Every season, there are a select few freshmen from around the country who seem to make the transition from high school to college with relative ease and therefore make big contributions to their teams in their first year on campus. Many of these guys are a large part of the reason that their squad is doing as well as they are this season, and consequently, a great deal of these rookies are up for national honors and awards this spring.
Here are some of the newcomers whoíve made the biggest noise around the country.
Jared Prince, P/OF, Washington State
Prince was a highly-rated quarterback coming out of high school, along with being one of the top baseball players in the nation, but he decided to focus on the latter. It looks like he made the right choice. He sports the Pac 10ís top batting average at .426, and heís one of the leaders in RBI with 44. Throw in 14 doubles, four homers, and nine steals, and youíve got a pretty solid line.
Oh, and thatís not even taking into consideration what heís done on the mound. The freshman is 6-1 with a 3.80 ERA in eight starts for the Cougars. Prince has helped spearhead the turnaround of a program that was, to say the least, not very good lately. With the super froshís help, Washington State stands at 29-16 and has a shot at making it to a regional. If he keeps it up, heís going to be a very, very high draft pick in 2008. With him leading the way, Cougar fans have every reason to be optimistic about the near future.
Allan Dykstra, 1B, Wake Forest
Dykstra has been another newcomer whoís had a big hand in helping a program turnaround. The sensational San Diegan has been a monster at the plate from the outset of the season. He leads the ACC in homers with 14, ranks third with 53 RBI, and is tied for fourth with 16 doubles. His .356 average puts him in the top fifteen in the conference. After three down years, Wake Forest sits at 30-14, 14-7 in the ACC, and Dykstra has been a big part of their success. Heís definitely one of the top three freshmen in the ACC this year.
Jacob Thompson, P, Virginia
Thompson has stepped into Virginiaís rotation and, along with Sean Doolittle and Mike Ballard, has made it one of the nationís best. Cavalier skipper Brian OíConnor knows how to build good pitchers, and Thompson seems to have followed his coach closely. Heís tied for third in the ACC with 9 wins and is sixth in ERA at 2.39. Those numbers put him in elite company with names like Doolittle, Andrew Miller, Tyler Chambliss, and Bryan Henry. Six seems to be his number, because he also rates sixth in the ACC in strikeouts (64), innings pitched (75.1), and opponentsí batting average (.218). If he was on another staff, he would be the ace, but heís probably not complaining too much as it is.
Buster Posey, SS, Florida State
Rounding out a trio of impressive ACC newcomers is FSU middle infielder Buster Posey. Shortstop was a position of concern for the ĎNoles last season, but the Leesburg, GA native has been the starter since day one. He leads FSU and is 7th in the ACC with a .370 batting average. While heís still learning the nuances of being a big-time college shortstop, heís made several outstanding plays in the field to compliment his solid bat.
Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Vanderbilt
Vandy had one of the nationís best recruiting classes last year, and Alvarez was one of the top prep prospects who opted to go to Nashville instead of take the money from the pros. Itís paid off well. Alvarez has by far been the best hitter for a team who, instead of being in a Ďrebuildingí year, has been in the thick of the SEC Eastern Division race all season. The kid from the Big Apple has carried a big stick, with his 14 homers and 49 RBI both among the leaders in the conference. Heís 4th in the SEC in slugging percentage, third in on-base percentage, and tied for 7th in runs scored. And heís hitting .333 to boot. Not bad, not bad at all.
Tommy Hunter, P, Alabama
Hunter has been one of the best pitchers in the SEC in his first year, but the presence of a guy named LeBlanc means heís only second best on his staff. But, second best on one of the nationís premier pitching staffs is nothing to frown about. Hunter is 7-2 with a 3.17 ERA in ten starts. Heís got the control thing down pretty well, having walked only 18 batters in 76.2 innings. In his last start against Auburn, Hunter pitched eight shutout innings in a 9-1 sweep-clinching win. LeBlanc is more than likely headed for big money after this season, so Hunter will have the chance to be Alabamaís ace next season. If he can perform at the level he has this year, heíll see to it that Tide fans wonít be missing the big lefty too much.
Austin Wood, P, Texas
Texas has had a couple of fine closers in the past few seasons in Huston Street and J. Brent Cox, and Wood is steadily making his claim to be held in high regards with them. Coach Augie Garrido hasnít been shy about handing the ball to Wood, as heís logged 28 appearances thus far. Wood has performed like a veteran, recording seven saves, giving his coach all the more reason to hand him the ball in crunch time. In 40 innings, heís given up only five earned runs (1.12 ERA). It must be something about putting on that Longhorn uniform that brings out the best in those closers. Or it could be the water down there in Austin. Whatever it is, itís working very, very well.
Ike Davis, P/OF, Arizona State
Davis has loads of talent both at the plate and on the mound, but heís on this list for solely his bat. The son of former MLB reliever Ron Davis is third on ASUís club with a .343 average, and he leads the conference with 53 RBI. His 17 doubles rank highly in the conference as well, and heís tied for the team lead in homers with six. On the mound, Davis leads the team with 11 starts, posting a 2-3 record with a 7.46 ERA. Thatís three more losses than he had in his entire high school career (where he went 23-0). On a positive note, he averages nearly a strikeout an inning (39 in 44.2 innings). Heís getting his chances as a starter so heíll undoubtedly improve with more innings and experience, but he has certainly had no problems tapping into his abilities at the plate.
Roger Kieschnick, OF, Texas Tech
Familiar name, isnít it? But heís not as closely related to former Texas star and recent College Baseball Hall of Fame selection Brooks Kieschnick as one might think (theyíre only third cousins apparently, and Rogerís never even met him). But he sure hits like his namesake. After having his average up around .400 just a few weeks ago, Rogerís cooled off, but heís still hitting .362. That average is actually higher than what we hit for his entire high school career. He ranks high among the Big 12ís leaders in hits (72), runs (48), doubles (14), and RBI (51). Usually, if thereís any difference between a playerís performance in high school and their first year of college, itíll be a dropoff in production. But heís stepped it up and then some.
Warren McFadden, OF, Tulane
McFadden was expected to be one of the nationís top freshmen in 2005, but an early wrist injury meant a redshirt year for him. Looks like the wrist is fine now. Heís hitting .394, which is by far the best average on his team and rates a close second in Conference USA. His 19 doubles lead C-USA and put him in the top ten nationally. He also ranks high in the conference standings in hits (67, 4th), on-base percentage (.445, 5th), and RBI (39, 10th).
Alex Wilson, P, WinthropWilson has stepped in where Kevin Slowey left off last season, mowing Ďem down and picking up wins. The redshirt frosh is 9-2 with 101 punchouts in 102 innings. His 3.62 ERA is tops among Winthropís starters. He and Heath Rollins provide a dangerous 1-2 combo in the rotation and will definitely cause some problems in a regional.