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It's the season that counts the most for many college baseball players.
It's the junior season.
Though plenty of players aren't consumed with the idea of being high draft picks and purely are concerned with perhaps helping guide their programs to the College World Series, the idea of being drafted high always is in the back of their minds.
There are several players on our list of top juniors that will be high draft picks no matter happens this spring. Others, though, need strong campaigns to solidify their status amongst the elite.
Mississippi's Drew Pomeranz, Louisiana State's Anthony Ranaudo and Georgia Tech's Deck McGuire are fabulous pitchers to watch this spring. Texas right-hander Chance Ruffin is as hard-nosed as it gets and also is a treat to watch.
Offensively, it doesn't get better than Middle Tennessee State utility player Bryce Brentz. Also, Virginia's Jarrett Parker and Kansas' Tony Thompson hope to build off outstanding sophomore campaigns that put them on the national map.
Without further ado, we unveil the nation's top returning juniors.
Bryce Brentz, Middle Tennessee State
Brentz is a huge reason the Blue Raiders are expected to be a fringe top-25 team this season. Brentz had a solid freshman campaign two seasons ago, but took a giant step forward last season with a great sophomore campaign. He was one of the nation's best hitters, batting .465 with 19 doubles, two triples, 28 homers and 73 RBIs. He also slugged .930 and tallied a .535 on-base percentage. Also, he finished the season 7-for-11 in stolen bases. Brentz also served as a weekend starter on the mound last season, but likely will assume the closer's role after Coty Woods' departure. Opposing teams hit .265 off Brentz last season. It'll be interesting to see if he can emulate that success.
Cal State Fullerton's Christian Colon is one of the nation's top overall players.
Christian Colon, Cal State Fullerton
Colon has had a fantastic career at Cal State Fullerton and hopes to put together a fabulous junior campaign. The exceptional shortstop had an impressive sophomore campaign last season. He finished fourth on the team in batting average. He batted .357 with 16 doubles, two triples, eight homers and 40 RBIs. He also slugged .529 and had a .442 on-base percentage. Colon also was 15-for-22 in stolen bases. Most important is Colon's consistency in the field. He tallied a .959 fielding percentage last season, but was much better than the number indicates because of his ability to make incredible plays. Colon is one of the nation's top draft prospects. He's an exceptional player.
Jarrett Parker, Virginia
Parker helped the Cavaliers take a huge step forward last season with a trip to the College World Series. But Parker would love nothing more than to guide Virginia to its first national title this season. Parker had a solid freshman campaign two seasons ago, but rose to the occasion as a sophomore last season. He was one of the nation's best outfielders, hitting .355 with 20 doubles, seven triples, 16 homers and 65 RBIs. He also slugged .664 and tallied a .450 on-base percentage. Parker also was 20-for-25 in stolen bases and was consistent in the field. Parker added several pounds of muscle in the offseason and is primed for another outstanding season.
Tyler Holt, Florida State
Holt is a fiery player that routinely gets Florida State's offense in gear. He had a fantastic freshman campaign two seasons ago. He also rose to the occasion again last season with a fabulous sophomore season. Holt was one of the nation's most versatile players, hitting .401 with 23 doubles, two triples, five homers and 28 RBIs. He also slugged .578 and tallied a .520 on-base percentage. Holt also was 34-for-39 in stolen bases and drew 54 walks as compared to just 47 strikeouts. Holt is a spark plug for the Seminoles and expects to have another productive campaign. He's a load of fun to watch.
Deck McGuire, Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets fell short of Omaha last season, but hope to return to Rosenblatt Stadium in its final year with McGuire leading the charge. McGuire was one of the nation's most consistent starting pitchers last season. He also is a top draft prospect and is expected to have a fantastic 2010 campaign. McGuire compiled an 11-2 record in '09 and had a 3.50 ERA in 100 1/3 innings. He also struck out 118 and walked 41. Teams also just hit him at a .232 clip. McGuire will have a lot of money riding on how he performs as a junior this season. He could help his stock even more by guiding the Jackets to Omaha or perhaps even a national title.
Anthony Ranaudo, Louisiana State
The Tigers had a solid weekend rotation last season with Louis Coleman and Ranaudo leading the way. Coleman has graduated, though, and it's now Ranaudo's show. Outside of junior college star Bryce Harper, Ranaudo likely is the top college draft pick in the upcoming MLB draft. Ranaudo had a solid sophomore campaign last season. He compiled a 12-3 record and a 3.04 ERA in 124 1/3 innings. He also struck out 159 and walked 50. Opponents hit Ranaudo at a .209 clip. Ranaudo learned the ropes from one of the best in Coleman. Now it's his turn to lead the LSU pitching staff.
Tony Thompson, Kansas
Thompson established himself as one of the nation's premier players last season and could be the main reason the Jayhawks take a huge step forward this spring. Thompson, a third baseman, had a phenomenal sophomore campaign. He led the Jayhawks with a .389 batting average, 27 doubles, 21 homers and 82 RBIs. He also recorded 186 total bases, a .753 slugging percentage and a .442 on-base percentage. Thompson could use some work in the field, but his offensive prowess must not be overlooked. He is one of the nation's best hitters in one of the country's best conferences.
Jedd Gyorko, West Virginia
Gyorko has had a fantastic career at West Virginia and would love to guide the Mountaineers to an NCAA regional in what could be his final season with the program. Gyorko had productive freshman and sophomore campaigns. Last season, he once again was one of the team's leading hitters. He posted a .421 batting average and had 28 doubles, a triple, eight homers and 58 RBIs. He also slugged .658 and had an impressive .487 on-base percentage. As with many players that have had his type of success at the collegiate level, Gyorko is one of the better college draft prospects.
Drew Pomeranz, Mississippi
The Rebels certainly haven't had many issues developing great arms during Mike Bianco's tenure at the school. Pomeranz is another pitcher that will be a top-round draft pick come June. Pomeranz has had a solid career and raised some eyebrows with a fabulous sophomore campaign last season. He compiled an 8-4 record and had a 3.40 ERA in 95 1/3 innings. The left-hander also threw a pair of complete games. Additionally, he struck out 124 and walked 37. Opponents hit him at a .237 clip. With the Rebels losing a few key arms after last season, Pomeranz must once again have a dominant campaign.
Chance Ruffin, Texas
Say what you want about the fact Ruffin may not be the prospect other pitchers around the country are, but he certainly is one of the toughest pitchers in America. Ruffin was the heart and soul of Texas' excellent pitching staff last season. He started 18 games and made 25 appearances. He compiled a 3.32 ERA in 124 2/3 innings and threw three complete games. Also, Ruffin struck out 115 and walked 25, while opponents only hit him at a .230 clip. Many would say that Texas sophomore Taylor Jungmann is the best pitcher on the staff, but no one would trade Ruffin's hard-nosed attitude.