Fall Ball News Roundup

Shaking out the college baseball notebook

Coaches spend the fall evaluating their talent, trying new lineup combinations and trying to get their teams as healthy as possible heading into the spring. Here are some tidbits from around the nation picked up in conversations with coaches and scouts as well as our own observations from fall practices.

TEXAS: Texas is moving hulking outfielder Kevin Keyes to first base, which could open up an outfield spot for freshman Cohl Walla. Keyes is still listed at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds but has bulked up to around 260 and lacks the mobility for the outfield. Walla has shown great instincts, routes, range and arm strength in the outfield, and one talent evaluator said he's very close to what former Longhorns defensive whiz Drew Stubbs was as a freshman. But he's also rail-thin, and another evaluator questioned whether he's strong enough to hit right away. Walla went 1-for-3 after taking over for Kyle Lusson in right field in a predetermined 14-inning scrimmage against Baylor.

Another Texas freshman, catcher Jonathan Walsh, looks ready to hit the ground running—or hitting. Walsh smacked a go-ahead two-run homer in the 13th inning against Baylor to give the Longhorns a 10-8 victory. Russell Moldenhauer, who hit four home runs in six games at the College World Series in June, picked up where he left off, slugging two homers against Baylor.

PEPPERDINE: If Pepperdine is to rebound from its disappointing 2009 campaign, it will need to ride its pitching. Two of the best arms on last year's staff, lefty Scott Alexander and righty Tyler Hess, transferred to Division II Sonoma (Calif.) State, but neither had lived up to his potential at Pepperdine anyhow. The Waves still have a solid nucleus in returning lefties Matt Bywater, Robert Dickmann and Aaron Gates, plus righties Kevin Inman and Cole Cook. The rotation will be built around the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Cook, who could blossom into one of the best starters on the West Coast as a redshirt sophomore this spring. In one outing this fall, Cook showed a 90-93 mph fastball with explosive late life, and he mixed in a plus 83-84 mph changeup with sudden late drop and good deception. If Cook can develop a third pitch and sharpen his command, he could climb into the first round of the 2010 draft.

TEXAS TECH: Junior college transfers could make a big difference on the mound for Texas Tech. Six-foot-6, 240-pound righty Bobby Doran ran his fastball up to 93 mph and showed a plus breaking ball and solid changeup on scout day, and Red Raiders coach Dan Spencer said he envisions Doran as an innings-eating starter on the weekends this spring.

"Bobby has been very good for us this fall," Spencer said. "His stuff is good and his command is at times very good."

Spencer also believes he might have a legitimate closer in Jay Johnson, a lefty from Lethbridge (Alberta) JC. That would allow the Red Raiders to use righty Chad Bettis as a starter, Spencer said, though Bettis thrived in a relief role last spring and this summer with Team USA.

UC IRVINE: UC Irvine has not produced blue-chip prospects or high-round picks in recent years, but it's easy to see why the Anteaters keep winning after watching coach Mike Gillespie run a practice. Gillespie is adamant about fundamentals—hit the cutoff man, throw to the right base. During infield practice, he stands in the shortstop hole supervising "throw around" drills in which he insists on perfection. As the ball zips around the infield, Gillespie barks, "Strike! Strike! Strike!"

The Anteaters return their entire weekend rotation (Daniel Bibona, Christian Bergman and Crosby Slaught) plus closer Eric Pettis, and the staff has plenty of depth thanks to Nick Hoover, Kyle Necke and Kyle Hooper. The pick to click is sophomore righty Matt Summers, who showed a lively 90-92 mph fastball and a good 79-81 change this fall. He could emerge as a stellar setup man for Pettis.

Irvine will have its hands full replacing shortstop Ben Orloff, who provided invaluable senior leadership, rock-solid defense and a spark at the top of the lineup. Second baseman Casey Stevenson could move to short, but the key for UCI's offense might be junior third baseman Drew Hillman, a transfer from Orange Coast (Calif.) CC who could provide a middle-of-the-order bat.

NORTH CAROLINA: Levi Michael had a standout freshman year at second base for North Carolina, but he was working out at shortstop and third base this fall, and the Tar Heels expect him to move to the hot corner this spring to replace Kyle Seager, then possibly take over at shortstop in 2011 after Ryan Graepel graduates. Fifth-year senior Mike Cavasinni is converting from the outfield to second base, where he'll compete with freshman Tommy Coyle for a job. The X-factor is versatile junior college transfer Dillon Hazlett, who can play anywhere on the infield but could wind up at first base. The Tar Heels liked having an athletic first baseman the last three years in Dustin Ackley, and Hazlett (who played mostly third base this fall) fits that bill better than Greg Holt, who had a big fall with the bat for the second straight year.

With Ackley, Seager and Mark Fleury gone, the Tar Heels will rely heavily upon their pitching in 2010, which means enigmatic righthander Matt Harvey needs to mature into a consistent No. 1 starter. Harvey worked in the 87-92 range on scout day and struggled with his command, but he was much better in his final start of UNC's fall world series, sitting at 90-93 and touching 94-95. He also worked down in the zone with his sharp 77-80 curveball and sinking 80-82 changeup.

