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NCAA Regional Preview, Part 1

The NCAA Tournament Field of 64 was announced yesterday. You can find a copy of the bracket at Baseball America. The regionals are a double-elimination, four-team tournament that is hosted by each of the top 16 teams in the country. Below is half the bracket.

Tempe Regional: #1 Arizona State, #2 San Diego, #3 Hawaii, #4 Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Best 2010 Draft Prospect: The Blair “Brothers” (Seth and Kyle), rhp’s, ASU and USD respectively.

This should be a straight-forward regional for the Sun Devils to get through, but San Diego is no easy opponent in a short series. The team could hypothetically throw star senior A.J. Griffin (107 K’s in 94 IP) in the opener against Hawaii, which would allow them to retain top prospects Kyle Blair (118 K’s in 90 IP) and LHP Sammy Solis (87 in 87) for two games against Arizona State. Still, it takes a tough prospect to shut down ASU’s .340/.436/.533 offense, led by FanGraphs favorite sophomore, Zack MacPhee. I also expect scouts to really like what they see from catcher/closer draft-eligible sophomore Jordan Swagerty, who is a gamer that should move quickly as a reliever in pro ball. The pick: ASU.

Coral Gables Regional: #1 Miami, #2 Texas A&M, #3 Florida Int’l, #4 Dartmouth.
Best 2010 Draft Prospect: Yasmani Grandal, c, Miami.

The eyes of SportsCenter will be on this regional, as FIU’s Garrett Wittels looks to continue his 53 game hit streak alive, presumably against likely first-round pick Barret Loux (126 K in 96 IP) and the Aggies. However, as is often true with the regionals, I don’t see Texas A&M moving on unless they risk saving Loux for Game 2, as the rest of the Aggies staff will have trouble with the bats of Grandal and stud sophmore Harold Martinez (19 HR). This is a good-not-great Miami team, but it’s also not the most dangerous regional. The pick: Miami.

Charlottesville Regional: #1 Virginia, #2 Ole Miss, #3 St. John’s, #4 Virginia Commonwealth.
Best 2010 Draft Prospect: Drew Pomeranz, lhp, Mississippi.

College pundits agree that Virginia should have been a top-4 overall seed (in the mix for #1 much of the season), but instead Coastal Carolina got the 4, and Virginia got the 5. The Ole Miss Rebels will probably have to throw Pomeranz against the Big East champion St. John’s Red Storm, who enter the tournament playing their best baseball of the season. Virginia, on the other hand, can save dynamic sophomore Danny Hultzen (62 H, 20 BB in 93 IP) for the second game. The most interesting player to scout is probably Virginia’s Jarrett Parker (.330/.418/.583), as scouts have precious little time to decide if he’s a tweener in the outfield or not. The pick: Virginia.

Auburn Regional: #1 Auburn, #2 Clemson, #3 Southern Miss, #4 Jacksonville State.
Best 2010 Draft Prospect: Either Hunter Morris, 1b, Auburn or Kyle Parker, of, Clemson.

Southern Miss has the pressure of playing for Brett Favre’s future on their shoulders, but also have an experienced team, and probably the regional’s best player: sophomore SS B.A. Vollmuth (.378/.487/.716). I think they can beat a powerful, enigmatic Clemson team in the opener, and will still have experience in the second game against Auburn. The host team has four players with 15 home runs in their lineup, but a pitching staff that has been pieced together all season. This will be an interesting regional, and I think I’m picking a Favre-fueled upset. The pick: Southern Miss.

Austin Regional: #1 Texas, #2 Rice, #3 Louisiana Lafayette, #4 Rider.
Best 2010 Draft Prospect: Brandon Workman, rhp, Texas.

The Longhorns are simply an Omaha-built machine, and will continue their trek there as long as they don’t pitch to 2011 likely #1 pick Anthony Rendon of Rice (.393/.532/.787). The Rice Owls have the potential to put together an upset, but you never know which Rice team will show up, and their pitching staff is a little too pitch-to-contact for my liking. Texas is just the opposite, as you’ll see coach Augie Garrido ride the arms of four pitchers (Workman, Cole Green, Taylor Jungmann and closer Chance Ruffin), who have combined for 358 strikeouts in 352 innings. The pick: Texas.

Fullerton Regional: #1 Cal State Fullerton, #2 Stanford, #3 New Mexico, #4 Minnesota.
Best 2010 Draft Prospect: Christian Colon, ss, Fullerton.

A four-seed and a trip to California is a tough assignment for the Big 10 champion Golden Gophers, but they also bring two pretty good draft prospects to try and pull off a Cinderella upset: catcher Mike Kvasnicka (.350/.462/.562) and ace Seth Rosin (5.02 ERA). Kvasnicka will be tested often against a Fullerton squad that runs early and often, swiping 103 bases (in 142 attempts) over 56 games this season. They also have a very good pitching staff that has amassed a 435-135 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 500 innings. I don’t love these middle seeds very much, but New Mexico has a more solid group. Unless they drop the opening game, expect Fullerton to walk. The pick: Fullerton.

Los Angeles Regional: #1 UCLA, #2 LSU, #3 UC Irvine, #4 Kent State.
Best 2010 Draft Prospect: Anthony Ranaudo, rhp, LSU.

Getting publicity as the regional of death, because we’re talking about three preseason top 10 teams. UCLA has been the most consistent due to a team 3.02 ERA. They give you no break, as the top three starters — 2010 prospect Rob Rasmussen and 2011 studs Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer — combined for 349 strikeouts in 281.2 innings. The returning champion LSU Tigers have had an injury plagued tumultuous season, but are really dangerous. I eagerly await to see when they pitch Ranaudo, be it the opener against UC Irvine, or if the more consistent Austin Ross gets that nod. Irvine has a veteran team, a trio of aces and an offense that doesn’t strike out. The pick: UC Irvine.

Columbia Regional: #1 South Carolina, #2 Virginia Tech, #3 The Citadel, #4 Bucknell.
Best 2010 Draft Prospect: Asher Wojciechowski, rhp, Citadel.

If I had to guess where the majority of scouting directors start their weekend, it would be here in Columbia. There is no doubt that The Citadel will start Wojciechowski in their opener, and whichever Hokies pitcher goes — ace Justin Wright, top prospect Jesse Hahn, or enigmatic Matthew Price — it will be a battle of two highly regarded prospects. Throw in Hokies star hitter Austin Wates (.373/.486/.593) and a prospect-laden Gamecocks crew, and there’s a lot to see in South Carolina. The pick: Virginia Tech.