One on One: Amateur Hour
It's that time of year again. The time for the traditionalist baseball fans to stand up and object to interleague play. The number of grimaces will only increase this year because, for the first time ever, the rights to the city of Los Angeles will be determined, if Arte Moreno and the Angels have anything to say about it. L.A. joins Chicago and New York in the battle for the large markets, as the Cubs-White Sox and Yankees-Mets series begin tonight as well.
For those of you that can't stand to hear any more arguments about which side of the subway or "L" is better, we offer a getaway. Instead of spending the weekend debating about interleague play, the DH, and the wild card, take a break from Major League Baseball. Things are just starting to heat up in the college ranks and now is as good a time as ever to start paying attention.
Just weeks away from Omaha and the June draft, Rich and Bryan are talking alphabet soup in the form of the NCAA rather than MLB...
Rich: The college baseball season is winding down with many important matchups this weekend. Some teams need to win to make the postseason, others need to win to get a shot at hosting a Regional. What are you most excited about?
Bryan: Well, I'll be checking the boxscores avidly for three series this weekend. First and foremost, the surprise Oregon State Beavers will be hosting your alma mater, USC, this weekend. Oregon State has become the Cinderella for this season that, if college baseball had a larger stage, would be a national story.
Rich: USC is finishing its longest road trip of the year by flying from South Bend to Corvallis for this weekend's three-game series against Oregon State. The Trojans and the Beavers are two of the best teams in the country and will be vying for the Pac-10 championship as well as the right to host a Regional and perhaps a Super Regional.
Bryan: Should be a great series, though the Trojans aren't as stacked as in past years. The game to watch will be Friday night, when the teams have a battle of sophomores. Pitchers Dallas Buck and Ian Kennedy are two of the best in the class. Personally, I can't wait for that Kennedy v. Jacoby Ellsbury at-bat in the first inning. I'll take Ellsbury...
Rich: I have seen Kennedy pitch a couple of times. I was fortunate to see him make his collegiate debut against Long Beach State and Jered Weaver in February 2004. He allowed just one hit and one unearned run in five innings while striking out eight batters. He went on to post a 7-2 record with a 2.91 ERA. Those aren't bad numbers for a freshman. But what impressed me the most were his 120 strikeouts against 31 walks in just 92 2/3 innings. Ian was a member of the 2004 U.S. National Team and he struck out a team-high 40 batters in 26 innings. He has added 128 more Ks this season (second in the nation) in only 87 2/3 innings. This guy has 2006 first-round written all over him.
Bryan: Yes, Ian will be among the top five college pitchers drafted. But, I do not believe he ranks highest in his class. The best two college sophomores, in my mind, are in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I first talked about Andrew Miller before the season, and he has done nothing to make me believe in him any less. In late April he was named onto the Dick Howser Trophy Watch List, given to the best college player in the nation. Since then he has slowed down the pace a little, and while his numbers fall a bit short of Kennedy's, you can't argue with a 6-6, 195 frame from a southpaw. Not to mention that disgusting fastball-slider combination.
Rich: Well, I haven't seen Miller pitch, but I know you are high on him. You might think I'm high but Kennedy is a special youngster. His fastball sits in the low-90s. He has excellent mechanics and hides the ball well. However, Kennedy is not a tall and lanky guy like Miller. Instead, at 6'0", 195, he looks more like Tim Hudson or Roy Oswalt. I know the scouts like 'em bigger, but I wouldn't hesitate taking him despite his less than desirable size.
Bryan: Yes, his repeatable delivery and good command are definitely pluses that Miller lacks. Anyway, as you very well know, we could be arguing apples and oranges as representation decides draft order now anyway. Scott Boras' presence in either's corner could very well decide which order they are drafted in.
Rich: You are so very right, Bryan. Who knows which one will go before the other? All I know is that if it were a fantasy draft, Kennedy and Miller would be among the first pitchers chosen next year, provided they avoid serious arm problems.
Bryan: Yes, who knows who the arm-injury bug will bite next. But we would definitely be remiss to talk about the OSU-USC match-up from purely a pitching perspective. There will definitely be some offense in Oregon, notably one of my favorite outfield prospects, Jacoby Ellsbury. It looks like Ellsbury has all the tools to be a future leadoff hitter: 28/11 BB/K ratio in 197 at-bats, twenty steals, gap power. He has most recently been named as a semifinalist to the aforementioned Dick Howser trophy, just another bullet point on a resume that will lead to a mid-first round selection.
