University of Southern California head baseball coach Frank Cruz is going to miss a lot of things about having Ricky Oropesa around -- like his premier talent, his demeanor, his blue-collar work ethic and, of course, batting practice.
"Big time," said Cruz, one of many who loved to sit back and admire Oropesa slugging baseballs on the USC field, one right after another.
See, Oropesa has what you would call raw power. Light-tower power, if you will. And it has delivered some memorable blasts through the years -- like the one he hit in Washington a couple of seasons ago that simply got lost in the night, or the many he blasted in the far-away parking structure of the Trojans' campus on many an afternoon.
It's that power that has Oropesa -- a product of Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. -- rated rather high heading into the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, which kicks off Monday night.
Live coverage of the Draft will begin with a one-hour preview show on Monday at 6 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Days 2 and 3 on Tuesday and Wednesday.
When and by whom Oropesa will be drafted remains to be seen. But a Draft that isn't very deep in college bats has him ranked No. 46 among MLB.com's top prospects. And though the junior corner infielder has one year of eligibility remaining, Cruz is almost certain that he will no longer have Oropesa hitting in the middle of his lineup.
"In my opinion, he probably has some of the top power in the country with the bat," Cruz said. "And if there's a better arm among position players, I'd like to see that guy."
UYA PRODUCTS TAKEN IN THE 2010 FIRST-YEAR PLAYER DRAFT
Scouts have raved about Oropesa's power, and his arm is legit. The concern many have pointed to is the defense, which some believe could have him slotted for a designated-hitter role in the big leagues.
But the most glaring thing about what will likely be Oropesa's final collegiate season was his power outage.
The lefty-hitting slugger -- who's listed at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds -- hit .314 with 13 homers in 54 games as a freshman, then .353 with 20 homers in 56 games as a sophomore. But despite making the All-Pac 10 Conference team for the second time while hitting .322 in 56 games in 2011, Oropesa saw his home run total dip all the way down to seven.
Cruz pointed to two things: Opposing pitchers not giving Oropesa much to hit, and new rules taking away some of the pop from aluminum bats.
But Cruz also praised Oropesa -- who played mostly first base in college -- for staying within himself at the plate and not letting his swing get too long. Cruz doesn't believe scouts will be turned off by a decline in Oropesa's greatest area of strength.
He believes they've seen enough to know the pop is there.
"I think everybody knows what Ricky's power is," Cruz said. "They've seen him hit home runs with wood bats in the Cape Cod League. He's done it everywhere. I don't think there's any question about his power."
Oropesa is one of so many talented ballplayers who trained at the first UYA, which was constructed in the inner city in 2006 to provide free baseball and softball in the community. And he's one of many who continued to help out in clinics and train there with the coaching staff, even after graduating high school.
Now, he's looking to follow in a long line of many who have gone pro.
Last year, 25 athletes who either trained or played at the Academy were selected in the First-Year Player Draft, making it 100 since the facility's opening. The goal is to get them college scholarships -- and thousands have -- but there's nothing like seeing the select few live out their big league dreams.
"This is a fun time of the year for us," said Ike Hampton, manager of operations for MLB's Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. "You watch these kids play, you watch when they're 12, 13 years old, and you watch them grow, and it's like a graduation. It's like seeing these kids graduate."
Here's a look at five other UYA products who may graduate to the professional ranks next week -- with the preface that there are always a few surprises.
Brandon Magee: Arizona State University, Junior, CF
Bats: L, Throws: R, Height: 5-11, Weight: 230 2011 stats: 2-for-13, 2B, R, 2 BB, 10 SO Notes: Magee is a freak athlete, but has mainly applied those talents to football as a linebacker and one of the key cogs in the Sun Devils' defense through the years. Magee has been used very sparingly as a baseball player, appearing in 13 games as a freshman, five as a sophomore and eight (with three starts) as a junior.
Kenneth Peoples: Westchester Senior High School, SS
Bats: R, Throws: R, Height: 6-1, Weight: 190 2011 stats: .404 BA, 5 HR, 20 RBI, 14 SB Notes: Peoples has good size for a shortstop, great hands and plus speed. His bat, however, may still have a ways to go before it's ready to shine in pro ball. Peoples also played on a Minnesota Twins scout team that was run out of the Compton Academy.
Joe Williams: Compton College, Sophomore, 2B
Bats: R, Throws: R, Height: 6-0, Weight: 180 2011 stats: .333 BA, HR, 19 RBI, 16 SB, 34 G Notes: Williams is another great athlete. So much so, in fact, that UYA program director Doug Takaragawa threw out Bo Jackson's name when talking about him. That's a rather lofty comparison, but Williams has plus speed, soft hands, is quick turning a double play and, according to Takaragawa, has "life in the bat" and good gap power.
Zach Wilson: Arizona State, Junior, 3B/1B
Bats: R, Throws: R, Height: 6-1, Weight: 195 2011 stats: .265 BA, 6 HR, 42 RBI, 13 2B, 55 G Notes: Wilson saw most of his action as a DH his first two years and finished his sophomore season batting .349 with eight homers. In 2011, he played mostly first base, but some believe he can also play the hot corner.
Matt Young: Compton College, Sophomore, CF
Bats: R, Throws: R, Height: 6-3, Weight: 215 2011 stats: .428 BA, 3 HR, 24 RBI, 22 SB, 35 G Notes: Takaragawa believes Young "has the potential to have Alex Rodriguez-type power." For now, he has good range and a solid throwing arm for a center fielder, but needs to work on reading balls off the bat. At the plate, he has good power but also a short swing that allows him to put the ball in play.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.