CHAPEL HILL–One of the many benefits of Baseball America's home base being in the Triangle is having three Atlantic Coast Conference schools within 30 minutes of each other, and Georgia Tech pays a visit to North Carolina this weekend.
The series got off to a poor start for the Yellow Jackets when lefty David Duncan, a draft-eligible sophomore who entered Friday's start red hot and drawing plenty of attention from scouts, was knocked around in a 10-3 loss in the opener.
But Sunday has been a different story, as Georgia Tech's top two draft-eligible prospects have blistered the ball today.
Because Saturday's game was suspended in the fifth inning due to rain, we get at least 14 innings of baseball today. Georgia Tech junior catcher Matt Wieters collected an opposite-field single when play resumed, helping Ga. Tech to a 9-5 win to tie the series. Wieters and junior center fielder Danny Payne connected on home runs in the second inning of Game Three, with Wieters' shot a no-doubter to right field. His plate appearances have all come from the left side of the plate today, and his combination of contact, bat speed, power and polished approach is arguably the best in the country.
Wieters catches very easily, and there isn't any doubt in my mind that his (listed) 6-foot-5 frame is going to prevent him from becoming an above-average defensive catcher. He handles the ball easily, and looks comfortable behind the dish.
While North Carolina junior righthander Luke Putkonen has failed to establish himself as a potential high-round draft choice this year–he's struck out just 38 in 53 innings, had a 4.01 ERA entering today's game and was chased after allowing five earned runs, including three home runs, against 10 batters a moment ago–there is a Tar Heel making a move up draft boards.
Junior shortstop Josh Horton has three hard contacts, inclduing an opposite-field triple, in four at-bats today. His setup is unorthodox, but he gets the bat through the zone quickly, uses the whole field and seems to have outstanding barrel awareness.
"He reminds me of an Adam Kennedy-type of player, an offensive-minded middle infielder," a crosschecker said of Horton. "You could destroy his whole approach. Mechanically, he does so many things wrong but the barrel finds the ball and he's been doing it for three years. So you either accept it or walk away."
There are a handful of crosscheckers here, as well as a scouting director of a team that picks in the first five slots in the first round of this year's draft. Unless signability becomes an issue, I don't see any way Wieters isn't taken in the first five picks. Horton and Payne may have played themselves into conention for a slot in the supplemental round, with Horton likely going off the board first.
As for Duncan, he's been inconsistent this season, but at 6-foot-8, 205 pounds and feel for three solid-average pitches, he could be drafted as high as the third round, if he's signable there. Putkonen might be around until the fourth or fifth round.