For the second time in three weeks, nasty weather is causing postponements of Friday games across the eastern half of the country. Most games are being made up as part of doubleheaders on Saturday, but Texas Tech has been forced to cancel its weekend series for the second time in three weeks. The Red Raiders canceled their opening series against Northern Illinois after a gunman killed five on the NIU campus, and this weekend they were slated to host Illinois in a four-game series, but the Illini were unable to fly out of Chicago because of snow. As a result, Texas Tech will travel to San Marcos, Texas, where Texas State was slated to play four games against Northern Illinois. Each team will now play two games against the Red Raiders and two against each other.
There was one significant upset in the top 25 in Tuesday’s midweek action, as Sam Houston State scored two runs in the ninth to beat Rice 13-12. Closer Bryan Price took the loss for the Owls, his second loss in six appearances, though he has a 2.08 ERA and 11 strikeouts in nine innings. Price has always had good stuff, but his emergence in the fall and spring allowed Rice to move lefthander Cole St.Clair from the closer role to the weekend rotation. The key for Price was abandoning his four-seam fastball, which he struggled to control, in favor of a two-seamer that he throws in the 90-94 mph range and keeps down in the zone.
"The guy that needs to be the guy out of our bullpen is Price," Owls coach Wayne Graham said two weeks ago. "He’s had intrasquads where he never threw a pitch under 90 in four innings, and he’s got a definite power breaking pitch that is 79-84. He’s got a chance to be a real good gun out of the bullpen."
With the stamina he showed in longer stints during the fall and a quality changeup, Price could likely handle a starting role if the closing experiment doesn’t work out. And Graham said it was entirely possible St.Clair could wind up back in the bullpen once he returned to full strength. This situation is worth keeping an eye on, but the good thing for the Owls is they have so many quality arms to choose from, and it will be hard for them to go wrong.
On to the first mailbag of the year–I apologize for being lax on these so far in 2008. I’ll try to start answering one mailbag question per week starting today; to submit a question for the mailbag, send your question, name and hometown to firstname.lastname@example.org. [...] Continue Reading »
Strike One: Frozen Treat At Dairy Queen
The Dairy Queen Classic in Minneapolis showcased a number of good arms and quality college teams. Pepperdine started the tournament with wins against Tulane and Texas Christian but missed out on a perfect weekend when it lost Sunday against a plucky Minnesota club, which also finished 2-1 and beat Tulane Saturday. The anticipated pitching duel Friday between Pepperdine junior righthander Brett Hunter and Tulane junior righty Shooter Hunt lived up to expectations, with both starters allowing two runs and registering no-decisions before the Waves got to the Green Wave bullpen for a pair of runs late.
"Those guys showed big velocity all the way through, they showed the ability to maintain the velocity, but I have questions about the command," said a National League scout who was in attendance. "Hunter looks more like a reliever to me, whereas Shooter could be a legit, front-line No. 1 or No. 2 guy. He was very, very good. He overthrows a little bit, but he showed the ability to maintain that velocity deep into games, he shows the ability to spin a breaking ball and get it in the zone, or he can bury it when he wants to. I liked him better because of the intensity and the better presence."
Another NL scout added, "Hunter has a huge arm but he just needs to go to the bullpen and blow in pro ball. Hunt has a chance to start because he has some pitchability and can locate the breaking ball better, plus he’s an athletic kid." [...] Continue Reading »
SAN DIEGO–So far this weekend, I’ve reported on three top pitching prospects for the 2008 draft (Brian Matusz, Tanner Scheppers and Aaron Crow) and two top pitching prospects for the 2009 draft (Stephen Strasburg and Kyle Gibson). Today I was looking forward to seeing one of the very early top pitching prospects for the 2010 draft, San Diego righthander Kyle Blair, and I was not disappointed–even though Blair took the loss against California.
