There's always at least one player who seemingly "comes out of nowhere" right as the Draft approaches. That's in quotes because no player truly comes from nowhere, but rather jumps into conversations in the first round or two when he was previously not creating any buzz.
This year, that award might go to high school outfielder Jake Skole. There are a few things that had kept him out of the discussion until recently. The biggest is that he's a two-sport star -- any team considering him would have to sign him away from playing football and baseball at Georgia Tech. It's a large task, considering he'd get to play baseball with his brother, Matt, for a year.
Skole also dealt with an ankle injury earlier this year, keeping him off radars. Some felt he got a little too big and stiff because of his football-related weight-lifting routine. Taking a break from that helped him return some flexibility, and once he was back from the injury, it showed. He's drawn comparisons to a Grady Sizemore type, with a little Johnny Damon mixed in and is emerging as a fast-rising high school hitter. His stock certainly was helped recently by a strong performance against Kaleb Cowart, but he was on the rise anyway. There's a very good chance Skole will hear his name called on the first night of the Draft -- 50 picks are made on Monday -- with him sneaking into the first round a real possibility.
Lead balloon update
Speaking of Cowart. ... This time of year, it's not always performance that causes a slide. The big 'S' -- signability -- becomes a major variable.
Such is the case with Cowart, the two-way standout from Cook High School in Georgia. Cowart has shown the ability to do just about everything on the baseball field, but here's where it gets interesting: Most teams, though not all, like him better on the mound. Cowart himself, it appears, would prefer to hit. That's the first obstacle. The second is that Cowart is committed to attend Florida State, where he could continue pursuing both. Definitely a first-round talent, there was some talk of a high price tag to sign him away from that commitment. That could force him down and perhaps even out of the first round. It remains to be seen whether his asking price will come down if a team takes him and allows him to hit. Even if he does slide out of the first round, expect a team to take him later and make a serious run at signing him away from FSU.
Something to prove
He's gotten a lot of ink in this section, but the fact remains that there might not be anyone with more to prove than LSU's Anthony Ranaudo. But at least this time, it's more about him continuing something rather than reversing something.
After returning from injury, Ranaudo struggled mightily to look like the top college prospect many thought he was entering this season. Then came the SEC Tournament. With several scouting directors and at least two general managers on hand, Ranaudo had his best outing of the season. It was his longest outing by far, 7 2/3 innings, and while his stuff flattened out a little later in the outing, scouts were impressed with his overall stuff and improved command.
That may have stopped the slide. If he comes out and throws well again this weekend -- he's scheduled to start Saturday in LSU's second regional game -- he could have even more believers and perhaps even move up a few slots.
Where to be: Columbia, South Carolina
It's Regional weekend in the NCAA, always a fun time of year. It's also the last chance for scouts to see some of the top college talent perform before Draft Day. What makes it even better is that it's against the best competition the college game has to offer and in a pressure-filled, win-or-go-home atmosphere. It can't get much better than that for a last look at how a player deals with that kind of situation.
In any of the 16 Regional locations, there's bound to be some interesting talent, but Columbia might be the best based on the assortment of Draft prospects who will be there. Host South Carolina is the top seed in the group, but they don't have a ton of 2010 talent. There is redshirt junior Sam Dyson, who was a 10th-round pick a year ago. He's got some intriguing power stuff, but teams are a little scared of his medical/injury history.
Virginia Tech is worth the trip by itself. Right-hander Jesse Hahn will have one last chance to prove that he's the guy who threw so well earlier in the year and not the one who had some injury issues and has scuffled of late. The plan is to have him pitch the Hokies' third game on Sunday. That could change if Virginia Tech loses the first game to The Citadel and is losing Game 2. If that scenario unfolds, Hahn could be summoned out of the 'pen to try to stave off elimination.
Virginia Tech also has outfielder Austin Wates, who could sneak into the end of the first round or, at the very least, be a supplemental first-rounder, and draft-eligible sophomore Matthew Price. He's not quite the prospect Hahn is, but he's liable to go in the first few rounds and should get the ball to start on Friday.
Another first-round potential arm is The Citadel's Asher Wojciechowski. The right-hander's name is being mentioned all over the map, and he'll likely be gone by the middle of the round. He's most likely going to pitch in his team's second game, on Saturday, and it will be very interesting to see how he comes back after making two starts during conference tournament play. Keep in mind that college starters typically go once a week. He went eight innings on Wednesday, then another eight on Sunday.