Rich: I hope he makes it to the big leagues because Repoz will have a field day with that name. I think USC's catcher, Jeff Clement, is a lock to go in the top ten and, in fact, has been rumored as possibly going to Arizona with the first pick in the draft. If you're looking for resumes, this is your guy.
Bryan: Alright, spit it then...
Rich: He played in the 1996 Little League World Series in Williamsport, set the national high school career mark for HR with 75 and led Marshalltown (Iowa) to the 2002 4-A state championship. Jeff was featured in Sports Illustrated back in September 2002, then went on to hit 21 HR his freshman season while being named Collegiate Baseball Freshman National Co-Player of the Year. He has played on the U.S. National Team twice and is a strong candidate to win the Johnny Bench Award for the most outstanding catcher in college baseball this year. Want more?
Bryan: There's more?
Rich: He is hitting .380/.514/.663 with 10 HR and has 39 walks while only striking out 29 times.
Bryan: Very nice. While both prospects we mentioned will add some firepower to the series, it won't be anything like what we can expect from the Stanford-Arizona series, second on my weekend watch list. Both teams have two hitters that will go in the first round, and the number of scouts at Friday's game should rival the Star Wars opening.
Rich: You mean, Revenge of Stanford?
Bryan: The Wildcats will bring Trevor Crowe and Nick Hundley to the table. Crowe is currently hitting over .400 with more than forty extra-base hits and more walks than strikeouts. Hundley, like your boy Clement, is a stud catcher with three more home runs than the Trojan. I actually like Nick's defense a little better too, though neither will be winning Gold Gloves behind the plate. It will be interesting to see who wins that Johnny Bench Award.
Rich: Speaking of which, why is it called the Johnny Bench Award when ol' Johnny never played college baseball? Wouldn't that be like calling the College Basketball Player of the Year the LeBron James Award?
Bryan: Give it time, Rich, give it time. Maybe in the same light they should hand out a John Mayberry Award for the best first baseman with a less than impressive average but solid power. Would his son win it?
Rich: I think he would be an excellent candidate for such an award. I know the scouts like his size and he looks like a hitter. I saw him on TV last year in the Regional and he was an imposing figure out there. It also doesn't hurt to have his pedigree.
Bryan: I'm not as high on him as most, as his .306 average just doesn't do it for me. It looks like he might follow in his footsteps in that regard, as Dad was only a .253 career hitter in the Majors. One problem is that Mayberry hasn't shown extraordinary power, which was supposed to be one of his calling cards. In fact, he has just half the home runs as the Cardinal second baseman, Jed Lowrie. Jed's the Stanford stud, not the former first rounder.
Rich: You're talking about the Pac-10 Player of the Year in 2004 as a sophomore. Lowrie was a bit of a disappointment last summer on Team USA but has acquitted himself well in his junior year and is a candidate for most of the National Player of the Year Awards. You gotta like the fact that he is a middle infielder with the kind of numbers he's put up (.328/.424/.612).
Bryan: Yes, statistically he even rivals your boy, Mr. Troy Tulowitzki. Troy will be playing in the weekend's marquee match-up, against the nation's #1 Cal State-Fullerton. This series will be a fantastic one, as both teams are well coached, and have plenty of draft-caliber talent. For Long Beach, it all starts up the middle.
Rich: Tulowitzki is the real deal. I wouldn't hesitate taking him number one in the draft. He is that good. Everybody knows the comparisons to Bobby Crosby. He's got the size, a powerful arm, a good glove, 4.2 speed, and plus power. What might not be so well known is that Troy also has the energy, enthusiasm, and leadership skills reminiscent of Miguel Tejada. This is a guy who could make it to the majors by September 2006 and has as good a shot at being named Rookie of the Year in 2007 as anybody.
Bryan: Well, Tulo will have his hands full with fellow top ten talent on Friday. On the pitcher's mound will be none other than Titan ace Ricky Romero, who has been rumored to be going sixth overall (to the Jays) for months. Romero is sort of the southpaw's version of Ian Kennedy, with his hand preference salvaging the discontent scouts have on his size. This season Romero has more than made up for the departed Jason Windsor, leading the Titans back to the top spot in the rankings. While Ricky doesn't have the mid-90s fastball of consensus top pitchers Luke Hochevar and Mike Pelfrey, his 116/29 strikeout-to-walk ratio (and non-Boras representation) could lead to a higher draft selection.