After leaving Tony Gwynn Stadium following Gibson’s departure, I arrived at Cunningham Stadium in the third inning of USD’s game against Cal, with no score on the board and just a couple of hits for each team. Blair ran into trouble in the fourth, when four walks led to a pair of runs for the Golden Bears, but he minimized the damage by striking out Rich Gorman on a breaking ball and barehanding Jeff Kobernus’ drag bunt with the bases loaded and making a nice throw to first base to end the inning. He was strong the next two innings and finished with six strikeouts and five walks over six innings, allowing just the two runs and six hits. Blair threw four quality pitches, as advertised: an 89-91 mph fastball, a high-70s slider, a mid-70s curveball with 11-to-5 break and two-plane depth, and a 79-81 mph changeup.
"They can hit, they can really hit," Blair said. "I just needed to keep them off balance with my change, curve and slider and work off my fastball. My location wasn’t really there today, but I think I worked pretty well off of it with my offspeed stuff and kept them guessing a little bit. I was throwing more slider. My curve, the few times I got it over it was a good pitch, but I threw a lot more sliders for an out pitch, and my curve was more of a get-me-over pitch. My change feels really good, I threw it more to lefties, so I need to work on throwing it more to righties. But I kept it down and away today and got a lot of roll-me-over ground balls and first-pitch outs. It really worked well for me today." [...] Continue Reading »
SAN DIEGO–Thanks to a late schedule change that moved the Missouri-Cal Poly game up an hour to 11 a.m., I ‘ve had a chance to see both Missouri super sophomore righthander Kyle Gibson and San Diego stud freshman righty Kyle Blair today. Gibson, ranked No. 1 on our list of top prospects in the sophomore class, struggled with his command in the first inning, and the Mustangs strung together two runs on four hits and a sacrifice fly despite not hitting any balls sharply. They had a chance to deliver a knockout punch right off the bat, but Gibson got Adam Melker to ground out meekly to first with the bases loaded to end the inning. From there, Gibson was in control.
A tall, lanky righthander with a smooth, effortless delivery, Gibson oozes projection, but he worked in the 88-91 mph range today, touching 92-93 a couple of times. His most impressive pitch is a devastating hard slider in the 84-86 range that he threw to righties and lefties. He registered all four of his strikeouts by getting hitters to chase the slider down out of the zone. He flashed a plus changeup in the 81-82 range at times, and he tinkered with a nascent curveball. After the first, he allowed just four hits and no runs over the next five innings. [...] Continue Reading »
SAN DIEGO–I’ve been fortunate this weekend to see six regional-caliber clubs in action, and I’ve been very impressed with various aspects of all six. This weekend has really been about pitching, as all six teams have quality staffs and there have been legitimate power arms on display every day. I think all six are solid offensively as well, but no club out here at the USD Tournament has squared up more balls than California.
Since putting up 14 runs against Fresno State on Thursday, the Golden Bears have been held to five runs each of the last two days, but it’s clear this will be a very good offense. It’s no secret that first baseman David Cooper is one of the nation’s best hitters, a tough out with impressive power to all fields, but he’s got plenty of help in that Cal lineup. Sophomore third baseman Jeff Kobernus is a great-looking hitter who has smoked line drives all over the field this weekend; he went 2-for-4 in Cal’s 5-3 win against San Diego State on Saturday night and is now 8-for-15 on the weekend. Even his outs are hard–he crushed a line drive right at SDSU left fielder Brandon Decker in the fourth inning tonight. Catcher Dylan Tonneson tattooed three hits, and Brett Jackson hit the ball hard as well, though he only had one hit to show for it (a screaming line drive that nearly took Aztec starter J.R. Murphy’s head off in the fifth).
"I think we can get better, I really do," Cal coach Dave Esquer said. "I think we prepared ourselves to come out and start quickly. We worked hard so that early-season velocity and the breaking ball would not just dominate us, and I think we’re at that point, but even beyond that, we still have that room where when the weather heats up we should be even better." [...] Continue Reading »
SAN DIEGO–Brian Matusz, Josh Romanski and A.J. Griffin get a lot of attention–and deservedly so–but it’s easy to forget about San Diego senior righthander Matt Couch, who picked up his 23rd career win today against No. 5 Missouri. Couch allowed four runs (just two earned) on six hits and a pair of walks while striking out seven over 7 1/3 innings, keeping things close until the Toreros could cobble together a three-run rally in the sixth to take a 5-4 lead that proved decisive.
