Last week, we posted observations from the Cal State Fullerton-San Diego scrimmage. Since then, I've taken in fall scrimmages at Long Beach State, UC Irvine and UCLA. Now it's time to shake out the notebook with some fall ball tidbits, some of them borrowed from my Twitter feed:
• The first two spots in UCLA's weekend rotation are occupied by All-Americans Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, of course, but there is plenty of competition for the Sunday spot and the Tuesday starter job. The front-runner for the Sunday job is touted freshman righty Adam Plutko, who has not shown as much velocity this fall as he did in the spring but has impressed with his polish. On Wednesday, he worked in the 88-90 range and flashed a nice, tight slider at 82 mph, a good changeup around 79, and a slow, loopy curveball in the 71-74 range. The Bruins have also been impressed with fellow freshmen Zach Weiss and Nick Vander Tuig; don't be surprised if they occupy the Tuesday starter and closer roles, respectively.
• As for Bauer, his stuff was characteristically sharp on Monday. He worked in the 88-94 range and employed four secondary pitches: a 74-78 changeup, a 79-84 slider, a 76-84 changeup and a pitch he calls a "reverse slider" in the 84-89 range, with screwball action. Cole has taken the fall off after a long spring followed by a summer with Team USA.
• UCLA has has just two lefthanders on its 33-man roster, so hulking fourth-year junior Mitchell Beacom is one of the most important players on the team. He dominated on Wednesday with an 86-90 fastball and a 76-78 Frisbee slider from a low three-quarters slot. Fifth-year senior Jordan Haver has pitched just 13 innings in his collegiate career, but he figures to log quite a bit more time out of the bullpen this year. Haver allowed just three hits over five shutout innings Wednesday, dominating with an 88-91 mph fastball and a sharp 76 curveball.
• Sophomore righty Scott Griggs has a nuclear-powered arm, but the Bruins knew it would take him some time to overhaul his mechanics and delivery. UCLA coach John Savage said he has made progress this fall, and he showed three solid pitches Wednesday: an 88-92 fastball, a 74-76 curveball with good depth that he could back-foot for swing-and-misses against lefthanded hitters, and a 78-81 changeup that has come on strong recently. He'll be in the mix for the Tuesday starter job.
• UCLA is dealing with some injuries this fall. Catcher Steve Rodriguez has been sidelined with a stress reaction in his leg. Middle infielder Tyler Rahmatulla broke a bone in his foot on the first day of fall practice, and outfielders Beau Amaral (back), Cody Keefer (coming off knee surgery) and Jeff Gelalich (coming off hand surgery) are still not 100 percent. On Wednesday, freshman shortstop Pat Valaika was out with strep throat, but Savage said he's the front-runner to replace Niko Gallego at shortstop. Valaika doesn't have huge tools, but he makes up for it with instincts, and he is a very consistent defender. Third baseman Cody Regis filled in capably for Valaika at short Wednesday, once again showcasing his athleticism and versatility (he slid to second base in Omaha after Rahmatulla broke his hand).
• UC Irvine boasts a veteran lineup and an inexperienced but talented pitching staff. On Tuesday, physical freshman righthander Phillip Ferragamo got the start on the mound and looked good, pounding the strike zone with an 88 mph fastball and a solid 75 slurve. He figures to log quite a few innings in 2011, as will fellow freshmen Tyler Abbott and Andrew Thurman. Abbott, a lefthander, also threw on Tuesday, showing a big, sharp, downer curveball. And redshirt freshman Mitch Merten showed a big arm for a 5-foot-10 170-pounder. He blew away several hitters with a good fastball.
• Irvine also has plenty of lefthanders who are around the strike zone but don't have overpowering stuff. Andy Lines and Jimmy LItchfield both had success Tuesday with quality changeups. In sharp contrast with UCLA, Irvine has seven lefties listed on its fall roster.
• The Anteaters should score plenty of runs with the less lively new bats, since they don't rely on home runs to score, anyway. The lineup features a host of quality veterans, headlined by line-drive machines Sean Madigan and Brian Hernandez, talented all-around shortstop D.J. Crumlich and physical first baseman Jordan Leyland. Crumlich appears bigger and stronger and could be poised for a big year. Same goes for Leyland, a Cape Cod League all-star with serious power potential and soft hands around the bag at first.
• Long Beach State's lineup looked far less imposing on Friday, although that's also partly a credit to starting pitchers Andrew Gagnon and Branden Pinder. About two dozen scouts showed up to get a look at the 6-foot-4, 195-pound Gagnon, another Cape League all-star with a chance to be drafted in the first two rounds if he puts together a strong spring. He was decent in five shutout innings, working at 90-92 mph and occasionally flashing a quality breaking ball. LBSU coach Troy Buckley said Gagnon has both a curveball (around 79 mph) and a slider (around 84), and sometimes they blend together. He went to the Cape to learn to throw his breaking ball for a strike, but it's still a work in progress. He also needs to refine his fastball command, but at least he throws strikes.
Pinder, meanwhile, carved up the opposing lineup with a fastball around 88-89 that he commanded well. A strike-thrower with good deception and life from a three-quarters slot, he's exactly the kind of pitcher who could benefit most from the new bats.
• The most impressive position player for Long Beach was junior shortstop Kirk Singer. He made several nice plays at shortstop, demonstrating good range and reads as well as a strong, accurate arm. LBSU made 35 errors at shortstop last year, and Buckley hopes Singer can cut that number down dramatically in 2011.
• Outfielder Jonathan Kim also looks poised for a breakout junior year. He blasted a triple to center field on Friday, showing off some pop and very good speed, and Buckley said he's had a strong fall with the bat.
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