After playing each other in the opener of the 2014 College World Series, the Texas Longhorns will be taking on the UC Irvine Anteaters once again, and there will be a few MLB prospects to keep an eye on during the game.
In their previous meeting, the Anteaters were able to win 3-1. However, since then the Anteaters fell to Vanderbilt 6-4, while the Longhorns got a 4-1 win over Louisville. Now the two will be playing in an elimination game, with the winner keeping their national title hopes alive in Omaha and the loser going home.
As Wednesday night's game approaches, here are three prospects to watch, all of whom were selected in the 2014 MLB draft.
Connor Spencer, 1B, UC Irvine
Selected No. 242 overall by New York Yankees
As the team's leading hitter in terms of average, Connor Spencer will be looking to get on base and drive in runs on Wednesday night, and Yankees fans will be watching to see what the talented first baseman can do.
In 65 games this season, Spencer has led the team with a .362 batting average and .450 on-base percentage. He only has one home run this season but leads the team with 44 RBI. At the time he was drafted, Bryan Hoch of MLB.com gave a quick description of Spencer:
Yankees' eighth-round pick is 1B Connor Spencer from UC Irvine. Scouts say he's a line drive hitter but lacks power.— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) June 6, 2014
Hoch's description is pretty accurate. He isn't a power hitter like a lot of first basemen, but he has great contact on the ball and drives it into the gaps. Spencer has also been a very patient hitter, putting up 23 walks and just 25 strikeouts, which shows his plate discipline.
His power doesn't translate to the position, but Spencer is still a very reliable first baseman, committing just two errors this season. With a solid hit tool and consistency at first base, Spencer should be able to quickly climb through the Yankees' farm system.
John Curtiss, RHP, Texas
Selected No. 170 overall by Minnesota Twins
If the Longhorns have the lead by the end of the game they may very well avoid elimination, as they have a strong closer in John Curtiss.
A former starter, Curtiss missed the entire 2013 season after Tommy John surgery and has been the team's closer this season. In 26 appearances, he's been solid, posting a 2.20 ERA with 31 strikeouts and just 32 hits allowed while holding opponents to a .216 batting average.
There's a chance Curtiss stays in the bullpen for the Twins if he signs, but scouting director Deron Johnson thinks he could return to the starter role.
"We actually think he has a chance to be a starter," Johnson told Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com. "He's tall with a projectable-looking body. He's got three pitches he can throw for strikes. So he might be that conversion guy."
Curtiss has an ideal frame at 6'5", throwing a mid-90s fastball with some developing off-speed pitches. His command can be shaky at times, but as he continues to recover from the surgery, his command should come back.
Taylor Sparks, 3B, UC Irvine
Selected No. 58 overall by Cincinnati Reds
Even though UC Irvine isn't the powerhouse it used to be, the Anteaters still consistently produce MLB prospects, and Taylor Sparks was their highest-drafted player this year, going in the second round to the Reds.
This season, he's hit .313 with five home runs, 37 RBI and a team-high 45 runs scored. Aaron Fitt of Baseball America has been very impressed with the third baseman's play, pointing out that Sparks has been dominant this postseason:
And Irvine surges ahead on Taylor Sparks' 2-run single up the middle. Sparks has had so many big hits this postseason. He's a menace.— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) June 17, 2014
From a hitting standpoint, Sparks has a very smooth swing and quick bat speed, making it look like a pro-ready swing. Thanks to that textbook swing, he has solid power to drive the ball to the gaps or even out of the park.
Defensively, Sparks has good enough speed and a strong enough arm to be an average defender, which is fine if his bat translates to the majors, which it looks like it will. Even if it takes a few years, Sparks could eventually become a solid middle-of-the-lineup hitter for the Reds at third base.