This preview is a little bit different because I focused only on the potential pro upside of the players on each side. Even though there is often tremendous overlap in the two categories, there is a distinction between a “really good college player” and a “really good pro prospect” that people miss when trying to wrap their minds around the difficult transition from college ball to pro ball. To see that in action, check out the pitching comparison between the two teams. South Carolina has an excellent college staff, loaded with pitchability arms designed to get consistent outs every weekend in the SEC. Florida has guys like that, no doubt, but they also have over a half dozen pitchers with pro velocity. I think Florida is the more talented group, but am uneasy predicting “Florida in two” like I want to because of South Carolina’s crazy postseason voodoo. I’m typically the first to dismiss intangibles as any meaningful reason for liking a player or a team over another, but this South Carolina team has one heck of a track record of winning big games against strong odds.
I’ll stick with my preseason prediction and my enduring belief that talent wins out…Florida in two.
South Carolina SR C Robert Beary
Florida SO C Mike Zunino
Prospect Advantage: Florida (by a long shot)
Christian Walker’s wrist injury could cause a shakeup here, but we’re going with the assumption of good enough health at this point. Some possible scenarios: Beary is healthy and locked in at either C or 1B, Walker will either be at 1B or out of the lineup entirely, Brady Thomas will either continue to DH or (if healthy) move to C, or the injured Walker and the banged up Thomas could both stay off the field (Thomas would still DH) while Beary catches and Michael Roth plays first base.
I actually like Beary a lot as a ballplayer — good power and useful positional versatility — but 30 scouting departments weren’t so kind to the undrafted senior. It is still probably too early to make such a pronouncement, but I can’t see any catcher in the 2012 draft class overtaking Zunino for the top spot. The Florida catcher is a big league catcher defensively already, and his bat should make him one of the better hitting catchers in pro ball before long. No mention of Zunino and this year’s College World Series without providing this unbelievable clip:
Pretty sure I reacted to seeing that live in much the same way I would have if aliens had just landed on the field. My mouth involuntarily popped open and wouldn’t shut for a good two minutes afterwards. Just watching the replay again elicited the same response.
South Carolina SO 1B Christian Walker
Florida JR 1B/OF Preston Tucker (16.498 – Colorado Rockies)
Prospect Advantage: South Carolina (closer than expected)
Really interesting prospect comparison here between two players that are likely to be on the board as potential early round 2012 power bat picks. Next year’s college first base class looks a lot stronger than 2011’s, and Walker is a big reason why. He is a similar player to fellow rising junior Jayce Boyd (Florida State) in that he is a really gifted natural hitter — his is a legit plus hit tool for me — who just so happens to have a swing and body capable of driving the ball out of the park with regularity. In other words, Walker is a great hitting prospect who also hits for loads of power; the slight distinction between that type of hitter and a pure power hitter is worth pointing out, I think. Of course, the wrist injury could render all of the Walker discussion moot, at least until next season.
Preston Tucker may have slipped to the 16th round, but his drop was more about signability than talent level. I’ve written about him a lot — first here and later here — but have now settled into thinking his range of pro outcome lies somewhere between Brett Wallace (not bad at all) and David Cooper (not nearly as exciting). I think it was Kyle Peterson — who really should be the lead color guy on all these college games, by the way — who compared him to Matt Stairs. Pretty interesting comp there, as well.
South Carolina SR 2B/SS Scott Wingo (11.344 – Los Angeles Dodgers)
Florida SR 2B/SS Josh Adams (13.403 – Florida Marlins)
Prospect Advantage: South Carolina (by the slimmest of margins)
I won’t spend as much time breaking down the prospects who are already, for all intents and purposes, professional players. I underrated Wingo all year long, and feel pretty guilty about it now. He had an excellent year at the plate (.329/.463/.419 – 45 BB/31 K – 7/8 SB – 222 AB) and is an outstanding defender at second. I overrated Adams last year, but have been impressed with the way he bounced back as a senior after his bout with draftitis in 2010. Adams doesn’t have the plate discipline of Wingo, but offers more usable power. Both Wingo and Adams play second for their college teams, but only because of the presence of superior defenders ahead of them at the depth chart at short; it is likely both players will see plenty of time at shortstop early on in their pro careers.
South Carolina SR 3B Adrian Morales (49.1476 – Kansas City Royals)
Florida SO 3B Cody Dent
Prospect Advantage: Florida
Arguably the least sexy prospect matchup between the two teams comes down to two similar players who fit best at second but have been forced into duty at third base due to circumstances outside of their control. Morales’ best tool is probably his defense, but a lack of offensive upside slots him in as an organizational player at the next level. With continued development, the sophomore Dent has a better chance to surpass Morales as a prospect. He is a pro-ready defender as an infielder with a solid approach to hitting and good speed that haven’t yet translated to exciting results.
