Houston tourney showcases top college talent
Scouts gathering at Minute Maid Park for look at hard-throwing TCU lefty, others
Since its inception in 2001, the Houston College Classic has been a key early-season stop for scouts. The annual event at Minute Maid Park routinely hosts some of the top teams and players in the country, and this year is no different.
The tournament includes three teams ranked in this week's Top 25 rankings by Baseball America -- No. 12 Rice, No. 15 Texas and No. 16 TCU. They are joined by Sam Houston State, Texas Tech and the University of Houston, making the field an all-Texas affair for just the second time in the event's history. Play was scheduled to begin Friday afternoon and continue through Sunday.
From a scout's perspective, the main attraction is TCU left-hander Brandon Finnegan. He is ranked No. 21 on MLB.com's Top 50 Draft prospects list and has gotten off to a sizzling start. After going winless last season, Finnegan is 2-0 with no runs allowed in 14 innings. He struck out 22 batters and walked just three entering his Friday afternoon start against Sam Houston State.
Finnegan's main weapon is his low- to mid-90s fastball. His changeup and slider give him two more quality pitches to keep hitters off balance. Finnegan said he worked to improve his command and slider during the offseason and was pleased with the results.
"Everything is clicking," he said. "I'm not trying to do too much, just do what I did last year and put us in the best situation to win."
Finnegan was looking forward to pitching in a big league stadium for the first time. He said he had watched a few games at Minute Maid Park and was in the stands in 2004 when Houston hosted the All-Star Game.
"I have a lot of great memories there," Finnegan said. "I met Barry Bonds. He was my favorite player growing up. Hopefully there are even better memories to come there."
Finnegan is not the only player scouts will watch closely this weekend. He and TCU first baseman Kevin Cron, a third-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, will take on Sam Houston State ace Tyler Eppler, who also could go in the first 10 rounds of the Draft.
Rice and Texas will follow in Friday's nightcap and have several potential early-round Draft picks between them. The anticipated matchup will pit Longhorns left-hander Dillon Peters against Owls right-hander Jordan Stephens. Scouts will also track Rice closer Zech Lemond and first baseman Skyler Ewing, as well as the rest of the Longhorns' rotation, junior right-handers Parker French and Lukas Schiraldi.
Vanderbilt's Beede to size up Stanford
The spotlight has been on right-hander Tyler Beede since he chose to attend Vanderbilt rather than sign with the Blue Jays after they took him in the first round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. He has handled the pressure well and entered the season ranked No. 6 on MLB.com's Top 50 Draft prospects list.
Beede has begun his all-important junior season in impressive fashion. In his first two starts, he struck out 18 batters and allowed just two hits and two walks in 11 innings. But this weekend he will face his stiffest competition yet as Stanford visits Vanderbilt for a three-game series.
The Cardinal enter the weekend at 4-4, and their lineup is not as imposing as it was last year, when four position players were drafted, including Mariners second-round outfielder Austin Wilson. But Beede will still be challenged by players like juniors Alex Blandino, Danny Diekroeger and Austin Slater.
Beede will hope for a better result than he produced in his college debut at Stanford in 2012. He allowed nine runs (though four were unearned) in 4 1/3 innings in a 9-5 loss.
Georgia high school prospects square off
The Georgia high school ranks have produced five first-round Draft picks in the last two years, including MLB.com's No. 1 overall prospect Byron Buxton. There is again plenty of talent in the Peach State, and scouts will have a chance to see two of the better players in the area when Gainesville hosts North Gwinnett on Friday.
Gainesville is led by Michael Gettys, ranked No. 10 on MLB.com's Top 50 Draft prospects list. He is a two-way player now, but scouts like him more as an outfielder and think he has a chance to follow in the footsteps of Buxton, Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows as a top-10 pick this June. Gettys, a Georgia commit, is a talented right-hander as well. He throws his fastball in the low-90s, mixing it with a hard curveball.
North Gwinnett features left-hander Tucker Baca. Though he is not as highly regarded as Gettys, Baca is a solid prospect in his own right. His fastball sits around 90 mph, and he has a good feel for both his slider and his changeup. The Arizona State commit was dominant last fall at Perfect Game's World Wood Bat Association World Championships in Jupiter, Fla., exciting several scouts in attendance.
Both coaches confirmed they would start their aces Friday, setting up an early-season pitchers' duel north of Atlanta.