Spring Training may be just getting underway for the professionals, but actual games that count will start this weekend on college diamonds across the country. Seedlings to Stars will keep you posted on college baseball all year, but with a focus on players who will go high in future MLB drafts and are likely to go on to the majors.
In a lot of ways, college baseball is turning into another minor league, although it will never quite be the same as college football is to the NFL.
Here a few tips for MLB prospect-watchers who keep an eye on the college game:
- the best talent is highly concentrated in the major conferences (and some of the major conferences in football are not really “major conferences” in baseball — namely, the Big Ten)
- teams save their best pitchers for weekend series, which are almost always the most important ones
- it can take awhile for teams from northern climates to get rolling, since their ability to have outdoor workouts is limited
In other words, the quality of competition in college games will vary widely, and, therefore, it can be hard to generalize from the results.
A weekend series between two major programs probably approximates a minor-league game at the A level. You’ll see quality players ages 19-21, and both sides will probably run out pitchers who could just as easily be pros.
But the level of competition can drop off quickly, and mid-week and even Sunday games (when the teams will be using their No. 3 starters) will not prove quite as much.
One really important development to be aware of, however, is the shift a few years back to different bats. The new bats are less “springy” and produce a much better approximation of wood bats. Gone are the days when guys could run up huge offensive stats that would never translate to the professional level.
Likewise, the best pitchers (such as Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer and Danny Hultzen in 2011, all of whom are now on the cusp of the majors) will be able to put up stats that show off their pro potential.
Most teams are kicking off the season with a “soft landing,” but that won’t be the case in Houston, where No. 7 Stanford visits No. 17 Rice (USAToday/ESPN Coaches’ Poll).
Stanford’s Mark Appel is one of the top college pitchers for the second year in a row. He was projected to be top-5 pick in the 2012 draft, but slipped to No. 8 and declined to sign with Pittsburgh. He’ll be back in the draft, and will probably be projected to be top-5 again. Appel can hit the high-90s with his heat, and will probably get the Friday start for the Cardinal.
The Owls are likely to counter with Austin Kubitza, a low-90s righty, who had a 2.69 ERA as a junior, and will probably go in the second or third round of the draft.