Houston tourney showcases top college talent
Scouts gathering at Minute Maid Park for look at hard-throwing TCU lefty, others
Since its inception in 2001, the Houston College Classic has been a key early-season stop for scouts. The annual event at Minute Maid Park routinely hosts some of the top teams and players in the country, and this year is no different.
The tournament includes three teams ranked in this week's Top 25 rankings by Baseball America -- No. 12 Rice, No. 15 Texas and No. 16 TCU. They are joined by Sam Houston State, Texas Tech and the University of Houston, making the field an all-Texas affair for just the second time in the event's history. Play was scheduled to begin Friday afternoon and continue through Sunday.
From a scout's perspective, the main attraction is TCU left-hander Brandon Finnegan. He is ranked No. 21 on MLB.com's Top 50 Draft prospects list and has gotten off to a sizzling start. After going winless last season, Finnegan is 2-0 with no runs allowed in 14 innings. He struck out 22 batters and walked just three entering his Friday afternoon start against Sam Houston State.
Finnegan's main weapon is his low- to mid-90s fastball. His changeup and slider give him two more quality pitches to keep hitters off balance. Finnegan said he worked to improve his command and slider during the offseason and was pleased with the results.
"Everything is clicking," he said. "I'm not trying to do too much, just do what I did last year and put us in the best situation to win."
Finnegan was looking forward to pitching in a big league stadium for the first time. He said he had watched a few games at Minute Maid Park and was in the stands in 2004 when Houston hosted the All-Star Game.
"I have a lot of great memories there," Finnegan said. "I met Barry Bonds. He was my favorite player growing up. Hopefully there are even better memories to come there."
Finnegan is not the only player scouts will watch closely this weekend. He and TCU first baseman Kevin Cron, a third-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, will take on Sam Houston State ace Tyler Eppler, who also could go in the first 10 rounds of the Draft.
Rice and Texas will follow in Friday's nightcap and have several potential early-round Draft picks between them. The anticipated matchup will pit Longhorns left-hander Dillon Peters against Owls right-hander Jordan Stephens. Scouts will also track Rice closer Zech Lemond and first baseman Skyler Ewing, as well as the rest of the Longhorns' rotation, junior right-handers Parker French and Lukas Schiraldi.