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We're heading into college baseball's third weekend, which means two things: A week from now, some teams will be in conference play, and teams and players off to hot starts will soon find out how real those starts are.
There are 12 undefeated teams remaining in Division I (that have played a game): North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, Cal State Fullerton, Miami, Florida State, VCU, Cal Poly, Creighton, Oregon State, Mississippi State and South Alabama.
There's nothing predictive or definitive about results this early, but let's have some fun and bang out America's All-Undefeated team, breaking down players, sprinkling in opinions from coaches and offering a few condolences along the way.
CATCHER: CHRIS AYERS, JR., VCU (5-0)
Yes, it's five games, and no, Ayers hasn't pounded the ball with a ton of authority, but he is hitting .313 with a .421 on-base percentage, has three hit-by-pitches and has yet to strike out.
"He's learned to be aggressive early in the count but do it selectively," VCU coach Shawn Stiffler says. "He likes the ball a little more away from him and wants to shoot it over the second baseman and into the right-center gap."
Ayers hits in the 4-hole for VCU, and the Rams likely won't get a ton of pop from him. He hit only two homers last season with 12 doubles, but Stiffler expects Ayers to hit around .320 this season. Considering the position, you'll happily take that production, even if the player is unconventional for the middle of the order.
Condolences to Stuart Turner, Ole Miss. I was ready to give Turner the starting nod, but the Rebels lost to Memphis on Tuesday evening to ruin the perfect record. We should still give Turner some love, though, as the junior is hitting .357 with two homers and a .424 OBP -- impressive numbers behind the dish.
FIRST BASE: MATT OBERSTE, JR., OKLAHOMA (9-0)
Dude, Oberste. Nine games, .441 batting, .853 slugging, .500 on-base, four walks, as many homers as strikeouts (three) -- those are disgusting numbers, regardless of the fact it's only a handful of games against nonconference competition. Oberste is listed at 6-foot-2, 209 pounds and is already halfway to his 2012 homer output, and one of those jacks this season was a walk-off in extra innings against Hofstra. Oberste's major is listed as "undecided." Matt, if you don't mind, I'm going to decide for you. You're now majoring in The Obliteration of Pitched Baseballs.
If not Oberste, then Brad Fieger, Miami. Fieger deserves a mention, as he leads the 9-0 Hurricanes in hitting (.438), jumping on mistakes early in the count. "He's a guy who swings a lot," Miami coach Jim Morris says. "He's not going to get cheated."
SECOND BASE: DENVER CHAVEZ, SR., CAL POLY (7-0)
Here's what Chavez is doing for the Mustangs, who are off to the program's best start in more than three decades: .481 batting average, .556 slugging, .531 on-base percentage, two walks, two hit-by-pitches and only two strikeouts. Chavez has swiped two bags in three tries and played solid defense. He's not a big-time pro prospect, but a switch-hitting middle infielder who gets on base and is reliable on defense is a good player. And between having the sweetest name in this column and being a self-described wine enthusiast, life is good as Denver Chavez.
Also worthy Landon Lassiter, North Carolina. The UNC staff has been impressed with Lassiter's presence. Unlike many freshmen, bad swings and bad at-bats don't carry over to subsequent ones with Lassiter. He'll see some reps at shortstop, and at 6-1 and 180 pounds, he is an intriguing body in the middle infield. He's hitting .421/.593/.474 (BA/OBP/SLG), the product of exceptional hands and an ability to stay inside the ball well, which allows him to handle off-speed stuff and fight off two-strike pitches. If you're going to get him to swing and miss, it'll likely be on a changeup or split -- something that looks like a fastball and dives out of the zone.
SHORTSTOP: ADAM FRAZIER, JR., MISSISSIPPI STATE (11-0)
John Cohen's Bulldogs are getting healthy on a soft nonconference schedule before they begin their long walk through the Death Valley of the SEC in a few weeks, and Frazier is a huge part of that. He's hitting .465/.521/.628 through 11 games, big-time numbers for a preseason All-American who, as a left-handed hitter and good defender, is an interesting middle infield prospect. He's also a Georgia native who grew up rooting for Alabama only to end up playing in Mississippi. He'll tell you the story. SEC readers: Is that even allowed?
