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2019 MLB Draft Prep: College baseball opening day

The college season got into full swing Friday and some pro prospects were on display.

Alek Manoah of West Virginia University
Dale Sparks, WVU Athletics Communications

Baseball has about six opening days, depending upon what you consider worth mentioning. From the first day of any games, to the first day of Cubs spring games, to late March into April, quite a few could be considered “Opening Day.” For me, Thursday was a “hit refresh” day, as any trade, signing, or waiver claim was news. By Friday, games were being played, and streamed.

My Friday morning started with the Maryland Terrapins opposing the Campbell Camels. I expected Seth Johnson to start for Campbell. He didn’t. Campbell’s Matt Barefoot was the MVP in the Cape Cod League last summer, winning the batting title, as well. Maryland’s primary might for today is shortstop A.J. Lee. His 2018 was a disappointment, and had a bit of Zack Short’s junior season to it. If he hits as he did in 2017, he’s a draft-option. When in doubt, I’ll take a player up-the-middle. Since Campbell isn’t going with Johnson, I opted for the Terps starting pitcher, Hunter Parsons.

Barefoot was plunked by pitches in his first two at-bats. That’s a bit who he is. Get on base, by whatever fashion. He’s a left-fielder at Campbell, but has rather good speed. Perhaps he’s Tony Campana. Perhaps a bit better, or a bit worse. If you dig the “really fast guy,” you might dig Barefoot. Neither pitcher especially impressed while I listened.

Lee did one of those MLB tricks. On his way to the plate, he tapped the gear of the opposing umpire and catcher. If nobody on the team has done that yet in the game, that should be an automatic. He did so, hitting sixth. Lee struggled catching throws from his catcher, and turned an early 50/50 play at first into an infield hit. He concluded the game 0-for-3 with two walks. Barefoot was eventually plunked a third time.

Campbell won 10-6, with Caleb Walls and Taylor Wright grabbing minor headlines for the Terps. The Camels not only were plunked six times, but drew seven walks, as well.

***

Illinois faced Georgetown, starting at 11 a.m. CT. Anytime Illinois is playing, it’s about Michael Massey. He figures to be a second-day pick. He’s brilliant at second base defensively, and has a bat that plays, as well. The downside is, he is largely a second baseman, at least so far. I’ll have plenty of checks on Illinois, so my other two looks will be Hoyas. Their starting pitcher is Jeremiah Burke, who appears their third-best starting pitcher. Their catcher is Ryan P. Davis. (Their center fielder is Ryan M. Davis, so the initials matter.)

A back-and-forth game early, the surprise here was that neither Massey (tweaked back) nor shortstop Troika (did no travel due to team rules) started defensively. The Illini were the road side, which wreaked havoc on my scoresheet. Illinois had been listed as the home side. Illinois never trailed, in part because Burke allowed at least two runners in all five of his innings of work.

Massey batted four times, and was successful each trip. Twice, he found gaps up the middle. Once, he lined out to second. (Yes, I consider that successful.) He tended toward hard contact, with his liner being his best of the day, and among the best of the night. He hit into a fielders choice, and was safe as the return throw was errant, with a run scoring.

Ten Illini scored. Four touted freshmen played, and gave at least a whiff of why the Illini are looking okay for the future. Third-baseman Cam McDonald, who the Illini coach recruited on seeing him once when visiting his son (accidental recruitment is the best), went 2-for-2 with two walks. A homer by Illini senior center fielder Zac Taylor (10th-rounder alert) broke a 2-2 tie, and the Illini never looked back. The other freshmen that will fit in were Branden Comia (2-for-6), reserve catcher and Cubs 2018 draft pick Jacob Campbell (nice contact on a late pinch-hitting fly to center), and reliever Aidan Maldonado (He pitched a three up-three down ninth with two strikeouts and 93.) Illini cruise to an 11-3 win, and part of their success was running routinely and successfully on catcher Davis.

***

North Florida, with former Cubs draft choice Brad Depperman (2014 Round 31 out of high school) on the hill, took on 1.27 option in Missouri outfielder Kameron Misner. The third man in the ring, for consideration is NF’s other pre-season All-Conference player in outfielder Tanner Murphy.

This was a fantastic game. Depperman went 4⅓ innings, representing a tenth-rounder. He gave up four hits, walking one and fanning three. If the Cubs like him from before, and he’s willing to sign for the standard 10th round pittance, he’d fill the role, perfectly. Murphy, Depperman’s mate in center, went 4-for-4. As he’s a center-fielder, he deserves to get drafted, as well. More data to sort over 50 games, but sixth-round seems arguable.

Misner played first. That isn’t ideal, but it is what it is. Misner was 1-for-3 with two walks. The Ospreys scored runs in the first two innings. Mizzou tied it with single runs in the third and fifth. Teams alternated single runs into the top of the ninth, where the Tigers trailed 5-4. A single and strikeout brought Misner to the plate with the tying run on. Misner walked, and the final two batters were retired to close it at 5-4. Misner’s the best here, but a pick on Depperman or Murphy wouldn’t be wasted.

***

Cal State Fullerton (25) played TCU (19) in Scottsdale on Friday. TCU jumped with likely first-rounder Nick Lodolo. The second for the Horned Frogs was catcher Zach Humphreys, because I have nobody else named Zach in my preview names. Sahid Valenzuela was the shortstop for a Fullerton State squad that is more balanced than offensively minded.

Unfortunately, the feed was unlistenable. Lodolo was tagged for a homer in the second, and the final was 2-0. I doubt the lefty lasts until 27 if healthy. Sahid Valenzuela had three hits for Fullerton. TCU had nine hits, and drew six walks, but didn’t score. Lodolo and Fullerton’s Tanner Bibee should both retire plenty of hitters. Bibee is that fourth-rounder type. If he’s in your pipeline, you dig him. If he’s in another pipeline, who’s he?

***

Across the universe....

The St. John’s at UCLA feed wasn’t working. I spent some time watching the game from Mesa. I joined the game in the middle, and Northwestern popped for three in the sixth to lead Brigham Young 3-1. The Cougars tied the game in the eighth on a wild pitch and an error. Cougars second baseman Jackson Cluff ran the Northwestern pitcher into an errant throw. If the Cubs select Cluff in the 34th Round, you know why. Cluff had a walk-off hit for the Cougars 4-3 win.

The Cubs really ought to invite four teams in the future. Having an Illinois team would be one way to go with it. However, for one season, I’d be entirely good with Iowa (Triple-A), Tennessee (Double-A), Coastal Carolina (Advanced-A), and Notre Dame (Low A) for a season. Getting four teams would allow the Cubs to get exclusive computer data on all four teams. As Coastal, who normally hosts tourneys in Conway early, would likely refuse, Oregon (Eugene) would get a shot. Preferably, though, four valid teams.

Right-handed pitcher Alek Manoah from West Virginia was in beast mode, fanning 13 over six innings. He could work himself into the elite pitching options in the June process.

Graeme Stinson from Duke is “that guy” so far. fanning six (against Lehigh) over three.

His pitching opponent Levi Stoudt fanned six Blue Devils over 3.1. I put “Round 12” on him for now. Numbers can go up or down.

Justin Slaten frustrated Oregon State and Adley Rutschman until the New Mexico bullpen coughed up the lead. A junior, Slaten put himself in line for a second through fifth look from MLB scouts. I put “Round 8” in Slaten’s category.

Belmont (Nashville) led Illinois State 10-3 after seven innings. The Redbirds won 27-11 in 11 innings. Mind yourself when you complain about a bullpen. ISU’s center fielder Rave, who had four hits, is a legitimate professional option. The teams combined for 25 walks.