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We’re still four months away from the 2014 college baseball season, but it’s never too early to breakdown some of the nation’s elite prospects.
As fall workouts continue around the country, it’s time to take an inside look at where I rank the nation’s top 10 college prospects, the list, not surprisingly, led by North Carolina State left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon.
Though the hard-nosed and hard-throwing Rodon leads the charge, East Carolina right-handed pitcher Jeff Hoffman is hot on his heels after an impressive summer at the Cape Cod League. Kennesaw State catcher Max Pentecost is another big riser after an impressive summer at the Cape, while San Diego State right-handed pitcher Michael Cederoth holds steady despite resting his arm over the summer.
Without further ado, my list, which is certainly subject to change:
1. Carlos Rodon, lhp, North Carolina State (Drafted: 2011, Brewers -- 16th round)
There are very few things negative that can be said about Rodon. Rodon is a stocky 6-foot-3, 234-pounder, who despite his dominant stuff, plays with a chip on his shoulder. Besides his bulldog-like attitude, Rodon has a 93-97 mph fastball, 85-87 slider with two-plane break and a low-80s changeup with potential. One college baseball legend recently told me he hadn’t seen a lefty like Rodon in at least 10 years.
2. Jeff Hoffman, rhp, East Carolina (Drafted: Never)
3. Trea Turner, ss, North Carolina State (Drafted: 2011, Pirates -- 20th round)
There’s always that prospect who takes a massive step forward during the summer. Last summer, it was Mississippi State outfielder Hunter Renfroe, who parlayed a strong summer and spring into a Padres first-round pick. Now, it’s likely Hoffman, who elevated his status at the Cape Cod League by sitting 94-97, and up to 98, with his fastball, which had exploding life. Hoffman also showed a good 80-82 curveball throughout the summer. If Hoffman is consistent in the spring, it’s not out of the question that he could be the first overall pick in the MLB draft.
If there’s a position player who could vault to the top of the draft in 2014, Turner is a very good bet at this point. Turner is a 6-foot-1, 171-pounder, with exceptional speed. Turner has good offensive skills and some pop in his bat. In the field, there are some who believe Turner is an outfielder at the next level. However, he has shown good balance and a strong arm at shortstop, and most believe he’ll stay there.
4. Brandon Finnegan, lhp, Texas Christian (Drafted: 2011, Rangers -- 45th round)
The fact Finnegan is a 5-foot-11, 190-pounder, might turn off some because he’s a not an imposing physical specimen, but don’t let that fool you. Finnegan has a classic Texas gunslinger attitude, and has the stuff to complement that well. He’s 95-98 with his fastball, has good feel for an 82-84 changeup and continues to develop a low-80s slider.
5. Tyler Beede, rhp, Vanderbilt (Drafted: 2011, Blue Jays -- 1st round)
Beede’s past is well-documented after turning down the Blue Jays out of high school. The impressive 6-foot-4, 215-pounder, has an elite fastball that sits anywhere from 90-95, along with a sharp breaking curveball at 80-83 and a fast-developing changeup that made serious strides for the Commodores in the spring. Should Beede show improved command in the spring, he could rise a few spots.
6. Derek Fisher, of, Virginia (Drafted: 2011, Rangers -- 6th round)
Last year, Hunter Renfroe was the guy we tabbed as someone who would take a big step forward. Fisher fits that bill for the 2014 campaign. Fisher is very athletic with a good frame. He has a smooth swing from the left side and has the tools and power to be a feared, elite hitter in college and at the next level.
7. Michael Cederoth, rhp, San Diego State (Drafted: 2011, Diamondbacks -- 41st round)
The ultra-talented Cederoth is yet another prospect who could rise a few spots with a strong 2014 campaign. Cederoth, a striking 6-foot-6, 210-pounder, showed better command last season with 109 strikeouts and 48 walks, but could still use some advancements in that area of his game. Otherwise, Cederoth throws four pitches, his 95-101 fastball the showcased pitch.
