Draft Watch: Regionals Weekend

 Corvallis: Oregon State, UNLV, UC Irvine, North Dakota State
The top-ranked Beavers were rewarded with a pretty soft field of competition, and getting to the Super Regionals should be a cakewalk for them. Michael Conforto is the clear top prospect in this pool, and arguably the best pure hitter in all of college baseball, although he cooled off a bit at the end of the season. If UNLV’s Eric Fedde had not gone down with Tommy John this would have been a lot more interesting matchup, but the Fedde-less Rebels do not pose as much of a threat without their ace.

Sillwater: Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Cal State Fullerton, Binghamton
This Regional in not necessarily loaded with elite draft talent, but should be pretty competitive. Keep an eye on Cal State Fullerton, although they are the No. 3 team here and had a really disappointing season, they are still very talented and have enough elite arms to make a run. The Titan’s big bats Matt Chapman and J.D. Davis didn’t have monster years like some expected, but they still have plenty of power and slugged .516 and .521, respectively. Their draft stock has slipped a bit, but Champman could still go in Round No. 2 with Davis probably being a factor early on on Day Two.

Houston, Texas: Rice, Texas, Texas A&M,George Mason
There will be plenty of Texas pride on display at this weekend, with three powerhouse programs from the Lone Star State colliding at Rice’s Reckling Park. The Owls will be tough to beat though, with legendary coach Wayne Graham at the helm and their ace Zach Lemond back in the rotation. Before this year Lemond had been a closer a closer, but he stepped into the rotation and was very, very effective, posting a 1.38 ERA. Lemond missed time because of shoulder inflamation and probably projects better as a reliever, but team’s will still be very intrigued by his pitchability and mid-90’s MPH fastball.

Baton Rouge: Louisiana State, Houston, Bryant, Southeastern Louisiana
Louisiana State may just be the nation’s hottest team, after taking down Florida last weekend to be crowned SEC champions. With co-aces Aaron Nola and Jared Poche at the top of their rotation, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which they would loose two games. Nola, who owns a 1.49 ERA and a 10-1 record, is also about to make a lot of money. With his stellar performance this year and improved fastball velocity he is a lock to go in the top 10 picks. The Cubs were reportedly in attendance to see his last start, where he topped out at 96 MPH, and they own the No. 4 overall pick. He almost certainly won’t get past the Phillies at No. 7.

Tallahassee: Florida State, Alabama, Kennesaw State, Georgia Southern
This is perhaps the most exciting regional, both in terms of draft prospects and the level of competition. Each team features a potetianl top three round talent — Luke Weaver of FSU, Spencer Turnbull of Alabama, Max Pentecost of Kennesaw State, and Sam Howard of Georgia Southern. Pentecost had a huge summer on the Cape where his athletic skill set, albeit a lighter version, drew comparisons to Buster Posey. He has done nothing but rake this year, slashing .423/.477/.634 while also hitting 9 homeruns. There has even been some talk that the Cubs could take him on an under-slot deal. Also, with southpaw Sam Howard as their ace, watch out for Georgia Southern, as they could potentially upset No. 1 FSU on Friday.

Louisville: Louisville, Kentucky, Kansas, Kent State
The Louisville Regional will pit two intrastate rivals against each other, Louisville and Kentucky, in what should be a very compelling matchup. The Wildcats’ A.J. Reed, the front-runner for the Golden Spikes award, is the most feared slugger in the country. He has a smooth, left-handed swing and relies on his massive strength to his mammoth home runs. This year he has hit an incredible .351/.491/.768 and has launched 23 home runs. Reed doubles as a pitcher, and has been nearly as dominant on the mound, posting a 2.10 ERA. With the power to hit 25-30 home runs annually, Reed has a bat that will play at first base and should probably go in Round No. 1. Closer Nick Burdi is the X-factor for Louisville, and on the year he has struck out 57 batters in 32 innings while allowing just two earned runs.

Nashville: Vanderbilt, Oregon, Clemson, Xavier
The Commodores have a talented array of underclassmen with power arms, but if they want to get back to Omaha, they will need their ace Tyler Beede to regain his form. Beede’s stock has been plummeting lately and on the year he has allowed 41 free passes in 90 innings. He has had trouble with his fastball command and he routinely leaves his curve up in the zone. Out of high school he was a Round No. 1 pick, but if he has another poor outing he just might fall out of it this time around.

