A player can be draft-and-followed if he goes from high school to junior college, or is drafted after his freshman year and stays at a junior college for his sophomore year. The only NCAA players that can be draft-and-follows are those who are drafted as fourth-year juniors, meaning that the player had a redshirt at some point during his college career. These players can also be lost to the draft, if their school advances deep enough into the NCAA tournament.
Also, and player that doesn't get drafted as a fourth-year junior is eligible to sign as a free agent the following spring as a fifth-year senior after his season is completed, as long as he signs before the closed period, which starts a week before the draft.
The Tigers have 11 players that fit all of these criterias I mentioned above and with April upon us, many players in the JUCO ranks are at the halfway point of their seasons.
The highest DFE the Tigers have this year is Ben Petralli of Sacramento City College. After being drafted in the 15th round last June, Petralli was expected to be one of the top prospects in the fertile California JUCO ranks. However, Petralli has been racked with injuries this spring and has been limited to just five at-bats. Petralli first suffered a strained hip flexor, which caused him to miss a few weeks, but just when he was ready to return, he suffered a broken rib and has been trying to work his way back into the lineup.
There is the possibility he could return in another 10 days and that would be critical for the Tigers, who certainly haven't had much of a chance to see Petralli play this spring. Petralli is the lone Tigers' DFE with a four-year college commitment, as he is signed with Oral Roberts.
If the Tigers sign anyone out of this group of players, it will likely be Eric Fry of San Jacinto (Texas). Fry was drafted out of Barbe High School in Louisiana last June in the 29th round and after a slow start, he is blossoming as the cleanup hitter for a one of the top JUCO programs in the country.
Presently, Fry is hitting .317 with seven home runs and 37 RBIs. He has made good contact at the plate with just 25 strikeouts in 139 at-bats, and is also a perfect 11-for-11 in stolen bases. He has also scored 29 runs.
Fry is a multi-tooled player with a solid combination of speed and power, and would be a nice signing for the Tigers.
Jeff Kunkel was selected in the 37th round of Michigan and is an example of an NCAA player that can be controlled, because he took a redshirt year in 2002. Kunkel had a solid junior year and is a candidate for the Johnny Bench Award, which is handed out to the top catcher in the country. Kunkel is hitting .324 so far this spring with seven RBIs in 61 at-bats. Kunkel has scored 15 runs and is 3-for-3 in stolen bases. Kunkel has a solid hitting stroke and as a fifth-year senior, he should be a rather inexpensive sign for the Tigers, who could send him straight to West Michigan, should the 'Caps need help at catcher.
Kyle Peter (40) is a speedy outfielder who returned to Cloud County CC in Kansas for his sophomore year. After a solid freshman season, Peter has continued to display his leadoff abilities, hitting .291 with nine RBIs on the season. In just 86 at-bats, Peter has drawn 25 walks and has a on-base percentage of .455. Peter has also been dangerous on the base paths, as he is a perfect 19-for-19 in stolen bases. Peter has also scored 26 runs.
Peter will certainly have great advice on whether to turn pro or not. His uncle is the man who calls the shots for the Tigers on the draft, David Chadd.
Ryan Perry (43) was a shortstop as a prep player at Rocklin High School in California, but has moved over to third base since arriving at Sierra College. Perry has been inconsistent at times this spring and that has caused him to spend some time on the bench, but he still has decent numbers at .286 with one homer and 12 RBIs. He has just four walks in 70 at-bats and has fanned 16 times. He has scored 15 runs. At this stage, Perry hasn't really hit enough for the Tigers to merit offering him a pro contract, but he certainly is a candidate to be re-drafted this June.
Like Kunkel, Adrian Casanova is a fifth-year senior whom the Tigers control from Clemson. Casanova has always been solid defensively, but his bat clearly has been dormant throughout his college career, as he carried just a career .224 average into his senior year.
Casanova's bat still hasn't perked up much this spring, as he is hitting just .211 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 76 at-bats, but smacked a pair of homers and had six RBIs in Clemson's sweep at Miami last weekend. With Clemson presently among the top teams in the country, there is a pretty good chance the Tigers will lose him to the draft, but should Casanova go undrafted, the Tigers could sign him as a free agent afterwards.
Tyson Jaquez is a third baseman who was drafted of out Loyalton High School in California in the 45th round and is a part of the inaugural team at Western Nevada. Jaquez has an advantage over most players, because the Scenic West Conference uses wood bats, so scouts are able to make the projection with his bat a little easier than with aluminum. Jaquez has had a solid start this spring, hitting .309 with 10 RBIs. Jaquez has shown very little power with just three doubles, but he has made good contact with just 24 strikeouts in 123 at-bats. Jaquez has scored 12 runs and is 2-for-5 in stolen bases.
Even though Jaquez hasn't shown a lot of power at this point, he has become more of a pure hitter and he is certainly young enough that the power could come in time.
Albert Gonzalez was drafted in the 47th round and is a second baseman attending St. Petersburg College in Florida. Gonzalez has struggled this spring with a .154 average and will have to fare much better to have a shot at even being re-drafted this June by any team.
The only healthy pitcher the Tigers control the rights to is right-hander Kevin Hammon (48), who is a teammate of Perry's at Sierra College. Hammon was a redshirt last year, as he is making the transformation from position player (he was a shortstop in high school) to the mound.
So far, Hammon has exceeded expectations by going 5-2 with a 2.70 ERA in nine starts. He has 48 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings of work and has surrendered just 28 hits, but his control has been an issue with 25 walks.
Hammon had perhaps his best start of the season last Saturday against American River, as he took a perfect game into the fifth and struck out 10 batters. He walked only one and allowed just three hits and two runs in seven innings of work in a 4-2 win.
Hammon typically works in the 88-90 range with a developing breaking ball and changeup. Like any pitcher that's new to his craft, he needs to learn all of the nuances that come with pitching. If he continues to pitch well, there is a chance the Tigers could make a run at signing him, and he should be a prime candidate to be re-drafted at the worst.
The Tigers have two other pitchers under control, but they are both rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Kiel Renfro was thought to have transferred to Navarro College in Texas after being taken last June out of Texarkana CC, but Renfro stayed put and has progressed nicely since having the procedure done late last summer. Renfro was working in the 86-89 range in his last workout and he has a chance to possibly be pitching in the Alaska League later this summer, if his health permits.
The other pitcher in question is Tyler Mattox of Connors State in Oklahoma. Mattox was making great strides in fall workouts when he got hurt and had surgery in October. He is also progressing nicely with his rehab and is throwing bullpens without any pain. The coaching staff hasn't clocked his velocity, but his arm is working free and easy and his pitches are showing the same life they had before surgery.
With the start of April, teams are beginning to take a closer look at which players they may wish to try and sign before the draft, and the Tigers have several candidates that could be nice signees. It would be a strange and very welcome sign for the Tigers to sign several draft-and-follows, as they have signed only four of them going back to the 2001 draft (Humberto Sanchez, Garth McKinney, Dusty Ryan, and Justin Justice). Hopefully, if the Tigers do sign several of these players, it will make the Tigers brass think harder about going this route of signing players more often than they have in the past.