Sophomores hope to leave bigger imprint

Making the transition to Division I baseball can be a difficult chore for some freshmen, but it somehow came easy for at least ten talented players last season.

Several freshmen made their marks last season, but entering this season, TCU’s Matt Purke, Arizona State’s Brady Rodgers, Texas A&M’s Michael Wacha and South Carolina’s Matt Price are headliners for good reason.

Purke helped the Horned Frogs reach the College World Series for the first time in school history last season, and hopes to guide the program to their first national title this season. Rodgers will be the Sun Devils’ ace pitcher after they lost several key cogs from last year’s club, Wacha will be a key weekend starter after losing first-rounder Barret Loux and Price hopes to continue where he left off last season as a dominant closer.

Also keep an eye on St. John’s outfielder Jeremy Baltz.

Baltz might’ve flown under the radar at times last season, but the hard-hitting outfielder is the top offensive player in this class and one of the nation’s best hitters.

Some coaches believe the most strides are made between a player’s freshman and sophomore campaigns. All these guys are in amazing shape if that’s the case.

Matt Purke, TCU

Purke surprised everyone two summers ago when he spurned the Texas Rangers after getting drafted in the first round of the MLB draft. He entered his freshman campaign at TCU with high expectations and didn’t disappoint. Purke went 16-0 and had a 3.02 ERA in 116 1/3 innings. He also struck out 142 and walked 34 and limited teams to a .212 average. Purke, a draft-eligible sophomore this season, is expected to have another stellar campaign that will end with an MLB offer worth millions.

Jeremy Baltz, St. John’s

Baltz didn’t arrive at St. John’s with incredibly high expectations on the national stage, but wasted little time in making his mark on college baseball. As just a freshman last season, Baltz batted a team-high .396 with 16 doubles, a triple, 24 homers and 85 RBIs. He also slugged .771 and had a .479 on-base percentage. He also was 6-for-6 in stolen bases. The Johnnies have high hopes this season with Baltz leading the charge.

Matt Price, South Carolina

The Gamecocks had a magical run to their first national title last season, and Price was an important piece to the puzzle. As only a freshman last season, the right-handed pitcher was one of the nation’s premier relievers. He recorded 10 saves in 31 appearances and had a 2.26 ERA in 55 2/3 innings. He also struck out 83 and walked 19 and limited teams to a .183 average. Price could find his way to the Gamecocks’ weekend rotation this spring.

Kurt Heyer, Arizona

After narrowly making an NCAA Regional appearance last season, expectations will greatly increase for the Wildcats this season. There’s a good reason for that, including the return of sophomore pitcher Kurt Heyer. The talented right-hander is coming off a great freshman year, where he went 7-4 with a 3.26 ERA in 102 innings. He also struck out 109 and walked 29 and limited teams to a .255 average.

Michael Wacha, Texas A&M

The Aggies have several talented pitchers last season with first-rounder Barret Loux and top junior draft prospect John Stilson leading the way. But Wacha, a sophomore right-handed pitcher, could be just as talented. Wacha had a fantastic freshman year for the Aggies, going 9-2 with a 2.90 ERA in 105 2/3 innings. He also struck out 97 and walked 22 and limited teams to a .218 average. Wacha will become a household name this season.

Hudson Randall, Florida

Randall didn’t have a particularly great finish to his freshman campaign, but the right-hander, overall, had a first season to remember. Randall was an important piece to the puzzle for the Gators last season, going 8-4 with a 3.24 ERA in 97 1/3 innings. He also struck out 69 and walked 21 and limited teams to a .268 average. Randall is expected to be back in the weekend rotation this season.

Austin Maddox, Florida

When the Gators needed a big-time hit last season, they always could look to the talented freshman infielder for production. Maddox had an amazing freshman campaign at the plate, hitting .333 with 16 doubles, 17 homers and 72 RBIs. He also slugged .587 and had a .363 on-base percentage. Maddox must improve his OBP this season, but his power production will be key to the Gators possibly winning a national title.

Kenny Diekroeger, Stanford

The Cardinal was thrilled when Diekroeger decided to go to college two summers ago. It’s for good reason. As only a freshman last season, Diekroeger was one of the better hitters in the Pac-10. He batted a team-high .356 with 12 doubles, five homers and 41 RBIs. He also slugged .491 and had a .391 on-base percentage. The Cardinal has high hopes this season with Diekroeger and others leading the way.

Barrett Barnes, Texas Tech

The Red Raiders missed the NCAA postseason last year after a late-season collapse, and hope Barrett Barnes and others will lead them to their first regional under coach Dan Spencer. Barnes had a freshman campaign to remember, hitting a team-high .341 with 19 doubles, two triples, 14 homers and 53 RBIs. He also slugged .641 and had an impressive .465 on-base percentage. Additionally, Barnes was 12-for-15 in stolen bases. He’s one of the top hitters in the Big 12.

Brady Rodgers, Arizona State

Rodgers was a key cog for the Sun Devils in his first season, and will be even more important to their success as a sophomore. Rodgers is the team’s top returning pitchers after three saves and making five starts in 22 appearances last season. He also tallied a 2.11 ERA in 72 2/3 innings. The righty struck out 67 and walked 11 and limited teams to a .202 average.

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, Jan 17, 2011