While college baseball fans eagerly await Feb. 19 for Division I opening day, junior college programs got a head start on Jan. 29.
The highlight of the first weekend in the Phoenix area was a three-game series between perennial powerhouse Central Arizona College and Phoenix College.
Central Arizona outfielder/DH Mitchell Robinson joined the Vaqueros after starting his college career with one season at Florida International. The Marlins’ 2014 22nd-round pick, a native of Vancouver, British Columbia, intrigues scouts with a power bat from the right side of the plate. He uses his hands well and gets the barrel on the ball, but timing issues cause his front side to draft a bit. He's got a strong frame and good bat speed, but is a below-average runner.
Righthander Sati Santa Cruz earned an invitation to the Under Armour Game at Wrigley Field in 2014 prior to his senior year at Tucson's Sahuarita High. After a lackluster end to his high school career, Santa Cruz went undrafted in 2015 and then passed on a commitment to hometown Arizona to pitch at Central Arizona. He still has the frame and strong arm of a power pitcher, but scouts are concerned about Santa Cruz's conditioning and the fastball velocity that sat 87 to 90 mph last weekend, down from the mid-90s heat he was packing earlier in his high school career. He wasn't repeating his delivery with a split spread front side. His size and power arm will keep Santa Cruz on the radar, but he needs to show more to garner draft interest this year.
The Central Arizona pitcher drawing most interest was their Friday night starter, Dakody Clemmer, a sophomore from Vancouver, Wash. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound righthander has the makings of two solid pitches, with plus life and plus movement on a running fastball up to 93 mph and a slider with some tightness and break. He uses a low-three-quarters delivery with some deception, but struggled to repeat it later in his initial outing.
Clemmer faced Phoenix College righthander Ryan Gowens, a 6-4, 205-pound righthander from Deer Valley High School in Phoenix, in the season opener. Gowens owns a sturdy pitcher's frame and a strong arm, but he throws with a wrap on the top side, giving him a funky arm action. The 91-mph fastball is a fairly straight pitch and he adds a hard slider. He's not yet a frontline prospect, but the frame and strength warrant keeping an eye on Gowens as the season progresses.
After hosting the annual Coyote Border Battle during the first weekend of the juco season, the College of Southern Nevada hit the road for a pair of doubleheaders in Arizona against Gateway College and South Mountain Community College.
Sophomore righthanded pitcher Gabe Gonzalez garnered significant scouting buzz at the Coyote Border Battle, showing a fastball around 94 mph, reportedly touching 96, with good movement and carry to the arm-side, but he was sitting closer to 90 in the series against Gateway. At 6-5, 220 pounds, Gonzalez owns a big league body and a loose arm, adding a decent hard breaking ball to his repertoire. Right now his control is below-average, but with a smidge of better command the twice-drafted Gonzalez could be shooting up draft boards later this year.
Righthanded freshman starter Mikey York may turn out to be the most interesting Coyotes hurler come draft time. Eighteen months removed from Tommy John surgery, the son of a former big league pitcher showed a fastball from 89 to 93 mph, a very good changeup with late depth, and a 12-to-6 curveball with downer action that flashes plus at times. York uses a clean delivery but falls off at times throwing across his body, and was up in the zone in his 2 1/3-inning outing against South Mountain.
Southpaw Sage Diehm, a native of Nampa, Idaho, passed on a commitment to North Carolina in order to play for the College of Southern Nevada and be eligible for the 2016 draft. He's showing a slimmer frame than during his high school days, now checking in at an even 6-foot and 190 pounds. Diehm sits in the high-80s and touches 90 with the fastball, and adds a curveball from 74-77 mph and an 80 mph changeup. He also showed a good move to first base in his start against Gateway College, when he threw four scoreless innings before tiring in the fifth.
The heart of the Coyotes lineup consists of a number of sizable kids who can swing the bat, with one of the more impressive so far being Arkansas transfer Blake Wiggins, who splits time between third base, catcher and designated hitter. A 36th-round pick by Philadelphia in 2014, Wiggins has a strong 6-1, 200-pound frame and decent bat speed, but struggles with off-speed pitches.