SEBRING, Fla. — The rain stayed away long enough for three games to get squeezed in today, the final day of this year's Florida Athletic Coaches Association Baseball Classic. The East team beat the West team in the second game, 5-1, so the West team played the South team right after that for the consolation game and won, 3-2.
The coaches in Sebring saved the best for last. Scouts were eagerly anticipating righthander Karsten Whitson taking the mound for the North team and he didn't disappoint. In his two innings of work, Whitson sat 93-94 mph with his fastball and even touched 95 once and 96 once. He threw two 82 mph changeups and a nasty slider at 82-83.
"I was just trying to get ahead and my stuff felt good," Whitson said after his two innings of work. "I was opening a little early on my fastball, but I felt like I made the correction. I threw two changeups that were good and my slider felt really good, so I was confident."
While there were about 75 scouts on hand to see Whitson's performance, the person with the best view in the house was catcher Ladson Montgomery from Creekside High in St. Johns.
"Every time he gets on the mound, it's lights out," Montgomery said. "It's just a joy to catch him because everything's right there and he's definitely one of the best pitchers in this draft class and he's got a bright future ahead of him."
Montgomery, an Alabama recruit, compared Whitson's outing to when he caught him this summer with Team USA.
"He's a lot more controlled now," Montgomery said. "He's kind of learned to tone back his stuff when he needs to and to light it up when he needs to. And his slider's a little bit tighter now. Pretty much, just his whole demeanor on the mound is more composed. He's doing a better job of controlling his pitches and setting hitters up and then putting them away when he needs to."
Whitson's first strikeout came against outfielder Mason Williams. His second strikeout ended the final inning of his outing and was on a filthy 85 mph backup slider to Yordy Cabrera. Whitson induced three weak grounders during his two innings.
"His two-seamer had a lot of run, a lot of bite on it," Montgomery said. "He's just one of those pitchers that throws hard enough to where guys out here, and for the most part every guy he faces, have to sit on that fastball and have to guess. So, when he can mix it up and throw that changeup for strikes and throw that hard slider for strikes, nobody's going to touch him."
The first slider Whitson threw looked like it started in the middle of the plate and ended in the lefthanded hitters batters box.
"Yeah, the batter even turned around after he threw it and was like, 'Whoa, what was that?'' because there was such a change in pace and a change in movement," Montgomery said. "His slider was probably breaking 6-8 inches today and it looked good."
Whitson's North team won the championship game, 4-0.
Here are notes on some other players of interest from today's action. . .
Daniel Gibson, lhp, Jesuit HS, Tampa
Gibson sat 90-92 from the left side and mixed in just a few breaking balls. He made quick work of the hitters at 9 a.m. Over two innings of work, he gave up one hit, one walk and struck out three.
A.J. Cole, rhp, Oviedo HS
Cole sat 90-92 with his fastball and touched 93 a few times. He gave up a broken-bat infield single to start off the game and then walked Dillon Moyer and James Ramsay to load the bases. He struck out Kyle Waldrop and Drew Doty but then walked Shane Rowland on four pitches to bring in a run before getting out of the inning with another strikeout. Cole started off the second inning with his fourth strikeout of the game, but the next batter, outfielder Jose Dore smoked a line drive single to right field off a 93 mph fastball before the inning ended with a 4-6-3 double play. Cole mixed in a few 78-80 mph curveballs during his two innings, but the fastball wasn't as lively as scouts were hoping.
Justin Nicolino, lhp, University HS, Orlando
Nicolino sat 87-89 mph from the left side with a nice three-pitch mix. He pounded the strike zone with his fastball, his 77-78 mph changeup and his 75-78 curveball. The first batter Nicolino faced reached base on a dropped third strike, so he was able to accomplish the rare feat of striking out four hitters in one inning. Shortstop Wendell Soto grounded out to start Nicolino's second inning, but he struck out Moyer and Ramsay to wrap-up a flawless outing. It was especially good for Nicolino, since he hasn't thrown against live hitters since April 26.
"I felt strong," Nicolino said. "I haven't thrown live in a long time, so getting out there to face guys and good competition felt really good. I had all three pitches working. I was able to locate the fastball and changeup to slow the bats down and then end it with a curveball."
Blake Perry, rhp, The Pendleton School, Bradenton
Perry is a big, 6-foot-5, 190-pounder from IMG Academy. He works fast and showed a fastball in the 88-91 mph range with some armside run and a 75-78 mph curveball. Perry has a good frame, but tends to throw across his body. He is committed to Kentucky.
Kyle Ryan, lhp, Auburndale HS
Ryan is a lanky lefthander that comes at hitters from a low three-quarter arm slot. He sat 87-89 with his fastball and touched 90 once. He also showed a slurvy 75-77 mph breaking ball.
Jimmy Hodgskin, lhp, Bishop Moore HS, Orlando
Earlier this spring, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Hodgskin sat 89-92 mph and reportedly touched 94, but he was 86-88 in today's outing with a 75-77 mph breaking ball that needs some work. But he was around the zone and did strikeout Waldrop, Rowland and Dore.
As has been mentioned previously, the pitchers were the highlight of the event this year. There just weren't many hard-hit balls all weekend. Cabrera drove a 78 mph changeup to the wall in right center during the consolation game. But he was then picked off second base, hit into three double plays on the day and struck out against Whitson.
Williams put his speed on display today by laying a perfect bunt down the third base line.
"I saw that the third baseman was playing even with third base and I'm pretty fast, so I had to drop the bunt down," Williams said. "I'm pretty confident when I bunt. I think most times when I bunt, nine out of 10 times I can get a hit. I work on bunting a lot—to first base and third base."
Both times Williams reached first base today, he stole second base.
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