This marks the second installment of The Hardball Times’ 2005 NCAA Baseball coverage. We kicked things off last week by naming the hitters on our 2005 Preseason All-America Team. Well, an unexpected illness meant that this second part of THT’s Preseason All-America team was delayed and slightly abbreviated, so I’ll do away with the usual intro — for more, check out Part One. I’m hoping to deal with a few more outstanding players who I didn’t manage to get to in future pieces as the season goes along. For now, on to the pitchers!
Pitcher – Ricky Romero, Cal State Fullerton
With last year’s THT College Co-Players of the Year (Kurt Suzuki and Jason Windsor) gone at Fullerton, lefthander Ricky Romero becomes the focal point of the defending national champs. Romero, a prep standout in East L.A. three years ago, teamed with Windsor last year to form an unanswerable combination on the way to, and in, the College World Series. Romero went 14-4 (placing him third in Division I in wins) with a 3.37 ERA and followed up the national championship with a terrific summer as Team USA’s top starter, going 3-1 in five starts with a miniscule 1.57 ERA.
Romero is a control pitcher with a low-90s fastball that moves enough to be tough to hit. He backs it up with good command of his secondary pitches, especially a curveball that encourages hitters to chase (and sometimes crosses up his catchers). Romero put up pretty good strikeout numbers for Team USA, raising the possibility that he has room to improve at the college level.
Pitcher – Sam Lecure, Texas
Sam Lecure’s Texas Longhorns faced Romero’s Titans in the CWS final last season, but Lecure (despite finishing fifth overall in the THT Pitcher Rankings for the season) could not manage to hold off Fullerton in the deciding game. Lecure pitched brilliantly, but Fullerton scored the decisive runs off the bullpen after he left in the seventh inning.
Lecure is not a strikeout specialist or a fireballer; he’s a solidly built control artist who depends on his defense and keeping the ball in the park, which he did as well as anyone last season. His average fastball is backed up with a fine slider and he works the bottom of the strike zone. His 9-3 record could have been much better, but the colorful Lecure had many short starts in order to give work to the superb Texas bullpen. He should work longer outings in 2005.
Pitcher – Cesar Ramos, Long Beach State
Cesar Ramos spent much of last season in the shadow of his Dirtbag teammate, the incomparable Jered Weaver. But Ramos pitched brilliantly in the shadows, compiling a 12-4 record and 2.29 ERA in 19 starts and ranking 11th in the THT Pitcher Rankings.
Ramos’ peripherals were not quite as outstanding, but he showed both his ability and his versatility for Team USA in the summer. Appearing both as a starter and in relief, he walked just three in 27 innings and compiled a 3-2 record with a 3.33 ERA, holding his own among the best amateurs the U.S. had to offer. Ramos is a 6’2″ lefty who gets a ton of ground balls, and gets them in bunches. As the anchor of the Dirtbag rotation, Ramos should enjoy much more of the spotlight this season and the idea of him stepping up like Weaver, or Red Sox prospect (and former Dirtbag) Abe Alvarez, looks likely.
Pitcher – Tim Lincecum, Washington
Unlike the other starting pitchers on the THT Preseason All-America team, who all clustered in the top 11 spots of last year’s THT Pitcher Rankings, Washington sophomore righty Tim Lincecum ranked “only” 56th in our rankings after a 10-3, 3.53 freshman season for the Huskies. But it’s not just his young age, or his solid fastball, or his Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year trophy, that impress.
Simply put, the kid is a strikeout machine. Lincecum was second in Division I to the great Jered Weaver in strikeouts per nine innings, and was only just beaten (13.3 to 12.9). Opposing hitters batted just .207 against Lincecum and struck out in over 40% of their at-bats against him. Despite some control problems (Lincecum walked over six men per nine innings) he was so tough to hit, and so young, that it was impossible not to name him as the pitcher to watch for 2005.
Pitcher – Mike Pelfrey, Wichita State
The secret to Mike Pelfrey’s success last year for the Shockers (11-2, 2.18 ERA) was an incredible ability to prevent the extra-base hit. In 115.1 innings, Pelfrey gave up just eight extra-base hits, six doubles and two homers. No other player in college baseball was close to Pelfrey’s ability to prevent the big hit. Combined with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of more than 5-to-1, and a .210 batting average allowed, Pelfrey’s raw numbers stacked up with anyone’s. The result was that on a per-inning basis, Pelfrey was the fourth-best pitcher in the NCAA last year behind Jered Weaver, Jason Windsor and Huston Street.
Pelfrey, who sat down with THT’s Matthew Namee for a chat last spring, is a huge right-handed pitcher with a hard curve that breaks sharply (and it is thrown hard enough to fool most observers into calling it a slider, much like former Blue Jays great Dave Stieb) and a mid-90s fastball.
Pelfrey did not have a particularly good summer with Team USA; though his 3.24 ERA looked good, he was actually hit quite hard and escaped with some good luck. Still, it was only 16 innings and isn’t nearly enough to take the shine off a wonderful season. After all, just being on that team is a remarkable accomplishment.
Special Honorable Mention – Ryan Zimmerman, Third Base, Virginia
It’s a tough crowd when you had the best summer season of any player in the country and you can’t crack the All-America squad. But Virginia’s Ryan Zimmerman plays the same position as our Preseason Player of the Year, Nebraska’s Alex Gordon, and so Zimmerman is relegated to an honorable mention. For Team USA this summer, both in the warmup games and at the FISU World Championships in Taiwan, Zimmerman was simply unstoppable with the bat. He hit an incredible .468 for the National Team, but what’s more impressive was that almost half of those hits went for extra bases, for final numbers of .468/.517/.805.
Zimmerman is also such a good defender that he beat out Alex Gordon for the third base job, despite the fact that Gordon is widely viewed as a good defensive pro prospect at third. Zimmerman accomplished this despite not playing particularly well for Virginia; while he hit .361, it was largely an empty average and his .630 adjusted offensive winning percentage was unremarkable. Zimmerman failed to crack the top 500 hitters in the THT Hitters Ranking. But all that changed in the summer, and Zimmerman was MVP of the FISU Championships and USA Baseball’s Athlete of the Year. Look for him to build on that success and display added power to go with his golden glove in 2005.
Congratulations to all our nominees. You’ll be able to see them in action when the season starts in February.