Draft prospects ready to shine in NCAA Tournament
Road to Omaha will be paved by players who are likely to be selected in early rounds
The road to Omaha is officially open.
The NCAA baseball tournament begins Friday, with 64 teams competing to be one of eight to advance to the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., from June 14-24/25.
The tournament opens with double-elimination regional action, with the 16 regional winners advancing to eight, best-of-three Super Regionals. Those winners advance to Omaha.
Below is a breakdown of each region, including the top players who are expected to be selected in next week's 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft:
Teams (listed by seeding): Louisiana State, Houston, Bryant, Southeastern Louisiana
Top players: No. 1-seed LSU's pitching staff is led by right-hander Aaron Nola, a likely top-10 Draft pick. Nola, who ranks sixth on MLBPipeline.com's Top 200 Draft Prospects list, has a three-pitch mix (fastball, changeup, breaking ball) and is simply a winner.
Other right-handers worth keeping an eye on are Houston's Aaron Garza, Bryant's Kevin McAvoy and Southeastern Louisiana's Andro Cutura.
Teams: Indiana, Indiana State, Stanford, Youngstown State
Top players: Big Ten champion and 2013 College World Series entrant Indiana is led by Kyle Schwarber, a power-hitting catcher ranked No. 16 among Draft prospects, according to MLBPipeline.com. Along with that probable first rounder, the Hoosiers also have outfielder/first baseman Sam Travis (ranked No. 63).
No. 3-seeded Stanford is led by infielder Alex Blandino (No. 52), a high-average hitter with a good glove, and right-hander A.J. Vanegas (No. 152).
Teams: Virginia, Bucknell, Liberty, Arkansas
Top players: No. 1-seeded Virginia has three players on MLB.com's Top 100 Draft Prospects list: outfielder Derek Fisher (No. 26), right-hander Nick Howard (No. 31) and first baseman/outfielder Mike Papi (No. 45).
Arkansas has a trio ranked in the top 200: right-hander Chris Oliver (No. 48), second baseman Brian Anderson (No. 121) and lefty Jalen Beeks (No. 174).
Teams: South Carolina, Campbell, Old Dominion, Maryland
Top players: The Gamecocks have a host of solid players who have been on College World Series teams in the past, including catcher Grayson Greiner (No. 88), third baseman Joey Pankake (No. 124), lefty Jordan Montgomery (No. 160) and outfielder Tanner English.
Maryland right-hander Jake Stinnett (No. 72) is another name to know.
Teams: Miami (Fla.), Bethune-Cookman, Columbia, Texas Tech
Top players: This might as well be dubbed the "Southpaw Region." The Hurricanes possess a quality pitching staff, led by the lefty trio of Andrew Suarez (No. 86), Chris Diaz (No. 138) and Brian Radziewski.
Two other lefties -- John Sever (Bethune-Cookman) and Chris Sadberry (Texas Tech) -- are also on scouts' radars.
Teams: Oregon State, UC Irvine, UNLV, North Dakota State
Top players: No. 1 overall seed Oregon State features lefty-swinging Michael Conforto (No. 17), one of the best outfield college bats in the Draft, and outfielder/right-hander Dylan Davis (No. 74), who prepped with Conforto at Redmond (Wash.) High and also flashes power at the plate.
UC Irvine third baseman Taylor Sparks (No. 56) is a big, strong corner infielder with power, while UNLV right-hander Erick Fedde (No. 33) won't pitch because of Tommy John surgery but could still go in the first round.
Teams: Texas Christian, Siena, Sam Houston State, Dallas Baptist
Top players: TCU lefty Brandon Finnegan (No. 15) is small in stature (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) but brings the heat with a 93-95 mph fastball that can occasionally reach the upper 90s. The Horned Frogs also have a familiar name at first base in Kevin Cron, whose father, Chris, manages Detroit's Double-A affiliate, and whose brother, C.J, is the Angels' No. 3-rated prospect.
Dallas Baptist right-hander Cy Sneed is ranked 178th in the top 200.
