By: Burke Granger
The second weekend of the college baseball season is highlighted by an interstate rivalry and a strong tournament with each of the six participants of the 2016 Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic in Houston being a regional candidate.
(All team rankings are reflective of the NCBWA poll)
#1 Florida (5-0) @ #5 Miami (4-0): The Gators travel to Miami in what is the season’s first matchup of two legitimate national championship contenders. These two faced off five times last season, including twice in Omaha, with Florida winning easily 15-3 on the opening day of the tournament, and later eliminating the Hurricanes by a score of 10-2. The only Miami win of the season series came against A.J. Puk, the draft’s top college pitching prospect. Puk looked solid last week in his debut against Florida Gulf Coast, allowing no earned runs over 4 innings while surrendering 4 hits, walking 1 and striking out 6 in a no decision. Puk located his fastball to both sides of the plate at 93-96 mph and generated swings and misses on his changeup. Florida’s Friday starter Logan Shore, who could could join Puk in the first round, gave up 3 hits and 1 run over 5 innings while walking 2 and striking out 6.
Offensively, the Gators are led by Buddy Reed, J.J. Schwarz, and Peter Alonso. Athleticism shines through for the switch-hitting Reed, a former prep hockey standout. The hit tool looks like the biggest question mark as the swing looks uncomfortable with a lot of reliance on his shoulders to drag the bat through the zone. To reach his offensive ceiling, Reed will need to walk and take advantage of his exceptional speed. Schwarz is the best power bat in 2017 draft class, coming off a freshman campaign in which he clubbed 18 HR and with a slash line of .332/.398/.629. First baseman Peter Alonso offers Schwarz protection hitting behind him in the cleanup spot. Alonso will look to pick up where he left off last season, where he hit the two longest home runs in TD Ameritrade Park history.
Miami catcher Zack Collins is one of my favorite hitters in this draft class. Collins shows advanced strike zone judgment and incredible poise in the batter’s box. While there’s some swing and miss to his game, the power is near the top of this draft class. Though he’ll have his hands full with Shore, Puk and Sunday starter Alex Faedo, Collins swagger won’t be deterred. Collins is protected by Jacob Hayward (.327, 4 HR in 2015) and Willie Abreu (.288, 6 HR in 2015) both of which enter the season regarded as top 10 round talents.
#2 Louisville (4-0) @ #28 Ole Miss (4-0): Louisville will get their first test of the season after outscoring their opponents 57-7 over their first 4 games. Unsigned senior Kyle Funkhouser didn’t appear sharp in his debut last week. While he earned the win in a 21-4 route, Funkhouser gave up 7 hits and walked 4 over 5 innings and reportedly didn’t maintain his velocity into the 4th inning of the outing. Command has been an issue throughout his career at Louisville. Super sophomore Brendan McCay was his usual self last weekend, as he produced a line of 5IP, 3H 0R, 4BB, 8K. Corey Ray is off to a hot start, 11-15, 2B, 3B, 3 HR, and 6 SB. Junior infielders Nick Solak and Blake Tiberi are hitting .455 and .500 respectively with Solak drawing a team high 7 walks.
While last year’s draft class was exceptionally deep at the shortstop position, particularly at the college level, this year’s class is considerably thinner. Errol Robinson of Ole Miss enters the year as the top collegiate player at the position. Robinson needs to be more consistent in making the routine play defensively, and his arm may be more playable at second base. Outfielder J.B. Woodman gives the Rebels another draft prospect as he hit .274/.386/.429 last season.
Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic: This annual event (formally known as the Houston Baseball Classic) will air on the MLB Network. Here are a few quick hits on the teams involved.
#9 Louisiana-Lafyette (3-1): Juco transfer Steven Sensley was a 38th round selection in the 2015 draft by the Tampa Bay Rays after hitting .374 with 21 HR for LSU-Eunice.
#13 TCU (3-1): The Horned Frogs will once again be without ace Mitchell Traver, who’s out 3-5 weeks with a muscle strain.
#12 Houston (4-0): Ace Andrew Lantrip was strong in his debut last weekend, going 6IP, 2H, 0 R, 5 K.
#18 Arkansas (5-0): Reliever Zach Jackson is a first round prospect who struck out 89 in 60 innings last season with a 2.10 ERA and 9 saves.
Texas Tech (4-1): Texas Tech is led by righties Ryan Moseley and Chandler Eden who are candidates to be selected in the first 5 rounds.
Rice (3-2): The Owls welcomed Jon Duplantier back last weekend after missing all of the 2014 season with an arm injury, and he produced a solid line of 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 5 K. Senior lefty Blake Fox doesn’t have the ceiling of his teammate Duplantier, but he provides Rice with a veteran presence as Fox has a 26-3 career record of the Owls.