The trials for the U.S. collegiate national team -- hereafter known as Team USA -- began Tuesday in Cary, North Carolina, at USA Baseball's outstanding practice facility here. It's a great preview of much of the first-round collegiate talent for the 2011 draft, and scouts (and I) get to see tremendous hitter/pitcher matchups that are rare or nonexistent in the spring. I'll write each day I'm here with updates.
• UConn's Matt Barnes was absolutely absurd on Tuesday -- best-pitcher-in-the-draft good, although this year he has stiff competition for that title. Barnes worked at 92-95, up and down in the zone with late life, getting great extension out front so the ball just exploded on hitters. If you want proof, ask Anthony Rendon (my projected No. 1 for 2011) and Jackie Bradley, Jr. (a hero of the recently-completed CWS), each of whom struck out once against Barnes: Rendon on a 93 mph fastball up, Bradley on 95 down, although Bradley was smart his second time up and started his bat very early, shattering it on a bloop single to right. Barnes showed four pitches, flashing a slider, with a solid 82-83 mph changeup on the outer half to lefties and a 72-76 mph curveball that improved as he went on, showing more depth and a more defined 11/5 break. At 6-foot-4 and 203 pounds, Barnes is strong and could get a little bigger, but I'd project increased durability rather than increased velocity given how fast his arm is already. It's a big act for Sonny Gray and Gerrit Cole to follow this week.
• Oregon's revived baseball program has become a recruiting force, and they were represented by two strong pitchers on Tuesday. Right-hander Scott McGough, whose father Tom pitched in Cleveland's system for seven years, sat 90-92 and touched 94 with a hard, slightly sweepy slider in the low 80s and good feel for a hard changeup at 82-85. He's athletic with a loose, quick arm, but isn't very physical and I'm guessing some teams will question is durability. Left-hander Tyler Anderson was 88-93 and very aggressive, attacking hitters all around the zone, and getting right-handers out with his fastball/slider combination. The slider is more of a hard slurve with some tilt, and he threw one extremely sharp one that just kept running away from a left-handed hitter, like the $20 bill on the sidewalk that's attached to a hook and fishing line. It's to Oregon's credit that neither pitcher is from the Pacific Northwest -- McGough is from Pittsburgh and Anderson is from Las Vegas -- meaning that they are finding and successfully recruiting players from outside their region, something few schools are good at doing on a regular basis.
• TCU star Matt Purke decided to take the summer off -- I can't blame him, although I'm disappointed that I won't see him at this event -- but teammate Kyle Winkler is here and was 88-94, pitching mostly with the fastball and a cutter up to 88. He's short and stocky and has a herky-jerk delivery that probably points toward a relief role, but there are a few things to like here.
• Cal State Fullerton's Noe Ramirez was the one name pitcher who didn't impress on Tuesday; he has a very, very quick arm, but he was 87-90 with a curve and slider, neither average, and poor command. He comes from a slot below three-quarters and there's some late movement on the fastball, but hitters repeatedly hit the pitch into the air.
• One notable thing about next year's draft class is how many pairs of teammates there are who'll both get day-one consideration. Oregon has Anderson and McGough. Barnes' teammate, outfielder George Springer, is probably 1A to Rendon's No. 1 among college bats; Springer showed outstanding bat speed, above-average running speed, and a 60 arm on Tuesday; the only hole in his game right now is his propensity to strike out, and with that bat speed he shouldn't have that much trouble with contact. UCLA has Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer. Vanderbilt has Sonny Gray, Jack Armstrong, and Jason Esposito. TCU has Winkler and Purke. And most of those teams have other top-five-rounds players to scout as well, which will make scouts' trips more productive next spring than they were this past spring, when they were lucky to be able to sit on one college series for more than a night.