College Baseball

The college baseball regular season ended on Sunday, but for me it was just beginning. Conference tournaments start today, which marks the beginning of the Road to Omaha, the host of the NCAA College World Series.

I had known of college baseball for years, I mean, its not like every player drafted by Major League clubs is drafted straight out of high school.  Thanks to my curiosity being peaked by Michael Baumann of The Ringer (Bill Simmons website), I started to check out some college baseball games on the weekend.  There were a few things that I really enjoyed.

The first thing was the stadiums.  This might seem trivial, but the smaller more intimate ballparks gave the game a different feel than what you get with 40-45 thousand-seat MLB parks that are often half empty for the first couple months because of the weather, and the fact that kids are still in school.

Secondly, the games are made a little more exciting because there’s greater chance of mistakes being made.  Throws being air-mailed past the intended target, balls in the dirt getting away from a catcher, balls being misread in the outfield;  These things happen in MLB but aren’t that common.  In NCAA because the vast majority of the players won’t make it to the Majors these are mistakes that are a little more common. The result is a little more offense and excitement than what you get from MLB.  The hitters also use aluminium bats instead of wooden bats.  I’m not sure how much difference that makes in terms of offense; whether the balls carries farther off the bat, or not, but the sound of the ball off the bat reminds me of playing softball growing up.

Third, and maybe the biggest thing is the season is shorter.  I’m a huge fan of the MLB regular season being 162 games.  Its the perfect length for regular season baseball.  Its just long enough that you go through all the ebbs and flows you would normally expect to occur so that by the end you pretty well know who the best teams are.  That said, the shorter season for college baseball makes sense given you have conference tournaments and the College World Series to fit into a finite school year season.  It forces you to stop and pause for a minute before judging the stat lines on players because the sample size for a given season is so much smaller.  The season also starts in February as opposed to April which means that meaningful baseball can be seen possibly before pitchers and catchers report for MLB Spring Training.  I find that really exciting given how tired I am of winter and non-baseball sports by that point in the calendar.  It makes the baseball off-season much shorter.

I have only one complaint about college baseball.  The games are too long.  The game shouldn’t take four hours to play.  The Umpires need to be empowered to move the game along, and mound visits by pitching coaches needs to be curtailed.  The dead space in the middle of baseball games is a significant reason why young people have a hard time watching baseball.  MLB along with its amateur affiliates needs to address this problem.  Keep the action going and the game will hold people’s attention better.

So, thank you to Michael Baumann for peaking my curiosity.  My calendar will be marked next year for the start of college season in February.  I’ll be doing my best to catch some of the tournament action as well as the College World Series over the next few weeks.

 

Your Toronto Blue Jays!! Season Preview.

MLB Spring Training has begun.  I’m not sure what this year’s Toronto Blue Jays are going to look like, but the last couple seasons have both exceeded my expectations, so here’s hoping everything breaks their way again for a third straight season.  In a nutshell, the starting pitching looks good, the bullpen looks bad, the offense looks okay, and the defense should be fine.

The starting pitching looks to be the real strength of this club.  Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, JA Happ, Marco Estrada, and Francisco Liriano has the look of a solid, if not spectacular starting rotation that should help to keep the Jays in ball games given their diminished offensive capabilities.  I’m really excited to see what Aaron Sanchez does to follow up his breakout campaign last season.  I think so long as he didn’t overdue it with the workload last season he could be a legit Cy Young contender this year.  Marcus Stroman is probably looking to have a bounce-back season after struggling for at least the first half of last season.  If JA Happ and Marco Estrada just repeat last year’s performances that will be fine by me.

The bullpen could be the real area of concern on this team.  Middle relief looks really soft right now, but I think that relief pitching is something you can rectify and build up as the season goes along.  Its not where you start when you’re building a baseball team.  Osuna should be great as the closer, and Biagini looks like a solid set up guy from the right side.  After that things get iffy.

Offensively it won’t be the fireworks show that its been in previous years, but it should be okay with Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce taking up some of the slack left by Edwin Encarnacion’s departure.  I don’t know what to expect from Jose Bautista.  He’s clearly aged, and not what he was in previous years.  I’m also unsure of how much production can be expected of Russell Martin behind the plate.  He’s also in his mid-thirties and a catcher’s offensive production can really fall off because of how physically taxing the catcher position is.  Josh Donaldson should be the best hitter in this line up by far.  Its becoming obvious as I write this that the biggest problem with the Jays lineup is now age and also speed.  There’s too many guys on the wrong side of thirty and that includes Melvin Upton and Troy Tulowitzki.  Devon Travis could be the wild card offensively if he’s healthy.  Kevin Pillar is acceptable given the defense he provides in centre field.

I think defensively they should be fine with some combination of Bautista, Pillar, Carrera, and Upton in the outfield.  You can’t help but be a little concerned with Baustita as the every day right fielder at his age, and diminishing physical tools.  Donaldson, Tulowitzki, Travis, and Smoak/Morales in the infield should be good, along with Russell Martin at catcher.

If the Blue Jays want to contend this season the pitching and defense will have to carry them.  I’m not convinced that the offense will be a consistent threat.  Maybe that’s something that folks like Ben Cherington, Steve Sanders, etc. were brought in to help rectify.  If the Jays want to remain a contender, the line up needs to get younger, faster and more athletic.