Many people around the nation consider the race for Player of the Year honors to be cut and dried, in favor of North Carolinaís flame-firing southpaw, Andrew Miller. However, outside of Tar Heel junior, there are several guys who are more than worthy of consideration for the various awards given out at season's end. Some of these guys many of us know about, some of them we donít. Others could climb higher on the list by the end of the season.
Andrew Miller, P, North Carolina
Weíll start out with the guy whoís at the head of the class, and itís for good reason. Heís the favorite to be the #1 pick in this summerís MLB draft, coveted so highly because hard-throwing lefties are such a rarity these days. Heís backed all of the accolades this season in helping UNC rise to the top of the ACC and the country. Heís 9-0, with a 1.56 ERA in 10 starts. His strikeout numbers arenít quite as good as in the past couple of seasons, but he has fanned an impressive 73 batters in 69 innings.
Eddie Degermann, P, Rice
Going into this season, most of the talk about the Rice roster centered around sophomore Joe Savery, even though Degermann was 8-1 with 117 strikeouts last season. Well, Saveryís been slowed at both the plate and mound by injury, and the senior Degermann is the guy everyoneís talking about now. Heís tied for the nationís lead in wins with Miller and several other pitchers, and his ERA (1.29) and strikeout total (102) are both better than Millerís, even though he's pitched just a few more innings (76.2). UNC and Rice are on the fast track to Omaha, and if those teams could meet up at Rosenblatt with Degermann and Miller matched up against one another, it could be a game for the ages.
Luke Gorsett, OF, Nebraska
After the departure of #2 overall pick and Golden Spikes winner Alex Gordon, Nebraska fans probably worried how much theyíd have to miss his production. Well, junior college transfer Luke Gorsett has done his part in erasing those worries admirably. His average has spent much of the season around or above .400, and heís among the nationís leaders in home runs with 14. Heís driven in 41 runs, which is among the leaders in the Big XII. In the field he has also been solid, committing only one error all season long. The Huskers are well on their way to another conference title and Omaha appearance, with much credit due to Gorsett. Huskerland wonít forget about Alex Gordon anytime soon, but Gorsett is quickly making himself hard to forget as well.
Brad Lincoln, P/1B, Houston
Lincoln has gotten the job done at both the plate and on the mound, though heís been more outstanding on the hill. The Cougars have been Conference USAís second best team this season, behind cross-town rival Rice, and the junior and soon-to-be first round draftee is a huge reason for their success. As a pitcher, he has been one of the nationís best, going 8-1 with a 1.82 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 89 innings. At the plate, his average has been down, as he stands at only .288 at this point, but he has hit 11 balls over the fence and driven in a solid 41 runs. Heís improved his draft stock considerably this season, and heíll surely be one of the names called very early on draft day in June.
Tim Lincecum, P, Washington
Lincecum has been on the national radar since his freshman season, when he went 10-3 with a nation-best 161 strikeouts. He could have very well gone high in the 2005 draft, but another year in college has done nothing but benefit him. The issue with him in his first two seasons was his control, as he walked 153 batters despite striking out 292. This season though, he has had improved his control numbers considerably, and itís helped him have a great season thus far. Heís one of the several pitchers in the country with nine wins, and he has already struck out an amazing 140 hitters in only 85 innings. His ERA this season (1.59) is almost half of what it was last season (3.11), and he has walked only 45 batters thus far, which still may be a little high for some people, but considering his control problems of the past, itís a great improvement for this Husky.
Wes Roemer, P, Cal State Fullerton
You wonít find anyone in the country with better control numbers than Roemer. The sensational sophomore has struck out 88 batters in 92.2 innings while walking a miniscule three hitters. And no, itís not a typo. Before walking a batter against Cal State-Northridge on March 31st, Roemer had not issued a base on balls in an astounding 65.2 innings. On the year, heís 8-1, with his only loss coming in an outing against UC-Davis where he allowed only one run and gave up two of his three walks. His ERA of 1.46 ranks among the nationís leaders as well. If you could have this guy on a fantasy team, Roemer would certainly be racking up the points.
Danny Payne, OF, Georgia Tech
Payne has established himself as one of the nationís premier leadoff hitters, and heís just a sophomore. Heís followed up a solid freshman campaign with a stellar second season, while finding a new power stroke. Heís already nearly quadrupled his home run total from last year, slamming 11 in 41 games after hitting only three in 64 games last season. Payne hits for average (.364) and power, has speed (20-23 steals), and heís solid in the field (no errors in 108 chances). On a Tech team that has one of the nationís best lineups, having a guy like him at the top of the lineup is a key reason why theyíre in the top ten. Heís one of the most dangerous players in the country, and heís only getting better.
