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2015 MLB Draft Prep: Play Ball

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The 2015 college baseball season has started. Sort of.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

My baseball season began last Friday, February 6. I listened to Carson-Newman hosting Catawba in Division 2 action. Both pitchers had their strikeout pitch working, and limited their walks. Keyed by a pair of two-run homers, Catawba led early. However, Carson-Newman rallied late to win on a bad pick-off throw at first. Their starter went the distance, tossing over 140 pitches. In February. Draft prep time has begun.

While that game was moving along, Duke's Michael Matuella was sounding like a top-pick option in a scrimmage game. His change sounded very solid per Hudson Belinsky on Twitter. Matuella hasn't pitched many college innings, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. If healthy, he will be gone before the Cubs select in June with the No. 9 pick

Around this time last year, Carlos Rodon was presumed to be the first pick in the draft. Kyle Schwarber was an afterthought, considered a terrible catcher with a lively bat. While the college season didn't change Schwarber's perception, Rodon's stock tailed off precipitously, turning in a respectable season in Raleigh. His team slumped, despite having two top-round selections, failing to qualify for the ACC tournament.

However....

Since being drafted, Schwarber has pushed hopes up. It's now possible that he could become a respectable catcher. Meanwhile, Rodon is back to being considered a potential MLB ace. How can prospectniks get things so wrong? It's rather easy. Rodon was pitching with college coaches in a league that has gotten used to hitting against him. Schwarber, conversely, played at a northern school. I don't know much about his coach, but he probably figured his top catcher's mechanics were good enough to continue playing at the Big Ten level without ruining the program. He had bigger problems to deal with, likely.

Prep baseball is about winning high school games. College baseball is about winning college games. Until a player reaches the professional level, he's not a 60-hour-a-week player. Forty per week is laughably low, especially if BP, fielding practice, bullpen sessions, bus rides, and film study are included. When players become pros, the real preparation begins. Anything before was preliminary.

When following prognosticators regarding amateur baseball, remember that they are normally basing things on what they can see and (usually) measure. Pro squads, if they're doing it right, see what is, and base the future off of the ability of their coaching staffs to elicit the best out of players.

Draft Prep won't be a mind-numbing string of numbers about dozens of players. I will usually recount the performances of the top few players, with possibly something extra thrown in on one particular case. I'm not taking the bait of over-investing in the draft. I want to know the names I should know about, and I follow about 10 names on Twitter for that purpose. They will often have Q&A sessions on-line. As news crystallizes for the ninth pick, I will frequent those on occasion.

I'll also note a few names that would make sense as down-the-ticket selections. Hopefully, this year, I get a few correct. That said, once the pro season starts, it will mostly be Twitter-based research.

If you have questions, I will do my best to answer them, but I won't likely listen to enough games this year to have much of a unique perspective on anyone. I do take requests, and have one college kid in mind that I'll probably check out a game he pitches. Before April.

College player evaluations wax and wane. Guys get on a hot streak, then they have a bad outing. Or they go for surgery. I plan to keep you apprised of how the main options are doing, with the understanding that if guys who are doing this as their avocation screw up on guys like Rodon and Schwarber, my guesses are close to that. As before, I'll be listening to games for things that draft profiles don't provide as often. Does he work quickly, and change speeds? Does the hitter take pitches, then foul them off with two strikes?

When listening to a college game, I want to know who the best players are. Not so I can prognosticate them to being a mid-rotation starter or a middle-of-the-order hitter off of a college game. I figure if a pitcher can get the good hitters out in against a good college team, he might be more likely to do the same against a minor league team. Beyond that, it's all adjustments. And pretty much every prognosticator dropped that chandelier all over the floor about Rodon and Schwarber.

For a game for the season-openers this coming Friday the 13th, I'm leaning toward East Carolina and third-ranked Virginia. Nathan Kirby should start for Virginia, and East Carolina streams their games. If I have a game with a solid pitcher like Kirby, I can get a decent read on if any of the ECU Pirates deserve further attention. Kirby pitched a no-hitter last season, and might well be off the board when the Cubs pick in the ninth spot.

Speaking of the Cavaliers, outfielder Joe McCarthy will miss about 12 weeks with back surgery. A valid prospect, McCarthy will be on the Cubs' radar upon his return.

6-1 Vanderbilt righthander Walker Buehler won't start this weekend due to elbow soreness, although he could pitch out of the pen.

Of more local interest, the University of Illinois has (arguably) a better baseball team than they do in football or basketball. That would sound more impressive if the Illini were particularly adept at either other sport, but they have a solid pitching staff, and could be dangerous if they hit some. Illinois opens on the 13th against New Mexico State and Lamar. In separate games. Unless either other school has audio, you probably won't be able to listen -- the bane of college games.

Fire away with any questions, but I'm not sold on any college hitters yet. It could be a year for the Cubs to draft the best available bat as a trade piece in July 2016. That would be my early guess. Vanderbilt's Dansby Swanson would fit the description. He'll be my pick of the week.

Here are two more good articles that were published just today. One is on potential first-rounder Phil Bickford and the other is a nice piece on the upgrade of talent in Big Ten baseball. Monday mornings are good for that. Also, from Twitter, Vandy's Buehler is fine, and will be ready for week two.