It's an absolutely fantastic weekend to be a Draft and amateur baseball fan.
Draft day is less than two weeks away. As if that's not enough to get the blood pumping, there are high school playoffs and all-star games to go along with NCAA regional action to create high-pressure, last-look opportunities for scouts.
All around the country, there's the chance to see terrific Draft talent all in the same place, both at the college and high school levels. It's easy for those on the outside to put too much stock into one performance this late in the spring -- teams do a better job of looking at a more complete picture when evaluating players -- but in a year when the picture in the first round is still very much unclear, anything a player can do to separate himself could mean a great deal.
It's a weekend where players can grab some helium or get tied to the lead balloon, or get one more chance to prove themselves. Let's take a look at who's on the rise and who's not about 11 days before Draft day.
College relievers have become a hot commodity in recent Drafts, with the idea that they can get to the big leagues in a hurry. Chad Cordero may have started the trend with the Expos a few years back, but it's continued with guys like Huston Street and, last year, Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth were both first-round picks.
It's not a great year for relievers, but one who is definitely on the rise is Stanford's Drew Storen. His season is over -- the Cardinal did not qualify for postseason play -- but the last impression he made was certainly a good one. Last Saturday, the Draft-eligible sophomore went 2 2/3 innings for a win, his seventh in relief. While he did give up a run, he only allowed one hit. Storen recorded all eight outs via strikeout.
Storen finished the year 7-1 with seven saves. Over 42 2/3 IP, he allowed just 34 hits and eight walks while striking out 66. He was in the first round -- or at least supplemental first round -- picture for some time, especially since at least some teams think he can be a starter and others feel he could be in a big league bullpen before the year is over. But his strong performance, a lack of other relievers to choose from, and the uncertainty on the first-round board has forced Storen's name up the charts, even into some conversations involving teams picking in the top 10.
Lead balloon update
When the college season began, if a poll were conducted that posed the question, "Who's the best college pitcher in the Draft class after Stephen Strasburg?" there's a good chance the consensus answer would have been Alex White.
He had, after all, been absolutely dominant coming out of the bullpen for the University of North Carolina last year in the College World Series. He's capable of having nasty stuff, but he really hasn't put it together consistently in what's been an uneven junior season.
He's had his moments, like his one-hit shutout against Miami in April, but they haven't been as regular as some expected. Throw in some uneasiness among scouts about an amateur whose out pitch is a splitter and White's status as a top pick was unclear.
Then he went out and threw a clunker in the ACC Tournament -- 2 1/3 IP, 8 ER -- and it appears, for the time being, that he's sliding out of the top 10. The tide could turn back in the other direction with a very strong regional start this weekend, though you have to think his days as a top 5 pick might be over.
Something to prove
Speaking of top of the first round college pitchers seemingly headed in the wrong direction, lets take a look at Kyle Gibson. Unlike White, Gibson didn't have an awful result in conference tournament play. In fact, he tossed six shutout innings in a win over Texas A&M. Overall, his numbers stand out more than White's pedestrian stats do, though the 3.47 ERA doesn't scream "top pick."
But scouts who were on hand for that Big 12 tourney outing -- and there were many -- were troubled by the outing, regardless of what the box score said. Gibson's velocity was down considerably and he was throwing a lot more changeups than usual. That's not something scouts were hoping to see and it appears that top 10 teams are at least pausing before seriously considering the right-hander as an option.
Maybe there's an explanation for the outing. Perhaps the fact that before the May 20 tournament start, his last outing came on May 8 played a role. There are those who still really like Gibson as a future member of a big league rotation. If he goes out and is lights-out in his regional start, he can prove he belongs back in the top 10 conversation.
On the shelf
Normally this time of year, there are more than enough players on the sidelines to discuss. Right now, though, the top names are all pretty much healthy. Some, like Luke Bailey and his surgically repaired elbow, or Scott Bittle and his banged up shoulder, are kind of old news.
So this week, we'll talk about a high school pitcher who appears to be on the mend. Lefty Tyler Skaggs is a notch behind a few of the other top-flight prep southpaws, but not by much. One thing that did hurt him was a sprained ankle that kept him out of action for nearly a month. Perceived to be not as advanced stuff-wise as guys like Tyler Matzek and Matthew Purke, the lost opportunity to be seen may cost Skaggs a few slots.
That's not to say he's an unknown and in Southern California, he's been seen plenty. He's projectable and has solid stuff. He did come back to pitch in the California state playoffs this past Tuesday, but lost a close decision, 3-1. It was a good opportunity to show the ankle was on the mend, but while Skaggs could still sneak into the first round, the layoff may mean he'll have to wait a little longer to hear his name called.
Where to be
Sebring, Fla. or Louisville, Ky.
Take your pick, high school or college.
If you want to go the prep route, the Florida High School All-Star Classic has become a mainstay over the years. Last year, Eric Hosmer was a big draw. Florida always has good young talent, and this year's crop seems particularly deep. This kind of one-stop shopping is great for scouts, particularly this late in the season. Scouting an All-Star Game setup is tricky, as you don't want to read too much into one or two at-bats or an inning of work. But it does give a scout the opportunity to see players competing against the best in a more intense setting.
If you prefer the college game, head to the Louisville regional. With Louisville, Vanderbilt and Indiana on hand (no offense, Middle Tennessee), there's plenty of early-round talent on hand to see. Over the course of the weekend, there's the chance to see likely first-rounders Mike Minor, the Vandy southpaw, and Eric Arnett, the Hoosier's fast-rising right-hander. Throw in Indiana lefty Matt Bashore, who had a bit of a disappointing regular season but turned in a gem in the Big 10 tournament and could be a nice sandwich round pick with a strong regional start, and that's probably enough. But there's also power-hitting third baseman Chris Dominguez from Louisville to keep you busy over the next few days as an added bonus.