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NCAA Weekend Rundown

The format for my weekend rundown is going to change in the future — though even I still can’t profess to know where it’s headed. As always, the more people let me know what you’re interested in, the more this column promises to change in your favor.

In their last five drafts, the Los Angeles Angels have failed to sign six different players they drafted in the first five rounds. For a scouting department that has admirably built up an organization with years of success, this is a damning statistic that suggests a failure in the team’s ability to judge the signability of their draftees. The sting of this is going to be felt everytime Brian Matusz takes the mound for the Orioles. (Matusz was an unsigned fourth-rounder out of high school before starring for three years at the University of San Diego.) The list includes both players that have failed to improve their profile in college (Russ Moldenhauer) to players that have sustained their status (Matt Harvey), but either way, there is no question this is a trend the Angels need to stop. By comparison, in the same five years, the rest of the AL West has failed to sign just three top-five round picks combined.

I bring this up because it was a little surprising to me that the star of college baseball’s first weekend was an unsigned third-round draft pick by the Angels in 2008. Zach Cone was drafted by the Halos out of Parkview High School in Lilburn, Georgia, where he starred both in the outfield and on the mound. He was ranked as the 80th overall talent in the draft by Baseball America, but saw fit to turn down a high six-figures bonus offer to head to the University of Georgia program that Gordon Beckham had just led to the College World Series. Cone’s decision has never looked so good as it does on this Monday morning, following the most dominating weekend of any college player in the nation. In four games against two top-70 programs in Baylor and Duke, the sophomore Bulldog outfielder went 11-for-16, including hitting for the cycle in a loss on Saturday.

There were signs of this ability in the summer — Cone played for Cotuit in the Cape Cod League — but a .243/.268/.331 batting line isn’t going to inspire, even if its only a tick below league average. Cone showed his five tools there, stealing 10 bases, placing second on his team in home runs, playing a damn good outfield. But like so many five-toolers before him, Cone showed he was still raw in the BB/K column, ending up at 5/42 in 136 AB. He didn’t register a mark in either column over the weekend, but there is nothing wrong with making hard contact in nearly 20 straight at-bats.

The 2011 draft has already been framed as a battle of Rice 3B Anthony Rendon (on base in 9 of 14 PAs in his first weekend) vs. UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole (1 H, 2 ER, 9 K in 6 IP) for the top spot, with Texas RHP Taylor Jungmann in the discussion or right behind it. Cone won’t have to show all his ability to land a first-round grade from scouts — surely some have already slapped that tag on him — but he’s a dominant sophomore removed from top-10 discussion. The Bulldogs did themselves no favors in scheduling a tough non-conference schedule leading into the rigors of the toughest conference season in college baseball, so if Cone can dominate this competition, he’ll fly up those 2011 draft boards in a hurry.

And hopefully in doing so remind the Angels that they can’t afford to not sign top draft picks.

Best 3 Team Impressions From the Weekend:
1. Stanford: Swept Rice at home, showing a much greater ability to score runs than people gave them credit for.
2. Oregon: It hasn’t taken long for George Horton to make the Ducks a solid team, with wins over Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State highlighting a promising opening weekend.
3. Florida Gulf Coast: It was only Temple, but a 39-7 run differential in a sweep is a sign of things to come for a program entering its first season of the ability to contend in postseason baseball. And trust me, they will.