Written By: Austin F
Follow him on Twitter: @AustinF0421
Follow Prospects Worldwide on Twitter: @ProspectsWorldW
College baseball is finally back and off to a good start. The Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic showcased an all-Texas school lineup in 2021 after not having had an event in 2020 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic in which all collegiate sports were shut down in early March. The nine-game tournament spread out over three days and showcased six teams: TCU, Sam Houston State, Texas AM-Corpus Christi, Texas Tech, Rice, and Texas State. Both Sam Houston State and Texas AM-Corpus Christi represented the Southland Conference, the last time that both teams will do so as Sam Houston State will officially join the Western Athletic Conference, or the WAC, on July 1, 2021.
As a student of Sam Houston State, I was thrilled that the Bearkats would be competing in the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic. The Bearkats got off to a rocky start for 2021 after a snowstorm canceled the opening series against nationally-ranked Oklahoma State University. Their one win came in a 4-2 fashion in a weekend series versus UT-San Antonio to prevent from getting swept. They were also shut out by Baylor at Waco in their last game heading into the Classic.
Cowser is the player I was most excited to watch over the weekend, apparently too excited. After a conversation with Prospect’s Worldwide founder Jake Tillinghast, the description I had presented of Cowser made him sound like Mike Trout, and he did not see that at all. Maybe I see something others do not? All kidding aside, it was a fun weekend to watch him despite his struggling performance against Texas Tech in which he went 0-4 with three strikeouts in the Bearkats 8-0 loss.
The 2019 Southland Conference hitter of the year has a patient approach at the plate with a high bat to ball skills and a plus hit tool. He hits with an upright, slightly open stance and rests his bat on his shoulder until the pitcher gets into his windup. His hitting was on display as he went 2-3 with a double in the third inning while walking three times, including on a full count, and scored three runs. He is not afraid to take a pitch and will wait for the right pitch to swing. Perhaps Cowser’s best hit ball during the weekend was a lineout to centerfield that he smoked to the deepest part of the park against Texas Tech.
His arm is another above-average tool that he was able to display as he made a great throw in the fifth inning for an inning-ending double play as he threw the ball right on the money to home well ahead of the runner. It is worth noting that during his freshman season, the coaching staff tried transitioning him to third but was better in the outfield. He also was impressive on the basepaths as he made smart baserunning decisions.
Nunez, a local product for TCU is only a freshman on the Horned Frog roster and has already earned a spot in the starting lineup. Highly ranked coming out of Arlington Martin High School, the outfielder finished Perfect Game’s class of 2020 rankings at 187th in the nation and 16th in the state of Texas while finishing 92nd for Prep Baseball Report nationally and 9th in the state..
The Arlington native was hitting .304 entering the weekend and started off Shriners with a bang as he went 2-4 with a triple off the left-field wall against Texas AM-Corpus Christi while walking once and scored two runs and drove in two. I did not get to watch the Horned Frogs game against Texas State, where he went 1-2 with three walks in the game but did get to see them play Texas AM-Corpus Christi, where he went 2-4 and drove a ball off the left-field wall for a triple. Against Sam Houston State, Nunez went 2-4 with a double. His double came off a 1-2 count in which he hit a line drive down the third baseline for an opposite-field knock. He also stole a base but was caught stealing as well in their 5-4 loss against the Bearkats that came in walk-off fashion. Nunez will be an interesting collegiate bat to follow for the next few seasons and it will be fun to see where he lands in the 2023 MLB Draft..
Perhaps my biggest disappointment of the weekend was missing Brandon Birdsell’s start for Texas Tech on Friday night against Texas State due to a bad headache that forced me to leave after the Sam Houston State game. Birdsell is another prospect that could go high in the 2021 MLB Draft and likely would have gone in the 2020 draft if not for the shortened draft that resulted in just five rounds. Birdsell has reached 99 miles per hour on the radar gun this season. He has had injuries this early on in his career having missed his junior year at Conroe high school and only pitched in 0.2 innings of work as a true freshman at Texas AM in 2019. Against Texas State, the flame-throwing righty went 4.2 innings falling just one out shy of qualifying for the win. He gave up four hits and three runs, all earned while striking out four batters and walking none.
Conley was nationally ranked at number 420 in Perfect Game’s top 500 list for the 2018 graduation class and finished the 10th in rankings for the state of Wisconsin. Conley started his collegiate career at the University of Miami in 2019 but did not get any playing time. After transferring to Texas Tech for 2020, the Red Raider shortstop wound up being one of the top newcomers in the nation as he hit .371 (26-70) with eight doubles and three homers. He struggled a bit at the Shriners Classic only racking up two hits during the event, but one was a massive home run against Sam Houston State that just bounced off the upper deck for his third homer of the early season.
