Top Ten Professional Prospects in the Texas Collegiate League

Todd Cunningham of Jacksonville State and Dustin Dickerson of Baylor received honors from Baseball America
Todd Cunningham of Jacksonville State and Dustin Dickerson of Baylor received honors from Baseball America

FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE

Brazos Valley Bombers Diamond Duo Receive Top Honors

Following their star-studded performances this past summer, Todd Cunningham and Dustin Dickerson were selected by Baseball America as two of the Texas Collegiate League’s Top 10 Prospects. The honor was a testament to the player’s heroics on the field as they led the league in batting and provided stability throughout the summer.

Cunningham lived up to the hype he garnered after being selected Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year, as he led the TCL in batting average and finished third in hits. Finishing the season at .310, the switch-hitter was well on his way to Freshman of the Year Honors before being sidelined by a back injury for nearly two weeks. Despite playing through the pain, he still managed to provide instant offense in the playoffs as the Bombers fought the eventual champion McKinney Marshals right down to the wire. His efforts were enough to land him a spot on the TCL All-League Team as a centerfielder and a selection as the 5th best TCL prospect by Baseball America.

Dickerson demonstrated his tremendous work ethic, playing weekends for the Bombers and taking classes at Baylor during the week, as Baseball America selected him the 4th best TCL prospect. The weekend cleanup hitter batted .314 on the season, with a .412 slugging percentage in just 51 at-bats. Nicknamed “Barry Bonds” by McKinney Marshals Jim Gatewood for his power hitting and clutch ability, Dickerson had a knack for providing the big hit when it was needed. He also provides solid defense at first base and displayed his versatility as he played left field at times.

Pump Jacks Place Two On Top Prospects List

The accolades continue to roll in for the East Texas Pump Jacks, this time from the experts.

Pump Jacks relievers Luke Burnett and Aaron Wilkerson both placed in the top ten in Baseball America’s annual rankings of the top ten professional prospects in the Texas Collegiate League. The hulking Burnett was second on the list, behind only top prospect Del Howell from the McKinney Marshals, while Wilkerson was tabbed at number eight.

Baseball America, the definitive publication for the baseball industry, annually survey coaches in every summer collegiate and minor league, then compiles a list of the top professional prospects in each circuit. Rankings are based not simply on how good a player’s season was, but instead on his potential to reach the Major Leagues and have a successful professional career.

The Brazos Valley Bombers (fourth and fifth-ranked prospects) and Coppell Copperheads (ninth and tenth) also placed two players on the list. Only McKinney, with four players, was better represented.

One of two Pump Jacks players that have already signed professionally, Burnett was the only player on Baseball America’s list that has already embarked on his pro career.

Burnett posted an 0-1 record and 3.07 ERA this summer with the Pump Jacks after recovering from a shoulder injury that scuttled his junior campaign at Louisiana Tech. In ten games with East Texas, Burnett went 14.2 innings and allowed 11 hits. He walked eight and struck out 21. His 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings was the best mark in the TCL for pitchers who threw at least ten innings.

Initially projected to be drafted in the first round, the 6’8” Burnett slipped in the June draft because of his injury. He was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 14th round and signed shortly after the Jacks’ season ended. He began his professional career with a pair of appearances in the rookie-level Arizona League, striking out three and allowing three runs in three innings. The Mariners invited Burnett to their instructional camp in the fall, which is usually reserved for highly-regarded prospects.

Wilkerson’s inclusion on the list might surprise some fans – who may have expected the dynamic Adam De La Garza or the slugging Matt Curry instead – but opposing hitters wouldn’t argue with the selection. The Panola College freshman was a dominating presence out of the bullpen, going 4-2 with 2 saves and a 1.96 ERA. He appeared in 15 games and went 23 innings, allowing only 5 hits and 11 walks while striking out 31. Wilkerson held opposing batters to a miniscule .068 average, the best mark in the league among pitchers who tossed more than six innings. He also ranked among the league leaders in wins, appearances, and strikeouts per nine innings (12.1).

These are the latest honors in what proved to be a very successful inaugural season for the Pump Jacks. The Jacks posted four players on the TCL All-League Team – Curry, De La Garza, Paige Hodges, and Josh Riley – second only to the league-champion Marshals. Head coach Stan Phelps captured TCL Coach of the Year honors, the only person outside of McKinney to land a TCL award at the end of the season.

East Texas also had two players turn pro, and one of them already reached the Double-A level. Joined Burnett in the professional ranks was Justin Murray, the Kansas State junior who signed with the Oakland A’s in the last week of the Jacks’ season. Murray got some seasoning in the Arizona League, then was thrown into the fire when he joined the Double-A Midland RockHounds in the middle of the Texas League pennant race. He took the hill for some important starts down the stretch, including the season finale as the RockHounds tried to capture a playoff spot. In 8 pro appearances in the two leagues, Murray went 2-2 with a 3.91 ERA.

The Pump Jacks’ inaugural season achievements are even more impressive considering the team’s biggest challenge – time. When other TCL franchises initiated their recruiting efforts last September, the Jacks didn’t even exist. The newly-formed team kicked off recruiting in February with the hiring of Phelps, who successfully built a roster in a very short time frame.

This year, East Texas will enjoy the luxury of a full off-season to recruit. The team has already begun to assemble a roster for the 2009 campaign; log on to pumpjacksbaseball.com for news on players signings as they become available.

The team is expected to put season tickets for the 2009 season on sale very shortly. Season ticket prices are not expected to change, and season ticket holders will also be offered an “early bird” discount. Information on season tickets as well as all the team’s off-season developments will be posted on the team’s official web site, pumpjacksbaseball.com.