South Carolina JR SS Peter Mooney (21.649 – Toronto Blue Jays)
Florida SO SS Nolan Fontana
Prospect Advantage: Florida
As much as I like Mooney — and as proud as I am to have been on him since February — the Florida sophomore and expected very early round 2012 draft pick gets the clear win here. Before we get into Fontana, here’s what I had on Mooney from before the draft:
Mooney plays a mean shortstop for the defending champs, at times drawing the rare and beautiful “plus-plus” distinction for his glovework. Heard an amusing — probably because I’m a Phillies fan — Freddy Galvis comp on him that got me wondering about where the many age appropriate Latin American prospects who have already been in pro ball for years would be drafted if eligible in 2011. After about 20 minutes of trying to incorporate them into some kind of Alternate Reality Mock Draft, I gave up and came back to Mooney. The Gamecocks shortstop isn’t big (5-7, 150) or toolsy (besides his defense and a strong arm), but he could make it as a defense-first eight- or nine-hole hitter somewhere, someday.
Fontana plays the same kind of defense Mooney plays, but provides much more upside at the plate. Actually, that first part last sentence is a lie; Fontana plays really good defense, much like Mooney does, but goes about it in a totally different way. Mooney can seemingly make any play up the middle, but is far more erratic in his ability to do so. Fontana, on the other hand, won’t wow you with tremendous physical gifts in the field, but the guy just makes every darn play imaginable. My notes on him describe that pretty well: “really, really good defender without elite defense tools or athleticism.” I’m not sure Fontana has a clear plus physical tool — maybe the hit tool, but even that’s probably a stretch — but the sum of his parts far exceed the whole package here. I know I run the risk of overusing this already nebulous phrase, but, much like fellow sophomore Mike Zunino, Fontana already plays the game like a big league ballplayer.
South Carolina JR OF Jackie Bradley (1.40 – Boston Red Sox)
South Carolina SO OF Evan Marzilli
South Carolina JR OF Jake Williams
Florida SR OF Bryson Smith (34.1045 – Cincinnati Reds)
Florida JR OF Daniel Pigott
Florida JR OF Tyler Thompson (46.1387 – Washington Nationals)
Prospect Advantage: South Carolina (similar depth, but star upside of JBJ puts USC over the top)
I think Bradley will hit at the next level, but I know for damn sure he’ll keep on playing his position in center as well as anybody in the game. If he hits, he could look a little bit like Shane Victorino. If he doesn’t, he could be Peter Bourjos. I’m very bullish on Marzilli heading into next year. I think he could be an above-average hitter and a potential plus defender in an outfield corner. Jake Williams is less exciting as a prospect, but works nicely in a college lineup as a guy willing to take a pitch who also plays solid defense.
Though the Gators have three quality performers in their outfield, none of the Florida guys do much for me from a pro standpoint. I remember writing that Smith was a prime candidate to return for a senior season last year, but could get squeezed out of his own college lineup by all of the emerging talent Kevin O’Sullivan and his staff have brought in since taking over. Never in a million years would I have guessed the former third baseman would reinvent himself as a center field prospect, and I give him a ton of credit for pulling off such an impressive feat. Pigott is a much better current ballplayer than Thompson, but Thompson got himself drafted based largely on his plus speed, great athleticism, and intriguing long-range upside. Neither player looks to me to be much more than low-level minor league roster filler.
South Carolina SR DH Brady Thomas
Florida SO DH/LHP Brian Johnson
It may be taking the whole lefthanded pitching two-way prospect thing too far, but I think there are some similarities between the Danny Hultzen of last season and this year’s Brian Johnson. He’ll hit this weekend, but his ultimate home is on the mound. His ceiling as a pitcher does not compare to Hultzen’s (i.e. don’t go penciling in Johnson as the 2012 second overall pick now or ever), but I see first round stuff (88-92 fastball, good upper-70s curve that flashes plus, much improved low-80s change, and a raw but promising slider) in Johnson’s four-pitch mix. Brady Thomas is a decent college hitter who could be pressed into duty behind the plate this series if certain dominoes fall into place.
Prospect Advantage: Florida
South Carolina JR OF Adam Matthews (23.695 – Baltimore Orioles)
Florida JR C Ben McMahan (23.701 – Milwaukee Brewers)
Not a prospect battle because neither it is likely that neither player will get into game action this weekend, but both Matthews and McMahan deserve some attention as solid junior performers who showed enough this year to get drafted. As a speed guy first and foremost, Matthews’s battles with hamstring injuries all season long were a shame to see. McMahan’s biggest obstacle this year wasn’t injury, but the presence of Mike Zunino. There is still a part of me that thinks McMahan could surface a few years down the line as a big league backup, based largely on the strength of his plus defensive tools.