DUKE: Rival Duke will have a hard time replacing its core of departed seniors, but the Blue Devils brought in a future star in freshman righthander/shortstop Marcus Stroman. Strong and compact at 5-foot-9, Stroman showed the ability to dominate off the mound this fall, pounding the bottom of the zone with a 90-93 fastball and a tight 78-80 slider. He also played plenty of shortstop with incumbent Jake Lemmerman sidelined with a broken wrist, showing good range, instincts and arm strength.

On the mound, Duke welcomes back righty Michael Seander, who racked up nine saves and posted a 1.61 ERA as a freshman in 2007 but missed all of 2009 after having Tommy John surgery. Seander ran his fastball up to 89 mph and flashed a decent slider at times in one fall outing, but he had some trouble staying in the strike zone.

NORTH CAROLINA STATE: Staying in the Triangle, N.C. State's three-game fall world series featured a whole lot of offense, something that was noticeably absent in Raleigh last spring. The two teams combined to hit 14 home runs in the three games, with eight of them coming in Sunday's finale, which ended in an 11-11 tie. Catcher/first baseman Pratt Maynard led the way with three long balls, including two Sunday. The No. 3 prospect in the Coastal Plain League this summer, Maynard looks primed for a breakout 2010 season. He should have plenty of help in the Wolfpack lineup. Fellow summer star Harold Riggins, who ranked second in the Northwoods League with nine home runs, hit two on Sunday as well. The 6-foot-3 behemoth looks slimmed down and more agile at first base, and he figures to anchor the middle of N.C. State's lineup. Freshmen Tarran Senay and Danny Canela also have dangerous bats, and both went deep Friday. Another newcomer, junior college transfer Ryan Mathews, homered Friday and Sunday. The Wolfpack does have the makings of a solid pitching staff, led by Cape Cod League ERA leader Jake Buchanan, but this team looks to be built more like the mashing 2006 Wolfpack of Aaron Bates and Jon Still than the pitching-dominated 2008 Wolfpack of Clayton Shunick.

TEXAS CHRISTIAN: Texas Christian will have one of the nation's deepest pitching staffs in 2010, but the Horned Frogs will be without righthander Sean Hoelscher, who ran his fastball into the mid-90s and flashed a plus power slider at times last spring but struggled with his command and consistency. Hoelscher checked out of school early in the fall for personal reasons and decided he no longer wanted to play baseball. But two other power righties, Erik Miller and Kaleb Merck, appear poised to rebound from rocky freshman seasons in 2009. Both had strong summers in the Alaska and New England Collegiate leagues, and they are throwing very well this fall.

Injuries And Comebacks

• KENTUCKY: Kentucky's weekend rotation in 2010 could feature a trio of future first-round picks in lefthander James Paxton, righty Alex Meyer and lefty Taylor Rogers, who dazzled in the Connie Mack World Series this summer. Paxton was already drafted in the supplemental first round as a junior in 2009, but he could climb into the top 10 overall picks if he can be more consistent as a junior. But he was limited in fall ball after having his knee scoped in August and then coming down with mononucleosis. He was throwing again by late October, but the Wildcats did not plan to give him any action in live intrasquads.

MINNESOTA: Minnesota two-sport star Eric Decker is scheduled to have surgery tomorrow to fix torn ligaments in his left foot. Decker, an outfielder for the Gophers' baseball team, was drafted in the 27th round by the Twins in June after telling teams he was determined to return for his fifth year at Minnesota to play football. A wide receiver, Decker is Minnesota's all-time leader in receiving yards with 3,119, but his college football career is now over, and his college baseball career looks to be as well. Decker suffered a Lisfranc sprain, a tear of the ligament that holds his first two toes in place, while running a route last week at Ohio State. He won't be able to run for another five months, and he told the Canadian Press that he's been told he'll need eight months of rehabilitation before he's at full speed again. He also said he has not ruled out taking up baseball again, but his focus is still on football.

UCLA: UCLA's projected weekend rotation can stand toe-to-toe with Kentucky's for power arms, as righties Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer plus lefty Rob Rasmussen make for an imposing trio. Once upon a time, Erik Goeddel was regarded just as highly by talent evaluators, before he had Tommy John surgery in April of his senior year of high school. It took Goeddel about 24 months to work his way back from the surgery—longer than most—but he threw eight innings as a redshirt freshman last spring, then spent the summer in the Cape Cod and New England Collegiate leagues before being shut down again with some arm soreness. But now, at long last, Goeddel looks completely healthy, according to Bruins coach John Savage. He even got a clean bill of health from Angels team doctor Lewis Yocum.

"He's healthy, and he's kind of the wild card, without question," Savage said. "He has the makeup and pitchability to help us—he's close. He'll be 90-92 with sink, he's got a heavy ball, and he's got one of those good, hard breaking balls, a 78-81 mph curveball."

