2014 College World Series: 4 MLB Draft Picks Who Will Be Finals X-Factors
The finals of the 2014 College World Series are set to begin Monday with the first game of a best-of-three series between Virginia and Vanderbilt. Each team will be seeking its first CWS title in program history.
Virginia is making its first-ever trip to the finals, and their performance during the regionals and super regionals has them pegged as the favorite to win this year’s title. Specifically, the team’s pitching staff has been unimaginably good, as it has been the driving force behind the Cavaliers' surge toward the finals, with a combined 1.34 ERA and 72/23 K/BB in 87 innings over nine games.
Vanderbilt, meanwhile, will be making its second CWS finals appearance in the last four years, and they are looking to avenge a 2011 loss to Florida. Though loaded with a host of impressive arms, the Commodores offense is the reason the team is now two wins away from its first title. As a whole, Vandy is batting .297 through 10 games with a tournament-leading 24 stolen bases and 6.3 runs per game.
The two teams also had a combined total of four players selected in the first round (including the compensation rounds) of the MLB first-year player draft earlier this month, and each of those players has the potential to impact the upcoming series and help their team make history.
Here are the four MLB draft picks who will be X-factors in the finals of the 2014 College World Series.
Tyler Beede, RHP, Vanderbilt
Drafted: San Francisco Giants (First round, No. 14 overall)
Season stats (18 starts): 8-7, 106.2 IP, 3.80 ERA, .214 BAA, 18 HBP, 50 BB (4.2 BB/9), 112 K (9.5 K/9)
CWS stats (3 Starts): 1-0, 16.1 IP, 5.51 ERA, .211 BAA, 6 HBP, 9 BB, 20 K
After a very promising but also inconsistent sophomore season, Beede—the No. 21 overall selection in the 2011 draft by the Blue Jays—appeared to figure things out this year through the first half of Vanderbilt’s season, showing an improved feel for the strike zone with his entire arsenal. However, his control and command issues returned in mid-April and have continued to plague him into the playoffs.
Beede turned in the best performance of the 2014 season in Vanderbilt's NCAA regional opener, as he struck out 14 batters over eight shutout innings against Xavier. However, the right-hander’s control was virtually non-existent in his super-regional start against Stanford; prior to leaving the game with two outs in the fifth inning, Beede allowed six earned runs on five hits and four walks while also hitting three batters and uncorking a wild pitch.
Beede didn’t fare any better in his first College World Series start on June 16 against UC Irvine, as he allowed four earned runs on three hits, three walks, three hit batters and two wild pitches in just 3.2 innings.
When he's at his best, Beede shows front-of-the-rotation upside, with a crisp fastball in the low-90s that tops out at 94-95 mph—sometimes even a tick or two more—as well as an above-average curveball and slider to go along with a potentially plus changeup.
Despite his work with Vanderbilt’s talented coaching staff over the last three years, however, the right-hander still lacks the overall consistency—both mechanically and in terms of his pitch execution—needed to be considered an elite college starter. At the same time, few pitchers in this year’s draft class could match his combination of pure stuff and upside, which is why the Giants were comfortable grabbing him with their first-round pick.
If he can put everything together as a professional, then we may be talking about Beede as a steal at No. 14 within a few years.
Nick Howard, RHP, Virginia
Drafted: Cincinnati Reds (First round, No. 19 overall)
Season stats (30 games): 20 saves, 35.2 IP, 1.77 ERA, .179 BAA, 13 BB (3.3 BB/9), 58 K (14.6 K/9)
CWS stats (4 games): 2 saves, 7.1 IP, 4 H, BB, 8 K
Nick Howard ranked as one of the college baseball's top two-way players for Virginia in 2013, as the infielder/right-handed pitcher posted a .794 OPS with 17 extra-base hits and 38 RBI in 50 games to go along with a 3.38 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 61.1 innings as a member of the starting rotation.
Named as a finalist for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award heading into the 2014 season, Howard’s production dropped off considerably this spring to the tune of a .647 OPS and 25 strikeouts in only 43 games.
Howard’s performance on the mound was far from a disappointment, however, as the right-hander made a smooth transition from the starting rotation to the bullpen to emerge as one of the top closers in college baseball. Yet, despite his overwhelming success this season in the ninth inning, the Reds drafted Howard with the No. 19 overall pick due to his potential as a starter—the role in which they plan to develop him in moving forward.
With the Cavaliers offense firing on all cylinders in the playoffs, Howard has been limited to only four appearances in the team’s five games. However, he’s done his job in each outing, converting both save opportunities while striking out eight batters in 7.1 innings.
Howard also set a new ACC record on Saturday with his 20th save of the season.
Derek Fisher, OF, Virginia
Drafted: Houston Astros (Competitive Balance Round A, No. 37 overall)
Season stats (41 games): .267/.326/.376, 7 2B, 3 HR, 26 RBI, 12 BB, 24 K
CWS stats (9 games): .211/.279/.211, 9 RBI, 3 BB, 6 K
Derek Fisher suffered a broken hamate bone in his right hand just 15 games into this season, offsetting his hot start and putting his first-round draft projection in jeopardy. However, despite spending six weeks on the shelf, Fisher made an immediate impact upon his return with two home runs in his first three games back.
The combination of Fisher’s age (20) and untapped power potential from the left side made him one of the more intriguing offensive prospects in this year’s draft class. It also means the Astros landed a potential steal when they popped him with the No. 37 overall pick.
However, that ultimately will come down to whether or not Fisher approaches his offensive ceiling; as a fringy defensive outfielder with average-at-best speed, the majority of Fisher’s future value will always be tied to his bat.
Though he’s driven in nine runs in as many games in this year's tournament, Fisher scuffed through the super regionals with a .071 (1-for-14) average and three strikeouts in three games.
Mike Papi, 1B/OF, Virginia
Drafted: Cleveland Indians (Competitive Balance Round A, No. 38 overall)
Season stats (66 games): .312/.454/.500, 11 2B, 11 HR, 56 RBI, 8 SB, 58 BB, 43 K
CWS stats (9 games): .432/.523/.568, 3 XBH, 9 RBI, 2 BB, 2 K
Mike Papi emerged as one of college baseball’s premier hitters in 2013, as the then-sophomore batted a robust .381/.517/.619 with 25 extra-base hits, 57 RBI and a 45/25 K/BB in 55 games. While his numbers this season aren't as impressive as they were in 2013, Papi was still regarded as one of the better college hitters in this year’s class entering the draft—which is all the more reason to believe the Indians landed a potential steal in Papi with the No. 38 overall pick.
The 21-year-old is a pure hitter, with an impressive left-handed bat that should produce a good batting average and average power as a professional. Furthermore, Papi’s refined approach and pitch-recognition ability are rare for a player his age, and they should give him a chance to hit as a professional while also reaching base at a favorable clip.
Few hitters in this year’s tournament have been more consistent than Papi, as he leads the Cavaliers offense with a .432 batting average and nine RBI through nine games.