South Carolina FR RHP Forrest Koumas
South Carolina SO RHP Colby Holmes
South Carolina JR LHP Michael Roth (31.938 – Cleveland Indians)
Florida SO RHP Hudson Randall
Florida FR RHP Karsten Whitson
Florida JR LHP Alex Panteliodis (9.282 – New York Mets)
Prospect Advantage: Florida
Koumas is the rare young pitcher that I actually would put in the bullpen from the start with the simple instruction “just let it fly.” As a starter his stuff is good — 88-92 FB, good sinker, flashes plus slider — but his fastball has looked so explosive in shorter stints (easy 95 peak) that I think his eventual destination will be the ‘pen. His opening night opposition will be Hudson Randall. Randall’s upside isn’t in the same league as many of his sophomore year contemporaries, but his average across the board raw stuff is underrated by many. Maybe he is a sinker/slider reliever long-term, but there could be some teams that value his plus command and his ability to keep four different pitches at or below the knees consistently enough to keep him as a starter.
There is still some growth left in Holmes’ game, despite the fact he is a dreaded short righthander. An adjustment to his delivery could help unlock a few ticks on his fastball, bringing it up to a more suitable low-90s sitting velocity. His upside is dwarfed by Florida’s game two starter, Karsten Whitson. Whitson is on the short list of first overall pick in 2013 candidates due to his plus fastball (sits 93-95, hits 97) and a well above-average slider that shows plus-plus when he cranks it up to the upper limits of its 82-87 MPH range.
Roth could presently be the lefty version of what Randall hopes to evolve into next year. He may not have a knockout pitch, but the way he works each batter’s eye level is a sight to behold. He faces off against the Florida lefthander Panteliodis, another pitcher without overpowering stuff but with good enough command and solid complementary stuff (CU/CB) to get by.
South Carolina SO RHP Matt Price (6.184 – Arizona Diamondbacks)
South Carolina SR RHP John Taylor (22.663 – Seattle Mariners)
South Carolina SR RHP Jose Mata
South Carolina SO LHP Tyler Webb (48.1465 – Cincinnati Reds)
South Carolina JR LHP/OF Steven Neff (41.1257 – San Francisco Giants)
South Carolina JR LHP Bryan Harper (30.907 – Washington Nationals)
Florida JR RHP Tommy Toledo (11.341 – Milwaukee Brewers)
Florida JR LHP Nick Maronde (3.104 – Los Angeles Angels)
Florida SO RHP/1B Austin Maddox
Florida JR RHP Greg Larson (29.885 – Los Angeles Angels)
Florida SO LHP Steven Rodriguez
Florida JR RHP Anthony DeSclafani (6.199 – Toronto Blue Jays)
Florida SR RHP Matt Campbell (24.751 – Philadelphia Phillies)
Prospect Advantage: Florida
South Carolina leans very heavily on the first two arms on the list. Matt Price, a sixth rounder of Arizona, is the ultimate college closer who manages to combine all kinds of big game guile with legit big league late inning stuff. I like him a lot less than many of the experts, but still think his solid fastball, good low-80s slider, and underrated changeup should work well either as a back of the rotation arm or as a 7th/8th inning setup type. Taylor and Mata are seniors who get by on their funky deliveries more than overwhelming stuff. Webb’s stuff is good enough that he is likely unsignable as a 48th round draft-eligible sophomore. Neff has had a weird, injury-plagued season, but has found a way to contribute as a power bench bat even after getting shut down on the mound. If signable, his low-90s fastball could help make him a steal for the Giants. Harper to Washington was the easiest pick to predict in the whole draft; with him, it was merely a matter of when, not if.
The only conclusion I can come to after looking over these rosters is that the Florida Gators are basically a minor league team at this point. When the bullpen alone features six pro quality arms (not counting Campbell, a 24th round pick this year), you’re doing something very right. Toledo’s rebounded nicely from a line drive to the face last year and is back to his low-90s fastball ways. Maronde, my 20th ranked college pitcher in the 2011 draft, has the stuff to start at the next level but will have to settle on dominating out of the bullpen for another week. Larson is a 6-8, 225 pound giant with limbs so long it looks like he is placing the ball in the catcher’s mitt from the mound. DeSclafani brings a fastball with plus life and an above-average slider to the table.
Maddox, a huge wild card, returns from injury to pump low- to mid-90s fastballs early in the count, late in the count, and any time in between. Rodriguez isn’t quite as talented as Maronde, but is similar in the way he may have stuff suited for starting down the line. Lefties with plus fastball movement and above-average velocity (88-91 FB, 93 peak) and the potential for a plus change aren’t often left in the bullpen for long.