Top talent to square off in Houston College Classic

HOUSTON -- It's an early-season college baseball tournament, but based on the caliber of this year's field, the Houston College Classic has the look of an NCAA regional.

Second-ranked LSU, eighth-ranked Houston and undefeated Texas A&M highlight the 15th annual event, which also features Baylor, Hawaii and Nebraska.

"It's an event that's going to be better than any regional any of these teams will play in come June," said Texas A&M coach Rob Childress. "This weekend will be a good benchmark for all the teams to where they are at this point in the season and the things they need to improve on going into conference [play]."

Last year's classic had all six participants eventually reach an NCAA regional.

The three-day, six-team event at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, starts on Friday, with the feature game pitting LSU against Houston at 7:05 p.m. CT. Houston eliminated LSU last year in the Baton Rouge Regional.

"From a national standpoint, it's a great matchup -- two Top 10 programs going at each other on a big stage," said Houston coach Todd Whitting. "We'll probably have 15,000-20,000 people here. It's going to be a big game, us beating them in the regional last year."

Houston (8-5) was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation this season. At 13-0, Texas A&M is playing away from College Station for the first time this season. And LSU, a traditional power in college baseball, is making its first appearance in the Houston Classic. Nebraska is coached by former Astro Darin Erstad.

"There are six great programs here, but only a handful of these kids will truly get a chance to play in the Major Leagues," Childress said. "And for the opportunity for these kids to play in a venue like this, this is something they will take with them for a long time."

There are potential Major League players that will be on display Friday through Sunday at Minute Maid Park. LSU shortstop Alex Bregman is the nation's fourth-ranked junior, according to Baseball America. Tigers catcher Kade Scivicque, who is hitting a team-high .423, is the 18th-ranked senior.

Texas A&M's top prospect is Friday night starter A.J. Minter, who has made the transformation from reliever to starter. The competitive left-hander throws in the mid-90s with a good breaking ball. Two rising sophomore stars for the Aggies are outfielder Nick Banks, a dynamic player with strength and speed who is hitting .444, and second baseman Ryne Birk.

Houston's highest projected player is Saturday's starting right-hander Jake Lemoine, who Whitting said has all the tools and attributes that make up a first-round pick. Cougars right fielder Kyle Survance, who is hitting .333 with 11 stolen bases, could go off the board early in the 2015 First-Year Player Draft. Sunday starter Aaron Garza, a right-hander, also has Major League potential.

A major change in college baseball this year has been introduction of the flat-seam baseball, which has generated more offense.

"It's a great addition, a great adjustment we've made going to the flat-seam ball," Whitting said. "You see more offense. It has evened the game out. It went too far in the other direction. But the flat seams have added a little offense."

The Houston College Classic has hosted the No. 1 team in preseason polls six times and has hosted two eventual College World Series champions.

Current Major League players who have played in the classic include David Price (Vanderbilt), Michael Bourn (Houston), Gerrit Cole (UCLA), Mike Leake (Arizona State) and Anthony Rendon (Rice).

Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.