Setting the Stage
I've been waiting for this weekend series for quite a while; the opportunity to see an absolutely loaded Georgia Tech team, was too enticing to pass up. Tech entered the game ranked 5th in the coutry with a 31-10 record (13-8 in ACC play), while BC was struggling through a difficult first season in the ACC (23-20, 5-16 ACC). Just reading the press clippings, it's pretty easy to see that the Yellow Jackets should runaway with this three-game set, but anything can happen in college baseball, and trust me, 'anything' did happen. Fueled by the end of a work week and a gorgeous Friday afternoon, it was off to Shea Field for more baseball.
• Let's get the important things out of the way first here. GT third baseman Wes Hodges is considered an absolute stud prospect, and should easily be a top ten pick in this Junes draft. Despite all this hype, I came into the game with a lower impression of him, hoping the Tigers would avoid him in the draft. While Hodges finished the day with three hits and three runs driven in, I still wasn't all that impressed. Physically, he seemed a little soft, and his swing was very mechanical. Much of his perceived value as a prospect has been predicated on his offensive abilities, but I don't see a player that is going to translate his collegiate success to the pro game. His pitch recognition skills were sorely lacking, and he was routinely late on some very average fastballs. Defensively, Hodges was a pleasent surprise. He showed good range, quick reactions, soft hands, and a solid-average arm. I think he'll definitely be able to handle the hot corner at the next level, but his bat struck me as a little suspect when he starts to face more advanced pitching. Needless to say, I'm certainly hoping the Tigers pass on Hodges with the 6th pick this June.
• Some bad news for the Yellow Jackets in the bottom of the first. BC's leadoff hitter, Johnny Ayers, blooped a ball to the gap in left, and both center fielder Danny Payne and left fielder Steven Blackwood raced towards the ball. With both players having a chance to come up with it, they both dove head first, colliding in mid-air. The collision looked pretty ugly, and many fans were quite worried. Blackwood merely appeared shaken by the play, remaining in the game. However, Payne remained down and motionless for several minutes, before finally sitting up in obvious pain. Payne left the game with a right (non-throwing) shoulder injury, but early indications were that it was not too severe. The loss of Payne, who is a very good 2007 draft prospect, could be huge for Tech down the line. He is their sparkplug at the top of the order and has tremendous range in center.
• BC left fielder Jared McGuire is slowly growing on me. Having seen him several times this spring, he's starting to impress me more and more. Not only does Jared have good power potential and a very strong arm in left, but he's proving to be a very heady player. He has demonstrated a willingness to do what's necessary to score runs, whether that be drive the ball the opposite way with a runner on second, or get the ball in the air with a runner on third. McGuire has struggled as the center piece of an underwhelming BC offense, but his potential and outstanding 2005 season may be enough to get him drafted in the later rounds. I would expect him to be back on campus next fall, but a strong senior season could make him an intriguing corner outfielder.
• Things got a little testy in the top of the fourth, as the Georgia Tech offense came to life and started pounding the ball. In the midst of a 10-run inning, Tech first baseman Whit Robbins came to the plate for a second time, having already driven a deep homerun to right earlier in the inning. With aggressive starter Dan Houston on the hill, there was no doubt about his intentions as the first pitch drilled Robbins in the middle of the back. The events settled quickly, with only plenty of shouting and posturing from the GT dugout. To their credit, the umpires did a very good job keeping things under control; issuing warnings to both sides, ensuring things would not get out of hand.
• Starter Blake Wood put together a pretty solid outing in the windy conditions at Shea Field. The Georgia Tech ace lasted seven innings, giving up only one run, but struck out only two Eagles hitters. Wood deals from a low 3/4 arm slot, consistently sitting in the 89-92 range. His control was mediocre, and his offspeed stuff appeared very suspect. With his quirky delivery and good sinking fastball, I can see Wood being a very good bullpen option down the road. He was very slow off the mound and seemed awkward if required to do anything remotely athletic. Wood is unlikely to be a high round draft choice, but should be selected late on the first day.
• Quite possibly the most impressive all-around player on the day was Georgia Tech catcher, Matt Wieters. Wieters started behind the plate on Friday, displaying solid defensive skills; but at 6'6", I don't think he can remain behind the plate over the long haul. Wieters has also played first base in his career, and he may benefit from a full-time move to the position. A switch hitter with very good power potential and an outstanding approach at the plate, Matt has the potential to be an elite hitter. His swing mechanics are fluid and he centers the ball well. He's a below average runner with only an average arm, making the outfield an unlikely possiblity. As only a sophomore, expect Matt to draw much more attention next spring, where he should be a high round selection.
• The last player to catch my eye on Friday was freshman Luke Murton. Luke is the younger brother of Cubs outfielder, Matt Murton. Luke is a big kid (6-4, 225), and he generates tremendous power to all fields. His strike zone judgment needs work, but that should come with time. He doesn't really have a position right now, and must improve his footwork around the bag at first, if he is to project as anything other than a big bopper from the DH slot. Keep an eye on him over the next couple of seasons, as he should be joining his brother in the pro ranks at some point.
All-in-all, Friday was a pretty ugly afternoon for Boston College. The Ramblin' Wrech came into town and did exactly what they were expected to do; dominate the game and score plenty of runs. On a day where I expected to be "wowed" by one of the top prospects in college baseball, I walked away feeling a little empty-handed. Hodges just didn't flash the tools I would expect of a player drawing so much praise at the top of the draft. He's certainly a very good collegiate player, but I just can't see that continuing at the next level. Georgia Tech looks like an extremely powerful team that could make some serious noise on the way to Omaha for the College World Series. They have plenty of talent on offense, and plenty of good pitchers that should be able to keep them in the running for a national championship.
Next up 'At the Game' - Hofstra vs. Northeastern.