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The 2011 Houston College Classic lacked star power in terms of teams with only Rice and Texas A&M ranked entering the tournament, but the sheer quality of talent on display was impressive.
Kentucky finished the tournament 1-2 but showed signs of being a force this season. The Wildcats have a pair of solid starting pitchers in top prospect Alex Meyer and Jordan Cooper, while speedster Brian Adams is one to watch at the plate.
Houston continues to make strides with coach Todd Whitting leading the way, but still has much more work to do both at the plate and the mound despite guys such as Chase Jensen rising to the occasion.
Baylor has an elite ace pitcher in Logan Verrett but there are some questions about the rest of its weekend rotation. The offense, meanwhile, is in solid shape moving forward with Max Muncy, Landis Ware and Brooks Pinckard leading the way.
Texas A&M has two of the nation’s top starting pitchers in John Stilson and Michael Wacha leading the way, but the No. 3 starting spot and offense must be solidified.
Rice has a solid weekend rotation, but has plenty of concerns both at the plate and in the bullpen.
Utah was the surprise of the tournament with starting pitchers Rick Anton, Zach Adams and Joe Pond rising to the occasion. Slugger CJ Cron, a top draft prospect, also impressed scouts and observers alike over the weekend.
We take an in-depth look back at the teams and individual players at the Houston College Classic.
GRADING THE TEAMS
Baylor: The Bears entered the Houston College Classic fresh off series wins over Oral Roberts and Georgia and didn’t disappoint. The Bears defeated Houston and Rice, but dropped a tough contest to Utah. The Bears have a very solid staff ace in Logan Verrett, but there’s definitely some concern about fellow weekend starters Trent Blank and Josh Turley, and whether they can be top level starters. The bullpen only should get better with freshman hurler Trae Davis standing out. Offensively, it’s hard not to like the Bears. Max Muncy, Brooks Pinckard, Joey Hainsfurther and Landis Ware give BU a very solid nucleus to start with. Essentially, the Bears’ ability to make a huge statement the rest of the season hinges on the starting rotation.
Houston: There’s no question the culture at UH has changed with coach Todd Whitting in charge. The Cougars play an extremely aggressive style and that will lead to some wins this season. However, the Cougars have played a little over their heads to start the season. Codey Morehouse and crafty left-hander Jordan Lewis are serviceable weekend starters, while Chase Wellbrock was touched up pretty good in the tourney finale against Texas A&M. Matt Creel and Dakota Dill basically make up the UH bullpen. Offensively, the Cougars have a pair of solid hitters in Chase Jensen and Caleb Ramsey, but otherwise lave something to be desired. Houston should be happy with finishing Whitting’s first season with a .500 record.
Kentucky: One look at the Wildcats as they take the field and you’re left wondering why they’re .500 without playing a tough schedule. That’s simply because the Wildcats haven’t figured out how to win just yet. Kentucky has some impressive offensive players, particularly athletic Brian Adams, who also is a football player for the Wildcats. Taylor Black, Braden Kapteyn and Luke Maile also are solid hitters. On the mound, Alex Meyer looked simply phenomenal at times while touching 96 mph, but also had issues putting pitches in hitters’ wheelhouses. Jordan Cooper finished the weekend in impressive fashion. Trevor Gott was solid in relief on Sunday, but again, the Wildcats have issues closing out games on the mound. Consistency is an issue with this team, but much success can be had if they put everything together.
Rice: The Owls have an 8-6 record for a reason. At the plate, Anthony Rendon, Craig Manuel and Jeremy Rathjen have been solid, while the rest of the lineup leaves something to be desired. The Owls are hitting just .275. On the mound, you’re not going to find many freshman pitchers more talented than Austin Kubitza and John Simms, but things get very sketchy on the mound after those two, though, Matthew Reckling has shown an ability to put together fantastic performances. The Owls are a team with a decent offense, good starting rotation and an average bullpen. That generally doesn’t translate to Omaha appearance, but it’s still early.
Texas A&M: It was easy to see what was holding the Aggies back in Houston. Weekend starters John Stilson and Michael Wacha had masterful performances, but the Aggies managed to score just one run in losses to Utah and Rice. The Aggies have a good one in outfielder Krey Bratsen, but otherwise left Minute Maid Park without making much of an impression at the plate. On the mound, you can’t beat what the Aggies have in Stilson and Wacha, but there’s some instability with the No. 3 rotation spot. Ross Hales had a poor start against Houston and Dylan Mendoza will take his place this weekend against Florida International. The Aggies have below average offense, good front-line starting pitching and a good bullpen. Offense is the key with this team.
