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Opening Weekend 2012

There are already so many well-connected, smart people out there who cover college ball as well as it can conceivably be covered (seriously, just go here and read everything by Aaron Fitt) that I’m not sure how interesting my own insights as an outsider hanging out on the fringe can possibly be. I’m also not a huge fan of moving players’ draft stocks up or down based on three games worth of data, so breaking down the ins and outs of the weekend that was doesn’t hold a ton of value to me. The thought of totally ignoring college baseball’s opening weekend made me guilty, so here are a few stray observations that came to me while shaving last night:

(Quick scheduling note: the week ahead will be more rankings by conference as we get closer to putting together position-by-position follow lists and the first big board of 2012. Just a heads up for those who like to plan ahead.)

*** I don’t think Mark Appel finishes the year atop the majority of team’s draft boards. In fact, I don’t think Appel will be the first college pitcher selected in June. (Because a few emailed and asked: leader of the pack right for me is San Francisco RHP Kyle Zimmer, a legit dark horse candidate to go 1-1). To take it a step further, I’m actually starting to get a little bit of a Kris Benson vibe when it comes to the Stanford righthander. All that negativity after a pretty damn good start from Appel, too. What kind of comments will the peanut gallery (I’m including myself in said gallery, just to be clear) make if he actually pitches poorly this year?

*** One quick lesson from opening weekend: transitioning college relievers to the rotation is often easier said than done. In Marcus Stroman’s case, there’s no need to worry. He’s a pro reliever moonlighting as a Friday starter to help his college team. There’s also no need to worry across the board since overreacting to one start isn’t wise. However, for a pitcher right on the bubble between starting and relieving like Virginia RHP Branden Kline, Friday night’s start wasn’t one for the old pro resume.

*** I’m not ashamed to highlight the play of long-time favorite Central Florida JR OF Ronnie Richardson. Richardson only went 1 for 8 over the weekend, but still managed a .500 OBP thanks to 6 BB and 1 HBP. Outstanding defense, great speed, loads of arm strength, and a patient approach at the plate make him an intriguing big league backup outfield candidate down the line.

*** I love driving in the city. Switching lanes, avoiding pedestrians, and parallel parking, all while watching out for cops? I was born to do it. Florida SR 1B Preston Tucker, on the other hand, was born to hit. Three extra base hits on opening weekend for the 2012 priority senior sign highlight the point.

*** Tucker’s teammate JR RHP/1B Austin Maddox’s transformation from hitter to pitcher gets a little bit more assured with every passing appearance on the mound. I hate losing his plus raw power as a hitter, but shutdown appearances like Maddox’s four-inning save (three strikeouts) help cushion the blow. Maddox’s mid-90s heat and much improved 81-84 slider make him a potential late inning option worth watching. If nothing else, we’ll all be spared the “can he stick behind the plate?” debate that has driven me crazy over the past few years with Jesus Montero. (NOTE: Yes, I realize nobody else thinks Maddox should ever be tried behind the plate again, but if I was dead-set on drafting him and making him a hitter full-time, he’d be donning the tools of ignorance six days a week in Short-Season ball by mid-June. I’d rank my position preference for him as RHP/C/1B/3B as of now, if you’re wondering.)

*** Another Gator, JR C Mike Zunino couldn’t match Tucker’s power, but I’m sure he got the last laugh by doing the unexpected and swiping his first, and potentially only, base of the year. Who said the likely top-fifteen pick isn’t a five-tool player?

*** Fellow backstop Purdue JR C Kevin Plawecki also showed off his wheels this weekend by not only matching Zunino’s stolen base but doing him one better by legging out a triple. I’m looking forward to seeing how high Plawecki can get on the 2012 college catching rankings, so much so that I think I’ll rank the catchers first.

*** Arkansas JR 3B Matt Reynolds reached base 11 out of 13 times this weekend. That’s really, really good. I think I did that over the course of one week back in Little League, but the majority of my “hits” were misplays by the shortstop and bunt singles. Reynolds’ prospect stock is held back a bit by his lack of raw power, but he’s a line drive machine and a great athlete capable of playing multiple defensive spots really well. I’d hope/assume he gets the chance to settle in at third as a pro, but a team might prefer him at second or even behind the plate.

*** Texas Tech JR OF Barrett Barnes went 7 for 16 with two extra base hits and two stolen bases in four games over the weekend. It’s no getting on base 11 out of 13 times, but it is still really good. More importantly, Barnes showed off the power/speed mix that has scouts excited about his future. Something about guys who can swing the bat, run, and cover ground up the middle that gets baseball types interested. Imagine that.

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