In some ways, my infatuation with college baseball on ESPN Plus this spring is sort of a sad statement on my social life. In other ways, watching so many games on the network’s alternate channel for live event coverage has really opened my eyes to some great, young talent.
In that regard, I wanted to convey a few thoughts on some the most entertaining players I’ve seen this year. You can just say these are the guys to blame for a certain garage that has needed cleaning for months and yet remains a mess as we, er, speak.
Christian Franklin, Arkansas
Franklin, a junior for the No. 1-ranked Razorbacks, plays center field. He is one of those guys that you see in a game and wonder how much money he could possibly earn over the course of his impending pro career. Quite a bit, I’d say. I’ve seen the man make some remarkable catches in the outfield. He also hits a home about every other time I watch the Razorbacks. Right now, he hits .302, has an on-base percentage of .435, and he slugs .586. About the only negative I can find on the stat sheet are 45 strikeouts in 152 at bats. Most impressive thing you see when crunching numbers on Franklin? He hasn’t made an error in 84 chances.
Ivan Melendez, Texas
Melendez’s recent streak of six games with a home run (seven in all) was really something. I didn’t see the first three games in his run, but if memory serves, I picked it up on the fourth, and watched as the big man from El Paso cranked some shots far into the night sky in Austin. I watched one of his homers sail over the green batters’ eye above the center field wall at UT’s UFCU Disch-Falk Field. Not sure about his all-around ability, as he’s used mostly as a DH. Also, Melendez has cooled off a bit since his streak. But he remains as a threat to batter scoreboards anywhere he plays. Honorable mention when I watch Texas? Second sacker Mitchell Daly, a freshman who turns the double play as well as he hits for average (.348).
Enrique Bradfield, Jr., Vanderbilt
Bradfield comes to mind, because early in the season, I’d always flip the channel to the Vanderbilt game to watch either Kumar Rocker or Jack Leiter. And then, invariably, I ended up being transfixed by something remarkable that Bradford did. Either in the outfield or on the base paths. The key to his game is speed. Reportedly, he runs the 60-yard dash in 6.26 seconds. On top of that, he uses it wisely, as his NCAA Division I-leading 34 stolen bases in 36 attempts suggests. It’s also fun to watch him play the field, where he will start to track a fly ball you think he has no chance to get, and then he comes up with a diving catch. With a .342 batting average, he doesn’t seem intimidated in the least by SEC pitching.
Phillip Sikes, TCU
The well-traveled Mr. Sikes hails from Paris, Texas. His career path in college baseball — from New Mexico to Pima Community College and then to TCU — would suggest journeyman qualities as a player. His facial features suggest he might be more ready for a Pony League all-star game than a weekend showdown with the Longhorns. If you think he’s lacking, though, you’re wrong. Sikes is batting a team-leading .377 with a 1.188 OPS for a team that leads the Big 12 standings. Early on, I liked to turn the channel to find the TCU game to watch Luke Boyers, the kid from Boerne, who is having an excellent season. But Sikes just continues to hit. If Texas has any hope of beating TCU a couple of times this weekend, they need to keep the baby-faced East Texan off the bases. Good luck with that.
Dru Baker, Texas Tech
Baker showed up in Austin last weekend with an unmistakable swagger. The Red Raiders’ leadoff hitter went on to make life miserable for the Longhorns, who lost their first series at home all year. In Game 1, he opened with two weak at bats and then, in his next two trips to the plate, he doubled. In the fifth inning, he slammed a two-run, two-bagger that broke the game open in a 6-3 victory. His play led directly to an outcome that was a psychological blow to the Longhorns, who lost in a key game started by ace right-hander Ty Madden. Baker has been good all year. He’s a .393 hitter. Freshman Jace Jung from San Antonio has created a lot of excitement with his power hitting, but right now, Baker seems to be the man.
Landon Sims, Mississippi State
I don’t pretend to know a whole lot about the Bulldogs, except that they seem capable of beating just about anybody. But I do have a memory of right-handed reliever Landon Sims that stands out. A few weeks ago, he entered a game in the seventh inning at Nashville against Vanderbilt. With the Commodores threatening, he gave up a couple of singles to the first two batters he faced. A five-run Bulldogs lead had shrunk to three. At that point, he walked Bradfield to further muddle the situation. But then Sims took on something that can only be described as a Goose Gossage-like persona, striking out two to end the inning. Just the way he finished the inning, and then finished the game, bouncing around the mound in animation, made me think that the kid is very capable of doing the same in the playoffs.
Well, it’s cleaner than I thought. But it’s still littered with plastic containers filled with old newspapers and boxes of old press guides. Who’s responsible? Hey, come see me after the College World Series.