Utah: The Utes certainly don’t have much in the way of offense outside of stud slugger CJ Cron, but can feel confident about their weekend rotation and overall pitching staff moving forward. Weekend starters Rick Anton, Zach Adams and Joe Pond performed solidly against good competition, while Ben Mordini and Tyler Wagner also impressed. The Utes could make some serious noise in the Mountain West Conference if their starters continue at the current pace and their offense establishes some top-to-bottom consistency.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
RHP Logan Verrett, Baylor: The talented right-hander looked good in Houston and is a solid prospect for the upcoming draft. He is 2-1 so far this season and has a 4.02 ERA in 15 2/3 innings. Verrett also has struck out 16 and walked five and teams are hitting .305 against him.
1B Max Muncy, Baylor: The talented first baseman didn’t stand out too much until he hit a grand slam on Sunday to beat Rice, but he’s destined for a solid campaign. Muncy is hitting .360 with a home run and 13 RBIs. He also is slugging .480 and has a .429 batting average.
SS Landis Ware, Baylor: Very impressed with him both offensively and in the field. Ware is having a good year at the plate with a .341 average and nine RBIs. But he was most impressive in the field over the weekend. Ware was extremely smooth, made the routine plays and also made tough plays reminiscent of former BU shortstop Beamer Weems. Bears have a good in Ware.
SS Chase Jensen, Houston: At least some scouts believe the sophomore junior college transfer is a rising prospect. Jensen is tall and lanky and may look out of position to some. However, he is extremely smooth at shortstop and makes most plays look easy. Jensen also is a solid hitter with a .364 average, two homers and 12 RBIs.
RHP Alex Meyer, Kentucky: We could talk all day about what there is to like about Meyer. The top junior prospect looked fantastic at times against Houston, but also threw a fastball that Houston often was able to catch up to and slap for a base hit. Meyer has a wealth of potential and topped out at 97 mph, but must be more consistent with his stuff as the season progresses.
OF Brian Adams: He could be one of the rising stars in the SEC by the end of the season. Adams certainly looks the part at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, and also can run extremely well. He’s still a little raw at the plate, but still has a .385 average with four RBIs. Adams only will get better as he gains more experience.
RHP Trevor Gott: The Wildcats had some bullpen issues last weekend, but the freshman was a bright spot and solidified himself as the club’s key reliever. Gott has appeared in five games this season without allowing a run. He also has struck out 11 in 8 1/3 innings and teams are hitting just .226 off him.
3B Anthony Rendon, Rice: It only was a couple of weeks ago Rendon was hitting around .220. Now the slugging third baseman is back to business and is hitting .408 with four doubles, a triple, three homers and nine RBIs. Rendon, who still is recovering from a strained shoulder, continues to serve as designated hitter. But he’s expected to return to the field sooner rather than later.
OF Jeremy Rathjen, Rice: Also a talented junior prospect, Rathjen has taken some pressure off Rendon the past couple of weeks. Though Rathjen is just hitting .304 with a .365 on-base percentage, he has recorded five doubles and knocked in 18 runs. Rathjen’s average will increase as the season progresses.
RHP Austin Kubitza, Rice: Kubitza did his best Ryan Berry impersonation against Texas A&M over the weekend. The freshman right-handed pitcher tossed a complete game shutout and was masterful, moving his pitches throughout the zone and consistently throwing 90-93 mph. Kubitza has a 2.18 ERA in 20 2/3 innings and teams are just hitting .231 against him.
RHP John Stilson, Texas A&M: The Aggies gambled before the season when they decided to move Stilson from closer to the weekend rotation. That gamble has paid off so far this season as Stilson once again was masterful last weekend against Utah. He was consistently 90-94 mph throughout the game. There’s no question Stilson is making a strong case to be a first-round pick.
RHP Michael Wacha, Texas A&M: Wacha put together a phenomenal start against Rice last weekend, where he consistently threw 90-92 mph and topped out at 94 mph. However, he was upstaged by Rice starter Austin Kubitza. Rice coach Wayne Graham was particularly impressed with Wacha’s changeup. The righty gives the Aggies a solid one-two punch on the weekend.
OF Krey Bratsen, Texas A&M: The Aggies raved about Brasten before the season, and it’s now easy to see why. The talented freshman outfielder makes every play at first base look close because of his fantastic speed. Bratsen also is a solid fielder and is hitting a team-high .340 through 14 games. Bratsen, who will be a draft-eligible sophomore, may only be in College Station, Texas for two seasons.
1B CJ Cron, Utah: Cron had quite the Rendon-esque effect on the crowd at Minute Maid Park. When he came to the plate, everyone, including myself, paid attention. He always seemed to put a hard bat on the ball, and it’s easy to see why he’s a rising prospect for the upcoming draft. Oh yeah, the big boy is hitting .444 with three homers and nine RBIs. He’s a fun player to watch.
LHP Rick Anton, Utah: Fellow weekend starter Zach Adams also is worth watching, but keep close tabs on Anton. The senior left-hander was phenomenal against A&M and has been great the first three weeks of the season. Anton has a 1.45 ERA in 18 2/3 innings and has recorded 19 strikeouts. He also is limiting teams to a .185 average. Utah has a solid ace pitcher in Anton.
Kendall Rogers is the managing editor of college baseball for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org