Jace is the brother of former Texas Tech All-American and Rangers 2019 first-rounder Josh Jung. The COVID-shirt freshman has an interesting profile as a lefthanded, power-hitting second baseman. Jung’s stance reminds me a little of Kevin Youkilis as he hits from a slightly open, upright stance with his bat up in the air. His knees are bent and there is action with his wrists. He was an RBI machine over the weekend driving in five over the three games including three against Texas AM-Corpus Christi..
Dylan is another brother of a professional ballplayer with his being Sheldon Neuse, who was traded by the Oakland Athletics to the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason. While Sheldon played for the University of Oklahoma, Dylan found himself at another Big 12 school in Texas Tech. Neuse is an athletic infielder with speed. He hits from a balanced stance with a high handset and plays with energy.
Fulford is another interesting Red Raider profile. He is a local product coming out of Lubbock Monterey high school and showed no signs of draft prospects after his freshman season after he hit a minuscule .193 with a home run and four RBI in 38 games. He wound up a full-time starter for Texas Tech as a sophomore and has remained their starting catcher ever since. As a COVID-shirt junior, the Red Raider backstop has started the season off on fire as his numbers climbed and is hitting .444 (8-18) with three doubles and three home runs after the classic. While his offense has gotten off to a nice start, he displayed his defense at the tournament and threw out Bearkat runner Blake Faecher for his second runner caught of the season. It will be interesting to see where Fulford ends up in the 2021 draft or if teams bypass him and he returns as a 5th year senior in 2022
Weekend Sleeper Prospects
First up is Itchy Burts of Texas AM-Corpus Christi, mostly for his name as it was ranked as the best name in all of college baseball by Baseball America for the 2020 season, and it still probably is for 2021. Burts had an outstanding 2019 and had gotten off to a shaky start for 2021 but did go deep against Texas Tech for one of his three hits against the Red Raiders.
Garrett Wright took the loss for TCU as Clayton Chadwick hit a line drive deep in left-center in the bottom of the 10th for Sam Houston State for a walk-off victory on Sunday. Wright very much struggled with command but hit 96 during his only outing of the tournament and had been clocked at 98 during fall practices. If he learns to harness his pitches, he could be a lights-out reliever and could be a high draft pick in 2023.
Charles King is a Horned Frog pitcher who could end up being selected by a team in the 2021 draft. The TCU senior hit 91-93 mph according to Minute Maid’s radar gun during his 2.2 innings of work to go along with a mid-80s slider. With his fastball and his 6’5 frame, a team might be willing to take a chance on him as a cheap senior sign later in this year’s draft.
Zeke Wood of the Texas State Bobcats had an impressive outing against Rice in Sunday’s matchup for the tournament finale as he went six innings while only giving up three hits and no runs while walking three batters and striking out six. He hit 89-92 on the stadium radar gun with a low 80s breaking pitch.
Ryan Sublette had an outstanding inning of work for Texas Tech against Sam Houston State on Saturday striking out two batters and hit 92-95 with his fastball.
Patrick Monteverde was the starter for Tech against Sam and went seven innings while giving up just three hits and walking none to go along with nine strikeouts and hit 91 with his fastball.
After struggling drastically in his first two starts of the season, SHSU starting pitcher Matt Dillard impressed on Saturday against the Red Raiders as he went six innings giving up three hits including an unearned run, and walked three batters while striking out eight. His best pitch looked to be a future 55-grade changeup that he used to get outs and sat 88-91 with his fastball. The lefty was drafted out of St. Pius X high school in Houston by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 31st round of the 2018 MLB Draft.
Sam Houston State opened the classic with a 12-4 victory over Rice. TCU followed the Bearkats victory with one of their own over Texas AM-Corpus Christi and run ruled them after 7 with a final score of 15-5. Texas Tech closed Friday out with an 8-4 victory over Texas State.
Texas AM-Corpus Christi found themselves run-ruled again to start Saturday’s games with a 16-5 loss versus Rice over 7 innings. Texas Tech shut out Sam Houston State 8-0 for game two and TCU finished Saturday’s games with a 10-0 shutout of Texas State.
Texas Tech and Texas AM-Corpus Christi opened the final day of the tournament with Tech winning 4-3. Sam Houston State followed up Tech’s close game with one of their own as they walked off the TCU Horned Frogs 5-4 in the bottom of the 10th. Texas State and Rice closed out the tournament with Texas State defeating the Owls 9-1.
Texas Tech won the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic after going 3-0 for the weekend.