Bryce Harper got most of the headlines from the first few weeks of the junior college season, but on the other side of the country, another top talent was making his collegiate debut. Outfielder LeVon Washington was a first-round pick (30th overall) by the Rays last season, but couldn't come to terms and is spending the year with Chipola (Fla.) JC. The team features several other 2009 draftees, including lefthander Jake Eliopoulos (second round, Blue Jays), third baseman Michael Revell (16th round, Rangers), righthander/first baseman Cody Martin (31st round, Twins) and outfielder Joey Rapp (41st round, Angels).
Washington went 5-for-14 with two walks, two doubles, two RBIs and two stolen bases in an opening-weekend tournament at Gulf Coast (Fla.) CC. But in his next game, he got his right hand stepped on while sliding into third base and missed Chipola's next six games.
Washington didn't look as fast as he has in the past, but that could be simply because it's early and the weather was unusually cold. His arm is still weak after having labrum surgery last year.
"Anytime a high school kid comes into college baseball, it's an adjustment—I don't care where you are," Chipola head coach Jeff Johnson said. "He's done fine. Like all of them, he just needs to see more live pitching. He hasn't played much center field, so it's a work in progress. He didn't get to play out there all fall because of his arm. So, he's getting all the balls daily in practice, getting as many jumps as he can, learning how to go get it and how to come get it. But the arm's coming along and it'll just take some time for it to come all the way back."
Scouts came away from the opening weekend with mixed impressions of Washington.
"He can really hit," one area scout said. "He very rarely swings and misses, and even when he gets fooled he hits it hard. But he's not running like he used to—he was more of a 60 runner than an 80 runner like he used to be. I honestly think he just isn't turning on his jets. He was getting down the line in 4.25 (seconds) from the left side, and you're talking about a kid who used to get down the line in 4.0."
Eliopoulos was a little underwhelming for the 80-100 scouts in attendance. His fastball was in the 86-89 mph range and his secondary stuff wasn't as sharp as it was late last season.
Rapp, a sophomore who played right field and first base, had opposing coaches buzzing after he crushed three home runs in the tournament.
"He can just kill it," Meridian (Miss.) CC head coach Chris Rose said. "You just don't pitch to him because he's patient this year. I've heard in the past he wasn't patient, but he was this year. He didn't exploit himself or show resounding flaws in his swing and I thought he was the best hitter. He hit one about 700 feet against us. I said, 'We've got nothing to lose here, we're up two, so don't walk somebody.' So, we threw him a fastball and it still hasn't come down yet. That kid can hit."
It was an impressive start for the 6-foot-3, 220-pound outfielder, and Johnson said he ranks right there with the best hitters he's had during his 17 years at Chipola—and that list includes big leaguers like Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, Blue Jays infielder Jose Bautista, Brewers third baseman Mat Gamel and White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers.
Rapp runs well for his size and has a strong arm. He touched 90 mph off the mound in high school, but probably profiles best as a left fielder at the next level.
"Joey's one of those guys that's kind of rare," Johnson said. "He's probably got 65, 70 power. He's got a lot of power in his bat and he's a big strong boy. He's going to continue to get stronger—he's not as strong and he's going to get. He played all last year with a fractured navicular bone (in his right wrist) and he played through that. He got that fixed last year and he's now pain free for the first time, so that's good. He's starting to get stronger, working in the weight room and he's a guy that's hopefully going to do really well for us this year and put up some good power numbers."
There were several pitchers in the Gulf Coast tournament that will be interesting players to follow this spring. Chipola lefthander Austin Wright worked at 89-93 mph in his first outing and then 87-91 in his second. His changeup is his second-best pitch and he's working to tighten up his curveball. Cuban righthander Rodney Quintero also bumped 93 but is still a work in progress and could probably use some time with a D-I team before he's ready for pro ball, according to two evaluators.
Two of the pitchers that stood out the most in the opening tournament were Gulf Coast righthander Andrew Morris and lefthander Cam Greathouse.
Morris, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound sophomore, was a 44th-round pick by the Brewers last year. He throws in the 88-92 mph range and also has a good splitter and a big curveball with a lot of depth.
Greathouse—a South Carolina committee—is also a sophomore and stands 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. His fastball was sitting 86-90 and touched 92, but it's his breaking ball that sets him apart.
"He's got a very, very good breaking ball—one of the best breaking balls I've seen in my career from a lefthanded pitcher," Johnson said. "He'll throw that thing up to 81-82 miles an hour, and it's good now."
Greathouse's outing is a prime example of why box scores don't always paint a complete picture.
"What happened, because of the rain, we got rained out when we were supposed to play Friday night," Gulf Coast coach Mike Kandler explained. "So that backed the tournament up—Saturday we had five games. There were some long games and, actually this is hard to believe, but a fugitive running from the law drove over the Hathaway Bridge, was driving about 100 miles an hour, lost control of his car while the police were chasing him and his car slid into a power pole, which knocked the lights out at the field.
"I think that was during the Pearl River (Miss.) and Wallace (Ala.) game, so we didn't start our game until about 11:30 at night, and the temperature was like 36 degrees and the wind was blowing straight out at like 100 (mph). The final score was 20-9, we beat those guys, but it was a little misleading. There were some atmospheric conditions that were really helping those hitters."
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