Whether by design or pure coincidence, each year the NCAA tournament committee creates intriguing pitching matchups in the first-round regionals. No matchup on the East Coast is more important for a duo of starting pitchers in the opening round than Friday’s bout between second-seeded UNC-Wilmington and the third-seeded Elon in Cary, N.C. Both teams boast established righthanders who are eligible for the draft but whose stock is still volatile.
UNCW’s Brad Holt has been a late bloomer and a pleasant surprise for the Seahawks this year. His fastball has gained velocity every year since arriving on campus and now sits between 92-94 mph and can reach 96-97 at times. Holt is tall and projectable and holds his velocity late into games. With improved command this season, Holt vaulted himself up draft boards and was recently listed as BA’s No. 98 prospect for the 2008 draft. However, Holt’s stock continues to rise. With first-round caliber starters such as Tanner Scheppers and Brett Hunter falling due to injury, major league teams may have to look deeper into this year’s draft class for a quality college starting pitcher, and Holt could sneak into the first two rounds.
The same is true for Holt’s counterpart on Friday, Elon starting pitcher Steven Hensley. Ranked as BA’s No. 156 prospect, Hensley is arguably the best pitcher ever to come through Elon. Hensley boasts a four-pitch mix, including a fastball in the low-90s with late life. Hensley possesses pitchability and his slider is an out-pitch.
What is most intriguing about this matchup is that it could potentially be the last opportunity for each of the two prospects to leave positive impressions on scouts before the draft. With an impressive performance, Holt could vault himself into position to be a back of the first-round or early supplemental selection. A team such as the Mets with multiple picks in the first 50 could be especially interested in a guy like Holt. Mets scouting director Rudy Terrasas is known for liking pitchers with pure arm strength such as Holt, and with picks at 18, 22 and 33, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Mets take the Seahawks righthander. This weekend will not be the first time that Terrasas and his staff have seen Holt—as the scouting director, along with multiple other members of his staff, was in attendance to witness Holt pitch eight innings against Old Dominion. Holt struck out 11 and only allowed one earned run in the outing. The Brewers are another team with three selections in the first 35 picks that could be especially interested in Holt.
There are a few other first-round regional matchups that should intrigue scouts. In Long Beach, California’s Tyson Ross will face his teammate last summer with USA Baseball’s college national team, San Diego’s Brian Matusz, in the regional opener. In Miami, the Mssissippi-Missouri matchup figures to see Lance Lynn against Aaron Crow. And at Texas A&M, two of the best draft-eligible pitchers in Texas meet when Dallas Baptist and Jordan Meaker face Houston and Wes Musick.
The Mets and Brewers won’t be the only team bearing down on Friday’s Holt-Hensley matchup as the opening game will most likely be the most heavily scouted game of the entire Cary regional. With N.C. State hosting a regional just down the road in Raleigh, scouts will also have the Wolfpack pitchers and South Carolina hitters to watch.
Luckily for us here at BA, both venues are within 20 minutes of our home office and we’ll get to witness it all. Stay tuned for updates.