There haven't been many upsets in the NCAA regionals this year. Of the eight national seeds, six have advanced to super-regionals, UC Irvine was battling Virginia when I went to bed Sunday night, and only Oklahoma was eliminated. Of the remaining eight No. 1 regional seeds, Florida State and Texas Christian have moved on, and the other six (four of whom fought back through loser's brackets) all will play today.
Nathan makes a good point. With most of the top talents in the draft waiting until the Aug. 15 deadline to sign, they usually don't get a chance to do much in their first pro summer. Thus when we're evaluating them as prospects, it's mostly based on what they did as amateurs.
Last year's draft was unusually strong in terms of position players, making this year's thin crop of hitters look thin by comparison. But as I wrote in a recent column , there's talent in every draft. This one may not produce 10 players who claim one of the first 40 spots in the next Top 100 like the 2008 draft did, but it should produce close to the same number of Top 100 Prospects.
San Diego State righthander Stephen Strasburg is already the favorite to rank No. 1 on next year's Top 100. Assuming they sign, there are two more college players (North Carolina first baseman Dustin Ackley, Missouri righthander Kyle Gibson), two independent league righthanders (Aaron Crow and Tanner Scheppers) and five high schoolers (outfielder Donavan Tate, lefthanders Tyler Matzek and Matthew Purke and righthanders Jacob Turner and Zack Wheeler) who are all but locks to make the list.
That's 10 draftees from 2009, and I was trying to be conservative. North Carolina righthander Alex White, Texas high school righty Shelby Miller and Southern California shortstop Grant Green also have a good chance to make the list. There also will be a couple of lower first-rounders or sandwich picks—maybe Florida prep third baseman Bobby Borchering—who have strong debuts that will put them in position to crack the Top 100.
This may not make a whole lot of sense, but while Smoak is a slightly better prospect, I'd rather have Matusz.
Smoak ranked slightly ahead of Matusz (No. 23 vs. No. 25) on our Top 100 list, and he's off to a .325/.444/.503 start this year in Double-A. Matusz is in high Class A, where he hasn't allowed a run in his last two starts to improve to 4-2, 2.37. In 61 innings, he has a 69-20 K-BB ratio with a .226 opponent average and five homers allowed.
Smoak looks like he could be the next Mark Teixeira, but it's a lot harder to find a frontline starter than it is a quality first baseman. Matusz has done nothing to dispel the notion that he was the best pitcher available in the 2008 draft, and if Baltimore had a chance to redo its pick, I bet they'd opt for Matusz too.
After an up and down season, Oliver may have pitched himself back into the first round with a strong performance Saturday against Clemson in the second game of the Clemson Regional. The Cowboys' other pitching prospects didn't help their causes, though, as Lyons struggled in an opening-round win over Alabama, and Blandford and Keeling both got pounded in Sunday's loss to Clemson.
Lyons has had a puzzling season. After going 12-2, 3.31 in the spring and not giving up an earned run with Team USA last summer, he has slumped to a 7-5, 4.12 mark in 2009. His fastball has lost some velocity, now sitting at 86-87 mph, and his changeup also has regressed. He figured to be a second-round pick coming into the season but now looks more like a fifth-rounder.
Blandford, a junior righthander, has the best stuff on the staff but little idea where it's going. He has a 93-95 mph fastball that touches 97 and a hard slider, but his control has gotten worse each year at Oklahoma State. He has at least second-round stuff but probably won't go before the fourth round, and he projects to move to the bullpen in pro ball. Sunday's loss dropped his record to 7-4, 5.31.
Keeling, a lefty swingman, has a 5-1, 4.41 record and the best strikeout rate (12.9 per nine innings) on the Cowboys. Hitters have a tough time making contact against his 88-92 mph fastball because of the riding life he achieves by throwing across his body. His mechanics make it difficult to maintain a consistent breaking ball or control. On talent, he projects as a sixth- to eighth-rounder, though his extra leverage as a sophomore-eligible means he could drop significantly lower.
Lyons and Blandford won't go as high as they might have expected, though they still get picked high enough to receive at least low-six-figure bonuses if they want to turn pro. Keeling could significantly boost his stock with a more consistent junior season in 2010, so it wouldn't be a surprise if he returns to Oklahoma State.