may remember a story I wrote prior to the beginning of the college
baseball season in which I compiled a wish-list of stops. It was my
'bucket list' of sorts – my imaginary road-trip that would enable
me to see the best teams and players on the long road to Omaha –
the pinnacle of collegiate greatness.
road-trip remained a figment of my imagination…that is until Friday
as I did, finally,
it to the College World Series that I have always yearned to attend.
Toss the Perfect Game National onto that list – and thanks to my
recent addition to the Perfect Game family on a full-time basis – and both dreams have been fulfilled.
fact, both aspirations were accomplished in just over one week's
time. Mind you, it didn't take me the 20,000 miles I noted in the
aforementioned story (at least not literally), but on many levels my
journeys far surpassed any amount of travel put on the road.
1979, I have resided in Southeastern Wisconsin.
wife, who was born in Milwaukee,
has never lived anywhere outside of the state. I had been at my
previous place of employment (where I met my wife) for over 14 years.
And to make matters more challenging, insofar as my baseball
aspirations, my previous employment’s busy season was May-September
therefore making any of my dreams to experience the College World
Series, or the National Showcase, impossible.
year is very different, but not without sacrifice.
my acceptance of a full-time position with Perfect Game, my wife and
I made the extremely difficult decision to remove our family from our
roots and move to Iowa.
Neither she nor I (nor our Wisconsin family for that matter) ever
thought we’d leave the state lines. To put it mildly, the emotional side of our
decision has been very tough.
the allure of baseball was far too powerful. And, it helps that each
and every person affiliated with Perfect Game lives and breathes
baseball, which makes it very easy for someone like me. I like to
think that alone is what drew them to me, and vice versa. The passion
for the game is something that can only be shared, and not explained
in words, among those that share this common bond.
made the ability to finally attend the College World Series even more
trumped in Omaha
one day I took in the festivities at the College World Series was the
last game prior to the finals, in which defending champion South
Carolina and fellow SEC powerhouse Florida advanced.
treated to a pair of aces taking the mound in each of of the two
games: Sonny Gray of Vanderbilt and Danny Hultzen of Virginia.
Both pitchers entered the day with a 12-3 record on the year, collectively posting a 1.77 ERA with
281 strikeouts in 234 innings of work, both among the national
leaders in strikeouts behind UCLA's Trevor Bauer.
went second overall to the Mariners in the draft just a couple of
short weeks ago with Gray going 18th
to the Athletics.
while both pitched well, at least as far as their raw stuff is
concerned, two completely different reasons prevented either from having a positive impact on the final outcome of the games they played.
stuff certainly wasn't to blame for his final pitching line (7
innings, 12 hits, 6 ER, 8 K, 5 BB), as he was throwing his fastball
in the 93-95 range with his usual low-80s hammer curve. However, his
command wasn't as sharp as it has been in the past, which may be
easily chalked up to an already long season for the Commodores. One
could argue that he shouldn't have been allowed to enter the seventh
inning, much less the eighth, but it's hard to argue with the team's
decision to stick with their ace of three years when facing
the first, Gray didn't have a clean inning, and really had to bear
down time after time to get out of jams. Similar to the final
outcome of the second game of the day, he was fortunate to leave the
game giving up as few runs as he did, as runners constantly reached
early, and subsequently found themselves in scoring position.
on the other hand was lights out, as he too sat 93-95 with impeccable
command of his entire repertoire. The flu bug he entered the game
battling got the best of him, and limited his outing to only three
innings (striking out 8 of the 10 batters he faced), departing well
before Virginia's marathon 13-inning contest against South Carolina
came to a close.
sitting alongside Perfect Game's college baseball expert, Kendall
Rogers, who told me he felt Hultzen's outing was arguably the most
dominant he has seen all season long, most of my focus was on the
talent on the field, and not the game itself.
means I'm not going to go in-depth on the final outcome of either
game, particularly the late one, a classic yet unconventional nail
biter between Virginia and South Carolina that lasted 13 innings.
In addition, since
the 2011 draft has passed, as nice as it was to see Gray and Hultzen
take the mound, most of my attention was on the players that
currently have the greatest chance to make an early impression on
both the 2012 and 2013 draft classes.
knows that Florida is loaded with talent, particularly for next
player of the year Mike Zunino had only 1 hit in this game, and
struck out twice, but it's hard to argue with the overall season
results. He slugged 18 home runs and 22 doubles on the season while
hitting .366, and handled one of the finest pitching staffs in the
nation admirably. He continues to show a very good approach at the
plate, and has good bat speed to go along with a disciplined eye, but
there are some holes in his swing.