Condolences to everyone on Creighton. The Bluejays have had four games canceled due to weather this season, and with only three games' worth of results, I couldn't seriously consider a Bluejay for one of our starting spots. But since shortstop is a little lighter on quality candidates, I can highlight Alex Staehely. The senior is hitting .538 with two doubles and a .600 on-base percentage. Here's to some sunshine for Creighton.
THIRD BASEMAN: JOSE BRIZUELA, SO., FLORIDA STATE (7-0)
You have to use a little caution with Florida State offensive numbers, since on the right day with a healthy wind, hitting at Dick Howser Stadium can be like hitting in a world without gravity. Still, Brizuela has done some serious damage, with a .750 slugging percentage and a .621 on-base percentage (thank you, 11 walks and two hit-by-pitches). And as he's hit the ball with power -- not Marcus Davis power, but I'll get to that -- Brizuela has struck out only once. At 6-0, 200 pounds and as a left-handed hitter, stash his name away for the 2014 draft.
Cheers to Matt Chapman, Cal State Fullerton. The sophomore has been exceptional for the Titans and could make an easy case for the starting nod, but with teammates appearing later, I need to spread the love. Chapman's .500 on-base percentage leads the team among players who have appeared in all eight games, and he has seven walks and three stolen bases with only three strikeouts. "He's been really patient and is earning himself some fastballs by not chasing early in the count," Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook says. "He can turn on any fastball being thrown, he can hit breaking balls, and he can hit the ball from pole to pole on a line."
LEFT FIELD: MARCUS DAVIS, JR., FLORIDA STATE
I'm doubling up on the Seminoles with Davis in left field. Davis transferred to FSU from Walters State Community College in Tennessee, where he hit .450 with 16 home runs in 2012, which gives me reason to believe what he's done in seven games as a Seminole is all him and not hitting at Dick Howser. Davis is hitting .455 with four homers and three doubles, good for a -- get this -- 1.136 slugging percentage. He's not doing it against ACC-caliber arms yet, but those are still crazy numbers. Davis, a left-handed hitter listed at 6-2 and 215 pounds, has five walks to only four strikeouts. He earned ACC and national player of the week honors last week.
Hat tip to Michael Conforto, Oregon State. Conforto's early numbers can seem insignificant compared to the video game stats other guys have put up, but the preseason All-American has done quite well, with a .436 on-base percentage in eight games. He's still looking for his first homer this year, but maybe that comes this weekend in the Beavers' first home series of the season against Bryant.
CENTER FIELD: MICHAEL LORENZEN, JR., CAL STATE FULLERTON (8-0)
Lorenzen entered the season with so much hype as one of the top two-way players in the country that it's nearly impossible to live up to expectations. But he's been fantastic for the Titans, hitting .355 and slugging .613. A right-handed hitter, he's exceptional at driving the ball to the right-center gap and has the strength to hit it out that way.
"He has a different look to him," Vanderhook says. "You know the expectations put on him last year, by me included, comparing him to [former Titan and big leaguer] Mark Kotsay -- only so many people do what Mark Kotsay did in college. He's keeping it simple and relaxed."
You should know C.T. Bradford, Mississippi State. Bradford is one of nine Bulldogs hitting better than .300 in 2013, and he brings added value in his willingness to wear a pitch (three hit-by-pitches this season) and ability to swipe a bag (3-for-3). He's a pest whose role is to get on base for the middle of the order.
RIGHT FIELD: SKYE BOLT, FR., NORTH CAROLINA (7-0)
Bolt is a fitting name for the freshman who has hit lasers around Boshamer Stadium. In his first seven collegiate games, Bolt is hitting .538 with five doubles and a .606 on-base percentage. He's a switch-hitter who has yet to be exposed -- or even challenged -- from either side.
"He has great hands; that's his best asset," UNC assistant coach Scott Jackson says. "He knows a ball from a strike, and he has the knack to trust himself late in the count."
Jackson wants to see Bolt against pitchers who have both good velocity and a quality breaking ball, which should happen this weekend at the Houston College Classic.
If not Bolt, then Nolan Earley, South Alabama. The Jaguars are 9-0 heading into a three-game set with College of Charleston this weekend, and Earley has been stroking the ball. He is hitting .448 with 12 walks to only three strikeouts, good for a .605 on-base percentage.
