It’s opening weekend of college baseball and that means the “draft season,” if there really is such a thing, is under way, too. And yes, there really is such a thing. D-1 schools generally play four games per week — occasionally five — with three coming over the weekend and one coming mid-week. You’ll hear the term “Friday starter” a lot in college ball, which is another word for an ace. That pitcher isn’t always the best draft prospect, but he is the anchor of the staff and usually the most reliable.
The 2014 draft class isn’t especially deep overall, but it has its special talents. It appears deepest at the prep level, and some of those kids have begun their seasons, too. Here, however, is a look at some top names to follow this weekend.
Tyler Beede, RHP — Vanderbilt
Beede will get the ball Friday at Long Beach State and has a shot to solidify his spot among the top few arms in the class with a strong season showing more polish, command and the firmest of his fastballs.
Aaron Nola, RHP — LSU
Nola takes the mound versus New Orleans as the Friday starter for the second straight season. He won’t wow you elite stuff, but the right-hander will pound all quadrants of the strike zone with his fastball and mixes in a solid-average changeup and two-plane curveball.
Alex Bregman, SS
Bregman may be the top player in the SEC this season, though he’s not draft-eligible until after next season. Bregman has a plus arm, good feet and hands and could wind up as a second baseman or outfielder if he can’t stick at shortstop. He showed patience, a sound swing and superb intelligence at the plate his freshman year. Keep an eye on him for ’15, and sophomore-eligible outfielder Mark Laird.
Brandon Finnegan, LHP — TCU
Finnegan will get the nod versus Jacksonville Friday night and begins the season with a chance at being a top 40 pick. He’s listed at just 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, but there’s life on a 91-95 mph fastball that has visited 97 and his slider flashes above average. He reminds some of fellow TCU product Matt Purke due to handedness and a low arm slot, but Finnegan does a better job at turning over his changeup, which may give him a real shot to start in pro ball.
Kevin Cron, 1B
Cron was a third-round pick three years ago and possesses big raw power that he’s yet to show at the collegiate level. A breakout year could lead him into the first three rounds again, but it’ll have to be about his bat as he offers little to nothing on the bases and is relegated to first base.
Michael Cederoth, RHP — San Diego State
Cederoth brings a big, tall, athletic frame to the mound and throws downhill into triple digits with a slider and changeup. The concern is poor control that may lead to a closer role at the next level.
Jeff Hoffman, RHP — East Carolina
Hoffman is generally considered the No. 2 starting pitcher in the class and may be its most prototypical physically at 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds. His delivery is athletic and he repeats it, and his 92-97 mph fastball sets up an above-average 1-7 curveball and developing changeup.
Derek Fisher, OF — Virginia
Fisher and his Cavaliers teammates host Kentucky where he’s likely to face Wildcats ace and early Day 3 prospect Chandler Shepherd, creating one of the better pitcher-batter matchups of the weekend. Fisher is considered a potential first-round talent, thanks to above-average power and speed. He’ll need to make more consistently hard contact to warrant a first-round tag, however.
Michael Conforto, OF — Oregon State
Conforto, for me, is a poor-man’s Nick Swisher, albeit not that poor. His line-drive stroke produces doubles power that began to produce some over-the-fence pop a year ago. He’s an average defender and runner but a good athlete with sound swing mechanics and good feel for the game. There are signs that he also has Swisher’s “it factor” and leadership. Teammate Dylan Davis (OF/RHP) touched 96 off the mound in high school but has developed into a better prospect as an outfielder and bat. Conforto’s Beavers have Gonzaga, Nebraska and Pacific this weekend.
Bradley Zimmer, OF — San Francisco
The brother of 2012 first-round pick Kyle Zimmer, now a top pitching prospect in the Kansas City Royals organization, the younger Zimmer is a corner outfielder with plus speed and arm strength and average power. Zimmer’s calling card is his ability to hunt down a pitch to hit and square it up. He’ll face UC-Riverside this weekend.
Luke Weaver, RHP — Florida State
Weaver doesn’t have the size of Hoffman, Beede or Nola but the stuff is there, including a fastball often into the 94-96 mph range with some tail and sink. He throws a slider and curveball and the changeup shows promise of a plus pitch. He’s the Braden Shipley of this draft class, but he’ll have the advantage of facing what will be considered better competition, thus potentially helping his draft status into the top 20. Weaver takes on Niagara Friday night.
Matt Chapman, 3B/RHP — Cal State Fullerton
Chapman is a two-way prospect and may have an equal chance in pro ball in either role. He’ll need to show more power at the plate to be taken off the board in the top 100, but he backs that up with a 93-95 mph fastball from the mound. Chapman’s teammate, first baseman J.D. Davis, is another two-way player, but a much better prospect as a bat. The Titans host Washington State this weekend.
Max Pentecost, C — Kennesaw State
Pentecost may be the top college backstop in the class and is more likely to stick at the position than is Greiner. Pentecost gets his season under way Saturday versus Middle Tennessee State.
Carlos Rodon, LHP — North Carolina State
The consensus No. 1 prospect in the class, Rodon brings a power arsenal, strong, fluid physicality and a strong track record of performance into his junior season. The Pack’s scheduled weekend series was wiped out, so they’ve re-scheduled Canisius for Saturday-Sunday-Monday. Rodon goes in Game 1.
Treat Turner, SS — North Carolina State
Turner may be the No. 2 overall prospect in the class and is certainly among the most exciting. A true shortstop, Turner possesses plus speed, improved footwork and hands as well as a plus arm, suggesting he’ll stay at shortstop, which is always crucial, despite the great chance his bat plays elsewhere.
Oregon OF Scott Heineman leads the Ducks to Hawaii to face the Warriors… Indiana first baseman Kyle Schwarber may have the most potential to rise up the charts this spring if his physical tools continue to translate to performance. He’s a left-handed hitter with huge raw power and the improved Big Ten offers decent competition this season, and Indiana’s non-conference schedule is fairly strong… South Carolina catcher Grayson Greiner leads his Gamecocks at home versus Bucknell. Greiner’s size may make it difficult for him to stick behind the plate, but there’s plus raw power there and a chance at a Day 2 selection… UC Irvine 1B/3B Taylor Sparks has power but is overly aggressive and starts the year as a bit of a project… Evansville lefty ace Kyle Freeland gets his season started Friday at Lipscomb… Hartford southpaw Sean Newcomb has to wait until the Hawks’ schedule begins next Friday… UNLV right-hander Erick Fedde has a shot to move up draft boards with more consistency. He’s projectable at 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds and touched the mid-90s with a 60-grade slider, but his up-and-down performances are holding him back.