. Spence had such a great season he was a third-round pick of the Los Angeles Angels. However, the lefty decided to return to ASU for his senior season. His return is huge for the Devils.

Tony Plagman, Georgia Tech

The Yellow Jackets welcome back enough key hitters and pitchers this spring to make a return to Omaha. Though they’re without Luke Murton, they did receive an early Christmas present when Plagman decided to return for his senior season. Plagman had a great ’09 campaign, but flew under the radar for much of the campaign. He batted .354 with 18 doubles, two triples, 16 homers and 73 RBIs. He also slugged .638 and had a .400 on-base percentage. Plagman is the top returning hitter for a likely top-15 team. That makes him one of the nation’s best seniors.

Nick Ebert, South Carolina

The Gamecocks welcome back several impressive hitters this spring, but no return is more anticipated than that of Ebert. Ebert was the team’s top power hitter last season and returns after turning down overtures from the New York Yankees. Ebert had a solid junior season for the Gamecocks. He batted .321 with 13 doubles, 23 homers and 72 RBIs. He also slugged .713 and tallied an impressive .468 on-base percentage. Ebert provides the Gamecocks with outstanding leadership and production that can lead them to Omaha this season.

Joey Bergman, College of Charleston

Bergman has had an outstanding career with the Cougars and hopes to finish his tenure with the program with a bang. Bergman was a 22nd-round draft pick of St. Louis last summer, but decided to return to Charleston for his senior campaign. The Cougars look forward to his services. Bergman finished last season with a .452 batting average, 25 doubles, a triple, 15 homers and 57 RBIs. He also slugged .778 and had a .551 on-base percentage. He also was 24-for-26 in stolen bases. Bergman could improve in the field, where he finished last season with an unimpressive .905 fielding percentage.

Drew Lee, Morehead State

He is by far the nation’s best player most people probably have never heard about. Lee was undrafted as a junior despite having a fabulous junior campaign. He batted .413 with 18 doubles, two triples, 17 homers and 67 RBIS last season. He also slugged .764 and had a .485 on-base percentage. Lee could improve in the field after tallying a .935 fielding percentage last season. It’ll be interesting to see if Lee can find a way to be a decent round draft pick in the summer.

Kyle Roller, East Carolina

The Pirates return several key players from a team that reached a super regional last season. But no return is more important than that of Roller. Roller is the glue that holds the Pirates together at the plate. As a junior last season, Roller batted .336 with 12 doubles, a triple, 16 homers and 75 RBIs. He also slugged .578 and had a .451 on-base percentage. Roller decided to return for his senior season despite being a late-round draft pick of the Oakland Athletics last summer. The Pirates expect him to have another very productive campaign.

Stephen Cardullo, Florida State

The Seminoles welcome back a solid lineup, and Cardullo is one of their top returning hitters. Cardullo was undrafted last summer after putting together an impressive offensive campaign for the ‘Noles. He batted .376 with 20 doubles, three triples, 10 homers and 51 RBIs last season. He also slugged .612 and had a .479 on-base percentage. Cardullo could increase his stock in the eyes of many if he would improve defensively, where he ended last season with an unimpressive .939 fielding percentage. Cardullo joins the list of great hitters in Florida State history.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com. 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 Thursday, Jan 14, 2010