Has there ever been a College World Series bracket featuring so many teams that had to battle so much adversity to get to Omaha?
None of the eight CWS participants overcame more than California, which began the year with its university administration trying to drop the program. After escaping extinction when alumni raised $10 million, the Golden Bears became the only non-No. 1 regional seed to advance to Omaha.
Defending champion South Carolina and Texas A&M made it to the CWS despite losing their best players, outfielder Jackie Bradley (the 2010 CWS MVP) and righthander John Stilson, to injury before their conference tournaments began. No. 1 overall seed Virginia was one out away from losing to UC Irvine in the super-regionals before stringing together a walk and three singles to punch its ticket to Omaha. Those four teams will begin CWS play Sunday, with the Bears facing the Cavaliers and the Gamecocks meeting the Aggies.
The Saturday bracket came together with fewer dramatics, though Texas dropped its super-regional opener to Arizona State before rallying to win the next two games. The Longhorns will open with Florida, which won a back-and-forth super-regional against a gritty Mississippi State team. The other first-round matchup pits Vanderbilt, finally making its first-ever CWS appearance, against North Carolina.
I've said this many times, and I'll say it again: the College World Series is my favorite baseball event. Looks like we'll have another terrific tournament this year as it moves to brand-new TD Ameritrade Park.
- This question gets asked every year, so who am I to break from tradition? Which of the top picks in this year's draft will become their respective team's No. 1 prospect once they sign?
Surprisingly, I only came up with four 2011 draftees who are locks to be their team's top prospect in the 2012 Prospect Handbook. In order of selection, they are Mariners lefthander Danny Hultzen (the No. 2 overall choice), Diamondbacks righthander Trevor Bauer (No. 3), Astros outfielder George Springer (No. 11) and either of the Brewers' two first-rounders, righty Taylor Jungmann (No. 12) or lefty Jed Bradley (No. 15).
Several other 2011 draftees will make a push for their organization's No. 1 ranking. In a battle of Pirates righthanders, I would take Jameson Taillon (No. 2 in 2010) over Gerrit Cole (No. 1 this year), though it easily could be reversed. Another tough call involves two Orioles, shortstop Manny Machado (No. 3 last year) and righthander Dylan Bundy (No. 4 in 2011). I love Bundy, but he's likely to sign on Aug. 15 and not debut until 2012, while Machado is tearing up low Class A as an 18-year-old. Advantage, Machado.
Other possibilities: Royals outfielder Bubba Starling (No. 5), if Kansas City promotes several of the blue-chippers from its top-rated farm system; Marlins righthander Jose Fernandez (No. 14), in a system with no obvious top prospect; and Athletics righthander Sonny Gray (No. 18). Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor (No. 8) and Cubs shortstop Javier Baez (No. 9) have a shot if their organizations aggressively promote other prospects.
I still think Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon (No. 6) is the best player in the 2011 draft, but Bryce Harper will prevent Rendon from ranking atop our Washington list.
- It's safe to say that the Nationals, Orioles and Pirates drafted the best tandems of elite players in the past two drafts. How would you rank Bryce Harper/Anthony Rendon vs. Manny Machado/Dylan Bundy vs. Jameson Taillon/Gerrit Cole? How would you rate those prospects individually?
St. Augustine, Fla.
Great question. I'm actually disappointed that Zach didn't ask me to rank the top 10 tandems from the last two drafts, but we can save that for another time.
Harper ranked No. 1 on our Top 100 Prospects list and has more than lived up to that billing, and I mentioned above that I believe Rendon is the top player in the 2011 crop, so the Nationals duo is the best. I'd take the Orioles combo second, as Machado is the best shortstop prospect in the minors and Bundy was the top pitcher in this year's draft. That leaves Taillon and Cole third, and they both have the stuff to be No. 1 starters.
As for rating them as individual prospects, I'd put them in this order: Harper, Machado, Rendon, Bundy, Taillon, Cole. Taking all of the hitters ahead of all of the pitchers isn't a personal philosophy, it's just the way the ranking worked out. Cole was the top pick in this year's draft, but the disparity between his awesome stuff and so-so performance leads me to put him last among these six megaprospects.
- It seems like everyone in Husker Country thinks Bubba Starling is coming to Nebraska, and every baseball fan thinks he's signing with the Royals. I'm a huge Nebraska fan and believe he's coming to Lincoln. His family wants him to go to school, and he seems sincere when he says he's planning to go to Nebraska. What's your opinion?
I hate to douse your optimism, but I will be shocked if Starling doesn't turn pro in baseball. I believe he's sincere about wanting to play quarterback for the Cornhuskers and being part of Darin Erstad's baseball program, but Starling is so talented that the Royals will offer him more money than he possibly can turn down.
Starling had the highest ceiling in the 2011 draft and he's a better prospect than the best two-sport athletes from the last two drafts: Padres outfielder Donavan Tate, who signed for $6.25 million in 2009, and Dodgers righthander Zach Lee, who received a $5.25 million bonus last year. Even if you see Starling attend summer-school classes in July and report to Nebraska football practice in August, I expect he'll sign for $7 million or more close to the midnight Aug. 15 signing deadline.