DESIGNATED HITTER: DYLAN DAVIS, SO., OREGON STATE (8-0)
I'm cheating a little by putting Davis here, because most of his playing time has come in right field, but I couldn't write out a lineup without his bat in it. Davis has played in seven of the Beavers' eight games this season, hitting .440 with a .680 slugging percentage. At 6-0, 210 pounds, he is put together but athletic enough to stretch a double into an occasional triple.
Must also mention J.D. Davis, Cal State Fullerton. Lorenzen, as the center fielder and closer, gets all the two-way love for Fullerton, but Davis has also done great work in both roles this season. He is hitting .333 with two jacks, and he has thrown 5 1/3 innings out of the bullpen, with a 1.69 ERA, five strikeouts and zero walks. "All [pitchers] had to do last year was spin it in the dirt, and he'd swing at it every time because he didn't want to get to a two-strike count," Vanderhook says. "Now they spin it down, and instead of 0-2, he takes and is 1-1. If they miss again, he's 2-1. And the more plus counts you get, the better chance you have of getting a heater."
STARTING PITCHER: KENT EMANUEL, JR., NORTH CAROLINA
Emanuel has quietly gone about his business, and because he doesn't light up the radar gun, you won't hear as much buzz around the country about him. But here are the numbers through two starts: 16 innings, eight hits, 13 strikeouts, two walks, 0.56 ERA. Emanuel is 87-89 from the left side, touching 91, and has a four-pitch mix that he commands well, with great feel for his changeup and a curveball that's a little ahead of the slider.
"He has as much pitch ability as I've ever seen someone pitch with," Jackson says.
Also worthy Brandon Waddell, Virginia. Waddell has been great for the Cavaliers, who have been under the radar a bit this season. A freshman left-hander, Waddell has a 0.84 ERA, 20 strikeouts and only three walks in 10 2/3 innings this season.
STARTING PITCHER: DILLON OVERTON, JR., OKLAHOMA
Overton isn't as good of a pro prospect as teammate Jonathan Gray is, but the southpaw's numbers have been ridiculous this season, so he gets the nod. Overton has thrown 16 innings (two starts, one relief appearance) and allowed only 11 hits along with a 0.56 ERA. Oh, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio: 16-to-1.
If not Overton, then Jacob Noble, South Alabama. Our second Jaguar, Noble has been a stud: 11 2/3 innings, 0.77 ERA, 15 strikeouts, four walks. At 6-1, 196 pounds and left-handed, the junior has numbers that will draw some eyes.
STARTING PITCHER: THOMAS ESHELMAN, FR., CAL STATE FULLERTON
Fullerton has an embarrassment of young pitching riches, and Eshelman is just the first name. He has a 0.00 ERA in 11 2/3 innings, with 14 strikeouts and zero walks. He's not a dominant arm -- sitting around 86-87 mph -- but hitters have trouble seeing the ball out of his hand, so his velocity plays up.
"Maturity and command," Vanderhook says. "And he can throw his curveball first pitch or behind in the count."
Condolences to Justin Garza, Cal State Fullerton. Eshelman's freshman-in-crime, Garza will surprise scouts around the country this season because he's 5-11 and 160 pounds but can run his fastball into the mid-90s. He has allowed only one earned run in 13 1/3 innings and is aggressive on the mound. An aggressive kid who admits he plays with an edge because of all the talk about his lack of size? Yep, sounds like a Fullerton guy.
RELIEF PITCHER: MATT LEES, SO., VCU
Lees led VCU in appearances last season as a freshman but was held back by the lack of a true out-pitch. Over the winter, he developed a cutter, which has been nasty in 2013.
"That's become his out-pitch," Stiffler says. "He can throw it ahead in the count, and he can throw it behind in the count to move off the barrel."
Lees, a lefty, has made four appearances for the Rams this season, striking out nine in eight innings with zero walks and a 0.00 ERA.
Take notice of Jonathan Holder, Mississippi State. Holder was a freshman All-American last season, and here's how he has begun his sophomore season: 5 1/3 innings, two hits, 0.00 ERA, zero walks, 12 strikeouts. Lights out.
After winning two of three at Texas A&M last weekend, this is a big weekend for the Waves at Oklahoma, one of the most intriguing series in a loaded weekend of college baseball.
