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Little March Madness Fun: “First Round” Edition 2.0

The LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds don’t have a great deal of 2013 draft prospects of note. I still hold out hope that rJR RHP Justin Topa will regain his pre-injury form and continue on the path towards becoming a legitimate draft prospect worth talking about. His fastball, once regularly in the low-90s and peaking as high as 95, has been a below-average pitch to start this season. Same could be said for his excellent changeup and promising breaking ball. Even with the risk he never returns as the Topa of old, he’s still the best Brooklyn has to offer in 2013. The closest player to Topa as a prospect is the underrated JR RHP Kevin Needham. Needham currently sees more time in the outfield, but his future is on the mound, where he has the chance to make some headway as a reliever. Other pitchers to keep on eye on: SR RHP Chris Franzese and SR LHP Matt McCormick. Neither look like prospects in a real sense, and McCormick is already slated to miss the 2013 season with a labrum injury, but both get included in the interest of an obsession towards completion. Bats to watch include JR SS John Ziznewski, JR OF Pete Leonello, and SR OF Mike Garcia. The juniors are the more likely — still long shots — to get drafted, but will both surely have to wait a year to get the chance to sign.

I don’t like writing about James Madison because it reminds me of my once upon a time crazy aggressive ranking of Johnny Bladel. I won’t even look up how high I once had him ranked, but trust me when I say it was too damn high. Worst part about all this is that I still like Bladel as a prospect far more than anybody ought to. Through all the ups and downs his plate discipline has remained a strength. He also remains a good runner with gap power, a strong arm, and enough range to stick up the middle. If he can continue to show his freshman year pop, he’s a viable draft prospect once again. Validation!

After Bladel there are plenty of other intriguing bats scattered across the JMU roster. rJR OF/1B Matt Tenaglia has been extremely productive. SR OF Cole McInturff has a nice mix of pop, CF range, speed, and cool name. SR 2B/SS Casey Goss is another player with nice pop and a steady glove who has put up big early season numbers. SR 2B/C Brad Shaban, JR 3B Ty McFarland, and JR INF Conner Brown have all hit well so far while SR OF Colby Roberts and JR C Nick Merullo have gotten off to slower starts.

I like La Salle SR RHP Pat Christensen as a potential sinker/slider reliever at the next level. rJR LHP Shawn O’Neill’s rocky early season start is not a great reflection on his impressive potential three pitch mix. SR LHP Ryan Donohue, JR LHP Dominic Sgroi, and rSO RHP Mike McLeod have all put up solid performances in the past.

My two favorite bats coming into the year for La Salle were SR 3B Dan Klem and JR OF George Smith. The two have gone different directions in the early going — Klem up, Smith down — but I reserve the right to judge them until I get a chance to see them in person a few times over the next few weeks.

There’s no baseball at Boise State, but there is an excellent high school prospect with a Boise connection. 3B Joseph Martarano (Fruitland HS, Idaho) is a high school football star committed to Boise State in the fall. I don’t think he’ll wind up there if/when he gets drafted where his talent warrants in June. I like the athletic, two sport third base prospect archetype as much as just about any. There’s obviously a raw edge to his game, especially in terms of pitch recognition, but in my quick looks I’ve come away impressed with his overall baseball skill level. Besides his obvious athleticism, Martarano stands out for his exciting raw power. His physical strength is a large part of what makes his power work, but it is also his quick bat and his “violent in a good way” swing. Martarano is a risky prospect with easy to see bust potential, but the upside is tantalizing enough to get him drafted early enough that I think a team buys him out of his football commitment.