Scouting The Class of 2011

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Owls assistant David Pierce has spent seven seasons in the dugout at The Reck, and by his recollection the Owls have not had one top-10-ranked recruiting class by Baseball America. The fact that Rice has made four College World Series (2003, 2006-08) and two super regional (2005, 2009) appearances during that span either speaks to the coaching acumen of its staff or questions the legitimacy of those ratings, but that debate is best left for another day.

The present point is this: the Owls' most recent class of recruits is, on paper, deserving of a top-10 ranking. It will take a few years for this group to reach its full potential, but at first blush The OG and Co. have compiled as talented a group of prospects as any in their rich history.

The staff would be pleasantly surprised if all 11 show for the first day of classes late next summer, for it is a foregone conclusion that Jameson Taillon will sign a professional contract next summer. If the Owls can keep the remaining 10, expect those runs to Omaha to continue:

RHP Jameson Taillon (6-6, 225), The Woodlands High School. Widely considered the top prep pitching prospect for the 2010 amateur draft, Taillon knew he wanted to attend Rice as a preteen. Even though the odds are slim that he will don a Rice uniform, the exposure he continues to receive as a Rice commit benefits the program by expanding its national profile.

RHP/IF Connor Mason (6-2, 185), Suwanee, Ga. A Team USA teammate of Taillon's, Mason's exceptional academic profile makes his a strong candidate to enroll, and his modest frame won't make scouts drool. But, as with every potential high-round pick, opinions can change. Rice would love to get Mason and his two-way talent (he also plays third base) on South Main.

RHP Austin Kubitza (6-5, 205), Colleyville Heritage High. Nice frame, plus slider, and a fastball that has touched 93 mph. Plus, Kubitza is a lefthanded hitter, something the Owls will need.

IF Dickie Thon, Jr. (6-2, 180), Dorado, Puerto Rico. Thon is polished for his age, and while he shows some of the flash stereotypical of many Caribbean players, his game is well-rounded. Thon is an aggressive, high-character player who should continue to come into his own.

RHP John Simms (6-2, 185) College Park High. One of four Rice signees selected to the Texas-Louisiana Area Code team, Simms was the Chronicle's 2009 Pitcher of the Year. A cerebral pitcher renowned for his ability to locate and baffle batters, Simms is more polished and has a higher profile at this stage than Ryan Berry. They have similar approaches.

C Tyler Pearson (6-0, 180), Lubbock Monterey High. Another Area Code selection, Pearson arguably has the best throwing arm in the state. He is a solid defensive catcher built like Owls freshman Geoff Perrott and hails from the same program as former Rice C Travis Reagan.

RHP Jaime Esquivel (6-2, 185), South Houston High. Lean, muscular high-potential prospect with a plus breaking ball and low-90s fastball. Great athlete with an exceptional pickoff move to first base. Hit a growth spurt late in high school, so his physical potential remains untapped.

IF Shane Hoelscher (5-11, 180), Belton High. An outstanding hitter who can play the middle infield, third base and center field. The ability to man the outfield makes him very intriguing.

IF Derek Hamilton (6-0, 170), Brazoswood High. Cut in the mold of a typically tough-willed Brazoswood product, Hamilton earned raves for his productivity, arm strength and fluidity. He is a good contact hitter with power - a 'ball player' whose versatility could one day be an asset.

OF Keenan Cook (6-0, 180), College Park High. Another lefthanded hitter with a good body and plus athleticism, Cook has some experience in the infield. However, he takes good routes to fly balls, runs well, and excelled as a strong safety for the football program (all-district pick).

LHP/IF Kyle Mueller (6-5, 215) Bellville High. The most interesting project of the bunch, Mueller doesn't have much showcase experience but he runs well for his size and has potential because of his physical tools and athleticism - Mueller was a starting quarterback.

The Owls will lose six seniors off their 2010 roster and have 10 draft-eligible juniors next summer. Also, RS-So. OF Michael Fuda will be draft-eligible following the 2010 season.

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It will be very interesting to see which of these guys makes it to campus, but I'm really pleased with the crop. Simms got a lot of attention at the area code games as being one of the best pitchers from Texas. Hopefully he didn't get "too much attention"...because he was arguably the Houston area's top pitcher as a Junior last year. He's probably the guy I'd most like to see on campus (tossing Taillon's name aside for now...despite Jamo attending a lot of Rice events lately....probably just draft posturing).

I wonder if the OG is banking (no pun intended) on the fact that the lousy economy will prevent teams from paying big bonuses, leaving more of the high profile guys to attend college. The OG wouldn't take risks if they were not calculated...

wheredidmypantsgo: I listed the prospects (at least the first five or so) in order of pro contract signing risk, with Jamo being the least likely to arrive on campus. - MK

Thanks for the extra info, MK.

I would agree this seems perhaps the most risky class I can recall in the years WG has been here. Hopefully these guys take into account all of the drafted first rounders from Rice in the past 3 years, vs. the struggles of some our recent signees that bolted for the minors.

At Ease: The staff has acknowledged the risk, but they have reason to feel confident about everyone arriving save Taillon. What makes Rice a unique institution was the lure for several prospects, and the staff hopes that interest remains strong. - MK

MK, did you see in the Sports Illustrated two weeks ago Taillon was the featured athlete in their Faces in the Crowd? Just goes to show the type of pitched we might be able to snag. I just hope he signs with us

mikeb!: Yep, and Tallion did sign with the Owls technically. That doesn't necessarily mean he won't sign a professional contract once he is drafted in the upper half of the first round next summer, though. - MK

This class is exciting in that it has the potential to yield multiple weekend starters, even without factoring in Taillon. MK, do you think the coaches would agree with that assessment? thanks

Kitzbuhel: Mason, Kubitza and Simms are exceptional prospects, and the coaching staff has repeatedly acknowledged that fact. The other pitchers (excluding Taillon, of course) might need more seasoning, but the track record of this staff is such that you should be as excited over what Esquivel and Mueller might one day become. - MK

Nice work MK!!! I really enjoy your off-season articles on the baseball program.

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