It's the final weekend of the regular season, but it may be the biggest start of the year for a pair of SEC rivals, and they'll go toe-to-toe Saturday in Baton Rouge. Ole Miss right-hander Bobby Wahl (1.43 ERA, 88 IP, 55 H, 73 SO, 40 BB) looks to prove that he can be more than a reliever at the next level, while LSU righty Ryan Eades (2.29 ERA, 82 2/3 IP, 83 H, 69 SO, 23 BB) hopes to get back the crisp fastball and sharp off-speed stuff that could make him a first-round selection.
Both schools will hit the SEC Tournament and perhaps beyond, so it's not the final outing of the year for either pitcher, but it's another chance to shine in front of scouts.
"This is the stretch drive, the time when a huge showing could make the difference," said one club's national crosschecker. "When I send in final reports and I can point to at least one big game, that signature performance, it lends more confidence in that player."
How high Wahl and Eades can climb remains to be seen, but on draft boards, at least a few of them, there's room for both to jump.
"Even if Bobby closes (in pro ball), he can show me something this weekend," a regional crosschecker said. It's a big game on the road and things like this make a difference."
What about Eades?
"For me," the national checker said, "he probably is what he is, but it's always better to finish strong. He can certainly solidify his place in this draft, wherever that is."
There do not appear to be many questions about Eades' future role, but Wahl is still, in theory, fighting against the bullpen label.
"I'm not sure he can," said one assistant scouting director of Wahl's chances to avoid a future relief role, "but I'm not positive he can't, either."
Keith Law ranks Eades at No. 30 on his latest top 100 Draft Prospects. Wahl ranks at No. 66.
What to Watch
• Right-hander and UC Irvine ace Andrew Thurman (2.98 ERA, 84 2/3 IP, 75 H, 72 SO, 14 BB) and two-way prospect Michael Lorenzen of Cal State Fullerton square off Friday in one of the better pitcher-batter matchups of the week. Lorenzen is batting .328/.409/.527 with 20 extra-base hits on the year, but is a better prospect on the mound where he has 16 saves and sits in the mid-90s with his fastball. Neither is a first-round prospect, but the second round is within reach for both.
• Mississippi State right fielder Hunter Renfroe will face South Carolina for three games starting Thursday. The Gamecocks are a team with a lot of strong pitching, including a nasty relief corps and an overall team ERA below 3.00. Renfroe has as many home runs by himself, 15, as South Carolina has given up as a staff all season.
• Arizona's Konner Wade, a Day 2 prospect, and Arizona State ace Trevor Williams figure to go against each other Friday night in Tempe, as both pitchers have been their schools' No. 1 starter all spring. Williams has a chance to be taken off the board on day one of the draft.
• Oklahoma's Jonathan Gray will head to Manhattan, Kansas to face Kansas State, who have their own prospect in Jared King, an outfielder and slugger that figures to be off the board in the first five rounds. Gray, of course, could go as high as No. 1 overall, and may actually be the favorite.
• Left-hander Sean Manaea has big numbers -- 1.58 ERA, 88 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings and just 44 hits allowed -- but he hasn't shown the elite stuff he flashed last summer in the Cape Cod League and has lacked consistency. He's still likely to be gone by pick No. 10 or so, but a strong finish to the season couldn't hurt.
• Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge will get a look at Nevada right-hander Braden Shipley in a battle of probable first-round picks. Shipley struggled last weekend versus UNLV and his stock may be slipping a bit on some boards. The same goes for Judge to a lesser extent, so both will be looking to finish well and leave a positive impression on scouts in attendance.
• As is with Wahl, Florida's Jonathon Crawford may need to shake the bullpen label with better performances down the stretch, though he may have already pitched his way out of the first round. His velocity has been down a bit this season from last, and the third pitch has not been promising. He'll face Georgia on the road over the weekend.
• Ryne Stanek still has a chance at the top five or six picks and his final regular season start is Saturday at Auburn.
• Mark Appel, the top prospect in the class, has two regular season starts left, with this weekend's tilt in Berkeley versus the California Bears. The Bears' top draft prospect is catcher Andrew Knapp, the top college catcher in the draft class, who figures to be a Day 2 selection.