By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. -- On Tuesday, the publication Baseball America released their top 100 prospects list, a collection of the premier talent currently playing in Major League Baseball’s minor league system. The index, released at the start of spring training every year since 1990, has become widely acknowledged as the most prestigious prospect directory in the entire sport.
Determined by a mixture of yearly statistics, scouting reports and future projections, Baseball America's "Top 100" has become a benchmark with which to predict the future MLB stars of tomorrow.
Names like Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira, Josh Hamilton and several other current and former MLB All-Stars have headed up the 100, reaffirming the checklist as a reliable scouting source. If a player makes BA's Top 100, there is a significant consensus among major league executives, scouts and coaches that he has the talent to play at professional baseball's highest level.
When it comes to college baseball, the highest level of competition is in the Southeastern Conference. The SEC's national success is well documented, including the capture of nine of the past 22 National Championships. SEC programs have had 146 players drafted by major league clubs in the past two years, including seven first round selections.
So, it should come as no surprise that one of MLB’s top prospect lists and the nation’s premier college conference overlap. A further look into Baseball America's Top 100 list shows just how much major league talent has SEC connections.
Baseball America's "Top 100" includes former collegiate players, high school draftees and international signings. Of the 100 players listed, 24 were signed as international free agents, meaning only 76 of the 100 either committed to play or competed collegiately. Of those 76, 20 have SEC ties.
Seven players in BA's list suited up for teams now in the Southeastern Conference, almost 10 percent of that 76 total. This is counting Missouri’s Kyle Gibson (68) and Texas A&M’s Michael Wacha (76), players on now SEC schools who competed then in the Big 12 Conference.
The highest rated former SEC player is Florida star Mike Zunino, ranked as the 17th best prospect in all of baseball. The 2012 Golden Spikes Award winner is the highest rated catcher, and was chosen third overall in last year's MLB Draft.
Joining Zunino on the top 100 is Kevin Gausman (26, LSU), Jackie Bradley, Jr. (31, USC), Alex Meyer (59, UK), Gibson (68), Wacha (76) and James Paxton (87, UK). All seven of these players were all selected within the top 40 overall picks of their respective drafts, with Zunino and Gausman chosen in the top four.
Those seven players alone are an impressive feat, with no other collegiate conference reaching that total. However, that is just a small part of what could have been in SEC baseball.
Several others athletes committed to league schools before deciding to forego their college eligibility to become professionals. 13 such players are among Baseball America's "Top 100", meaning nearly 30 percent of the best prospects in all of Major League Baseball have SEC connections.
Thanks to a Baseball America’s and PerfectGame.com's archives, we have the ability to scan the list’s history. While reported commitments aren’t 100 percent definitive, they give us insight into the SEC’s level of talent.
BA's fourth overall prospect, Wil Myers, was on track to be a South Carolina Gamecock before being selected in the third round by the Kansas City Royals in 2009. Shelby Miller (8) of the St. Louis Cardinals, competing this spring for a major league rotation slot, was originally set to pitch at Texas A&M. The Aggies landed the talented Houston product in 2009. Byron Buxton, the number two selection in the 2012 draft, was a Georgia commitment, deciding instead to sign professionally with the Minnesota Twins.
For Auburn fans, the 2012 draft was a mix of emotion, as two of their heralded commitments, Addison Russell (48) and David Dahl (53) were chosen in the first round. What could have been two impact freshmen on this year's squad instead is a pair of top prospects for the Oakland Athletics and Colorado Rockies, respectively.
In all, Auburn, LSU and South Carolina have three such players on the top 100.
Whether they played in the SEC or not, the fact tomorrow’s future MLB stars wanted to be a part of the Southeastern Conference speaks to the league’s reputation. Success breeds success, and on the SEC diamond the talent pool continues to grow.
Many of the greats that play on SEC weekends are now household names as professionals, a cycle that begins anew every February.
When it comes to major league baseball talent, SEC country is a small world.
-- Jonathan Rawson contributed to this story