Draft talent on display in Omaha
College World Series a stage for MLB's future stars
OMAHA, Neb. -- From DJ LeMahieu's bat to Austin Wood's arm strength, the past 15 games in Omaha, Neb., have given everyone a glimpse of what is to come in the future for some likely future Major Leaguers and the teams that drafted them.
From the dramatic battles that went on nightly at Rosenblatt Stadium, baseball executives and fans have to be enthused about their Draft pick's efforts, relishing the fresh talent on the way to their teams.
One in particular, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, happened to be in attendance for his second-round Draft pick's final collegiate game. Hendry, who has a personal friendship with LSU coach Paul Mainieri and follows LSU baseball closely, was impressed with LeMahieu's work in Omaha.
"I think he played great here," Hendry said. "Obviously we are big fans of his by picking him where we did. But I really admired the way the kid played. He could have been the MVP also, either him or [Jared] Mitchell. Either way, you had the right choice. He played terrific, played great defense. He had some clutch hits."
Hendry, who has two other Louisiana State players (Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot) currently patrolling the middle infield for him, has seen success at the College World Series translate into success on the Major League level.
"You certainly like it when a guy on the stage like this performs at the top level," Hendry said. "That will be important. In Chicago we call it, 'Can people play when the second-deck goes up?' Tough place to play. Something like this, if he can carry it into pro ball and build off of it then obviously we think he's going to be a real good player."
Mitchell, the White Sox first-round pick and 23rd overall, was named the College World Series' Most Outstanding Player for his efforts. In addition to several strong defensive plays throughout the Series, Mitchell carried his team through the title game, knocking an early three-run blast to set the tone. The right fielder hit .348 for the Series with two homers and seven RBIs.
Mainieri said he isn't that far away from being ready for the big leagues.
"I think Jared Mitchell is a lot closer to being a Major Leaguer than a lot of people think," Mainieri said. "He's not as raw of a baseball player as a lot of people think."
No. 2 overall pick Dustin Ackley of North Carolina also turned in an inspired effort, batting .500 (8-for-16) in Omaha to make the All-Tournament squad. The first-rounder's pure swing at the CWS certainly provided an exciting peek at the future of the Mariners' offense.
LSU outfielder Ryan Schimpf, a fifth-round pick of the Blue Jays, also made the all-tourney team.Despite the fact that Rosenblatt began to play like a launching pad late in the Series, there were also a number of strong exhibitions by pitching prospects. In spite of his flat performance in the title game, Tigers fifth-round selection Austin Wood wowed everyone with his 12 1/3 shutout innings -- in one game -- earlier in the tournament. Joining Wood with strong performances on the mound were Astros fifth-rounder Dallas Keuchel of Arkansas and LSU hurler Louis Coleman. Keuchel and Coleman both showed remarkable poise in tough game situations. The Razorbacks' lefty ace, Keuchel, had strong outings in multiple games, notably holding Virginia scoreless in four innings of relief to keep the Razorbacks alive in the tourney.
Some of the players who excelled in Omaha will quickly become rookie league players taking their fist steps toward the Major Leagues.
Arkansas' players Scott Lyons and Ben Tschepikeow didn't waste any time getting their contracts signed with the Royals on Monday. Tschepikeow sat out the Razorbacks' finale after breaking his finger in the Razorbacks' 4-3 win over Virginia, but was 5-for-11 in Omaha prior to his injury. As soon as both players complete rehabilitation (Lyons battled a lingering shoulder injury all season), their assignment is expected to be to the Pioneer League's Idaho Falls Chukars.
Southern Miss junior pitcher JR Ballinger, who struggled in his only CWS start, allowing six runs in 2 2/3 innings, has announced he will forgo his senior season and sign with the White Sox, joining Chicago's rookie level affiliate Bristol immediately.
For others, the future is not as close, but just as bright. This year's College World Series provided a glimpse of what is to come in next season's Draft, when top performers like LSU's Anthony Ranaudo become eligible. Ranaudo had his best start in Omaha against Arkansas when the sophomore held the Razorbacks to only four hits in six innings with five strikeouts, and he picked up the victory in the final game with 5 1/3 innings of work.
"Renaudo is going to be a first-half of the first-round Draft choice next year," Mainieri said. "He's 6-7. He throws hard. He's got a good curveball. He's had games where he struck out 13. He had a game where he struck out 15."
Regardless of where these future professional ballplayers appear in the future, their performances in Omaha indicate it won't be too long until they can provide a similar impact on an even bigger stage.
Bailey Stephens is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.