As the saying goes, “Everything is bigger in Texas” and the inaugural State Farm College Baseball Showdown did not disappoint. The Texas Rangers and Globe Life Field hosted the three-day event with schools representing the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the Big 12 Conference. The round robin style tournament put each SEC team against each Big 12 team. The schools participating in the Showdown were as big as they get. Each of the six teams were ranked in the Top 10 of the 2021 Preseason Rankings.
Not only were the teams highly ranked, but some of the players were on Preseason All-Conference Teams, Preseason All-American Teams and 2021 MLB Draft watch lists, too. Because it was opening weekend, each manager was able to strategize his lineup and starting pitchers to attack the opposing team. Top-ranked pitchers squaring off against top-ranked hitters promised to deliver nine games of quality baseball.
While the games did have their fair share of errors, wild pitches, and hit batters, the energy and excitement from the players and fans was significant. These were the first college baseball games for the six teams since March 2020, when the Covid-19 virus emerged and cancelled seasons across the NCAA. Players and coaches showed a noticeable “dust” that only game experience can shake off.
The SEC dominated the Big 12 across each day, going 8-1 over the nine games. Only TCU was able to win a game for the Big 12. SEC players and coaches appeared to be more ready, both in pregame strategy and in-game adjustments. Big 12 teams made crucial mental errors and the managers made questionable pitching changes in high-leverage spots.
There were players that stood out during the three-day tournament. Some of these names were expected, while others treated the Showdown as a Coming Out Party. Without further delay, here is the Prospects1500 All-Showdown Team:
Player of the Showdown – Luke Hancock, Mississippi State
H/W: 5’11” / 190
Showdown Stats: 7 for 12 (.583), 2 HR, 5 RBI, 4 R, 2 BB, 2 K
Have yourself a weekend, Luke Hancock! The C/DH started the 2021 season red-hot against Big 12 pitching, hitting .583 with two home runs and five runs batted in. Hancock has incredibly quick hands through the zone, with his extra-base power developed from lower body strength. He has above average contact rate leading to high average potential. With his catcher background and knowledge, Hancock identifies pitches well and works counts to his favor. Hancock finds trouble when his swing is lengthened, and the zone expanded.
— Mississippi State Baseball (@HailStateBB) February 22, 2021
Catcher – Casey Opitz, Arkansas
H/W: 5’11” / 200
Showdown Stats: 3 for 9 (.333), 1 2B, 1 RBI, 4 R, 4 BB, 2 K
The star catcher went undrafted in the 2020 MLB Draft, opting to return to school instead of signing a Free Agent deal with a MLB squad. Opitz has above average defensive skills and manages the zone nicely for his pitchers. The struggles are purely in the batter’s box; hitting just .243 during the last full season of 2019. Any improvement in his contact and average metrics will help Casey reach the next level.
Infield – Peyton Chatagnier, Ole Miss
H/W: 5’10” / 175
Showdown Stats: 5 for 11 (.455), 4 2B, 3 RBI, 3 R, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 5 K
The 2019 Freshman All-American played a key role in lifting Ole Miss to their 3-0 record in the Showdown. Chatagnier is an above average defensive middle infielder, with large range and a great glove. A high-character, energy player at the top of the lineup, Chatagnier found himself on-base during every game. Continuing to add gap power and an increased pitch recognition will put Peyton on multiple MLB radars.
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) February 23, 2021
Infield – Cal Conley, Texas Tech
H/W: 5’10” / 185
Showdown Stats: 6 for 15 (.400), 1 2B, 4 RBI, 1 R, 2 SB, 5 K
Even though the TTU squad went 0-3 during the Showdown, Conley was the most consistent and effective Red Raider. With contact and average metrics that will get him to the level, Conley found himself on Preseason All-American lists. A sure-handed defender with good range and arm strength, Conley looks to build on a good, yet shortened, 2020 campaign.
Infield – Jacob Gonzalez, Ole Miss
H/W: 6’2” / 200
Showdown Stats: 4 for 11 (.364), 1 HR, 1 3B, 4 RBI, 3 R, 1 SF, 2 BB, 5 K
The highly recruited freshman from California had the breakthrough performance of the Showdown. An Lindor/Reyes type of ceiling has Gonzalez destined to be a superstar for Ole Miss, and both his above average bat and glove were on full display for Ole Miss. Knowing that Gonzalez will develop more power and consistency as his body matures, Gonzalez will be a Top 5 in future FYPD’s. As for now, sit back and watch the Ole Miss middle infield of Chatagnier and Gonzalez, it has potential to be great.
Jacob Gonzalez: Really, really good baseball player. #SCTop10
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) February 22, 2021
Infield – Jalen Battles, Arkansas
H/W: 6’2” / 205
Showdown Stats: 5 for 13 (.385), 1 2B, 3 RBI, 3 R, 5 K
The Junior College transfer is an average defender with good range and a strong arm. He needs to become more consistent at the plate; both with the swing plane and his contact. Facing the pitchers of the SEC will be the opportunity Jalen must seize upon. If he does, Battles could find himself in the 4th or 5th round of the 2021 MLB Draft.
