Summer Stock

Sophomore sensation finds early success in Cape




This summer, Eastern Kentucky sophomore Christian Friedrich has joined the rest of the nation's top college players in the Cape Cod League, pitching for the Falmouth Commodores. And just like most of his collegiate baseball career, he was off to good start--and in the meantime, he said, he's having the best summer of his life.

After the league's first week of play, the lefthander owned the Commodores' lone win. Friedrich said the adjustment to pitching in the Cape has been nothing new after ranking as the top prospect in last summer's New England Collegiate Baseball League, when he gave up just 17 hits in 32 innings and posted an ERA of 1.41 for the Vermont Mountaineers.

"This is the best competition that I have faced in my career," Friedrich said. "I think the biggest difference is the level of talent compared to my other summer leagues that I have played in. It is kind of cool to be playing against the top college players that I always read about in Baseball America."

Friedrich's quick start to summer ball is more than likely feeding off his stellar spring that he had on the mound for the Colonels. The southpaw led the Ohio Valley Conference in ERA (2.09), opponents' batting average (.155), strikeouts (101), and strikeouts/nine innings (11.1). More impressively Friedrich allowed just eight extra-base hits all spring in 82 innings of work. The two-time first team all-OVC selection went 10-2, 1.98 as a freshman, earning first-team All-Freshman honors while fanning 118 batters in 82 innings.

"He pretty much stepped in here from day one (as the No. 1 starter). You always want to be careful about rushing a kid, but he's been very good since day one," said Eastern Kentucky head coach Elvis Dominguez.

Throughout his young collegiate career, Friedrich has been able to find early success by having command of all his pitches (fastball, curveball, slider and slurve) and being able to throw them all for strikes. He is considered by most as a power pitcher as he can spot his fastball (88-92 mph) to both sides of the plate. Friedrich is able to keep hitters guessing by mixing in a variety of breaking balls, including a 12-to-6 curveball, slider, and an occasional 2-to-8 slurve, down in the zone. "My slurve is the pitch that I go to the most when ahead in the count or looking to get the punchout," he said.

His college coach admitted that his slurve was the pitch that hitters tend to chase. "He's got a knack for pitching too," Dominguez said. "He does a lot of things well when he is on the mound."

To go along with all of his pitching tools, what makes Friedrich stand out to his coach is that success has not gone to his head. "He's a hard worker, he has great work ethic," Dominguez said. "Some guys go to summer ball and they feel like they've arrived and lose that work ethic that they have built up. But Christian is a real top-notch kid."

Friedrich, 20, recognizes the importance of the Cape to his 2008 draft status, but for the time being he's enjoying every minute of his summer, mixing in work with the Boys and Girls Club and some weightlifting at Falmouth's Rocky's Gym & Fitness in between his starts.

"I am loving every minute of playing up here and spending time making friends with the other players, and will hopefully make a relationship with some of them for the rest of my life," he said. "It has been fun to workout with some of the other players and to see what different kinds of workout programs that they use.

"I am trying to make the most of my summer and am doing that by working as hard as I possibly can to get ready for next season."

--TRAVIS YOUNG

Showcase Circuit Swings Into Gear

CINCINNATI--There weren't any of those sticky "Hello, My Name Is" nametags. No one was even privy to pregame introductions. This was the first wide-scale national scouting event of the summer, and before major league teams had time to polish off the paperwork of the 2007 draft, more than 300 of the nation's top rising high school seniors gathered in Cincinnati for '08 orientation.

It's evident that this year's class of high school players isn't as talented as the '07 banner crop that produced 17 first-round draft picks and 20 of the top 33 overall selections.

"I was very disappointed in the position players," a National League crosschecker said. "I thought there was only a few guys that had the size and the physical strength that you're looking for. The bats were just mediocre, and although the radar gun readings were there, I'm not so sure I'm buying that the group of pitchers we saw is really all that great, either."

While several of the class' top players were not in attendance, the class as a whole appears to have less upside and depth than it offered this year. Eric Hosmer (American Heritage High, Plantation, Fla.) and fellow Aflac all-American Harold Martinez (Braddock High, Miami) showed why Florida's one of the stronger states for high school talent in the rising senior class, but this year's crop is going require scouts to use a little more creativity in their evaluation, as the group of players in attendance in Cincinnati wasn't dripping with upside.

The headliners at the 2006 National Showcase in Fayetteville, Ark., for example, such as pitchers Michael Main (who was taken No. 24 by the Rangers) and Madison Bumgarner (10th-overall by the Giants), stood out for their tools and velocities, but names such as Chris Withrow (No. 20 overall by the Dodgers) and Pete Kozma (18th to the Cardinals) kept popping up in Cincinnati as the type of less-obvious prospects who blossomed the following spring.

"Now let's watch them progress," the scout said. "You saw Kozma last year in Fayetteville, and he was a nice little infielder that didn't hit. But as the summer went along and the fall went along, he grew into a helluva a player.

