SEC Tournament Notebook: Baseball stars under watchful eyes

Friday, May 23, 2008 at 9:21am

HOOVER, Ala. – The stars really are falling on Alabama this week.

Major League scouts and executives are flocking to Regions Park to watch the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament, which enters its third day of play Friday.

Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, Washington Nationals GM Jim Bowden and Chicago White Sox GM Kenny Williams have been among those in attendance.

Fifty-eight Major League scouts have also been on hand. Forty attended in 2007 and 36 attended in 2006.

Baseball America currently ranks three SEC stars among the nation’s top 10 position players: Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez, Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham and South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak.

Some analysts still project Alvarez to be the No. 1 overall pick by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in next month’s Major League Draft. Former Vanderbilt pitcher David Price was selected No. 1 overall by Tampa Bay in 2007.

Alvarez was hitless in four at-bats Thursday in Vanderbilt’s 8-2 loss to LSU.

UP NEXT: Vanderbilt faces South Carolina on Thursday at 3 p.m. in an elimination game.

The Commodores won two of three games against the Gamecocks this season in a series in March series in Nashville.

Pitcher Nick Christiani is slated to start for Vanderbilt.

GOING HOME: Georgia’s elimination after 5-1 loss to Alabama on Thursday marked the second time in three years that the regular-season SEC championship was whisked out of the league tournament in two games.

In 2006, co-champion Kentucky was quickly sent home with losses to South Carolina and Georgia.

The Bulldogs opened with a 4-1 loss to Ole Miss on Wednesday before being eliminated Thursday. Georgia managed only nine hits in two games this week, including three Thursday.

HAMMERIN' HANKS: Vanderbilt senior outfielder Parker Hanks is once again providing unexpected offensive punch during the SEC Tournament.

On Thursday, his home run and sacrifice fly accounted for both Commodores runs in an 8-2 loss to LSU. In the 2007 tournament, he was 5-for-11 with five runs batted in and five runs scored in three games.

Hanks, who played one season at UCLA before transferring to Vanderbilt, had collected only one hits in his previous 18 at-bats before Thursday’s game.

CHANGING TIMES: A year ago, LSU was swept in a three-game series at Vanderbilt to close the regular season and failed to make the eight-team SEC Tournament field.

After beating the Commodores on Thursday, the surging the Tigers have won 18 straight games, the longest streak in the nation.

LSU coach Paul Mainieri said Thursday’s outcome doesn’t reflect Vanderbilt slippage.

“They haven’t gone backwards,” he said. “Our team is a lot better than it was last year.”

LSU’s victory Thursday snapped a five-game losing streak to Vanderbilt. The Tigers are now 3-0 all-time against the Commodores in SEC Tournament play.

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