The first weekend of the 2015 college baseball season is in the books, and one thing is clear, the new ball is fun — for hitters at least. The ball is jumping early and the home run totals are piling up already. The cream of the pitching crop will rise to the top, however, and most of the big arms in a very deep class showed their stuff over the weekend. Here is the first installment of my top 2015 college players on the rise:
Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Louisville
The Funk was sensational in his first start of the season for the Cardinals. The 6’-3”, 225 pound right-hander allowed just one hit over seven shutout innings, striking out 12 to one walk against Alabama State on Friday. He retired the last 20 batters he faced and was still maintaining his velocity into the sixth inning, sitting 91-94 with his heater. The one knock on him coming into the season was his command as he had 65 walks over 120.1 innings last season. He has deception in his delivery, making it hard for hitters to pick up his stuff. If he continues this kind of command, his numbers will be silly this year.
Nathan Kirby, LHP, Virginia
As a Cubs fan, and fan of the name Kirby, I am not hiding the fact I would love to see Nathan wearing a Cubs jersey on draft day. With the team selecting ninth overall, however, that seems unlikely, especially after his first start of the season. Against East Carolina, the 6’-3” southpaw tossed seven shutout innings, striking out five to two walks in a 3-1 win. His 91-94 mph fastball was pumping and word is his slider was flashing plus. He was painting the corners and was efficient throwing just 90 pitches. His change-up also looked much improved, giving him four quality offerings. This kid is a stud who looked like a top-five pick.
Michael Matuella, RHP, Duke
Considered by many as the frontrunner for the first-overall pick, I guess Matuella can’t really rise much. He did, however, maintain his spot at the top for now with an impressive performance against Cal on Friday. He struck out eight to two walks over six shutout innings in the win. His fastball was sitting 92-96 mph and he showed the makings of a plus change-up to go along with his already two above-average breaking balls. The 6’-5” right-hander struck out the side in the first inning and cruised in his first start.
Austin Byler, 1B/3B, Nevada
Byler returned to the Wolfpack for his senior season in hopes of improving his draft stock after being selected in the ninth round of the 2014 MLB draft by the Nationals. He hit .326/.420/.624 over 57 games with 14 home runs. The 6’-3”, 225 pound left-handed hitter opened this season with a home run in each of his first two games and has added seven RBI and three walks through three games. His swing can get long, leading to high strikeout totals, but the power potential from the left side is huge.
D.J. Stewart, OF, Florida State
One of the best hitters in the 2015 MLB draft, Stewart was an on-base machine over the weekend for the ‘Noles. Over three games against Oakland, he went 5-for-9 and drew six walks. He added two stolen bases and the 6’-0”, 230 pound left-handed hitter has sneaky good speed for his size. An excellent hitter with an advanced approach and immense power, he has a .358/.471/.559 slash line over 113 career games with more walks (78) than strikeouts (70). He’s a surefire first round pick.
Dansby Swanson, SS, Vanderbilt
Swanson is considered the best shortstop prospect in the 2015 MLB draft. He has all the tools defensively to stick there and profiles to a top of the order hitter with an advanced approach and above-average speed. After hitting .333/.410/.475 over 72 games as a sophomore with 22 stolen bases, the 6’-0”, right-hander opened his junior season right where he left off. In a three-game series against Santa Clara, he went 6-for-14 with a double, triple, stolen base and two walks as the ’Dores took the series 2-1. Vanderbilt is going to be well represented in the first round of the draft, and Swanson could possibly be the first of the bunch selected.
Harrison Bader, OF, Florida
Have yourself an opening weekend, Harrison. After hitting a total of three home runs through his first 390 at-bats as a Gator, Bader launched three in his first seven at-bats of the season. He has started the season on a ridiculous tear going 7-for-12 with two doubles, three home runs and 11 RBI through his first three games. The 6’-0” right-hander has above-average speed and is a .323 hitter over 103 career games. He obviously won’t keep up the power pace but he is going to get a lot more looks if he keeps hitting the ball hard.
Cole Irvin, LHP, Oregon
A red-shirt sophomore after sitting out last season following Tommy John surgery February 3, 2014, Irvin got the nod to start opening day against Hawaii. Despite being on a pitch count, the 6’-3″ southpaw made every one of his 44 pitches count. He tossed four shutout innings, striking out four to no walks, showing the excellent command he is known for. As a freshman in 2013, he went 12-3 with a with a 2.48 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 60 K/22 BB over 116 innings, completing a team-high four games. Irvin has four quality offering, headlined by a plus change-up and fastball that sits 89-93 mph. He has the size and stuff you want in a frontline starter and should soar up draft boards if he keeps pitching like he did Friday.
Jake Lemoine, RHP, Houston
Lemoine showed off his plus slider over the weekend, tossing five shutout innings against Minnesota on Saturday. He struck out six to no walks and allowed six hits on 78 pitches. Kendall Rogers (KendallRogersD1) over at D1Baseball.com noted that his fastball wasn’t as sharp, sitting 90-92 mph instead of his usual 92-95, but his slider and command was on point. The 6’-5”, 225 pound right-hander showed he could dominate a game without his best stuff and that kind of start sticks out in scouts’ minds when the draft comes around.
Ian Happ, OF, Cincinnati
Happ is regarded as one of the better bats in the 2015 MLB draft as the switch-hitter has excellent bat speed, an advanced approach at the plate and developing raw power. He has a great track record as he came into this season with a career .322/.447/.491 line over 103 games. He also has above-average speed and has stolen 44 bases over that span. He was one of the more impressive players at the Cape Cod League this past summer and has come out of the gate swinging to open his junior season. Through his first four games, he has gone 7-for-16 with two doubles, two home runs and two walks. He’s playing right field now and has the arm for it. Scouts wanted to see more power from him and so far he hasn’t disappointed.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @DanMKirby for 2015 MLB draft updates, high school and college news, as well as Chicago Cubs ramblings.