Strike One: Maverick Magic
Texas-Arlington senior righthander Jason Mitchell was downright Strasburg-ian Friday against Missouri State.
Mitchell had a no-hitter through 8 2/3 innings before Missouri State's Travis McCormack singled up the middle on a 3-and-2 pitch with two outs in the ninth. Mitchell finished with a school-record 18 strikeouts while walking one and allowing just that one hit over nine shutout innings, but he didn't even get the win. The game remained scoreless until UTA's Steffan Guest delivered a walk-off single in the 14th inning.
"That was the best starting pitching job that I have seen since I have been at UTA," head coach Darin Thomas said of Mitchell's performance. "I have been here 10 years and have seen a lot of games. I don't know how you can do much better than taking a no-hitter into the ninth and striking out 18. He was outstanding."
Junior lefty Adam Boydston followed Mitchell with five innings of scoreless, one-hit relief, striking out eight of his own. Arlington's 26 strikeouts tied for the second-most in NCAA history, trailing just North Carolina State's 31 strikeouts against Akron in an 18-inning game last March.
Mitchell tripled his previous career high for strikeouts in a game. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound righthander, who went 4-5, 4.63 last year after transferring from Central Arizona JC, had just 42 strikeouts all of last season in 58 innings. In his season debut last Friday, he allowed six runs (two earned) on seven hits over four innings, striking out four.
So it's safe to say Mitchell's masterpiece on Friday came out of nowhere.
"I was definitely locked in and had everything working," Mitchell said afterward. "Between innings I would just sit there and watch our guys hit, but (the possible no-hitter) was definitely running through my mind. I have had good outings before in my career but this was by far my best."
It might be the best for any pitcher in college baseball in 2010.
Strike Two: Big Ten/Big East Musings
In three days at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge, I was able to watch the better parts of 13 games. The chance to see so many different teams and players in a short period of time makes the event a gold mine for a Baseball America writer, and also for scouts. Hordes of area scouts from cold-weather climates as well as a sizable contingent of crosscheckers and scouting directors descended upon the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area for the Challenge, which took place at five present and former big league spring training facilities. According to Angel Natal of the St. Petersburg Clearwater Sports Commission (which does a fine job putting on this event), more than 200 scouts were on hand this weekend.
With so many scouts milling around and so much action to take in with my own eyes, I filled up my notebook with plenty of interesting tid-bits, many of which I posted on the Baseball America Twitter feed and the College Blog over the weekend. Here are some leftover nuggets, as well as a recap of some things you might have missed from the Twitter feed:
• Louisville was the best team at the Challenge. A lot can change between now and June, and it's impossible to predict how difficult the Cardinals' postseason path will be, but they had the look of an Omaha team.
"I thought we played hard," Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said. "We had three different kind of games throughout the weekend, and good teams have to be able to find ways to win."
After prevailing in a pitcher's duel against Michigan on Friday, the Cardinals let their big bats do the heavy lifting in Saturday's blowout against Michigan State. Then on Sunday, they beat Minnesota on a walk-off homer by Phil Wunderlich against Minnesota closer Scott Matyas.
"It was great—I've never done that before," Wunderlich said of hitting a walk-off homer. "He was coming at us, he was throwing fastballs, and everyone was saying, 'Be ready, he's coming at you.' So I just tried to put a good swing on it."
One other thing that jumped out about Louisville: its pitching depth. Righties Neil Holland and Gabriel Shaw, as well as lefty Bob Revesz, give the Cardinals three reliable options in the bullpen, and each presents hitters with significantly different looks. That bullpen stability will allow Louisville to keep hard-throwing righty Tony Zych in the weekend rotation, where he is a good fit because he holds the velocity on his 90-93 mph fastball very well.
• St. John's had just as good of a weekend, beating Big Ten regional hopefuls Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois. Red Storm coach Ed Blankmeyer seemed very excited about his club after Friday's win, and he was positively glowing when I chatted with him after Sunday's victory. Blankmeyer has coached plenty of regional teams, and he knows when he's got one. It seems like he might have one in 2010, though competition will be fierce at the top of the Big East between Louisville, South Florida, Connecticut and St. John's.
The Johnnies impressed with their balanced lineup filled with quality line-drive hitters. They also have steady veterans in the weekend rotation and promising young arms in the bullpen around closer Ryan Cole. Freshmen Kyle Hansen and Matt Carasiti, as well as sophomore Daniel Burawa, form a formidable supporting cast around Cole, though Blankmeyer indicated he thinks Carasiti or Hansen could wind up in the rotation at some point. It's always nice to have flexibility and quality options on the mound, and St. John's has them.
