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College of Charleston sweeps Radford in season’s opening series.

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It’s hard to believe it was snowing here in Charleston, South Carolina, just a week ago.

Because today it feels like spring. I’m finally wearing shorts (beware the glow!) and the anoles have emerged from their winter hiding places and are torturing my dog by running just fast enough to stay out of her reach.

And that means one thing, folks: it’s officially baseball season.

Major League Baseball’s pitchers and catchers reported on Thursday and the NCAA baseball season began nationwide on Friday.

The College of Charleston Cougars (hereby ordained “C of C”) opened with a non-conference series against the Radford Highlanders at nearby Patriot’s Point Park in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

In the Southern Conference coaches’ poll, the Cougars were chosen to finish fourth. The media, however, picked them to finish third. Baseball America, my favorite source for college baseball information, has ’em finishing second.

The consensus favorite to capture the SoCon league title is Elon, a team filled with dominant pitchers and an above-average group of hitters.

And while it will be hard to wrestle the title from Elon, C of C has all the trappings of an extremely competitive, even championship caliber, team. They’re arguably the best offensive team in the league, their defense is solid, and their pitchers have good upside.

Everything came together for the team during the opening weekend, as they swept Radford in dominating fashion to start the season 3-and-0. They won the first game 8-4, the second game 9-1, and the third 11-3.

The offense was explosive and the pitching was good. There were few scouts at the first game, at least three at the second (Texas, St. Louis, and San Diego) and one at the third (Atlanta).

That means it’s time for a rundown of the team’s top players thus far. For fun, I’ll throw one Radford player into the mix.

Eddie Butler, RHP, Radford – Butler, a 6’2″, 165 pound, freshman out of Chesapeake, Va. was the standout player in the series. Called upon to replace lefty Paul DeVito, who was lit up for five runs in one inning of work, Butler carved through the Cougar’s lineup for five innings in the second game, save a rough fourth frame.

Butler hides the ball extremely well for an unrefined pitcher. His delivery plays up his deceptive fastball, which if I had to guess sat around 89-91, and a good changeup. Butler’s best attribute, however, could be his poise. When everything was falling apart in the fourth inning, he kept calling for the ball and pitched as if everything wasn’t falling apart. His lean and lanky body is extremely projectable and once he fills out, he should easily be able to add three or four miles per hour to his fastball.

I heard the scouts murmuring “three” and holding up three fingers once Butler started throwing. I don’t know if they were indicating that he’s one of the few college pitchers with a serviceable third pitch or if they think he’s a potential third rounder or if they were talking about what they were going to order from Burger King. Either way, Butler has definite potential.

In five innings of work, he gave up four runs, five hits, and struck out four. He left an impression and I’ll keep a serious eye on his development.

Joey Bergman, Shortstop, Charleston – I’m not taking much of a chance by putting Bergman on this list, but it had to be done. The 2009 Southern Conference Player of the Year, Bergman batted an insane .452 with 15 homers and 57 RBI en route to setting multiple school records in his first full season. He’s now a fixture on prominent national lists and should be picked within the first five to 10 rounds of the 2011 draft.

Bergman was visibly pressing during the first two games of the series, trying too hard to start the season off with the same bang he ended 2009 with. As a result, he carried a sub .150 average to the plate to start the third game. Coach Monte Lee must have said something to him because he absolutely murdered a ball into the trees during the Charleston fifth, and in the seventh he followed up with a screaming double to deep right center.

Bergman’s bat is scary good, but his defense is bordering on scary bad. Through the first three games, he’s already made two errors. Since Bergman’s body still offers a lot of projection, it’s safe to profile him as a mostly-bat, little-glove third baseman at future levels.

Christian Powell, RHP, Charleston – Powell is a 6’4″, 205 pound, true freshman out of Greenwood, S.C. A 47th round pick by the Cleveland Indians in 2009, Powell has electric stuff and should greatly improve the team’s rotation by taking the ball every Sunday.

Powell throws a hard riding fastball at 89-91 miles per hour and a changeup that sits almost exclusively at 84. It looked like he also threw a curve, but I couldn’t get a good enough read on it. Even if he does throw one, it’s not a plus pitch by any measure. Like a lot of young pitchers, he’s prone to control problems (he threw a fastball to the backstop during warmups).

If that wasn’t tantalizing enough in a freshman pitcher, he’s a converted outfielder that also ranked as one of the Baseball Factory’s top hitters on their top tools list two years ago.

Cougar’s manager Monte Lee is incredibly high on Powell: “If he stays healthy and keeps progressing, he could be the highest player drafted at the College of Charleston. He has a chance to be one of the top 50 draft picks in the country in three years if he continues to progress.”

Jesse Mesa, Second Base, Charleston – Based on pedigree alone (Jesse is the son of former MLB pitcher Jose), Mesa is an almost-lock to be drafted in the late rounds of a future amateur draft. However, Mesa is making a case on his own…

A former Central Florida junior college standout, the 5’9″, 180 pound, speedster is looking good at the plate thus far. He’s hitting over .500 and driving in runs from the two-hole, all while playing the field exceptionally well.

I don’t know much about him, but if he continues to be as dynamic as I saw him this first weekend, he’s going to be a very, very fun player to watch. He’s adept at closing the hole up the middle and is an absolute terror on the basepaths. He might be little more than a Punch and Judy-type player once he begins to play with wooden bats, but it looks like he does have some power to the gaps.

Jose Rodriguez, Left Field, Charleston – Rodriguez is my guilty pleasure for the year. He’s got “the good face” and he’s incredibly easy to dream on. Imagine if Carlos Pena’s mom got freaky with Albert Pujols’ dad… chances are the product would look something like this righthanded big boy out of Florida.

In his first game as a Cougar, Rodriguez crushed a prodigious homerun to left field, far over the mini Green Monster at Patriot’s Point Park and onto the pavement probably twenty feet further than the outfield fence. He followed it up with a double and through three games, he’s kept it up, batting over .600.

Rodriguez is sluggish in the outfield and it looks like he will be a future liability on the basepaths. Still, I’m excited to see if he’s anything more than a flash-in-the-pan, as there’s really not much information about junior college transfers.

Fun fact: Rodriguez is listed as 5’0″, 220 pounds on the College of Charleston’s roster. It’s not true.

Other notables: Charleston catcher Rob Kral looks to have an amazing arm, throwing out a runner from his knees a’la Benito Santiago. Pitcher Aaron Bouronich throws a nasty slider, but it sits in the mid-60s. He also throws a 75 mile per hour fastball with incredible lateral movement. It was fun to watch him play with rusty hitters, but he should get knocked around once it’s realized he’s pitching at half speed.


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