Bloomington: Indiana, Indiana State, Stanford,Youngstown State
After a slugglish start, Indiana’s big bats heated up enough for the Hoosiers to secure a National Seed and to for them to host a regional. Catcher Kyle Schwarber is a Round No. 1 talent who has also been one of college baseball best performers, terrorizing Big-10 pitchers to the tune of .340 average with 12 home runs. Neither Schwarber’s swing or body is pretty, but he has an unbelievable knack for getting the barrel on the ball and has game-changing power. Teammates Dustin DeMuth and Sam Travis will give him plenty of protection.

Gainsville: Florida, Long Beach State, North Carolina, Charleston
Florida does not have the star power that they have had in recent years, but this might be the most well-rounded Gator team ever. They vastly exceeded expectations this year and finished with a 21-9 record in the SEC and the No. 2 overall ranking in the country. Backstop Taylor Gushue is their top prospect, a strong thrower with a balanced approach at the plate, but with a large crop of college catchers ahead of him, he might get pushed into Rounds No. 4 or No. 5.

Coral Gables: Miami, Texas Tech, Columbia, Bethune-Cookman
Similarly, the Miami Hurricanes also exceeded expectations this year and have evolved into one of the country’s premier teams. They have a really solid core of freshman that have performed well under pressure, but they also feature a deep veteran rotation. Lefties Chris Diaz and Andrew Suarez went a combined 14-3 and were the staples of that rotation. Both are draft-eligible and will probably go somewhere in Rounds No. 4-6 next week.

Cal Poly, Arizona State, Pepperdine, Sacramento State
Cal Poly had an unbelievable season in which they stormed to a 45-10 mark and a Big West Championship. A large part of their success can be attributed their ace Matt Imhoff who has emerged as a potential Round No. 1 talent. The strongly built southpaw pounds all quadrants of the strike zone and generates good plane on his lively fastball. His stuff is not overpowering but has a pretty high floor. He reminds some of a left-handed Brandon Workman.

Fort Worth: Texas Christian, Dallas Baptist, Sam Houston State, Siena
The Horned Frogs have won 27 of their last 30 contests, and at this pace they could very well be Omaha Bound. Their top prospect is Brandon Finnegan, a lefty with a lethal fastball-slider combination that enables him to miss plenty of bats. He is undersized for a starter, but is very athletic and can run his fastball up into the upper-90’s MPH. TCU has also relied heavily on Preston Morrison, who’s stuff is more sedate, but his performance has been anything but. Morrison earned Big-10 Pitcher of the Year Honors and compiled a minuscule 1.25 ERA. However, to get to the Super-Regionals, TCU will have to get past Dallas Baptist, who won the Missouri Valley Conference championship.

Lafayette: Louisiana Lafayette, Mississippi State, San Diego State, Jackson
Louisiana-Lafayette won more games, 53, than any other team. They are an offensive juggernaut that as a team hit an astonishing .317. They will have to face some pretty good competition. Mississippi State was last year’s runner-up in the NCAA Championship and San Diego State is immensely talented. SDSU’s Michael Cederoth has had mixed results this spring, but he does have an elite arm that can touch triple-digits with his fastball. He is a polarizing player and opinions on him are split, but a good showing could help propel him back into Round No. 2.

Oxford; Mississippi, Washington, Georgia Tech, Jacksonville State
I was very surprised to see that Washington didn’t get to host a regional. They had a very deserving season and have a brand new ballpark that they would be more than willing to show off. Anyway, the are the No. 2 seed in this pool and will have to get by Ole Miss to get to the next round. The Rebels are a battle-tested squad that finished an impressive 19-11 in the SEC.

Columbia: South Carolina, Maryland, Old Dominion, Campbell
The Gamecocks have dealt with injury after injury, but as always, they are primed for a deep run in this tournament. Grayson Greiner, the leader of this team, has head a very solid season in which he has gotten on base at a .404 clip and has improved behind the plate. However, Mayland is a very legitimate threat and they are led by senior Jake Stinnett who has a lively heater that enabled him to record 123 strikeouts this year. Stinnet could be a very nice under-slot option for a team somewhere in Round No. 2.

Charlottesville: Virginia, Arkansas, Liberty, Bucknell
Finally, the Virginia Cavaliers will get to host a regional after a stellar year. The Cavaliers never really broke out with the bats like they were expected too, but with two potential Round No. 1 guys in Derek Fisher and Mike Papi, this could be the week that they finally do. Their pitching has been phenomenal. Nathan Kirby is arguably the best arm for next year’s class and has led the staff with a 1.48 ERA. He has a good trackrecord and top-of-the-rotation stuff. Closer Nick Howard has also had a lot of helium lately and could here his name called on Day One of the draft.

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Jason A. Churchill

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