"There wasn't a lot to get excited about here this weekend, but we'll have to wait and see how it pans out."

Corner infield was a strong spot due to Hosmer and Martinez. Hosmer has a sweet lefthanded swing with loft and leverage and a sound approach at the plate, and Martinez has been on the prospect map for many years thanks to his mature body, power and slick fielding skills. He plays shortstop for his high school team, but he'll probably outgrow the middle of the diamond and move to third base, where he has plenty of arm strength.

His battle with one of the top pitchers at the showcase, righthander Gerrit Cole (Lutheran High, Orange, Calif.), was one of the event's highlights. Cole pumped low-90s fastballs to get ahead of Martinez, who fouled off five consecutive pitches before Cole buried a 77 mph slider that retired Martinez on strikes. Martinez proved he was capable of handling elite pitching, though, when he ripped a sharp single to left field off another of the event's top arms, righthander Sonny Gray of Smyrna (Tenn.) High.

After back-to-back 14-hour days, it would have been defensible had some of the college coaches and scouts hit the snooze button in their hotels the morning of the final day of the event, but for those that did, they might have missed the best pitcher of the showcase.

Alex Meyer's first pitch came humming in at 92 mph at 9 a.m. sharp, and the 6-foot-7 righty from Greensburg (Ind.) High must have been a dreadful sight for hitters who had just rolled out of bed.

He lives just an hour northwest of Cincinnati, and Meyer's lively fastball, 77-80 mph slider and projectable frame earned him an invitation to San Diego for the Aflac Classic in August. He's sure to be a marked man this summer as major league teams and colleges go in for second and third looks.

At 6-feet, 185 pounds, Gray is a completely different type of pitcher, but was compared by one major college recruiter as "next year's Jarrod Parker," the undersized righthander from Indiana who was taken ninth overall in the 2007 draft by Arizona. Gray's loose, quick arm action helps him create hard, sharp snap on his power breaking ball, and his fastball reached 93 mph in a two-inning outing that included three hits and four strikeouts.

Tim Melville combines the stuff of Gray with the size of Meyer, and has established himself as the best present pitching product on the circuit. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound righthander from Holt High (Wentzville, Mo.) pitched in the low 90s with a heavy fastball that he spotted to both sides of the plate.

"I'd have to say the arms are a little stronger than the position guys from what I've seen," said an American League crosschecker. "(The arm strength) is the selling point. The buying point is seeing what they look like next spring, once they're stretched out and pitching in game situations."

AMATEUR ACTS

• Not even Martinez' tools match those of Long Beach's Aaron Hicks, though the outfielder/righthander won't be able to show off his well-above-average arm strength for a while. Hicks had to leave his pitching performance abruptly in Cincinnati at the PG National after experiencing discomfort in his throwing shoulder. "It was a tweak," Hicks said. Hicks said he had seen a doctor, and would not resume throwing for "about a month."

• In honor of completing 10 seasons, the Coastal Plain League announced its All-Decade team, which included 26 players, nine of whom have gone on to the major league. The All-Decade team includes David Aardsma (Penn State/Rice, White Sox), Russ Adams (North Carolina, Blue Jays), Jason Dubois (Virginia Commonwealth, Indians), Tom Mastny (Furman, Indians), Dallas McPherson (The Citadel, Angels), Justin Verlander (Old Dominion, Tigers), Ty Wigginton (UNC-Asheville, Devil Rays), Kevin Youkilis (Cincinnati, Red Sox) and Ryan Zimmerman (Virginia, Nationals).

Brendan Akashian (Holy Cross) was leading his Lowell All-Americans team in 11 offensive categories after 14 New England Collegiate League games. The junior catcher was batting .426/.548/.745 with 20 hits, four home runs, 15 RBIs and 35 total bases in the league's first three weeks. He hit just five home runs with metal bats this spring while hitting .330 for the Crusaders.

• Green Bay's Danny Meier (Portland) has adjusted well to the Northwoods League's wood bats as he was off to a scorching start. While leading the Bullfrogs to a 19-6 record--which included a league-record 15-game winning streak--Meier was leading the team with five homers and 22 RBIs while batting .354/.429/.658. Meier went 6-for-7 in the record-setting 15th straight win, an 18-4 decision against Battle Creek.

• Staunton righthander Chad Sherman (Panola, Texas, JC) threw a three-hit complete game shutout in the Braves 5-0 win over New Market to earn Valley League pitcher-of-the-week honors. More impressively the 6-foot-5 righthander faced 28 just batters while fanning eight New Market batters and threw just 90 pitches.

• Santa Barbara Foresters outfielder Devin Shepherd was tearing up the California Coastal League in his first action since leaving Oklahoma in midseason to transfer. Shepherd, an unsigned fifth-round pick of the Twins in 2006, was hitting .420/.529/.640 with two home runs and 17 RBIs in 15 games. Shepherd was expected to end up enrolling at a junior college for his sophomore season.