"I'm pleased with the competitive nature our team has showed," Pepperdine coach Steve Rodriguez says. "Going into a hostile environment at Texas A&M and just keeping a strong attitude, you never know how kids are going to react."
An advantage the Waves have in any series is ace Scott Frazier on Friday nights. Listed at 6-7 and 230 pounds, Frazier is an intimidating right-hander who will run it up to 96 and mix in a curveball and change.
"He's learning how to control the secondary pitches better, Rodriguez says. "As his career progresses, he'll need to be able to locate the fastball, and he's done a good job controlling the inside part of the plate and utilizing the outer half."
|North Carolina's Colin Moran is one of the top hitters in the 2013 draft.|
This is one of the best early-season tournaments in college baseball each year. This weekend includes Rice, North Carolina, Houston, Texas A&M, Baylor and Cal, and we get a good look at some top prospects.
I'm interested to see UNC's Colin Moran, regarded as one of the top college hitters in this year's draft class, against Rice's Austin Kubitza on Friday. Moran is hitting .346 with a .486 on-base percentage this season, and that doesn't include a number of balls he's hit hard that haven't fallen for hits. He is an intellectual hitter with good feel for the strike zone and the ability to recognize counts.
"He has a knack of understanding how someone will try to get him out," Jackson says. "But sometimes he couldn't care less about the scouting report. He'll ask if a guy has two breaking balls or a changeup, but that's it. I just leave him alone."
When I spoke with South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook earlier in the spring, he told a story about his time in Chapel Hill, N.C. As he coached, his wife worked for the men's basketball program, handling some of coach Roy Williams' media and travel commitments. So Holbrook saw firsthand what a crush of attention (and criticism) looked like for a high-profile coach.
"Her job actually prepared me for my job now," Holbrook said. "Nationally, North Carolina basketball gets a lot more coverage, obviously. But locally, baseball at South Carolina is like basketball at North Carolina. It means a lot to a lot of people."
That will be amplified this weekend, as the Gamecocks meet Clemson for a three-game series that will likely put a pause on happy marriages and friendships around the state. On Wednesday, two days before the first pitch, Holbrook tweeted: "There lots of reasons kids come to play baseball at South Carolina. 1 of those reasons is to be part of college baseball's best rivalry!"
Almost every immediate mention to that tweet relayed the same message: You don't just "be part" of that series as a Gamecock -- you win that series.
There's an acronym used at Miami: CHP. It stands for "can he play?" There's no question junior second baseman Alex Hernandez can. He's hitting .406 with a .513 on-base percentage, a jolt of energy in the 2-hole for the undefeated Hurricanes.
"If we had an MVP for the fall, he would have been it," Morris says. "He gets on base and hits line drives, moves runners around, doesn't swing and miss at a lot of pitches, doesn't strike out. Pitchers challenge him, and that's good because he likes to swing."
Miami travels to Florida this weekend in another great series. Some others I haven't mentioned yet: George Horton and Oregon visit Goodwin Field to face Cal State Fullerton, one longtime West Coast power against a fast-rising one; Texas goes to Palo Alto, Calif., to play Stanford, and a horde of scouts will fill up Sunken Diamond to see Cardinal right-hander Mark Appel; the Coca-Cola Classic in Surprise, Ariz., will have plenty of prospects and brings two games between Arkansas and Arizona State.
Knebel, the Longhorns' 6-3, 195-pound closer, is getting buzz as a potential first-round pick, expectations that he admitted were on his mind entering the season. He struggled his first time out, and Texas coach Augie Garrido told him to flush the expectations, the first-round chatter, the All-American hype. It means nothing now."Corey is a competitive and talented pitcher," Garrido says. "His mind is filled with a whole lot of new things about him, and he needs to get back to simplifying the process of commanding the fastball and using his curveball in certain spots to dominate the game.
"He realized he has to get back to being a pitcher and not try to live up to the expectations, because no one can. Just have the courage to throw the ball to the mitt, and don't have any result-oriented thoughts."
Today in Omaha: High of 34 degrees, a few flurries possible, 107 days until CWS Game 1 (as of Feb. 28)
Teddy Mitrosilis is an editor for ESPN.com. He played college baseball at Long Beach (Calif.) City College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, graduating with a degree in journalism. You can follow him on Twitter.