One of the great advantages of having the 2014 Major League Baseball draft take place right before the College World Series begins is the way it brings players to the forefront of fans who would otherwise have a casual interest in this event.
College baseball has always been a niche sport, but the widespread popularity of the draft and added exposure, thanks to ESPN's coverage, has allowed it to grow in recent years. Now everyone knows who the top teams in the country are (Virginia, Vanderbilt, Louisville, TCU) and the stars leading those teams.
As the college world descends on Omaha for the start of the 2014 College World Series, there is tremendous talent that will be on display for the world to see. These are the names to pay close attention to as their schools attempt to make history.
Tyler Beede, RHP, Vanderbilt
Tyler Beede has been a known commodity to baseball fans for three years when he was the 21st overall pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2011 draft. He opted not to sign and attended school instead, spending three years as a starter at Vanderbilt.
The right-hander was just taken by the San Francisco Giants with the 14th overall pick in last week's draft. Beede has had an inconsistent college career, never harnessing his control long enough to dominate the way his plus fastball-changeup suggest he should.
This season, for instance, Beede's ERA jumped more than a run from 2013 (2.32 to 3.58) with a pedestrian 108-47 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 103 innings.
If Vanderbilt is going to make a deep run in Omaha, Beede's got to be the starter to carry them. He's struggled recently, allowing nine earned runs with eight hits, nine walks and six strikeouts in his last two starts.
The upside for Beede is huge, and he's capable of turning it on at a moment's notice. This is the stage he wanted, which is why you go to Vanderbilt to play baseball. He's got the intensity on the mound you want from your top starter, so this is his shot in the spotlight before going to professional baseball.
Brandon Finnegan, LHP, TCU
A whirlwind season for TCU ace Brandon Finnegan appears to be ending in outstanding fashion. He came back late in the year after missing time with shoulder problems, pitched well against Baylor on May 24 (seven strikeouts in 4.2 innings) and was drafted 17th overall by Kansas City.
Despite the injury concerns, Finnegan has been incredible for the Horned Frogs this season. He set career-highs in innings (97.2), ERA (2.12), strikeouts (129) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (129-27).
Left-handers who can touch 96 mph with a wipeout slider are a commodity at every level—but especially in college baseball. Finnegan is the key to TCU's rotation in the College World Series. Preston Morrison has a better ERA, but he isn't capable of missing bats in the same way as the southpaw.
Sikes Orvis, IF, Mississippi
We can't leave the offense hanging, though, in today's college game it's become much harder to come by. Mississippi is a throwback team in that it can score runs with anyone in the country and has problems preventing runs.
The Rebels put on a hitting display in the Super Regionals against a potent Louisiana-Lafayette offense, scoring 10 runs on the road in the decisive third game to earn a date with top-ranked Virginia in Omaha.
Sikes Orvis is the leader of Mississippi's offense, hitting 14 homers and slugging .555. He hit a solo home run in the fourth inning against Louisiana-Lafayette to give Ole Miss a 3-1 lead.
Virginia had one of the best pitching staffs in the country this season, ranking fifth in ERA (2.31) and tied for seventh in strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.92), so the onus will be on Mississippi to find cracks in the seams whenever possible.
Orvis' 14 homers are tied for seventh in the country, and nearly half of Virginia's total as a team this season (33). TD Ameritrade Park isn't a hitter's paradise, so big-time power hitters have to take advantage of their opportunities.
Mississippi isn't going to outpitch any team in the College World Series. Orvis is the leader of the Rebels offense and has not shied away from the big stage yet, so this will be his moment to step up against arguably the best team in college baseball.
Stats courtesy of NCAA.com unless otherwise noted.
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