I can't get too excited about catchers and pitchers reporting to spring training, so this is the most barren time of the sports calendar for me. Fortunately, the college baseball season starts this weekend. The spotlight matchup is No. 2 Virginia visiting No. 18 East Carolina for a three-game series.
The Cavaliers, fresh off their first-ever College World Series appearance, have a pair of potential first-round picks for the next two drafts in junior center fielder Jarrett Parker and sophomore lefthander/first baseman Danny Hultzen. The Pirates counter with two of the nation's best college veterans who didn't sign out of the 2009 draft, senior DH Kyle Roller and junior right fielder Devin Harris.
Chapman, Feliz and Strasburg all can reach triple digits with their fastballs, and the consensus is that they have the best heat in the minors—legitimate 8 fastballs on the 2-8 scouting scale. Andrew Cashner (Cubs) and Tanner Scheppers (Rangers) would be at the top of the second tier of fastballers.
This question dovetails with a column I'm working on to run in conjunction with our Top 100 Prospects list (now scheduled to be posted Feb. 23), so I asked it directly to several player-personnel types. They stacked the fastballs up in this order: Strasburg, Feliz, Chapman. The experts credited Strasburg with having the most consistently overpowering velocity and Feliz with having the most explosive fastball.
"Strasburg can throw an 8 fastball forever, he's very unique," one AL club official said. "Feliz has the best strikeout fastball. Chapman doesn't throw as many 8 fastballs as the other guys, but has good angle and deception when he does."
It's still uncertain whether Paxton will pitch when the season opens this weekend. The Wildcats won't play him until he meets with NCAA investigators, who want to explore whether his advisers at the Boras Corp. negotiated directly with the Blue Jays, who drafted Paxton 37th overall a year ago. After his request for a temporary injunction was denied by a Kentucky circuit court judge, Paxton filed an appeal with the Kentucky Court of Appeals that has yet to be decided.
Paxton looked like a mid-first-round pick early in the 2009 season, at times showing a plus-plus fastball, above-average curveball and good command. But his stuff was inconsistent and he got hit surprisingly hard, posting a 5.86 ERA in 13 starts, which is why he dropped into the sandwich round.
I spoke to several scouting directors for our Early Draft Preview , which included a ranking of the 32 best overall talents and the Top 100 College Prospects . Paxton didn't make the top 32 overall list (representing the first round of the draft) and checked in at No. 21 on the College Top 100. The consensus was that to go in the first round, he'd have to show scouts that he could maintain his quality stuff and do a better job of using it.
It doesn't appear that Paxton has any desire to meet with NCAA investigators, and I don't understand how he can be compelled to testify against himself. At the same time, I can see why Kentucky is reluctant to use Paxton before the NCAA completes its investigation. If the NCAA rules Paxton ineligible for improper use of an adviser, the Wildcats could be forced to forfeit any games in which he appears.
While it's unclear how this situation will be resolved, it's fairly certain that Paxton will pitch against real competition. If he doesn't pitch for Kentucky, he likely would show his stuff off with a few starts for an independent league team before the draft. If he doesn't pitch in game situations at all, it would hurt his draft stock, but he's still a lefthander with quality stuff and probably wouldn't last past the second or third round.
In addition to Harper, the Boras Corp. also will advise four other players we've projected as first-round talents: the top college pitcher (Louisiana State righthander Anthony Ranaudo), the top college position player (Cal State Fullerton shortstop Christian Colon), the top high school position player (shortstop Manny Machado of Miami's Brito High) and Chipola (Fla.) JC outfielder LeVon Washington. The Boras Corp. stable also includes four other potential first-round picks in Paxton, Georgia Tech righthander Kevin Jacob, Cal State Fullerton outfielder Gary Brown and North Carolina righty Matt Harvey.
Harper and Ranaudo are the top two prospects in the 2010 draft. The rest of the top five and their advisers are: The Woodlands (Texas) High righthander Jameson Taillon (Hendricks Sports Management), Oviedo (Fla.) High righty A.J. Cole (CAA) and Georgia Tech righty Deck McGuire (SFX).