• Scoring runs might be a challenge for Michigan until preseason All-American Ryan LaMarre returns from his broken thumb in a month or so, but the Wolverines have enough pitching to keep them afloat. Michigan went just 1-2 this weekend, but it allowed just two runs in each of its three games. Righties Alan Oaks, Matt Miller and Tyler Burgoon all turned in strong starts this weekend and showed good stuff. Oaks sat at 90-92 and showed a good 80 mph slider and a 78 changeup (more on Oaks in Thursday's Weekend Preview). A scout I talked to said Miller was up to 92 and showing a good four-pitch mix Saturday, and Burgoon racked up seven strikeouts over six innings Sunday thanks to an 87-91 mph fastball, a big-breaking slurve and a decent changeup. And sophomore righty Brandon Sinnery will be a rock in the bullpen thanks to a nasty 74-76 breaking ball. He followed Burgoon with five strikeouts over three perfect innings of relief against South Florida, two days after working two scoreless against an offensive Louisville team.
• Minnesota had a rough weekend, going 0-3 against three of the top teams in the Big East. I still think the Gophers will be a regional team, because they're strong defensively, they have an athletic, talented lineup and they're good in the bullpen. But Minnesota must answer some questions in the weekend rotation and is still working to fill the shoes of departed stalwarts Derek McCallum, Matt Nohelty and Eric Decker.
But Mike Kvasnicka gives Minnesota's lineup a nice centerpiece. No player helped his stock more this weekend than Kvasnicka, a junior outfielder/catcher. With regular catcher Kyle Knutson still working his way back from a hip injury, Kvasnicka started behind the plate Saturday and Sunday, gunning down a basestealer each day. Multiple scouts I spoke with said his catch-and-throw skills looked good, and he dominated a good deal of the discussion among scouts at the Naimoli Complex. A switch-hitter, Kvasnicka has a physical 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame that earns comparisons to Michael Cuddyer, and he has good power potential. After this weekend, there are quite a few more scouts who believe he can catch, too.
• Connecticut is another club with regional-caliber talent. The Huskies have two sophomores with at least a chance to be drafted in the first round in 2011. Outfielder George Springer is a five-tool talent, and his home run into the teeth of a fierce wind Sunday against Indiana was a laser. And righthander Matt Barnes was the best arm I saw all weekend. He struck out six without issuing a walk over 2 2/3 innings of relief Sunday, allowing one run on one hit. Barnes sat at 93-94 with his fastball for his entire outing, topping out at 95 several times, and he showed two good breaking balls: a downer curve in the mid-70s, and a tight slider in the high 70s. It'll be interesting to see how the Huskies use Barnes as the season progresses.
• Frequent readers of the College Blog know I've got a soft spot for speedy, undersized center fielders (hello, Danny Payne, Ollie Linton and Shane Robinson). Cincinnati's 5-foot-4 center fielder, Jamel Scott, made the 2009 All-Fitt team after dazzling at the Big East/Big Ten last year. Scott was up to his old tricks Sunday, stealing second and third in the fourth inning of Cincinnati's win against Ohio State. He's a fun player to watch.
But here's another scrappy little center fielder to add to my list of favorites: Indiana junior Brian Lambert, who stands 5-foot-9. Lambert went 2-for-4 with a triple and three runs scored Friday against West Virginia, and he played good defense in center field all weekend. Interesting side note: Lambert has a condition (phenylketonuria, or PKU) that makes it difficult for his body to process proteins, so he avoids eating meats, instead getting his protein supply through shakes. When the Hoosiers go out to dinner, Lambert often orders a bunch of sides and no main course, earning him the nickname "Side Dish".
Strike Three: Golden Spikes Spotlight On Greg Peavey
After Oregon State and Tennessee blew each other out the first two days of the Pape Grand Slam in Corvallis, Ore., the Beavers sent Peavey, a junior righthander, to the mound on Sunday. Peavey stopped Tennessee's dangerous offense in its tracks, throwing his first career complete-game shutout and striking out a career-high nine. He allowed just three hits and a walk, and 76 of his 108 pitches were strikes.
"Peavey was really good yesterday," Beavers coach Pat Casey said this morning. "He commanded three pitches, and he took that step toward being that assertive guy you're looking for. That club's going to socres some runs, they've got power in the middle of the order, they've got some speed. For Peavey to come out and really dominate for nine innings was really impressive."
Peavey has always had power stuff, dating to his high school days in Vancouver, Wash., and Casey said he held his 89-93 mph fastball velocity well Sunday. He also located his quality slider and curveball to both sides.
The key for Peavey has been learning to trust his excellent stuff. He posted a 4.96 ERA as a freshman and a 5.74 ERA last year, and he did not respond particularly well to adversity. But it looks like he's finally learning to harness his potential.
"He's a really, really good kid, kind of a quiet kid," Casey said. "Sometimes you've got to be really assertive on the mound, have that attitude. At times he didn't trust his stuff and think he was good enough to be out there. But his actual stuff has always been real, real good, and it's part of maturing into the guy he's going to be."
Peavey showed excellent toughness Sunday. With two outs in the ninth, Tennessee star Blake Forsythe came to the plate for the fourth time, and Casey considered taking Peavey out of the game.
"Forsythe was up, and he had faced him three times, but Greg wanted him. And that's a big step for Greg," Casey said. "He struck him out to end the ballgame.
"He needed something like that (outing), especially early. Hopefully he can build off that."