Outfield – Rowdey Jordan, Mississippi State
H/W: 5’10” / 185
Showdown Stats: 4 for 14 (.286), 2 HR, 1 3B, 6 RBI, 3 R, 1 SB, 3 K
The “Rowdey Rocket” launched out of Globe Life Field twice during the weekend. Jordan is a high-energy leader on the Bulldog team, both on the field and in the dugout. Balanced approach in the box leads to consistent contact and average gap power. Needs to work on plate discipline, increasing walks and reducing strikeouts.
Outfield – Christian Franklin, Arkansas
H/W: 5’11” / 195
Showdown Stats: 2 for 12 (.167), 1 3B, 1 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB, 5 K
While the Showdown was not Franklin’s finest three games, the top-rated Razorback did get on base in timely innings. Franklin’s range and arm in center filed was also on display in the larger outfield of a Major League ballpark. The biggest concern for Franklin heading in to the 2021 MLB Draft will be his strikeout rate. Franklin will be a 1st-round pick due to his high future value, but continuing to miss pitches like he did in the Showdown will push him from 10-15 down to 25-30.
Briefly down, but NEVER out.
— Razorback Baseball (@RazorbackBSB) February 23, 2021
Outfield – Dylan Neuse, Texas Tech
H/W: 5’9” / 175
Showdown Stats: 2 for 9 (.222), 1 HR, 2 RBI, 4 R, 5 BB, 1 HBP, 2 K
The Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year had, by his standards, a disappointing Showdown. Neuse has an above average hit tool that continues to develop power to all fields. His balanced, consistent swing produces hard contact and line drives. A small adjustment in launch angle and slightly quieter hands could increase power numbers. Hopefully, the Showdown performance was just an opening weekend anomaly.
Designated Hitter – Brady Slavens, Arkansas
H/W: 6’3” / 195
Showdown Stats: 5 for 12 (.417), 1 HR, 4 RBI, 4 R, 2 HBP, 4 K
Another Junior College transfer into Fayetteville, Slavens has the offensive tools to excel in the 2021 SEC season. Excellent, all-field power comes from quick hands and consistent barrel contact. Slavens swing appears effortless and balls explode into gaps. Only area restricting Slavens MLB Draft rankings is his defensive shortcomings. Both as an outfielder and infielder, Brady continues to show inaccurate arm strength and poor glove work. Can a pure DH prospect find his way through MiLB systems?
Starting Pitcher – Russell Smith, Texas Christian
H/W: 6’9” / 235
Showdown Stats: 1 W, 5.1 IP, 1.69 ERA, 6 K, 3 H, 1 HR, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 WP
Originally a Cubs 2017 draft pick, Smith picked up the only win of the Showdown for TCU against the solid offense of MSU. Smith’s tall frame and sturdy build allows for an above average fastball that has good downward action. Off-speed pitches from the same high arm slot keep hitters off balance and lead to Smith’s high strikeout rate. His height is a disadvantage when runners are on base, as his delivery from the stretch requires longer motions.
— TCU Baseball (@TCU_Baseball) February 21, 2021
Starting Pitcher – Derek Diamond, Ole Miss
H/W: 6’2” / 200
Showdown Stats: 1 W, 6.0 IP, 1.50 ERA, 8 K, 4 H, 1 HR, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 HB
A 2019 MLB Draft selection of the Diamondbacks, Diamond chose to develop his pitch arsenal and increase his draft stock by playing in Oxford. Diamond features an above average fastball and an average curveball. He will need to work on consistent mechanics and not dropping the arm slot on the change up, a dead give away to better hitters.
Relief Pitcher – Landon Sims, Mississippi State
H/W: 6’2” / 216
Showdown Stats: 1 W, 4.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 10 K, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB
In Saturday’s opening game, Texas had loaded the bases with no outs against MSU starter MacCleod, when Sims was brought in to limit the damage. Not only did Sims strand all three Longhorns, but he also struck out the side! A strong arm from a mid-level slot allows his fastball to jump on hitters at 95-97 mph. More confidence in his slider and changeup will continue to drive swing and misses.
Simply Dominant @landoosims
— Mississippi State Baseball (@HailStateBB) February 23, 2021
Relief Pitcher – Tanner Witt, Texas
H/W: 6’5” / 215
Showdown Stats: 1.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 5 K, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB
Previously mentioned Jacob Gonzalez wasn’t the only newcomer with high expectations. Witt’s arrival in Austin was both highly covered and hyped. Coming from the Witt MLB bloodline, Tanner is a two-way star who will probably land as a pitching prospect in future drafts. While all with an upright delivery, Witt has the potential to add lower body strength and add velocity to his fastball and deception into his changeup. During his Showdown debut, Witt had an impressive 20-25 mph swing from his fastball to his curve!
Head Coach – Mike Bianco, Ole Miss
21st Year at Ole Miss
Showdown Record: 3-0
Bianco will admit having talent and leadership on his roster makes his job easier, but during the Showdown it seemed every coaching decision went his way. From lineup changes, defensive shifts, and pitching changes, Bianco proved why he is one of the best coaches in SEC history. With Vanderbilt, Florida, and in-state rivals MSU in conference, Ole Miss will need to play their best baseball to make it back to Omaha.