Maddox was part of the same recruiting class as Zunino, with a
power/power profile who enjoyed a sensational freshman season for the
Gators as the team's third baseman and cleanup hitter. This year
didn't go as well at the plate for Maddox, who started the season at
first base, but he was turned upon more frequently out of the
bullpen. There he excelled serving as the team's de-facto closer
late in the year and during this game. Maddox threw his fastball
easily in the 93-95 range, and while he ran into some trouble in the
he shut things down in the 9th
to carry the Gators to the finals.
two-way star, Brian Johnson, hasn't been turned to as a starter since
suffering a concussion a few weeks ago, but has continued to serve in his role as the team's designated hitter. His future is brighter on
the mound, but he has one of the best approaches at the plate in the
college game, with a smooth left-handed swing that has led to some
big hits down the stretch.
much gets by shortstop Nolan Fontana, who makes the position look
easy with soft hands and a strong and accurate infield arm. He too employs a sound,
patient approach, although he doesn't project to hit for much power
at the next level despite going 2-for-3 in this contest.
freshman Kevin Ziomek looks to continue a strong tradition of
pitching, particularly among left-handers, for the Commodores. He
struck out the only batter he faced, using a 90-92 fastball and sharp
77 mph curve. With the likely departure of Gray, Grayson Garvin and
Taylor Hill from Vanderbilt's weekend rotation, Ziomek is poised to
assume a crucial role, possibly as the team's Friday ace, next year.
closer Branden Kline, who was tied for second in the nation with 18
saves, was asked to provide 5 exceptional innings opposite South
Carolina closer Matt Price in the second game of Friday's action.
to go in the top 2-3 rounds of next year's draft, Kline showed good
command of a 90-91 fastball that touched 94 and a low-80s slider. He
has a well-proportioned, athletic build with long, wiry strong arms,
a high waist and a sturdy lower half. He relied more and more on his
breaking ball in the later innings of his appearance, and continually
did a good job getting out of jams to push the contest to 13 innings.
Similar to Ziomek, with Hultzen and Tyler Wilson likely graduating
to pro ball, I wouldn't be surprised to see Kline get a chance to be
a weekend starter for the Cavaliers next spring.
Carolina's Christian Walker and Evan Marzilli will continue to provide
plenty of run production for the Gamecocks' offense after the
expected departure of Jackie Bradley, Jr.
shows a patient approach with an aggressive swing, with a similar
physical profile to that of former Gamecock Steven Pearce.
is more of a picture-perfect athlete with obvious strength and 5-tool
potential. He isn't as refined at the plate as Walker, and is prone
to strikeouts, but has an interesting blend of power and speed.
shortstop Chris Taylor has a tall, slender build with room for added
strength. He shows good bat speed at the plate and good actions on
star Mitchell Shifflett caused Rogers and I to look up his Perfect
Game profile, where we discovered he ran an eye-popping 6.11 60-yard
dash at the 2009 National Showcase. The fact that he entered the
game as a pinch runner and left the game when he was substituted for
a pinch hitter before recording a plate appearance says enough about
his need for improvement at the plate, but it's clear this kid can
I didn't touch upon every player that took the field today, I can't
take in the College World Series and not mention Jackie Bradley, Jr.
been one of the most exciting players to watch at the college level over the past three seasons despite dealing with injuries this past year.
While he didn't do much on this day, at least at the plate, his tools
are obvious. However, as I have contended before, he needs to learn
to play within his potential at the plate. Too often he swings for
the fences, and while he shows natural power potential, even to the
opposite field, he is at his best working the count, going with
pitches and getting on base. His defense alone is going to be an
attribute at the professional level, and if he is able to make the
necessary adjustments offensively, he could be a star.
time any notable baseball event occurs outside of the realm of
Perfect Game, it is rewarding to look at the players that take the
field and see if they have crossed paths with ours. Whether it be
the College World Series, the upcoming Futures Game or any player
from any game at both the minor league and major league levels, the
number of players that has previously attended a Perfect Game event
continues to grow exponentially.
year the number of former Perfect Game players that took the field on
Friday in Omaha was particularly impressive.
33 players on South Carolina's roster, 30 had previously attended a
Perfect Game event.
Perfect Game alumni also grace Virginia's 34 player roster.
one member of both Florida's 34-man roster and Vanderbilt's 35 did
not previously attend a Perfect Game event, leading to 127 total
players out of 136 of the four remaining teams during my one-day stay
farther to all eight teams that made it to the College World Series,
87 percent of the total player pool are Perfect Game alumni, and more
than 70 of those players had attended the National Showcase.
of those players (Jack Armstrong, Sonny Gray, Conrad Gregor, Austin
Maddox, Scott Silverstein, Karsten Whitson and Mike Zunino) had
participated in the Aflac All-American Classic, now known as the
Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings.
to my comment above about those that share a unique and common bond
through baseball, none of these points are brought up in an attempt
to put a feather in our own cap, but as a way to express an honest
sense of pride to know how many talented young ballplayers we have
been associated with over the years.
genuinely look forward to be a part of that while watching the waves
of the future progress.