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Painting the Black: Fantasy College Weekend Rotations

Jensen Lewis

Jensen Lewis

Jensen Lewis is a former Major League Baseball relief pitcher, playing parts of four seasons in the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians. Drafted 102nd overall in the 3rd round of the 2005 draft, he played 9 professional seasons altogether with the Tribe, Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs. Lewis amassed a career of 7-11 in 161 games, good for a 3.68 career ERA in 198 innings. He helped the Indians win the AL Central in 2007, becoming a key cog in their bullpen, on a postseason run that ended with a Game 7 loss to the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. Lewis went a perfect 13 for 13 in save opportunities with the Indians in 2008 as their closer and was nominated for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award in 2010. The award recognizes the player who combines a dedication to giving back to the community with outstanding skills on the baseball field as well as representing the game of baseball through sportsmanship, community involvement and positive contributions to their Clubs. A Vanderbilt University graduate with a BS in Communications, Lewis now works as a broadcast personality with Fox Sports and SportsTime Ohio in Cleveland. He continues to be involved in Cleveland Indians Charities providing support to the Cleveland community, making visits to local hospitals and participating in the annual Tyson Food Distribution event held before Thanksgiving. A diehard Cleveland fan his entire life, he still holds out hope that the Tribe & Browns championship droughts will come to an end during his lifetime.


PAINTING THE BLACK: "FANTASY" COLLEGE WEEKEND ROTATIONS

Through each big league season, plenty of collegiate postseasons grab the attention of clubhouses around the league. The continual and unending banter between teammates about who's university's sports teams are better, who's conference is harder to compete in, and the rarely-seen/highly-effective "we're just better because I said so" line.

March Madness always happens during spring training. Big league clubhouses are full of multiple players early on in camp so the trash-talking can become more prevalent depending on the bravery of some newcomers. As the MLB regular season begins to enter June, the Road to Omaha comes into view. For those that have never been to either old Rosenblatt Stadium or the brand new TD Ameritrade Park, it's a bucket list item you need to check off, especially if you've got young kids. The passion, the drama, and the ultimate equalizer in college sports (emotion), are on full display during every inning.

Where am I going with this? Big league ballplayers are confident individuals, just ask them. Bragging rights are an immeasurable capital that holds ultimate value in the pride category. Throw in where these players spent their college baseball days and you've set the stage for quite the debate.

As a Vanderbilt alum, I take great pride in telling many people that the Southeastern Conference is clearly the best baseball conference in the country. The numbers back me up to a certain extent. But ask some of my former teammates, Trevor Crowe & Jordan Brown of the University of Arizona (PAC-12) or offseason training buddy David Aardsma (Rice University) and they'll tell you otherwise. It's great entertainment if you'd ever like to go to dinner with us and see it for yourself.

We always judged the difficulty of a weekend series in college based on the arms our offense would be facing. It's safe to say my freshman year at Vandy, the trial-by-fire began weekend #1, going into Starkville, Mississippi toting our Ace, then-phenom Jeremy Sowers against current Dodgers LH Paul Maholm. Oh by the way - Jonathan Papelbon was State's closer. No big deal.

Throwing a fantasy angle on this, I thought to myself - let's go by conference and see who could be the most ridiculous weekend rotation, picking from the representative schools. Due to the vast numbers of players, I cut down the scope to current MLB starting pitchers in rotations at the present moment. The results are quite astounding:

* NCAA schools IN 2014 TOURNAMENT with no current MLB starting pitchers in current rotations: 46 of 64 (BIG 10, ACC, IVY, AMERICAN, BIG SOUTH, NORTHEAST, MEAC, MAC, PATRIOT, PIONEER, SOUTHERN, SUN BELT, AMERICA EAST, COLONIAL, A-10, SOUTHWESTERN, OHIO VALLEY, ATLANTIC SUN, HORIZON)

** Conference with the MOST current MLB starting pitchers in current rotations: SEC (7)

*** Conferences with 3+ current MLB starting pitchers in current rotations: 4 (SEC, BIG-12, BIG WEST, MOUNTAIN WEST)

SEC: 7

Texas A&M - Michael Wacha (STL)
Mississippi State - Paul Maholm (LAD)
Ole Miss - Lance Lynn (STL)
Vanderbilt - David Price (TB), Sonny Gray (OAK), Mike Minor (ATL)

BIG 12: 4

Oklahoma State - Scott Baker (TEX)
Texas Tech - Josh Tomlin (CLE)
TCU - Jake Arrieta (CHC), Andrew Cashner (SD)

BIG WEST: 3

Long Beach State - Marco Estrada (MIL), Jason Vargas (KC), Jered Weaver (LAA)

MOUNTAIN WEST: 3

San Diego State - Aaron Harang (ATL), Justin Masterson (CLE), Stephen Strasburg (WAS)

