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Miami’s Ryan Braun a Golden Spikes candidate

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Long recovered from a strained rib cage that caused him to miss 18 games last season, University of Miami third baseman Ryan Braun has continued to nurse a hurt. The result has been a lot of pain for opposing teams this year.

Ryan Braun is carried off the field by his teammates after hitting a game-winning home run in the first game of the Coral Gables Super Regional on June 7, 2003. (Gary I. Rothstein/AP)

"I honestly came out with a chip on my shoulder," said Braun, a junior who is currently the only college player in the nation ranked in the top 15 in home runs, runs scored, batting average, RBIs and slugging percentage. "I felt disrespected and I wanted to prove that I am healthy."

In his first year of collegiate baseball, Braun was named Baseball America's Freshman of the Year, leading his team with 17 home runs, 76 RBIs and a .364 batting average. He also broke Miami's school record for RBIs by a freshman, which had been set by Pat Burrell, now the left fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies.

That outstanding season raised a lot of expectations for Braun's sophomore season in 2004, but 32 games into the Hurricanes' season, he injured his rib cage and missed most of April and May. He returned for the team's final 12 regular season games and finished the season with a .335 batting average. He also hit 10 home runs and drove in 45 runs in 45 games, finishing the season with a .606 slugging percentage. But his sophomore season ended without the accolades that had marked his freshman year.

"It was an injury that we didn't know that much about," Braun said. "It was the first time I ever had to miss any games. It made me appreciate what I have."

Feeling fit and out to prove a point this year, Braun has jumped into contention for the Golden Spikes Award, which is presented annually to the top amateur baseball player by USA Baseball in conjunction with the Major League Baseball Players Association. He was among the top candidates USA Baseball put on its “Watch List” of potential winners.

Braun leads Miami with 63 runs, 14 home runs, 64 RBIs and a .778 slugging percentage. His .424 batting average is second-best on No. 4-ranked Miami.

"The strongest part of my game is my consistency," said Braun. "I've prided myself on being as consistent as possible."

At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Braun can beat you with his bat, his arm or his speed, which helped make him an outstanding soccer player in high school. Although feared as a power hitter, he's not opposed to laying down a bunt or stealing a base. He's a complete package and will do whatever it takes to win, which is why he is considered a top prospect by Major League scouts.

Ask Braun what he considers his greatest weakness, and he points to his defense. A shortstop throughout his outstanding career at Granada Hills High School in Granada Hills, Calif., Braun has worked hard to make the adjustment to third base.

"It's definitely been a difficult transition. At third base, the ball gets on you a lot quicker. The ball plays you a bit more," he said, adding that he's feeling a lot more comfortable in recent weeks now that he has some experience.

Off the field, Braun is equally outstanding in the classroom. He considered Stanford, the University of Southern California, George Tech and Cal Berkeley, all top academic schools, before deciding to cross the country to attend Miami.

A business major, he has a 3.3 GPA, explaining, "I take pride in my academics. It's something my parents instilled in me since I was young."

Looking ahead to the postseason, the preseason All-American has some specific goals in mind. First, Braun wants to help Miami win the Atlantic Coast Conference, and then he's hoping that the Hurricanes can win yet another national title. Further down the line, he's waiting for a chance to play in the Major Leagues.

But for now, Braun is enjoying the college experience and is focused on completing his degree.

"I'm in the right place," he adds.

Dean Golembeski is a freelance writer based in Connecticut.

USA Baseball's Golden Spikes Award "Watch List"
PLAYER Pos Yr College
Brennan Boesch OF So California
Dennis Bigley RHP/DH Sr Oral Roberts
Cameron Blair IF Sr Texas Tech
Brian Bogusevic LHP/DH Jr Tulane
Ryan Braun IF Jr Miami-FL
Lance Broadway RHP Jr Texas Christian
Travis Buck OF Jr Arizona State
Cesar Carrillo LHP Jr Miami-FL
Adam Carr IF Jr Oklahoma State
Daniel Carte OF Jr Winthrop
Jeff Clement C Jr USC
Ben Copeland OF Jr Pittsburgh
Jeff Corsaletti OF Sr Florida
Mike Costanzo RHP/IF Jr Coastal Carolina
J. Brent Cox RHP Jr Texas
Trevor Crowe OF Jr Arizona
Jacoby Ellsbury OF Jr Oregon State
Alex Gordon IF Jr Nebraska
Tyler Greene IF Jr Georgia Tech
Kris Harvey RHP/DH Jr Clemson
Craig Hansen RHP Jr St. John's
Stephen Head LHP/OF Jr Mississippi
Jay Heafner IF Jr Davidson
Luke Hochevar RHP Jr Tennessee
Jeff Larish IF Sr Arizona State
Tim Lincecum RHP So Washington
Erik Lis IF Jr Evansville
Jed Lowrie IF Jr Stanford
Andrew Miller LHP So North Carolina
Micah Owings RHP/DH Jr Tulane
Ryan Patterson OF Sr LSU
Steve Pearce IF Sr South Carolina
Mike Pelfrey RHP Jr Wichita State
Cliff Pennington IF Jr Texas A&M
Cesar Ramos LHP Jr Long Beach State
Shane Robinson OF So Florida State
Ricky Romero LHP Jr Cal State Fullerton
Max Scherzer RHP So Missouri
Scott Sizemore IF So VCU
Ryan Zimmerman IF Jr Virginia

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