LAKELAND, Fla. — The third day of the East Coast Pro Showcase was a hot one, with the heat index hovering around 103 degrees. One scout summed it up with the quote of the day:
"My sweat is sweating," he said.
The temperature cooled a little for the evening game, but that's when the radar guns were lit up with big velocities. The Wednesday evening game was the buzz all week with the Astros and Rockies throwing their best arms. Like most hyped matchups, it didn't quite live up to the billing, but there was plenty of raw stuff on display.
Righthander Lance McCullers of Tampa's Jesuit High took the hill first and started the game off with a 96 mph fastball. He was his usual self, sitting 93-96 while touching 97. His command is still erratic and it got him into trouble in the second inning. After a relatively quick first, the Astros started to barrel up fastballs up in the zone and letting pitches out of the zone go. McCullers gave up four runs on three hits, a walk and hit batter in that inning. While it was the deciding inning, it was his only blemish as he had he split 22 pitches between his other two innings of work. His breaking ball sat in the low 80s, but didn't have quite the break it's had in the past.
Righthander Lucas Sims of Brookwood High in Snellville, Ga. got the start for the Astros. He had a quick first inning, throwing just seven pitches. In his three innings of work he allowed a run on four walks and a hit. He walked the bases loaded in the second inning, but escaped relatively unscathed. A run scored on a wild pitch, but he induced a pop-up and struck out two to get out of the inning. He sat mostly 90-94 with his fastball, but was 89-91at the end of his outing. His curveball sat 75-77 at its best and he also mixed in a low-80s changeup.
Walker Weickel, a righthander at Olympia High in Orlando was the second arm to go for the Rockies. He doesn't have as much velocity as the other arms, but he might be the best bet to remain a starter at the next level given his frame, arsenal and mechanics. He's stands at a very strong 6-foot-6, 200 pounds and offers low-90s fastball and a curveball that is usually 70-71. He was arguably the most efficient of the group, throwing under 40 pitches in three innings. He struck out four while allowing just two hits and a hit batter.
Duane Underwood was the second pitcher for the Astros, working the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. A righthander from Pope High in Marietta, Ga., Underwood has a lean frame at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds. He sat 91-94, touching 95 while mixing in a good changeup in the low 80s and a 69-71 curveball that had good shape, but was inconsistent. He walked three and hit one while striking out one.
"It was great, the environment and all," Underwood said. "All the guys were throwing hard, I just wanted to do my thing out there. With all those great hitters I had to get ahead with my fastball or I was going to have to work backwards with my changeup. I started them mostly with my fastball and came back with my changeup to finish them off."
Underwood also plays the outfield and has been playing a lot this summer, but as gotten used to the grind.
"For the whole month of July, I think I played a game every day," he said. "At the beginning it was hard, but then I got into a rhythm and into the flow of it. I knew when I was going to be in the field and how to prepare myself for pitching."
Carson Fulmer, a righty from All Saints' Academy—just minutes from the event—closed for the Rockies as he worked the final three innings. He sat 92-94 and worked in a hard breaking ball in the high 70s. He struck out three while allowing only one hit.
"It's fun, preparing yourself for this week and letting it loose and not just in velocity in one perspective, but also in pitching," Fulmer said. "I felt good. At first I had the butterflies a little bit. Once the first pitch was let go I felt good and settled in. I wanted to establish my fastball down and in the later innings, once they knew I had a fastball, I wanted to mix in some offspeed."
Clate Schmidt of Allatoona High in Acworth, Ga. was the final arm for the Astros. He gave up two runs on two hits, but struck out two and was helped by a unique 4-3-5 double play to end the game. He sat 91-94 with a 78-81 breaking ball.
The pitchers' pure stuff was impressive, but none of them were completely sharp. After the game I caught up with outfielder Jesse Winker, one of the top hitters in the class and high school teammate to Weickel. He offered his insight on the Astros arms. He went 0-for-3, flying out to left against Sims, center against Underwood, and grounding out to second against Schmidt.
"I know all of them from USA and meeting them in the dorms," he said. "(Sims), he was mid-90s with a good curveball. He was doing his thing that I saw in North Carolina. He had a lot of run today, it was cutting to the outside. That first one, I was looking fastball. It's a game of inches and that time he got me. I look forward to hitting against him again.
"That was my first time I've ever hit against (Underwood). He's got a live arm. The ball just shoots out of his hand. The first pitch he threw me was a curveball and it broke a lot. What he got me out on was a changeup, a good pitch. It fell right off the table.
"That's the second time I've hit against Clate. He's a great kid. He had a ton of movement. He threw me a two-seamer. That's what I grounded out on. I wish I kept my shoulder in, but sometimes that happens. I squared it up, but right at the second baseman. He had a lot of run on his ball."