8. Kyle Schwarber, c, Indiana (Drafted: Never)
One of the chief architects of Indiana’s rise up the college baseball rankings last season, Schwarber is as good as it gets from an offensive standpoint. The bulky 6-foot, 230-pounder, is good enough behind the plate, but what sets him apart from other prospects are his offensive skills. Schwarber is a smart, pure hitter, who has impressive raw power and the ability to hit to all sides of the field.
9. Nick Burdi, rhp, Louisville (Drafted: 2011, Twins -- 24th round)
Speaking of dominant arms, the 2013 Perfect Game College All-American has a bright future ahead both as a college junior and at the professional level. Burdi has an unreal arm with a fastball anywhere from 96-100, a plus slider in the upper 80s, low 90s and a changeup that continues to improve. Burdi is somewhat of a gamble putting him this high, this early. For instance, just one college reliever has been selected in the top 10 picks in the past five MLB drafts -- Stanford's Drew Storen, who went to the Washington Nationals in 2009.
10. Max Pentecost, c, Kennesaw State (Drafted: 2011, Rangers -- 7th round)
Pentecost was drafted relatively high out of high school, and should parlay his going to college into better draft stock and more money. Pentecost was the Perfect Game Summer Player of the Year, showcasing his skills at a high level at the Cape Cod League over the summer. Pentecost is a solid defensive catcher with a good arm and athletic actions. He also has much improved offensive skills with a consistent ability to square up secondary offerings.
POTENTIAL BALL CHANGES LOOKING MORE LIKELY
Despite some significant outcry from long-time head coaches Jack Leggett (Clemson) and Wayne Graham (Rice), the NCAA, until the past couple of weeks, had stayed relatively quiet on a potential change to the ball used in college baseball.
New NCAA Director of Baseball Damani Leech detailed a few interesting tidbits in this article from last week. For instance, even though there was very little power production at the College World Series in TD Ameritrade Park again this past summer, there are zero plans at this point to change any of the ballpark’s configuration.
Furthermore, the most striking news from Leech was that the NCAA was close to concluding a study with Rawlings and Washington State University on the difference between the raised-seam baseball and flat-seam baseball, a change that many coaches insisted would make a significant difference.
The findings from the study are completed and the difference between the two balls from a distance standpoint indeed is striking. On a ball with a home-run-like trajectory, it would travel approximately 20-feet further with the flat-seam ball as opposed to the raised-seam ball currently used in college baseball.
Now comes the process of potentially getting the new ball approved.
“We’re now in the process of surveying college baseball coaches for their feedback on the potential change to the ball,” Leech said. “The NCAA baseball committee will discuss the data and coaches feedback at its November meeting and will then determine whether or not to change the NCAA baseball, potentially as soon as the 2015 postseason championship season.”
Interestingly, even if the new ball is passed in November, it will not be required use for all games in 2015. For instance, though the ball would be required in the NCAA postseason, that would not be the case during the regular season, as the NCAA has added the conferences will be in charge of what balls are used should the proposal pass.
There’s also a vocal majority in college baseball that believes the ball should go into action for the upcoming 2014 season. However, the NCAA has made it clear they want teams to have a full fall with the new balls, something that simply can’t happen as soon as ’14 with the committee discussion and vote not until early November.
No matter where you stand on this issue, the winds of change are evident at this point. It’s simply now matter of when, not if.
WHITSON, GATORS EARNING POSITIVE REVIEWS
The Florida Gators were one of the nation’s elite teams two seasons ago, having a great campaign that ended with a CWS Championship Series loss to South Carolina. From that team, the Gators lost catcher Mike Zunino as the headliner, as well as a host of other highly talented players and prospects.
Well, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone the Gators struggled a bit last season, thanks in part to youth and an incredibly difficult schedule.
Florida finished 2013 with a 29-30 overall record, 14-16 Southeastern Conference mark, and of course, in very controversial fashion, still managed to notch an NCAA postseason appearance.
With most of their team back this fall, the Gators have very high hopes for what the ’14 campaign could bring.
UF has yet to begin team workouts, still in individual workout mode, but there’s already plenty of news stemming out of workouts in Gainesville, Fla.
