Gainesville Regional: #1 Florida, #2 Florida Atlantic, #3 Oregon State, #4 Bethune-Cookman.
Best 2010 Draft Prospect: One of 2 closers: Kevin Chapman, lhp, Florida or Kevin Rhoderick, rhp, Oregon State.
If you haven’t heard of Chapman, he’s the Gators lefty closer rising up draft boards with every 95 mph moving fastball he throws. Left-handed hitters, according to my friends at College Splits, have amassed a ridiculous .263 OPS against him this season. Rhoderick’s big velocity has been more consistent in his three years at OSU, and Pat Casey will turn him loose for as much as three innings to try and grab wins this weekend. I think they can beat a solid FAU team in the opener, but beating Florida twice is a whole different matter. You need a lot of pitching to move through regional weekend, and the Gators might have the nation’s deepest staff. The pick: Florida.
Norwich Regional: #1 Florida State, #2 Connecticut, #3 Oregon, #4 Central Connecticut.
Best 2010 Draft Prospect: Tyler Holt, of, Florida State.
You will notice this is the one regional in which the #1 seed is not hosting, as the NCAA looks to expand college baseball’s popularity to new regions. So these four will play in Connecticut, where a very likable Huskies team will play underdog in their own ballpark. I’d be remiss not to point your attention to UConn 2B Pierre LePage, who struck out in last weekend’s Big East Tournament. It was news, because it was just the third time he’d done so in more than 250 plate appearances this season. They open their weekend against an amazing story — the Oregon Ducks, who made the tournament in the program’s second year of existence. They did so because of legendary coach George Horton’s ability to recruit pitchers (3.28 team ERA), namely ace Tyler Anderson (101 K’s in 95 IP). Florida State will await the winner, with their usual blend of great hitters and an enigmatic pitching staff. This has the makings to be the weekend’s most entertaining regional. The pick: Connecticut.
Louisville Regional: #1 Louisville, #2 Vanderbilt, #3 Illinois State, #4 Saint Louis.
Best 2010 Draft Prospect: Couldn’t decide, so I turned to Baseball America and John Manuel. To quote the Twitter: “Thomas Royse, rhp, Louisville, No. 182 on our top 200.”
This is really what the college baseball postseason is about. You have a veteran, well-coached Louisville team, against a young, uber-talented Vanderbilt squad. Throw in a potential Cinderella story like Illinois State, and you understand why this weekend is fun. However, I don’t want to paint the perception that Louisville isn’t talented, or Vanderbilt well coached. Quite the opposite. The host Cardinals have a slew of big league prospects on both sides of the ball. They have five double-digit home run guys, and more than one really good pitching prospect: Royse, Koch, Holland, Zych. Vanderbilt is a team that has played well a year earlier than expected, but have at least the regional’s two best players: sophomore RHP Sonny Gray and SS Jason Esposito. The pick: Louisville.
Fayetteville Regional: #1 Arkansas, #2 Washington State, #3 Kansas State, #4 Grambling.
Best 2010 Draft Prospect: Zack Cox, 3B/2B, Arkansas.
This is an interesting regional, because Arkansas is the most talented by a significant margin, but both Cougars teams are battle-tested and very interesting. Kansas State lost a lot of talent a year ago, but has found success by preaching to their hitters to get on base (team .427 OBP) and to take chances on the bases (114/149 in 56 games). Washington State is a team that keeps the ball in the park, and defends the baseball well. It’s not often to see a team that doesn’t beat themselves in college baseball, but that’s the kind of program Donnie Marbut has built. However, Arkansas should win this regional. They’ll get both offensive and pitching contributions from Brett Eibner, and Drew Smyly is a worthy ace. The pick: Arkansas.
Myrtle Beach Regional: #1 Coastal Carolina, #2 College of Charleston, #3 N.C. State, #4 Stony Brook.
Best 2010 Draft Prospect: Cody Wheeler, lhp, Coastal Carolina.
If the Columbia, South Carolina regional is this draft’s most prospect-laden, then just 3 hours east is the least prospect-laden. Coastal Carolina is a fantastic baseball team, capable of home runs (99 in 58 games), steals (146), a pitching staff that can strike you out (479 K’s in 522 IP) and keeps the ball in the park (27 home runs allowed). But they are doing so with fringe prospects, like Wheeler or shortstop Scott Woodward, who has a .504 OBP and is 48-for-54 on the bases. They should roll through this regional, as Charleston and N.C. State can both hit (both team OPS above .930) but neither can pitch (team ERA above five). The pick: Coastal Carolina.
Fort Worth Regional: #1 Texas Christian, #2 Baylor, #3 Arizona, #4 Lamar.
Best 2010 Draft Prospect: Steven Maxwell, rhp, TCU.
The Horned Frogs program has evolved from a Mountain West Conference powerhouse into a national title contender; few teams in the nation are as talented and well-balanced in both offense and pitching. There isn’t an arm on that staff that coach Jim Schlossnagle can’t trust, and it’s buoyed by the three starters: junior Steven Maxwell, sophomore Kyle Winkler and freshman Matt Purke. The latter is the nation’s best left-handed arm and a 2011 top-ten pick. Baylor has a similar amount of depth, but their pitchers are extremely inconsistent. The 2010 draft will see rhp Craig Fritsch and closer Brooks Pinckard in the top ten rounds, but both have their warts. This has been an overachieving year for Arizona because of a good freshman class. I doubt they are ready to shock the world. The pick: TCU.
Atlanta Regional: #1 Georgia Tech, #2 Alabama, #3 Elon, #4 Mercer.
Best 2010 Draft Prospect: Deck McGuire, rhp, Georgia Tech.
Alabama comes in playing very well, but the question will be whether they have the bats to keep pace with some powerful offenses in Georgia Tech and Elon. Like many of these regionals, the big decision is whether Alabama tosses ace Jimmy Nelson at the Phoenix, or whether he holds him to try to set up a more favorable match-up against McGuire and the Yellow Jackets. This is the deepest staff that Tech has had in awhile, though, and it matches with a lineup that includes seven double-digit home run guys. The pick: Georgia Tech.
Norman Regional: #1 Oklahoma, #2 California, #3 North Carolina, #4 Oral Roberts.
Best 2010 Draft Prospect: Matt Harvey, rhp, North Carolina.
Our final regional shows the respect the committee had for the big conferences, as this includes the eighth Pac-10 team I have talked about in two days, and a UNC team that really backed its way into a postseason berth. For what it’s worth, I do think the Tar Heels are the better of the two teams, and the first mound match-up will be intriguing. We should see Harvey against Cal’s Justin Jones, where Harvey will be pitching for a spot in the first half of the first round. The question, for me, is whether North Carolina can match the depth of an Oklahoma team that goes ten, twelve deep in the bullpen. I don’t love the Sooners starters, but with a good bullpen and a powerful offense, winning a regional at home should certainly be in the cards.
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