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Opening Day Free Association

With a little time to kill this afternoon, I figured why not just fire up a Word doc and start writing. I began with the idea of picking conference favorites based solely on draft talent alone, and, as you’ll read, the idea kind of evolved a little along the way. Ain’t nothing wrong with a little steam of consciousness to kickoff the weekend, right? I wanted to do every single conference, but common sense and laziness eventually got the better of me. Here’s what I came up with…

ACC: Hard to top North Carolina, especially their loaded pitching staff, but the battle for number two is interesting. North Carolina State’s dynamic 2014 class (Rodon, Turner, Jernigan, Austin, Fincher) gives them the nod, but Virginia Tech’s bats (Pinder, Horan, Zagunis) and Virginia’s 2014 core (Fisher, Papi, Howard) are nothing to ignore. Also, mark my words: Miami is primed for a major run sooner rather than later. Fieger, Broad, Mack, Carey, Palmer, and Hernandez should form the nucleus of a strong 2013 lineup. The future, however, is what is most exciting. A staff with Suarez, Diaz, and Grandinette looks good on paper, and the bats of Thompson, Neitzel, Tresgallo, and, my favorite, Heyman should bring the Hurricanes back to national prominence.

Big East: This one’s easy. Louisville [gap] Notre Dame [big gap] South Florida? Connecticut? There’s a serious distinction between the potentially great in 2013 Cardinals and Irish and everybody else in the conference. Not that anybody’s doing it, but don’t sleep on Notre Dame. Louisville’s staff is ridiculous, but Notre Dame has two big bats (Jagielo and Mancini) better than any hitter the Cardinals have, plus a 2014 pitcher (Connaughton) who ranks up there with any of their best pitching prospects (Burdi, Thompson, Ruxer, Green, Kime).

SEC: Seriously, go get yourself a die and roll it to see which of these six teams will come out ahead in the standings this year. LSU, Mississippi, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Florida, Texas A&M are all stacked. Each team has a big-time pro arm (most have multiple) and names like Eades, Wahl, Stanek, Ziomek, and Crawford will all be mowing down big league batters before too long. Friday nights in the SEC will be a lot of fun…shoot, then again so will Saturdays and Sundays. I’m flustered just thinking about the talent level in this league. Really can’t wait to do their 2013 Draft conference breakdown.

Big 12: Oklahoma’s pitching is really strong (Gray, Waltrip, Overton, Hayes), but the bats appear to be light. Light enough that I think the Big 12 race ultimately comes down to TCU and Texas. TCU’s pitching is up there with the best in the conference (Mitchell, Teakell, Crichton, Ferrell) and the lineup, while not exactly loaded with pro talent, is experienced, battle-tested, and [insert third veteran cliche here]. Witte, Odell, Hendrix, Johnson, Suiter, and Cron make up a really nice group to build on. Texas counters with a lineup featuring Weiss, Felts, McElroy, Hinojosa, and a crowded outfield of Payton, Moynihan, Walla, and Hall. Their staff of Knebel, Urban, Thornhill, Peters, and French stacks up pretty well with TCU’s. Call it a pick-em, with a slight edge to TCU.

Pac-12: The Civil War rages on as I think Oregon and Oregon State are 1-2 in some order in terms of pro talent in the conference. Well, maybe we should open up that competition to include both UCLA and Stanford as well. See, this is why I don’t normally like to dip my toe into the college game. I am really bad at the whole prognostication business. Stanford has talent that rivals some teams’ minor league system: Appel, Vanegas, Wilson, Ragira, Kauppila, Jose, Blandino, Slater, Taylor, Avis, and Starwalt all could/should/might be big leaguers. This brings up what has become one of my favorite annual questions: is there a college team that you’d trade straight up for your team’s minor league system? It seems the Angels have the consensus worst farm system in baseball this year. Would you rather have Stanford’s roster over the top 20-30 prospects in the Angels system? The presence of an elite prospect like Appel helps tip the scales, and a second big get in Wilson certainly doesn’t hurt. Typically I’d like two elite hitting prospects before making the swap, but I think it is pretty clear you are better off with the group of Cardinal talent than otherwise. UCLA’s recent tradition of pitching excellence should continue with names like Plutko, Weiss, Vander Tuig, Virant, Kaprielian, and Poteet. There’s never a bad day to catch that staff throw. Both Washington and Washington State lurk as sleepers.

Big 10: Indiana over Michigan and Ohio State for me, thanks. Indiana’s bats (Cureton, DeMuth, Schwarber, Travis, Clark) help them win out. The conference is wide open, though: I could see Minnesota’s quality pitching getting them into the conference’s best conversation.

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