This year we are going to be highlighting some of the week’s best college baseball games to watch, as well as players we think will give themselves a chance to showcase their skills on a national stage with comparable talent. Now that the season is underway and the draft boards around the majors are starting to take shape, we will look at three match-ups that I’m looking forward to most each week. For this week, I was really trying to focus on top-end talent and players who have a real chance at breaking out this spring.
Matchup: #1 Florida vs #6 Miami (FL)
Most of the scouting world will have eyes on this matchup this upcoming weekend with talent aplenty on either side, led by potential top pick LHP A.J. Puk, from the University of Florida. Puk comes into this season as arguably the top pitcher in college baseball and many project him as a top-5 pick in this year’s upcoming MLB Draft.
It’s easy to see why Puk is so highly rated due to his velocity on his fastball which can sit in the low to mid 90’s and can touch as high as 97. His power curve can also be devastating on opposing lefties. Although his changeup is still a little behind his other two pitches right now, it shows the promise of being a pretty good out-pitch. It will be interesting to see if he can reign in the control a bit. With Puk having such a violent arm motion on his pitches, it can cause his pitches to move a little too much. This movement can be a good problem to have when it crosses up hitters, but at times the movement has the opposite effect for Puk. Scout MLB Draft Expert Jeff Ellis has Puk going to the Atlanta Braves with the 3rd pick in the draft in his latest mock draft.
Another player to keep an eye on this weekend is speedy Florida outfielder, Buddy Reed. Reed, a switch-hitter, comes into this season as one of the faster players eligible for the Draft. His hit tool needs a little bit of work, but with his 6’4’’ frame, he could benefit from bulking up some more as he develops. Reed is also one of the more raw prospects coming out this year, but his upside could be among the highest in the draft.
On the Miami (FL) side of things, Zack Collins will be leading the charge against aces Puk and RHP Logan Shore. Collins, who is one of, if not the best catchers in the entire draft, was second on the team last season with 15 homers and second in the ACC with 70 RBI. He also displays great patience at the plate as evidenced by him leading the ACC in walks. Collins doesn't project as a first or maybe even second round pick, but could prove to be good value in the third round.
Matchup: Nebraska vs San Diego
The headline name in this matchup is Ryan Boldt from the University of Nebraska. The left-handed hitting outfielder came into Nebraska highly sought-after in 2013 and was a potential first-round pick. Unfortunately, a torn meniscus his senior year in high school caused Boldt to slip to the 22nd round, where the Boston Red Sox took a chance. He eventually decided to honor his commitment and go to college. Boldt often draws comparisons to his college head coach, Darin Erstad.
Boldt has a good-looking swing and can hit to all parts of the field. His speed has slowed since the meniscus surgery but he still projects to have plus speed. Unless he can improve his power some, most believe that he is best suited to remain in center field. Boldt is projected to be taken somewhere in the first round this year, as Ellis has him going #28 overall to the Baltimore Orioles in his mock draft.
For San Diego, the guy to watch for the Toreros is shortstop Bryson Brigman. Brigman, too, was drafted previously as he was selected by the Oakland A’s in the 40th round in 2014. Brigman has a short, compact swing with gap power, but with his 5’10’’, 175 pound frame, he's not expected to hit for much power. A solid defender that should settle in at either shortstop or second base, Brigman will need to have a solid year to improve his draft stock.
Matchup: #2 Louisville vs Ole Miss
Outside of the UF-Miami matchup, this is a matchup that I can’t wait to see this weekend. Louisville will likely have two players go in the first round of this year’s Draft in outfielder Corey Ray and right-handed ace Kyle Funkhouser.
Ray might be the top bat taken off the board and is, in my opinion, this draft’s top position player. A potential true five-tool player, there’s no reason Ray shouldn't be a fast riser through the minor leagues and make his way onto an MLB roster soon enough. Ray can hit for average or power and can hit the ball to all parts of the field. On the defensive side, Ray can play all three positions in the outfield, depending on how much he bulks up as he develops. I can’t help but see a younger Curtis Granderson in Ray, with maybe not as much power. Ray might be my favorite player in this draft. Ellis has the athletic outfielder going 9th overall to the Detroit Tigers in his first mock.
The other likely first rounder for Louisville is Funkhouser. Funkhouser, who last year was drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Dodgers (35th overall), will head into this year’s draft process looking to be taken a bit higher. There’s a lot to like about Funkhouser, as his fastball can top out at 97 MPH. His slider shows signs of being a reliable out-pitch, as well. However, part of the reason why he slid down the draft board last season (aside from his bonus demands being high) is his control. Funkhouser has a tendency to hang his slider a little too much, and for his changeup to come off a little flat. He is going to need to clean those two areas up before he can start to show his true potential. He projects as a middle of the rotation starter, but not a true ace in the big leagues. In his latest mock draft, Ellis has Funkhouser going #22 overall to the Toronto Blue Jays.
The sleeper of this matchup, and the guy I think has a chance to shoot up draft boards, is shortstop Errol Robinson of Ole Miss. Named a preseason All-American, the slick-fielding Robinson’s draft stock has been soaring over the past couple of seasons for the Rebels. The SEC has been a bit of a pro factory for shortstops lately, as evidenced by #1 overall pick Dansby Swanson and Houston Astros top prospect Alex Bregman a season ago. Many people believe Robinson is now the top shortstop in this year’s draft and could very well find himself in the first round come June.