April 15, 2008

Every other week, SIOC's Bryan Smith checks in with a look across the college baseball universe.

1. Miami (30-3) -- After sweeping Georgia Tech in its hardest road test of the season, Miami moves to the top spot in the rankings. The bats are picking up -- the Hurricanes are currently batting .343 on the season. Sophomore Blake Tekotte (.390/.506/.634, 16-for-19 SB) and junior Jemile Weeks (.403/.463/.723, 11-for-12 SB) have been spark plugs at the top of the Hurricanes lineup. On the mound, freshman left-hander Chris Hernandez has snagged five wins and the most important job on the pitching staff -- pitching Friday nights.

2. Arizona State (30-4) -- Over the last two weeks, the Sun Devils have finally come down to earth. Last week, ASU lost its first road series of the season against Stanford and last weekend, it dropped a Saturday game to Washington State. Over the past two weekends, ASU is 3-3 while being outscored 32-8 in those contests. The good news is that ASU will win a lot of games on the arm of Ike Davis, the most valuable player in the country due to his contributions with the bat (.423/.484/.876) and on the mound (1.12 ERA, 3 SV).

3. North Carolina (29-7) -- Seven losses is a high number for a team ranked No. 3, but many of the losses have been inconsequential and the Tar Heels have yet to lose a weekend series. This is a team designed for the postseason and I'm not convinced we'll see them at their best until June. The offense has many different contributors and a bona fide star in sophomore Dustin Ackley, who has 30 walks, 13 steals and 17 extra-base hits in 36 games. Another sophomore, Alex White, has developed in the team ace, and boasts a 1.67 ERA on the season. North Carolina's biggest strength, however, might be its bullpen as the Tar Heels have five pitchers with 10 appearances and a sub-2.00 ERA.

4. Florida State (31-3) -- The Seminoles are on a nine-game winning streak as they head into this weekend's series against top-ranked Miami. The Seminoles' scorekeeper will be busy as Florida State's offensive numbers are an astounding 32 OPS points better than Miami's. Much of that is thanks to the best hitter in the country, junior catcher Buster Posey (.469/.571/.862). On the mound, sophomore Matt Fairel has been competitive in every outing and has won all eight of his starts. 5. Missouri (25-9) -- Despite 30-40 mph winds in Friday's much-anticipated game against Texas, the Missouri offense put on a show in front of its home crowd, beating the Longhorns 31-12. The game marked the end of ace Aaron Crow's scoreless innings streak, as the potential top draft pick was nearing 50 innings and the NCAA record. However, the 48-run weekend did prove that there is an offense hiding underneath the nation's best pitching staff. Among the standouts were first baseman Jacob Priday, who hit four home runs in Friday's wind-fueled victory.

6. UC Irvine (23-6) -- Every season in college baseball, a West Coast team cracks the top 10 by proving to be the best team on the coast at pitching, defense and small ball. For the second consecutive season, it looks like Irvine is that team, even though its offense has produced just 18 home runs in 967 at-bats. The Anteaters' biggest strength is its pitching -- 1-2 combo Scott Gorgen and Bryce Stowell have combined for a 2.06 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 105 innings this season. Like Arizona State, the Anteaters are 3-3 in the last two weekends, but an easier schedule remains and a 45-win season is in sight.

7. Nebraska (25-6-1) -- The Huskers aren't the nation's most talented team, but they might just be the best coached. Mike Anderson is getting the most out of his players this season by keeping the ball in the park, playing good defense, taking walks and stealing bases. The Huskers' .408 slugging percentage reflects an offense that tends to fall asleep, but Nebraska wins games with its pitching staff, led by senior Johnny Dorn (1.98 ERA, 0.88 WHIP) 8. Wichita State (27-5) -- It has been nearly two months since Long Beach State swept the Shockers, but the series sticks out like a sore thumb on their resume. Despite a record of 24-2 since that series, the Shockers will not get more respect until they beat an enviable team, which they might not have the chance to until regionals, save a mid-week game against Arizona State in May. It's clear, however, that the Shockers are going to do three things exceptionally -- the pitchers will make quality starts (weekend starters combine for 2.52 ERA), the defense will make plays (.969 team fielding percentage), and the team will run effectively, stealing 63-of-73 bases on the season.