Tom King, SS, Troy
King was a part-time starter for two seasons at South Carolina, but he has really come into his own after transferring from Columbia following the Ď05 season. The junior infielder from Panama City, Florida has lit up the Sun Belt (and just about everyone else) this season and is among the nationís leaders in several categories. He leads the nation in hits (85) and doubles (27), is 6th in batting average (.452), tied for 9th in runs (53), and on top of that, heís driven in 55 runs, which is tied for 7th in the country. He also had a Sun Belt record 31-game hitting streak that was stopped last Tuesday in a win over UAB. A change sure can do you good, huh? King may well be the best player no one knows about, but they will by the end of the season if Troy can keep things going.
Kellen Kulbacki, OF, James Madison
If you want to see big numbers, look no further than this guy. As Stuart Scott likes to say, Kulbacki has been as Ďcool as the other side of the pillowí all season long. Heís burst onto the scene with the big stick that heís been swinging. The sophomore outfielder is the nationís leader in homers with 20, and his slugging percentage of 1.007 is out of this world. Heís not just a power hitter though, as his .480 average is second in the nation, and his 71 hits is in the top ten in the country as well. Kulbacki is also fourth in the nation in RBI (60), and his 56 runs scored is tied with GTís Payne for seventh. He and teammates Michael Cowgill (18 homers, 3rd in the nation) and Nate Schill (11 homers) have combined for 49 of JMUís 78 homers. Those three are the biggest reasons for the Dukesí success this season, but Kulbacki has stood out above all. Apparently though, pitchers havenít started giving him the Bonds treatment, as heís been walked only 18 times all season. But he has been hit 13 times, which adds up to an on-base percentage of .567 (4th in best the country).
David Price, P, Vanderbilt
Price gets some love here because, well, he is just that good. His won/loss record and ERA (5-3, 3.14 ERA) may not be as impressive as those of some of the other guys, but he is without a doubt one of the best pitchers, if not the best pitcher, in the country. He can bring it, and bring it hard. The sophomore has struggled in his last two outings, but before then, he had six consecutive starts where he struck out 10 or more, with highs of 15 against Brown (in seven innings) and 17 (in eight innings) against Arkansas. On the season, he has struck out a whopping 108 batters in 71.2 innings, while walking only 21. If he were eligible for the draft this year, heíd be right there at the top with Miller. Heís a big part of why a young Vanderbilt team, expected to finish in the lower half of the SEC this year, is contending for the Eastern Division and overall titles late in the season. If heís this good this year, just watch out next year. Heíll be at the top of this list next May, if he can keep it up.
There are a lot of guys having great seasons that deserve some recognition.
Thomas Berkery, SS, Mississippi State Ė The senior is leading the Bulldogs and the SEC with a .420 average. That average is 40 points ahead of the second-best hitter in the conference.
Tyler Chambliss, P, Florida State Ė Chambliss, a reliever in his first two seasons who was among the nationís leaders in saves in í05 (15), has been exceptional as a starter in 2006. Heís 9-2 with a 2.11 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 81 innings. He struck out 15 batters in a complete game win over Maryland on March 11.
Allan Dykstra, 1B / Matt Antonelli, 3B, Wake Forest Ė Dykstra has been one of the best freshmen in the country. Heís hitting .356 with 14 homers and 53 RBI, having started all 44 games for the 30-14 Demon Deacons. Junior Antonelli has positioned himself to be an early-round pick in the draft, providing another big bat for the Wake resurgence to the top of the ACC.
Craig Cooper, 1B, Notre Dame Ė The senior has had three solid seasons in South Bend (.303, .368, .325), but his senior season has been even better. Cooper is currently hitting .441 with nine homers and 30 RBI. Heís also scored 50 runs and stolen eight bases. In the field, he has a solid .994 fielding percentage. Heís currently sporting a 21-game hitting streak for the 32-8 and 8th-ranked Fighting Irish.
Quinn Stewart, OF, LSU Ė The Tigers have struggled this season, but Stewartís been far from disappointing. The senior is having a breakout year and is second in the nation in homers to Kulbacki with 19 and has driven in 48 runs, while hitting .331.
Others of Note