The 2013 College World Series is down to its Elite Eight, setting up one of the greatest traditions in amateur sport, the road through Omaha.
But while only eight fanbases have vested interest in the eight teams remaining, almost everybody— provided they enjoy watching baseball—has a vested interest in the prospects.
The 2013 MLB draft took place earlier this month, receiving little fanfare, but impacting the future of professional baseball teams no less because of it. And even though a disproportionate amount of high school prospects went in the earliest rounds, a number of high draft picks will be on display in Omaha.
Here's a look a quick breakdown of the three top players remaining:
3B Colin Moran, North Carolina
MLB Team: Miami Marlins
Moran, the sixth overall pick in this month's MLB draft, isn't just the top prospect in Omaha this year. He's almost certainly the best bet to reach the majors first.
In going to Miami, Moran becomes both an immediate and long-term fix for the Marlins. He was, by almost all accounts (including mine), the most advanced hitter in the class, and most likely to reach pro ball first anyway. But in Miami, of all places, he could be relevant by 2015, if not sooner.
Moran's college production speaks for itself. He leads Division I baseball in runs and RBI (per Baseball America) and has been among the sport's top players for longer than just this junior season.
What's most impressive, though, is Moran's discipline at the plate. He doesn't have the eye of a barely legal kid, but that of a 10-year MLB vet. Between that and his bat control, Moran has Chapel Hill fans dreaming of their first CWS title.
OF Hunter Renfroe, Mississippi State
MLB Team: San Diego Padres
If Renfroe were a basketball player from the early 2000s, his career might have derailed.
The prodigious outfielder was drafted by the Red Sox coming out of high school, but opted to attend Mississippi State instead. Even if he had went, he would have gotten the good tutelage of a minor league program. Instead he stayed and got it in Starkville.
Either way, he clearly needed it.
Renfroe got just 26 at-bats as a freshman, and hardly rewarded coaches for playing him as a sophomore, when he batted just .252/.328/.374. But a flip switched for Renfroe in between his sophomore and junior campaigns, and for Mississippi State, that has made all the difference.
According to Baseball America, Renfroe "was in contention for both the old-school (AVG, HR, RBI) and slash-stats (AVG/OBP/SLG) triple crowns in the Southeastern Conference" at the start of May. Sabermetricians of the world be damned—that's pretty darn impressive.
His frame and swing have drawn comparisons, like the one above, to Raul Mondesi. At the plate I agree, but think he could be an even better athlete, at some point, in the field and on the basepaths.
RHP Ryan Eades, LSU
MLB Team: Minnesota Twins
It's a shame for pitchers at the College World Series, who, with limited rest and the need to enjoy so much more of it, get far less airtime than field players.
But that doesn't devalue the presence of Eades, a second-round pick of the Minnesota Twins, and probably the best pitcher in Omaha this week.
Eades looks like he was born in a lab for pitchers. He's big, he's strong, he has a sound release and he mixes in more than just a good fastball—something that, for hurlers at his age, is easier said than done.
The big righty does throw a 94 mph fastball, which is probably his best pitch. But he also has a capable curveball and changeup, breaking and offspeed pitches that, when paired with that rocket of an arm, allow Eades to overpower and confound opponents at the same time.
He'll be counted on to anchor the Tigers' staff in Omaha.