Rich: Romero does get his cheese up to around 92, which differentiates him from Cesar Ramos, the opposing starter tonight, who, like Ricky, is a lefty.
Bryan: Big change of pace in Friday starters for the Dirtbags this year. You've seen Ramos a lot, right?
Rich: Yes. Although he took over the Friday Night role from Jered Weaver, he is more like Abe Alvarez, his teammate from two years ago. He has a lot of polish and his command is superior to Romero's at this stage, in my judgment. I think Ramos could make the leap to the majors about as quickly as any pitcher in the draft.
Bryan: Man, does manager Mike Weathers just make carbon copies of ex-players, or what? First the Tulo-Crosby comparison, and now Ramos-Alvarez. Are you just waiting at the door for Jered, version 2.0?
Rich: I have no doubt that Jered is going to be better than Jeff, v2.0. Yes, Bill Stoneman, you heard me correctly. I don't know where people get this "third pitcher" idea. Weaver was a dominant pitcher his sophomore and junior years and was the best starter on Team USA in the summer of 2003. I wouldn't hold the fact that he is major-league ready against him as seems to be the case. Let me ask you, Bryan, who do you want -- Jeff at $9.5M per year or Jered for, say, $7.5M for five years? I mean, you might overpay a bit the first few years but you could have a bargain on your hand in those post-arbitration years.
Bryan: Uh-oh, I brought up a sensitive subject. I agree with you, Rich, there is certainly a bargain to be had in the middle of the Boras-LAAoA negotiations. I also do think this will be the rare example of when Scott Boras loses in negotations, as I project Jered to sign in ten days. A year layoff on an arm that scouts weren't sold on is not going to bring any more millions.
Rich: Weren't sold on? What are you talking about? Weaver would have undoubtedly gone first had the Padres not been concerned about signability. He was and remains the premier amateur pitching prospect in baseball.
Bryan: Well, I think you might be forgetting about the other Boras holdout, Stephen Drew. It was he that the Padres had picked before negotiations got in the way, not Weaver. But both are definitely elite talents. I just happen to think that Weaver will sign before the May 31 deadline, and Drew will re-enter, getting his money from either the Mets, Orioles or Yankees. One has answered no conerns in a year off, while the other is answering the wooden bat concerns in the Independent League right now.
Rich: I hope Weaver signs with the Angels so I can continue to watch him in person. Paul Byrd and Jarrod Washburn are both free agents at the end of the year. Adding Weaver into the mix at this point looks like a cheap option by comparison. He may not be in the rotation from the get go in 2006, but I would be surprised if he didn't pitch in the majors next year.
Bryan: Well, don't get ahead of yourself, the 2005 CWS is long before Weaver's projected '06 arrival. Who ya got winning the title this year?
Rich: I think the best teams are in the west but they will be lucky to hold two Regionals so the cards are stacked against them. I know one thing though. Those SEC, ACC, and Big 12 teams with all the good seeds sure don't want to see USC or Long Beach State come into town. The sad thing is that Oregon State, Cal State Fullerton, USC, and Long Beach all deserve to host Regionals. But the likelihood of all four teams staying home is slim and none and slim just left for Texas.
Bryan: Yes, I'm not quite sure our collegiate West Coast bias will be able to extend far past the Super Regionals. I actually have Tulane to win the title, Baseball America's preseason #1, as I think the hitter-pitcher combination players Brian Bogusevic and Micah Owings are putting things together at the right time. Jason Windsor and Kurt Suzuki can tell you that often proves very valuable.
Rich: Speaking of Windsor and Suzuki, CSUF beat Tulane two out of three earlier this year. Tulane, a west coast team, and six from the SEC in the College World Series would make the NCAA happy, I'm quite sure.
From the Majors to the NCAAs, it always comes back to the almighty dollar. But for just one weekend, we urge you to switch away from the Cubs-White Sox, Yanks-Mets, or Angels-Dodgers. Try a different flavor of baseball, and instead you might just see the winner of that good ol' 2005 Johnny Bench Award, college or no college.