Draft season can be a little unfair at times for those prospects who are geographically challenged. While players in California or Florida can be seen pretty much any time of year, those, say, at the University of Indiana are more limited and have to face more adverse conditions during the season.
The flip side of that is that when the weather does start to improve, it's not uncommon to see guys from those climates start to pop up late, or in scouting parlance, have "helium."
Entering the Draft season, most assumed that Hoosier lefty Matt Bashore would be the first Indiana arm to go off the board. It looks like that early assertion will be incorrect, as right-hander Eric Arnett has passed him by. Some of that has been because Bashore has been inconsistent, but most of it is because Arnett has had a breakthrough junior season.
A swingman as a sophomore with mixed results, he's now Indiana's ace with an 11-1 record and 2.78 ERA in 12 starts. The one concern is how much he's worked -- he's thrown six complete games, including his last two starts during which he threw a combined 266 pitches (he also threw 131 three starts ago), so there might be a little buyer beware. But he's a big, strong workhorse who has now pitched his way into first-round consideration. He'll make his last regular-season start against Michigan State this weekend.
Lead balloon update
This term hasn't really caught on in scouting circles, but it's meant to be the anti-helium. There are always players who are considered to be elite talents, first-round potentials at the start of the spring who just don't pan out.
Baylor's Kendal Volz has always been an intriguing arm. He served as Team USA's closer over the summer and was lights out, making some believe he'd be a reliever long-term, especially since he hadn't been able to show consistency as a starter. He seemed to answer those questions at the start of this year, going at least six innings through his first four starts and posting a 2.73 ERA while sliding into the Friday night starter role.
It's not that Volz has been awful overall, with the exception of a bad start at Kansas in early April. But he hasn't been providing the dominant performances he had early in the spring and he hasn't been getting the first-round buzz you heard during that stretch. In his last start, at Texas, he gave up six earned runs (nine total) on 11 hits and four walks over 6 1/3 innings and his ERA is now at a pedestrian 4.00. He'll pitch at Nebraska this weekend in the Big 12 Conference Tournament to try to move back in the right direction. Teams will remember when he was unhittable and throwing 97-98 mph over the summer and might be intrigued by the big arm. But he just hasn't shown that consistently this spring, leaving his stock a little up in the air.
Something to prove
Scouts often love guys with a track record, and there's little question Vanderbilt lefty Mike Minor has one. He was a freshman All-American when he went 9-1 with a 3.09 ERA. He drew the Opening Day start for the Commodores as a sophomore, and while he was a little up-and-down, he did lead the team in several pitching categories. He then had an outstanding summer as Team USA's ace, his second straight summer of pitching very well for USA Baseball. He seemed poised for a big junior year and, as a very polished college lefty, is a guy who would go very high on draft day.
He still might, with his name popping up in conversations about the top 10 picks, but it would be more because of that track record than his 2009 season. He's been more inconsistent than bad and a guy with a 3.72 ERA isn't one who usually goes in the top third of the Draft, especially one who doesn't bring a big arm or a plus-fastball to the table.
He began the season as the team's No. 1 stater, the Opening Day and Friday night guy, but he ceded that slot to freshman Sonny Gray last week. To his credit, Minor responded to the move to Saturday by pitching perhaps his best game of the season, a complete-game, 12-strikeout performance against a tough Georgia team. He was able to locate his fastball down in the zone better than he had in recent outings.
Minor will make his last regular-season home start this weekend against Tennessee, then will get another chance to show that his Georgia start was the beginning of a good run in front of a lot of scouts at the SEC Tounament. A couple more starts like the one against the Bulldogs will cement his spot in the top part of the first round and show his selection wasn't just about what he'd done in the past.
On the shelf
When the season started, Stanford starter Jeff Inman was a highly thought of college pitching prospect. He was Stanford's Opening Day starter and the Friday night ace, but it didn't last. Despite still having good stuff, with a fastball that touched 94 mph and good secondary offerings, he was extremely hittable and eventually found himself starting on Sundays with an ERA north of 6.00. A lack of deception seemed to be at least part of the culprit.
On May 3, he pitched a strong game against Washington State to pick up just his second win of the season. There was hope that perhaps he had re-discovered something. That was until last week's start against New Mexico. Inman came out of the game in the first inning, after facing just one batter. He reportedly was only throwing 80-82 mph and clearly was having some kind of arm trouble.
Right now, it doesn't appear to be too serious. They're calling it shoulder tendinitis. He won't make his start this weekend against Oregon State, but as of now there's no plan for an MRI or anything of that nature. Stanford appears to be on the bubble in terms of getting to a regional. If the Cardinal doesn't make it, any team considering Inman -- now further down in the Draft than what would've been thought at the start of the season -- will have to be convinced his shoulder is fine without the benefit of seeing him pitch in a college game again.
Where to be
Los Angeles, Calif.
Stanford at USC
It's last-look time in terms of regular-season college action, and there's plenty to see in this series in Southern California. USC alone has several guys that are interesting and/or puzzling, including top shortstop prospect Grant Green, starter Brad Boxberger and the enigmatic Robert Stock. On the flip side, Stanford will hand over any lead to Drew Storen, who very well could be the first closer taken in the 2009 Draft.
Other interesting matchups:
Texas A&M at Oklahoma: A&M's pitching tandem of Brooks Raley and Alex Wilson, now pitching in relief, try to improve their Draft stock against a strong Sooners club.
Georgia at South Carolina: SC ace Sam Dyson did battle gainst Bulldogs first baseman Rich Poythress on Thursday; Poythress can continue to put up gaudy numbers the rest of the season.
North Carolina at Boston College: There undoubtedly was plenty of heat in Beantown on Thursday to see Alex White take the mound. But if you stick around, you can still see the Tar Heels' top hitter -- and perhaps the best college bat in the Draft -- Dustin Ackley, as well as BC's first-round hopeful, catcher Tony Sanchez.