"Last night we went over and watched them play at San Diego State, and we had a pretty good game plan," Couch said. "Coach (Eric) Valenzuela called a great game. We kept them off balance early with offspeed pitches, then toward the middle innings and the later part of the game we went fastball in, fastball away, and messed with their heads a little bit. The changeup was working great for me today. I left one up, I think it was in the fifth inning when they scored two, and I was pretty upset about that, but other than that it worked well for me."
He used the changeup and a newly developed cutter–really a modified version of his breaking ball–to get most of his seven strikeouts, and though his fastball topped out at 88, it had good movement. It’s not overpowering stuff, but it’s tough to hit. [...] Continue Reading »
SAN DIEGO–I got a call a few innings ago from BA’s Dave Perkin, who went up to Long Beach State to see the Dirtbags take on Wichita State. Perkin reports that LBSU junior righthander Vance Worley has looked better than Wichita’s Aaron Shafer. Worley has worked in the 91-93 mph range with his fastball, running it in and out, and he’s shown a decent changeup. Perkin said he seems to lack confidence in his curveball. Shafer topped out at 89 and employed a decent curveball in the 71-73 range, though it was a little inconsistent. He has a good, projectable frame, Perkin said, but he needs to use his legs more in his delivery.
After winning a 3-2 game in 12 innings yesterday, Long Beach appeared ticketed for another low-scoring, one-run affair today, but the Dirtbags erupted for five runs in the sixth against Shafer and reliever Logan Hoch, highlighted by Jason Corder’s pinch-hit two-run double. The Beach currently leads 7-5 in the seventh.
SAN DIEGO–Both early games today started at 1 p.m., so I started the day at Tony Gwynn Stadium to see Cal Poly lefthander Derrick Saito take on Fresno State before heading over to Cunningham Stadium to catch the second half of the San Diego-Missouri tilt.
A number of scouting directors lingered in San Diego today to get a glimpse of Saito, a junior lefthander listed at 5-foot-9. As a reliever last year, Saito used an electric fastball that reportedly touched 97 mph to rack up 56 strikeouts in 36 innings, and I was curious to see how he’d look as a starter. The diminutive southpaw did not disappoint in the three innings I saw, showing a 92-93 mph fastball that touched 94-95, a good 78-81 curveball that he threw to righties and lefties, a changeup with screwball action and an 87-88 cutter that he used primarily against lefties. The last pitch I saw him him throw was a 94 mph fastball on the outside corner for a called third strike against lefthanded slugger Steve Susdorf, ending the third. He wound up allowing just four hits and four walks over six shutout innings, striking out nine. For more on Saito, check out Matt Blood’s upcoming Draft Dish.
Fresno State got a strong outing from imposing sinkerballer Clayton Allison, who allowed just one run over 7 1/3, and the score is 1-1 in the eighth.
SAN DIEGO–Missouri junior righthander Ian Berger isn’t afraid of facing dangerous lineups. A year ago, Berger was at his best against some of the nation’s strongest offenses, beating Oklahoma State, holding Arizona State to three runs and holding a red-hot Louisville team to two runs (one earned) over six innings in the Columbia (Mo.) regional.
So facing a San Diego State club that entered Friday night averaging more than 10 runs per game over its first six contests, the Tigers felt confident they had the right guy on the mound. Berger responded by holding the Aztecs to just one run on six hits and no walks while striking out five over 7 1/3 innings, and Missouri won a brisk 3-1 affair to complete a sweep of its two games Friday. Earlier, the Tigers held on to beat California 7-5.
"I just tried to go out there and throw strikes and keep them off balance," Berger said. "I was throwing all three pitches for strikes–my fastball, changeup and curveball–so it really worked out for me today. (Catcher) Trevor Coleman did a great job mixing it up back there, and we discussed our game plan between innings. I could basically throw any pitch I wanted today for strikes, so it helped me out. I think the only pitch I actually threw inside was the home run I gave up (to Troy Hanzawa in the third), and the kid put a good swing on it, so what are you going to do? But I was living away the whole game." [...] Continue Reading »
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