Steven Branscombe, USA TODAY Sports

College baseball preview: match-ups to watch for week of 4/18

SEC battles and an ACC showdown highlight this week's baseball action in the NCAA,

In this week’s edition of ‘What to Watch For’, we will be featuring a Top 25 showdown in the SEC, a matchup between two of the top catchers in this year’s draft, and a matchup of two teams that feature three prospects that are sure to go in the upper half of the first round. Enjoy! 

#6 Mississippi State vs #10 LSU

With the only series this weekend that features two top-25 teams, we start off this week’s ‘What to Watch For’ with a matchup between two prospects whose names are likely to be called within the first two rounds. 

For Mississippi State, the obvious guy to watch for is ace right-hander Dakota Hudson. Hudson is a likely first rounder, as he displays good command and the ability to miss bats. He is 4-3 with a 2.08 ERA this season, with 67 punch outs in 60.2 innings pitched. The one thing you’ll notice about Hudson is his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark, having only surrendering two home runs this spring. A matchup on the road against a really good opponent in LSU should be a good test for the 21-year-old right-hander.

As we noted a week ago, the prospect to watch for the Tigers is outfielder Jake Fraley, who is having a solid season and is thus seeing his draft stock rise. The speedy outfielder is hitting .338, with a home run and 19 RBI. However, what makes Fraley so intriguing is his ability to get on base and make things happen on the base paths. He has 19 stolen bases this season. A good approach at the plate and his ability to draw walks really helps set the table for the LSU offense. A matchup against one of the top pitchers in this year’s draft class (Hudson) should be a good opportunity for Fraley to continue the upward trend.

Virginia vs #1 Miami

The matchup that I am most intrigued by this weekend will take place in South Florida. This matchup consists of two of the top catchers and one of the top pitchers in this year’s class.

We start with the duo of headline prospects for the Virginia Cavaliers, catcher Matt Thaiss and right-handed pitcher Connor Jones.

Jones has had an excellent season so far. With a 7-1 record and a 2.17 ERA this spring, Jones’ best quality is his command and his ability to work the plate inside and out. Not much of a strikeout pitcher (47 K’s in 62.1 innings), Jones really excels in his ability to be able to locate his pitches so that they aren't hit very hard. The 6’2’’ right-hander is sure to go in the first round this year, but I don't see him being much more than a back end of the rotation type guy at the next level.

The other prospect to watch for UVA is Thaiss, who is having a great season, as well. Hitting .379 with six home runs and 37 RBI in 145 at bats, Thaiss is obviously one of the best offensive catchers in this draft. He also displays a very good eye at the plate and is hard to strike out, as evidenced by his six strikeouts so far. Thaiss makes good, hard contact when the ball comes off his bat and should project well to have raw power at the next level. Right now, he is a borderline first round pick, but should go no later than the second round.

Virginia Athletics

The other top catcher, if not the first one off the board come June, is University of Miami slugger Zack Collins. Collins started the season off hot and has not slowed down since. He is hitting .410, with eight home runs and 39 RBI in only 100 at-bats this season. The reason I say only 100 official at-bats is because Collins has also drawn 44 walks this season. He is a real threat in the batter’s box and has shown good qualities behind the plate, as well. I’m not sure if he will stick as a catcher going forward to the next level, but for now the kid is a must have in the middle of any order. I have him as the top catcher in this year’s class and he should be the first one taken off the board, somewhere in the first round.

#4 Vanderbilt vs Tennessee

The matchup with possibly the best crop of prospects gathering on the same field this weekend is between these two ball clubs.

We start off with Vanderbilt and their ace right-hander, Jordan Sheffield, who absolutely dominated his last time out against Kentucky, grabbing a complete game shutout while striking out 14 hitters. On the season, Sheffield is 5-2, with a 2.91 ERA while striking out 77 hitters in 55.2 innings pitched. Sheffield has electric stuff on the mound and the only reason whatsoever he should fall a little bit in the first round is because of his size, 5’11’’ and 165 pounds. While he could stand to bulk up a little bit, I think the notion that you have to be 6’2’’ or taller on the mound to be effective is a myth. If this kid falls out of the top 15, I will be shocked.

The top hitting prospect for the Commodores is outfielder Bryan Reynolds. Reynolds is a good gap-to-gap hitter and he has the ability to spray the ball all over the field. Not often mentioned with some of the other top outfielders coming out of this year’s draft class, Reynolds might have the highest floor of any of those ahead of him. He also is having an outstanding junior season, hitting .331 with eight home runs and 38 RBI. He has 10 doubles, and two triples to add to his stellar offensive numbers. I look for Reynolds to be a first rounder, but it’s hard telling where exactly in the first he could go. He could go as high as 10th overall to the Chicago White Sox, or as low as 25th overall to the San Diego Padres.

Arguably the top bat in the entire draft, Nick Senzel is solidifying his draft stock as a sure fire top five selection. The Volunteer infielder doesn't have many holes in his offensive approach. Senzel can hit the ball all around the ballpark, has decent power, but also has the ability to add more power to his game the more his body matures at the major league level. He looks to be a guy who can hit 10-15 home runs per season in his peak years. Senzel is more of a line drive hitter, so he should bat for a pretty high average in the future. Some think he will end up at third base or even first base, but I don't see him having enough power to warrant a corner position. I would bet on him sticking at second base and ultimately drawing comparisons to Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

On the season, Senzel is hitting .354, with five home runs and 46 RBI to go along with 13 stolen bases. Senzel, as mentioned, can hit the ball all over the field, with good gap to gap line drives, as evidenced by his 15 doubles on the season as well. He should be a top five pick in the draft and has been a popular pick to go anywhere from Cincinnati at two, Atlanta at three, or the Colorado Rockies at the number four selection.

You can comment or follow me at @JoeBecerrra on Twitter.


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