Teams: Florida, College of Charleston, North Carolina, Long Beach State
Top players: No. 1 seed Florida isn't led by Draft-eligible star power -- only catcher Taylor Gushue (No. 106) checks into the top 200 -- but has a handful of players who will get selected in the mid-to-late rounds.
North Carolina shortstop Michael Russell (No. 196) and Dirtbags outfielder Richard Prigatano (No. 154) are also ones to watch.
Teams: Rice, Texas, Texas A&M, George Mason
Top players: Rice right-hander Zech Lemond has missed six weeks with arm soreness, but if he pitches, MLB.com's 58th-best Draft prospect is certainly one to follow.
The Longhorns have a quintet of pitchers who should get drafted: lefty Dillon Peters (No. 83) and righties John Curtiss (No. 88), Cameron Cox, Parker French and Lukas Schiraldi (son of former Major Leaguer Calvin).
Texas A&M features right-handers Daniel Mengden (No. 101) and Corey Ray on the mound.
Teams: Louisiana Lafayette, Jackson State, San Diego State, Mississippi State
Top players: No. 4 seed Mississippi State -- last year's national runner-up -- features the highest-ranked player in the Lafayette Region, left-hander Jacob Lindgren (No. 51), as well as right-handers Brandon Woodruff and Jonathon Holder.
San Diego State has two players in MLB.com's Top 100 -- right-hander Michael Cederoth (No. 59) and outfielder Greg Allen (No. 81) -- while Louisiana Lafayette right-hander Austin Robichaux (No. 180) is in the top 200.
Teams: Louisville, Kentucky, Kansas, Kent State
Top players: Louisville closer Nick Burdi (No. 34) and Kentucky first baseman/left-hander A.J. Reed (No. 30) could go in the Draft's first round, while Wildcats outfielder Austin Cousino (No. 182) also ranks in the top 200.
Teams: Vanderbilt, Oregon, Clemson, Xavier
Top players: Vandy's Tyler Beede (No. 12) has seen his stock drop this season, but the right-hander should become just the 18th player selected in the first round of two different June Drafts. Clemson right-hander Daniel Gossett (No. 87) is the only other player in the Nashville Regional to crack the Top 100, but Vanderbilt righty Adam Ravenelle and Oregon right-hander Jake Reed are thought of highly by scouts.
Teams: Mississippi, Jacksonville State, Georgia Tech, Washington
Top players: Ole Miss right-hander Chris Ellis (No. 79) is the top-ranked player in the Oxford Region, but Georgia Tech (righties Matt Grimes and Dusty Isaacs; lefty Sam Clay) and Washington (right-hander Jeff Brigham, outfielder Robert Pehl) have several players to monitor closely.
San Luis Obispo
Teams: Cal Poly, Sacramento State, Pepperdine, Arizona State
Top players: Cal Poly has a trio of prospects -- left-hander Matt Imhof (No. 44), outfielder Nick Torres (No. 109) and righty Reid Reilly (No. 156) -- as well as second baseman Jimmy Allen.
Pepperdine left-hander/outfielder Aaron Brown (No. 120) and Sacramento State first baseman Rhys Hoskins (No. 170) also rank in MLBPipeline.com's top 200.
Teams: Oklahoma State, Cal State Fullerton, Nebraska, Binghamton
Top players: Fullerton features the Stillwater Region's only Top 100 prospects in first baseman/right-hander J.D. Davis (No. 75) and third baseman Matt Chapman (No. 82).
Nebraska outfielder Austin Darby and left-hander Kyle Kubat, as well as Oklahoma outfielder Zach Fish, are others who should get drafted.
Teams: Florida State, Alabama, Kennesaw State, Georgia Southern
Top players: Kennesaw State catcher Max Pentecost was the Rangers' seventh-round pick in 2011, but he opted to attend the Georgia school rather than sign. It was a good call, as Pentecost (No. 19) should be the first college catcher selected.
Florida State right-hander Luke Weaver (No. 32) and Alabama righty Spencer Turnbull (No. 71) are the other top players in the Tallahassee Region, but Tide catcher Matt Morgan (No. 126) and Georgia Southern lefty Sam Howard (No. 153) also should go within the top 10 rounds or so.