Four that just missed: Stanford, California, Georgia, Vanderbilt.


SIOC's best second-year players based on statistics and conversations with coaches and scouts

1. Steven Strausburg, San Diego State (1.97 ERA, 73 K, 50.1 IP) --Yes, Strausburg did strike out 23 Utah batters on Friday night. In doing so, the Aztec solidified his spot atop the 2009 draft class, showing command of a fastball that can touch triple digits. Most amazing about Strausburg is that he's allowed just eight walks and zero home runs on the season -- he gives away nothing free.

2. Kyle Gibson, Missouri (2.63 ERA, 59 K, 51.1 IP) -- Pitching in the Cape Cod League last summer, Gibson wowed scouts with his stuff and was considered the top prospect in his age group. Gibson is a rail-thin (6-foot-6), but can touch 92 mph and scouts believe he will add 5 mph to his fastball with some work in the weight room. Like Strausburg, Gibson has been dominant this season on the strength of fantastic fastball command.

3. Grant Green, USC (.397/.438/.621) -- Thanks to Troy Tulowitzki, you won't see many big college shortstops with power projections get past the top 10 in any future drafts. Though Green isn't quite on par Tulowitzki defensively, his skills on offense are similar. Green will need to work on his plate discipline next season, but he's a shortstop that projects to hit 20 home runs annually, a rare commodity these days.

4. Kendal Volz, Baylor (4.78 ERA, 56 K, 49 IP) -- Volz has had a topsy-turvy spring this season, but one thing is set in stone -- he will be a first-rounder next June. The 6-6 right-hander has one of the nation's best sinking fastball and his slider offers a nice change of pace. Volz needs to begin commanding the pitch better, however, as he still leaves too many sinkers up in the strike zone.

5. Andy Oliver, Oklahoma State (2.50 ERA, 54 K, 54 IP) -- Despite few opportunities to pitch during his freshman year, Oliver came on strong in the Cape Cod League last summer and landed the Friday night spot on the mound for the Cowboys. He boasts three plus pitches and is one of the top lefties in the nation, though he needs to work on his command.

6. Alex White, North Carolina (1.67 ERA, 49 K, 43 IP) -- As a freshman last season, White was thrown into the fire and came up big. Since then, he's become one of the most consistent aces in the nation. White can pitch in the mid 90s and throws a "heavy" ball, leaving batters struggling to make solid contact.

7. Mike Minor, Vanderbilt (3.95 ERA, 59 K, 57 IP) -- Minor has struggled with consistency as he tries to replace last year's No. 1 overall pick, David Price, but that hasn't kept the scouts away. He still boasts the nation's best change-up, but needs to solidify his breaking ball, as it remains an average, or below-average, pitch.

8. Robert Stock. USC (.345/.444/.455) -- Stock garnered some headlines last year when he opted out of his final season of high school ball to attend college a year early. The decision has paid off as Stock has garnered some serious experience and is still just 18. A catcher with a closer's arm, Stock has struck out just eight times in 110 at-bats this season, showing contact ability rarely seen at this level.

9. Jason Kipnis, Arizona State (.333/.460/.643) -- A transfer from Kentucky, Kipnis has been a stabilizing force in the Sun Devils lineup. Coach Pat Murphy has used the center fielder both in the leadoff spot and the middle of the order. The Sun Devil has thrived at both spots, hitting eight home runs with 29 walks and 12 steals in 34 games. No sophomore has a better developed five-tool set than Kipnis.

10. Dustin Ackley, North Carolina (.377/.472/.582) -- Scouts don't believe Ackley will be very powerful with a wooden bat in his hands, but the Tar Heel does too many things well not to be on this list. A first baseman by trade, Ackley is the most athletic at his position in the nation and some have suggested a move to second base or left field. However, with contact ability, base running and patience off the charts, Ackley will be a hot commodity in next year's draft.

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