**** Conferences with 2 or Less current MLB starting pitchers in current rotations: 6 (PAC-12, BIG SKY, CONFERENCE USA, MAAC, SOUTHLAND, WEST COAST)

PAC 12: 2

Stanford - Jeremy Guthrie (KC)
Arizona State - Mike Leake (CIN)

BIG SKY: 2

Cal Poly - Kevin Correia (MIN), Bud Norris (BAL)

CONFERENCE USA: 2

Rice - Tony Cingrani (CIN)
Old Dominion - Justin Verlander (DET)

MAAC: 1

Siena - John Lannan (NYM)

SOUTHLAND: 1

Southeastern Louisiana - Wade Miley (AZ)

WEST COAST: 1

Pepperdine - Dan Haren (LAD)

Ok, now the fun begins. We'll go from least to greatest in terms of number of options to choose from and I welcome your thoughts at the end of the article on your selections:

Friday: RH Justin Verlander
Saturday: RH Dan Haren
Sunday: LH Wade Miley

In conferences with two or less candidates, the obvious pick amongst them is Verlander on a Friday night. In my college career, the first guy we faced in my first collegiate game was Verlander vs. Sowers. JV threw a complete game, 128-pitch effort, and hit 98 mph on his last heater. His numbers in college were downright video-game-esque. He still is doing the same thing today.

Haren presents quite the stiff challenge following Verlander. I'm sure Pepperdine enjoyed much more than just the Malibu atmosphere with Haren on the hill there. "Wiley" Wade Miley on Sunday gives you the typical college offset - power & power the first two nights, then a lefty with movement and great offspeed. A formidable three-headed attack in my opinion.

If that wasn't a good enough start, the going gets much tougher.

Friday: RH Stephen Strasburg
Saturday: RH Justin Masterson
Sunday: RH Aaron Harang

San Diego State rolling out these three righties? Based solely on their stuff alone, match these guys up against any lineup, aluminum bats or not, and you've got no one running to the bat rack at any point to get in line to face these horses. High octane heaters from Strasburg and Masterson coupled with the crafty veteran in Harang put the Aztecs right at the front of the pack in a devastating weekend format.

Friday: RH Jered Weaver
Saturday: LH Jason Vargas
Sunday: RH Marco Estrada

Long Beach State definitely knows how to churn out some quality arms. Weaver was one of the best collegiates of all time during his tenure in the Dirt Bags rotation and to get Vargas, an innings-eater, along with Estrada filling out the back end, LBSU fans could get used to seeing many weekend series wins from this trio.

Friday: RH Andrew Cashner
Saturday: RH Josh Tomlin
Sunday: RH Jake Arrieta/RH Scott Baker

The Big 12 certainly has its fair share of power schools and former TCU Horned Frogs righty Andrew Cashner headlines this group's elite. He can match up against any Friday Ace and turn things over to "the little cowboy" former Texas Tech RH Josh Tomlin on Saturday. I leave the Sunday spot up for grabs because, depending upon how the series has gone, the differing styles between fellow former Horned Frog RH Jake Arrieta and OK State vet RH Scott Baker can make you think twice. Nevertheless, a solid group of options that would make any collegiate head coach sleep well at night.

Friday: RH Michael Wacha
Saturday: LH Paul Maholm
Sunday: RH Lance Lynn

This weekend rotation setup just oozes SEC. The often-seen right/left/right alternation could almost be interchangeable with the aforementioned names. However, it's hard not to lead out the postseason darling of 2013 in the National League, Michael Wacha. A major force in the Texas A&M opening weekend spot during his college term, Wacha could enable any head coach to begin with a W. Follow him up with Friday night veteran and former Mississippi State Bulldog LH Paul Maholm. The old adage of "change of pace" embodies Maholm's stuff after facing the hard throwing Wacha. Sunday, another day game dose of petroleum fueled by former Ole Miss Rebel RH Lance Lynn. The St. Louis Cardinals are enjoying running out Wacha and Lynn on their own, but this fantasy weekend rotation would do wonders against any team.

Friday: LH David Price
Saturday: LH Mike Minor
Sunday: RH Sonny Gray

I confess, I did save the best for last. As a former Friday night starter myself for the Vanderbilt Commodores, I pale in comparison to what the three names above did in their tenure with the bright lights on them. They need no introduction. They are three current Aces of their respective teams and all with very bright futures at such young ages. Former Cy Young winner David Price headlines this rotation without any dispute. The probable argument comes in who starts Saturday? I went Minor because he's a completely different guy in his approach than the power Price displays. Minor's change-up is probably the best of the three and gives lineups a different look from the left side altogether. Finish up the weekend with the "Sonny G" Sonny Gray - power fastball, power breaking ball - the last thing hitters want to see in a getaway day game.

It's fun to see where many of these guys came from. I've had the good fortune of playing against many of them, from college days through to the big leagues. I look forward to seeing who YOU select as your ultimate fantasy weekend rotation!