Kicking off the weekend with a little bit of stream of consciousness writing about the SEC, its players, and the 2012 MLB Draft. Despite being born and raised in Big East country (and the Atlantic 10 principality), I was a long-time loyalist of ACC baseball. Access to plenty of games while spending my late teenage summers running around the The Triangle down in North Carolina gave me the chance to see some really exciting players before they were known as prospects, if you catch my drift. Though come to think of it, many of the guys with “star” upside didn’t really make it. Still holding out hope for Andrew Miller, but I think that’s due mostly to the memory of his UNC era Blake Anderson mustache. My college years allowed me time to freeze my butt off (not literally, I still do in fact have a butt) while watching the best and the brightest pass through Boston College’s dual-purpose ballpark/parking lot (or, better yet, ballparking lot) to say nothing of that memorable day I saw the CAA’s finest prospect, Northeastern’s ace and the man who would become the school’s first ever big league pitcher Adam Ottavino, throw a no-hitter against a solid James Madison lineup. Ah, college. Such wild and crazy times.
Long story short, I’m now a full-fledged SEC homer. You can thank me having a brother in Nashville and the subsequent possibility of many Vanderbilt games in my future for the change in allegiance. See how easy I can be bought and sold? Special attention will be paid to the SEC this year due simply to the fact that I’ll likely be seeing more players from that conference than any other. After a few years of squeezing rocks to make milk (I swear this reference makes sense: it’s from a fable I was read in my youth, but Google seems to think I’m making it up) by watching Villanova play up (Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame!) and down (Georgetown, Seton Hall, and, even though I know they can’t technically play themselves, Villanova!) competition, I’m ready to enjoy getting the opportunity to see a slew of interesting games against my new “hometown” team. Of course, life would be a lot easier (and cost-effective) if only Penn, a pretty darn good looking club from both the competitive college team and draftable prospect standpoints, had a more interesting home conference schedule in 2012. Then I could enjoy good baseball within minutes of my apartment (cost of the walk: $0.00) instead of being forced to fly south every other weekend (cost of the flight: don’t even want to think about it), but what can you do, right? Maybe in 2013 when hopefully Princeton (Mike Fagan, maybe Matt Bowman), Harvard, and Dartmouth (Mitch Horacek, maybe Kyle Hunter) come to town. Then I’ll swap allegiances once again and become the world’s loudest and proudest Ivy League baseball backer.
So, where were we? SEC baseball and the 2012 MLB Draft? Ah, of course. Some general impressions on the state of the conference’s pitching as we fire up weekend number three of the college baseball season…
*** LSU SO RHP Kevin Gausman is pretty clearly at the top of the conference’s draft pitching pecking order, but who is number two? I’ve done the homework, talked to some smart people, read as much as a human can read, and watched whenever possible and I still don’t have a clue. I went into all this thinking fellow SO RHP Nolan Sanburn (Arkansas) would be the consensus pick, but of the four well-connected people I talked to, only one had him at the number two spot with any confidence. Of course, these people thought I was wasting my time trying to rank players within a conference (“What’s the big idea? You know players from every conference are eligible on draft day, right?”), but that’s besides the point. South Carolina rJR RHP Matt Price (battle-tested with big league stuff) got a vote, as did Vanderbilt JR LHP Sam Selman (upside) and, curiously enough, Florida JR RHP Hudson Randall (battle-tested without definite big league stuff). After careful consideration, I’m leaning a different way altogether. I reserve the right to change my mind (i.e. come to my senses) after one last weekend of thinking it all over, so check back in next week to see who is number two.
*** Speaking of Hudson Randall, is there really anything that separates him from a guy like, say, Georgia SR RHP Michael Palazzone? They both live in the upper-80s with their fastballs, both lean heavily on two-seamers, both have average-ish breaking balls (though in Randall’s case he has two), and both rely on precise command in the absence of dazzling raw stuff. Statistically, both had outstanding 2011 seasons, at least when looked at superficially. Randall went 11-3 with an ERA of 2.17 ERA while Palazzone went 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA. Not bad, right? And similar enough, yes? Digging a bit deeper reveals some questionable peripherals as well as starker similarities between the two. Randall’s K/9 in 124.1 IP: 5.65. Palazzone’s K/9 in 120.1 IP? 6.36. Their park/schedule adjusted FIP’s were nearly identical: Randall at 4.43 and Palazzone at 4.47. What does it all mean? Honestly, not a whole lot. I just think it is funny that Randall, a much bigger name in college baseball due in large part to his awesome production on some great Gators teams, is ranked by many as a far superior prospect to Palazzone, at one time a really well-regarded arm in his own right.
*** There are a lot of relievers primed to make an impact out of the SEC in this year’s draft. Some of the bigger names include the aforementioned Sanburn (whom I’m not convinced can’t start professionally, but we’ll see), Alabama JR RHP Ian Gardeck, Florida JR RHP Austin Maddox, Maddox’s teammate JR LHP Steven Rodriguez. It is also possible, or in some cases likely, that guys like Price, Selman, and Kentucky JR LHP Jerad Grundy wind up in the bullpen at the next level. My crystal ball is in the shop, but if I had to guess I’d say that Gausman looks like the only slam dunk guarantee to remain a starting pitcher in pro ball two or three years down the line.
*** I’m pretty sure I like Florida JR LHP/1B Brian Johnson more as a hitter than a pitcher. I’ve isolated myself somewhat from the experts so far this year — that will change soon because, quite frankly, reading Baseball America is too enjoyable to quit in the name of wanting to remain unsullied by industry approved opinions — so I’m out of the loop on what people think about his pro future. His performance in 2012 will go a long way in determining his future one way or another (there’s your obvious statement of the day…hope you enjoyed it), so this is a situation worth monitoring.
*** A few quick hits to wrap this up:
1) In a battle of two pitchers with similar stuff, I prefer Mississippi State JR RHP Chris Stratton to Arkansas JR RHP DJ Baxendale, though it is close. Again, I’m out of the loop here with what people are saying: is Stratton on the national draft radar or would he qualify as a sleeper? I never know what a “sleeper” is anymore. Whenever I see likely top three round prospects touted as sleepers, I die a little inside.
2) I’ll never be able to quit on long-time favorite South Carolina JR RHP Ethan Carter. It has been hard keeping up with him over the years (high school hot shot to surprise enrollee at South Carolina to sudden transfer to Louisburg JC to even bigger surprise reentry to South Carolina), but he’s too talented to ever really lose sight of. Great to see he’s off to a dominating start (9 K and only 3 base runners allowed in 8.1 scoreless innings) out of the Gamecocks pen so far.
3) The talent is really spread out on the pitching side in the SEC. My initial ranking of the top seven 2012 arms from the conference features pitchers from seven different schools. Expand the list to eleven names and then you’re up to nine different teams represented. Ten different teams have players in the top thirteen. Sorry, Mississippi and Auburn. I take it back: no apology needed for Ole Miss. Auburn, sure, we can apologize to Auburn. But Mississippi’s 2013 and 2014 draft class talent looks potentially devastating at this point. Alright, once we start talking about a draft 27 months away then we know it is time to stop rambling. Enjoy the games this weekend, everybody.