First, the good news.
The Gators were blind-sided at the beginning of last season when junior right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson went down with an injury that required a should procedure, not deemed too serious by Whitson’s father and UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan.
With his long-term future in mind, Whitson decided to sit out the season, hoping to bring a fresh arm into fall workouts. Well, good news for UF, Whitson, according to O’Sullivan is progressing well and is closer than ever to being back to his old self.
Time will tell if that’s truly the case, but Whitson getting back on track would be a huge boost for the Gators. Whitson had an impressive freshman campaign for the Gators, flashing a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s. But the righty is best known for turning down the Padres as a first-round pick out of high school.
In other Florida news, this time on the negative side of things, there are a couple of injuries to report. For instance, 6-foot-5, 210-pound, left-handed pitcher Corey Stump is on the shelf with a labrum injury, but should be ready to go by the start of the season. The same time stamp has been placed on infielder Zack Powers, who’s also dealing with a labrum issue this fall.
Lastly for the Gators, two guys who continue to standout during individual workouts include sophomore right-handed pitcher Eric Hanhold and sophomore lefty Danny Young. Hanhold made 14 appearances, seven starts and had a 5.88 ERA last season, while Young has a premium arm and tallied a 4.28 ERA in 22 appearances in ’13.
DUKE HAS ARMS TO WATCH
Second-year Duke head coach Chris Pollard and his coaching staff continue to make progressions, fighting local powers such as North Carolina and North Carolina State, as well as East Carolina for recruits and premium talent.
Part of that process for the Blue Devils is finding some diamonds in the rough. For Pollard and his staff, sophomore right-handed pitcher Michael Matuella fits that mold and is the type of guy they need to build the program into a consistent winner.
Matuella, to no surprise really, is putting together quite the fall for the Blue Devils. The imposing 6-foot-6, 220-pounder, with plenty of room to grow, has been sitting 94-96 on the radar gun during team scrimmages.
If you remember, Matuella is a righty we showcased last spring during my North Carolina trip. Matuella only threw limited innings against hard-hitting Georgia Tech, but showed impressive velocity, sitting 92-93, along with an 87 mph cutter that he threw once in the inning. With his velocity now up to 94-96, it’s obvious Matuella has added a tick to his fastball.
The sophomore righty finished last season with a 4.53 ERA in 57 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 28, walked 14 and teams hit him at a .296 clip.
Matuella only adds to what the Blue Devils already have. Duke also will have senior right-handed pitcher Drew Van Orden at their disposal in 2014. Van Orden went undrafted this past summer after tallying a 5.94 ERA in 63 2/3 innings of work. However, there’s plenty of potential there to be a very solid senior sign.
During that same North Carolina trip this past season, Van Orden struck out six Yellow Jackets and allowed just a run in six innings of work. He sat 90-92 and flashed a solid low 80s slider.
In other Duke news, Blue Devils redshirt junior first baseman Chris Marconcini continues to have an impressive fall at the plate with some big-time power. Marconcini, an imposing 6-foot-5, 230-pounder, hit .284 with 16 doubles, four triples, eight homers and 38 RBIs last season.
ARIZONA’S LOPEZ TO HAVE SURGERY
Be sure to usher in the new week by thinking about long-time Arizona baseball head coach Andy Lopez, who’s scheduled to have triple bypass surgery on Monday.
The Wildcats sent out a release Friday of last week stating that Lopez, currently in his 16th season with the university, is expected to make a full recovery and will be back to coaching UA once doctors give their approval.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Andy and his family,” Vice President for Athletics Greg Byrne said Friday evening. “Thankfully the medical team caught it when they did and we expect Andy to make a full recovery. This is a great reminder for all us to be mindful of our health.”
Lopez is widely considered as one of the elite coaches in college baseball history. He has led the Wildcats to eight NCAA postseason appearances, two College World Series appearances, and of course, the 2012 national title. Additionally, Lopez won a national title as head coach at Pepperdine, while also spending time at Florida. Overall, Lopez is 1,124-685-7 (.621) in 31 seasons as head coach.