Baseball came back to us this week, but it opened in its usual, drab format: with hyperbolic reports on players’ weights, promising a month of statistics that don’t matter. It seems to me this desperation we have for real baseball would be best served with a different focus, if only for the next six weeks: college baseball. I have tried for years to convert casual MLB fans into college baseball observers, with mixed success, but I’m going to keep trying. I know the aluminum bat might be too much for you, and the sloppy play is a put-off, but it’s real, meaningful baseball. Area scouts have been dispatched for college baseball’s first pitch today, and the 2010 draft landscape will appear clearer each week until June. If you’re interested in the draft, and think you can give college baseball a chance, keep an eye on these three match-ups this weekend. You can bet big league scouts are doing the same.
Top Match-Up: Missouri State LHP Aaron Meade vs. Georgia Tech RHP Deck McGuire.
The Missouri State schedule isn’t such that Meade will be overshadowed often this spring, but he certainly will be in his season debut Friday. McGuire looks to be a sure-fire first rounder, and further development of his secondary stuff will put him in the top ten. The rare Georgia Tech pitching star uses his big 6-6 pitcher’s frame to get nice movement on a low-90s fastball, and has three secondary pitches for teams to play with at the next level. He’ll overpower a punchless Bears team whose best hope is for Meade to match McGuire zero-for-zero. The southpaw could be the first player drafted from the Missouri Valley Conference in June, coming into the season with helium following a strong performance in the 2009 Cape Cod League (1.91 ERA, 47 K in 42.1 IP). Meade reminds me a bit of Wade Miley from a couple seasons ago — small-school lefty with low-90s velocity, just average command, but enough strikeouts to really impress scouts. It’s no easy thing to debut with your toughest test, but Meade can do a lot for his draft stock with a big outing against these vaunted Yellow Jackets.
First Honorable Mention: Pepperdine RHP Cole Cook vs. Long Beach State RHP Jake Thompson.
Now this is confusing. Cook, a sophomore, is actually a full year older than Thompson, a junior, and both will be eligible for the draft this June. Thompson, like Robert Stock a year ago, skipped his final year of high school to enroll early in college, so he offers teams three years of college experience at a younger age than any of his peers. He will need to translate his big pitcher’s body and 92-94 mph velocity into strikeouts this season, but the return of LBSU pitching coach Troy Buckley should help in that regard. On the opposite side is Cook, a draft-eligible sophomore because he was redshirted as a freshman in Malibu. He was great as a freshman last year, and at 6-6 with a nasty hook, Cook will have some leverage for good money in the early rounds.
Best Hitter-versus-Pitcher Match-up: Saturday sophomores — Rice 3B Anthony Rendon vs. Stanford LHP Brett Mooneyham.
It’s never too early to start thinking about the 2011 draft, and on Saturday, scouts will see an epic match-up of two projected 2011 first rounders. Rendon is, alongside UCLA ace Gerrit Cole, the favorite to be drafted first, a third baseman that has every tool in the book. The Cardinal pitchers will by and large pitch around the sophomore, but I expect Mooneyham to go right after him in what should be a breakout season for the blue-chip southpaw. Mooneyham throws in the low 90s from a 6-foot-5 left-handed arm slot, and can offer Rendon as many as four different pitches. These are the kind of battles that non-conference college baseball offers, and I guarantee scouts will be recalling this duo’s battles 15 months from now.
Finally, indulge a few college baseball predictions:
Championship: UC Irvine over Texas.
Golden Spikes Award: Danny Hultzen, Virginia.
Other CWS Teams: South Carolina, Virginia, LSU, Rice, Miami, Fullerton.