Once again, Perfect Game saved the best for last at PG National.
Last year, it was Daniel Norris who pitched on the last day. This year, it was Jesuit High (Tampa) righthander Lance McCullers Jr. who took the mound in front of a thinned-out crowd, after many scouts left to catch flights to the next assignment.
McCullers fumbled a few plays at shortstop this week, but it doesn't matter. His future is undoubtedly on the mound and today's two-inning stint was dominating, as usual.
"I think the last few days I was playing a little bit outside myself and I was trying to do a little bit too much, but there was no reason to," McCullers said. "I went out on the mound today and was really focused, trying to get ahead early, so I could throw my off-speed pitches. But I really felt good out there. I felt my stuff was coming out of my hand really well, so overall it was a successful day."
McCullers threw 22 fastballs today: five at 94 mph, seven at 95, six at 96 and four at 97. He throws both a curveball and a slider. There is a subtle difference in the velocity—the curveball is 83-84 mph and the slider is 86-87—but the pitches blend together a bit with hard, late break.
McCullers said he has been hitting the gym to add muscle to his 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame, mostly focusing on strengthening his legs and core. The improved strength showed up on the mound today, as McCullers looked more balanced than he has in the past. He was sticking his landing pretty well instead of falling off or overthrowing and the adjustment allowed him to throw more strikes.
"I worked for about six months with Orlando Chinea, who is the guy that worked out Jose Fernandez," McCullers said. "Me and Jose are really good friends and work out together all the time and I've really transformed into an athletic thrower and a guy that can be looked at as more of a complete pitcher. I have much better control down in the zone now. I don't leave as many balls up for guys to take good hacks at. My curveball is much sharper and I'm working on that changeup now."
For the rest of the summer, McCullers will be pitching with the Tampa Bay Warriors, skipping out on a chance to pitch again for Team USA this summer.
"I'm really sorry I can't be there, it was an amazing experience last year," McCullers said. "USA (Baseball) puts on an amazing week at the Tournament of Stars and playing with the USA team was one of the best experiences I'll ever experience. But I just can't get away from school that long or I would suffer too much in the classroom. I regret not being able to do it, but it's just something I have to deal with."
• Scouts that did grind it out and stay for the entire showcase got a little treat in the last game with lefthander Nathan Kirby from James River High in Midlothian, Va. Kirby has an athletic, 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame and showed a 89-91 mph fastball that topped out at 92. His fastball had good downward angle and a lot of late life. Kirby showed good rhythm in his delivery, but did fall off to the third base side a little bit. The Virginia commit mixed in a nice 78-82 mph slider.
• Righthander Nolan Gannon from Santa Fe Christian High in Solana Beach, Calif. has a nice projectable frame at 6-foot-5 and 195 pounds. He utilizes a full windup, but has a short arm stroke and threw his fastball in the 90-92 mph range with arm-side run. His curveball was inconsistent—he got around a few of them—but it showed flashes of being a quality pitch in the 73-77 mph range.
• Righthander David Gonzalez from Gainesville (Ga.) High has a stocky, 6-foot-1, 200-pound build. There's a little funk to his delivery, but his stuff was legit. Everything was down in the zone, including his 90-93 mph fastball, his 76-77 mph 12-6 curveball and his slider and changeup, which were both in the 82-84 range and blended together in shape because his changeup has splitter action.
• One rumor swirling around the stands today is that outfielder Fernelys Sanchez and catcher Nelson Rodriguez will be moving south this spring. The duo played for Washington High in New York this spring, but will reportedly spend 2012 at Bucky Dent's Baseball School in Delray Beach, Fla.
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