One other UCLA note: The Bruins appear to have a glut of outfielders with the addition of touted freshmen Cody Keefer, Jeff Gelalich and Beau Amaral plus the returns of Justin Uribe, Blair Dunlap and Brett Krill. Savage said Dunlap was working out at second base this fall (along with junior Niko Gallego), while Uribe and Krill were getting repetitions at first.

VIRGINIA: Like Goeddel, lefthander Scott Silverstein was a highly touted prep prospect before having shoulder surgery before arriving at Virginia. He did not pitch in the spring of his senior year or his freshman year at UVa. this spring, but he is back on the mound this fall, working in the 86-90 range. When completely healthy before his surgery, Silverstein showed a low-90s fastball, a projectable breaking ball and an advanced changeup. If he can regain that form, Virginia's pitching staff could be nearly as deep as its loaded lineup.

FLORIDA: Florida has no shortage of quality arms, and its depth will be bolstered further in 2010 by the return of righthander Tommy Toledo from arthroscopic shoulder surgery performed last fall. Coach Kevin O'Sullivan said the Gators are taking it slow with Toledo, an unsigned third-round pick in 2007 who made 11 starts as a freshman in 2008. But O'Sullivan said Toledo was pitching in the 88-91 mph range and looked "very impressive" his first time on the mound this fall.

The Gators are also taking it slow with senior righty Jeff Barfield, who posted a 4.50 ERA in 50 innings last spring. Barfield was sidelined during fall ball after having his elbow scoped, but O'Sullivan said he should be 100 percent by mid-November.

MIAMI: Miami's staff will get a major boost from the returns of lefthander Eric Erickson and righty Taylor Wulf from Tommy John surgery. Erickson went 19-5, 3.27 over his first two seasons before missing last season.

"Getting Erickson back is key for us," Miami pitching coach J.D. Arteaga said early in the fall. "Erickson is healthy and throwing every other day. He's shown great feel—from Day One he was throwing strikes. He'll be throwing during scrimmages."

Wulf is one of the favorites to assume Miami's closer role this spring, but the Hurricanes had to slow him down this fall. He's in a long-toss program and reports feeling well, but he isn't expected to throw off a mound this fall.

SAN DIEGO: Injuries torpedoed San Diego's 2009 season, but the Toreros have good news on the injury front this fall. Junior third baseman Victor Sanchez has fully recovered from the shoulder injury that cut short his sophomore year, and lefthander Sammy Solis is progressing well in his recovery from a herniated disk in his back. Solis has looked strong playing catch, though he has not yet gotten up on the mound, by design. He rehabbed this summer with big leaguers at Athletes' Performance Institute in Arizona.

"We've got a Nov. 1 until Omaha throwing plan for him," USD assistant coach Jay Johnson said. "The ball looks easy and clean, strong—he has good finish playing catch, with no tension or tightness in the back."

 • SOUTH CAROLINA: The biggest surprise for South Carolina this fall has been the strong performance of lefthander Steven Neff, who missed all of 2008 after having Tommy John surgery and threw just five innings in 2009.

"He's been lights-out this fall—he's been up to 92," Gamecocks associate head coach Chad Holbrook said. "He's just now getting it back. He didn't pitch much this summer in the Coastal Plain League because we were babying his arm. But he's been really, really good."

So has lefty Logan Munson, who transferred from North Carolina and has also worked in the 90-92 range. Munson can practice with the Gamecocks until February but must sit out the spring.

Sophomore Jackie Bradley Jr. has continued to impress this spring after moving from right field to center. A gifted athlete with good speed and a strong arm, Bradley has taken to the move with aplomb, which only helps his draft stock for 2011. Outfielder Whit Merrifield, meanwhile, has shown off his versatility by playing some second base.

CAL STATE FULLERTON: Cal State Fullerton will be a lot younger in 2010 after losing fifth-year seniors Jared Clark, Joe Scott and Dustin Garneau. The Titans expect to play four to six freshmen in the lineup regularly, including redshirt freshman corner infielder Carlos Lopez. Last fall, Lopez got off to a torrid start to fall practice before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and missing all of the spring. He has been cleared to hit this fall and should be back to 100 percent by the spring, giving the Titans lineup some much-needed thump.

TULANE: Tulane welcomes back third baseman/reliever Rob Segedin, who missed all but five games last year with a rib injury, and righthander Robby Broach, who missed all of 2009 with an elbow injury. Segedin is Tulane's best player, the centerpiece of its lineup and a valuable righthander out of the bullpen. He's fully healthy this fall and is tearing the cover off the ball, according to one scout.

Broach made 10 starts as a freshman in 2008 and will compete with freshman Kyle McKenzie for a job in the weekend rotation this spring, behind ace Conrad Flynn and lefty Matt Petiton. Broach has experience on his side, but McKenzie has the most electric arm on the staff.

"Kyle McKenzie has been close to unhittable so far this fall," Tulane associate head coach Chad Sutter said. "This is the best pitching staff we have had as far as quality and depth."

Contributing: Dave Perkin.