No Division I collegiate player has hit .500 in a season since 1991. That's why LSU outfielder Raph Rhymes got so much attention when he threatened to do just that this season. At .469 right now, he's still threatening to finish with the highest batting average since 2006.
So, why is Rhymes not more highly regarded as a draft prospect? Look through the list of the past batting champions in Division I and you'll quickly see why. Successful major leaguers are few and far between on that list that basically just includes Rickie Weeks and Buster Posey.
Still, you can't overlook Rhymes hit skills, as even the Omaha World-Herald did a story on the Tiger outfielder earlier this month. We talk about batting average, but if you look at the Div. 1 hits leaders, you get a much better view of successful MLB players.
Guys like Buster Posey, Dustin Ackley, David Murphy, Brett Gardner, Khalil Greene, Adam Kennedy, Paul LoDuca and Mark Kotsay have all led the nation in hits in the past 20 years. While not many of those guys became stars, they all became pretty decent MLB players, which suggests that category may be a better judge.
Right now, Rhymes is eight hits off the national lead, so he needs a good run through the College World Series to take that title. Luckily, his Tigers look poised to do just that. That also means a forward-thinking club who appreciates collegiate players may pop him earlier than the toolsy teams might.
Rhymes isn't without his quirks, though. His swing reminds me of J.D. Martinez, with a big leg kick and a lot of pre-swing movement. It's also a pretty flat swing, good for line drives but not tailor-made for power production. He's also had Tommy John surgery on his elbow, so his arm may not be the strongest in the world either.
Basically, the reason to draft Rhymes is his bat and possibly his makeup. Read some of the stories about him, about how he gave up his scholarship this season to help the team out, about how he came back from Tommy John, how he came back from getting cut in 2008. This guy can overcome the adversity he'll see in the pros and I'd bet on him gutting his way to the majors eventually, too.
As I said above, the Division I hit leader has more often than not been at least a major leaguer, so Rhymes may have a pretty high floor. The most telling part will be his transition to pro ball. If he comes in and hits pretty well right off the bat, he should move quickly through the minors.
His value here reminds me a little of Texas A&M outfielder Tyler Naquin, where his ceiling isn't very high unless he can play center. Otherwise, you can expect a pretty good hit tool with not as much power as a corner guy usually shows. J.B. Shuck may be a good comp here.
Projected Draft Round
Baseball America has him listed as a fifth or sixth round talent. That sounds about right, though it's worth mentioning that last year's hit champ Justin Howard got popped in the second round.
Will he sign?
He's a junior, so there is a chance he goes back to school if he falls too far in the draft. Plus, with the new draft rules, he can't get paid the same lower down in the draft. But, he might just want to get his pro career going, so it'll be an interesting negotiations.
Bibliography after the jump