Postseason recap: Coppell and McKinney both swept their way through the Texas Collegiate League divisional series and into the league’s best-of-three championship series. McKinney headed into the series having won six consecutive playoff games, including its undefeated run through the 2006 playoffs, but Coppell had home-field advantage thanks to hits superior regular-season record.
Shortstop Dustin Hood (Wake Forest) carried the Marshalls to a 5-3 win against Wichita Falls in the Hornsby Division clincher. Hood went 3-for-3 and provided the game-winning run via a seventh-inning homer, propelling the Marshalls to their third straight TCL championship series.
Coppell got five shutout innings from Mike Bolsinger (Grayson County, Texas, CC) in a 4-0 win against Brazos Valley to clinch the Speaker Division championship. Highly touted two-way star Brandon Belt (San Jacinto, Texas, JC), who is transferring to Texas this fall, went 2-for-4 and belted a two-run homer to lead the offense. Coppell won the first TCL title in 2004 but lost to McKinney the next year.
After McKinney won the first game of the championship series, Belt hit a three-run double in the seventh inning of Game Two to propel Coppell to a 4-1 win and force a decisive third game. The Copperheads trailed 1-0 in the sixth inning of Game Three, but they scored two in the frame, as Preston Clark (Texas) drove in the eventual game-winning run on a suicide squeeze. Coppell went on to a 2-1 victory and its second TCL title.
1. Casey Whitmer, rhp, Brazos Valley (So., Texas)
Whitmer went 1-0, 4.40 in 12 relief appearances as a freshman for Florida State this spring, but he dazzled in the TCL and transferred to Texas. Whitmer led the TCL in strikeouts (51 in 47 innings) and went 2-2, 1.54 for Brazos Valley. At 6-foot-1, Whitmer is not physically imposing, but he has an extremely quick arm, though there is some effort in his high three-quarters delivery. He works in the 88-93 mph range with his lively fastball, but his out pitch is a sharp, late-breaking 84-86 mph slider. Whitmer can be wild at times, and he’ll need to develop his below-average changeup to be an effective starter in pro ball. If not, he projects as a power arm out of the bullpen.
2. Preston Clark, c, Coppell (RS-Jr., Texas)
Clark’s reputation as one of the nation’s best defensive catchers helped him earn a role on Team USA last summer, where he hit a solid .274 in 30 games. He showed good power this spring for the Longhorns, belting eight homers and slugging .498, and he flashed more power this summer (five homers, .500 slugging percentage) but hit just .268 in 82 at-bats. Clark has above-average raw power potential when he gets his barrel on the ball, but his swing tends to get a little long, especially when he’s in hitters’ count and looking to muscle up. He did make progress hitting breaking balls this summer–an area where he has struggled in the past–and he laid down a suicide squeeze to drive in the game-winning run in the decisive game of the TCL championship series. Defensively, Clark is an excellent receiver who does a good job blocking balls in the dirt, framing pitches and handling a pitching staff. He has a strong arm and quick release that yields 1.9-second pop times. Clark’s hefty price tag (and past knee problems) caused him to slip to the 33rd round as a draft-eligible sophomore, but he could wind up in the first round as a junior with a good spring.
3. Justin Murray, rhp, McKinney (Jr., Kansas State)
Murray was the TCL’s pitcher of the year after going 5-2, 0.54 with 48 strikeouts and eight walks in 50 innings for league runner-up McKinney. Command is Murray’s calling card–he can spot any of his three pitches wherever he likes, and he mixes speeds and locations extremely well. Murray has a smooth, easy, three-quarters delivery and a prototypical 6-foot-3, 216-pound frame that hints at perhaps more velocity to come. Right now, he works in the high-80s with his fastball and touches 90-91 at times, and his fastball looks harder on the heels of his solid curveball or changeup.
4. Bryan Price, rhp, Duncanville (Jr., Rice)
Price entered the summer with a career 10.38 ERA in two years at Rice, where shaky command undermined his dynamite stuff. He was much better this summer, going 1-2, 2.73 with 49 strikeouts and 14 walks in 30 innings for the Deputies. Price has good downward plane on his pitches and sink on his 90-93 mph fastball thanks to his 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame. His low-80s power slider is above-average at times, but he sometimes has a hard time throwing it for strikes. Price has a developing changeup that shows some potential against lefthanded hitters, but like the rest of his game it needs some more polish. His upside is high, however, thanks to his live arm, projectable frame and smooth, easy delivery.
5. Kyle Walker, lhp, Coppell (Jr., Texas)
The most electric arm in the Texas Collegiate League, Walker battled command issues all spring and summer, posting a 10.80 ERA and a 9-19 K-BB ratio in 13 innings for the Longhorns, then going 2-2, 6.08 with a 48-26 K-BB ratio for the Copperheads. The strikeout numbers give an indication of his electric stuff–a plus fastball in the 90-94 mph range from the left side, a vicious 79-83 curveball with sharp, late 11-to-5 bite, and a changeup that can be above-average at times. But Walker puts enormous pressure on himself and needs to learn it’s OK not to be perfect all the time, in order to avoid big innings. His arm works well, but he needs more rhythm in his delivery, which can be too slow at times. Walker could be a first-rounder if he can put it all together.
6. Steven Maxwell, rhp, Denton (So., Texas Christian)
Maxwell flashed his impressive stuff as a freshman this spring, posting a 22-6 K-BB ratio in 21 innings, mostly in relief. He was even better this summer, going 4-0, 0.56 with a 39-7 K-BB ratio in 32 innings. Unlike some of the other power arms on this list, Maxwell does a great job commanding the zone and has the ability to throw three pitches for strikes. His 90-92 mph fastball has some life, his slider is a quality out pitch, and his changeup is a decent offering. The only thing holding Maxwell back might be his smallish frame–he’s just 6-feet, 180 pounds, making long-term durability a concern.
7. Brandon Belt, of/1b/lhp, Coppell (So., Texas)
Belt was an elite pitching prospect coming out of high school, but his velocity dipped from the 88-92 mph range to the 83-88 range late in his senior year and remained there during his freshman year at San Jacinto (Texas) JC this spring. He was drafted in the 11th round each of the last two years but did not sign and will now head to Texas. This summer, Belt stood out more with his bat (.333/.411/.581 in 93 at-bats) than his arm (0-3, 4.56, 24-15 K-BB ratio in 24 innings), as his fastball continued to sit in the 84-88 range, though he touched a couple of 90s early in the summer. At 6-foot-5, 195 pounds, Belt has projection as a pitcher and also as a power bat. He has very good barrel awareness and quick hands, and he hits the ball hard from foul pole to foul pole–particularly to the opposite field. He remains raw offensively–he tends to jump at the ball and needs to get his front foot and his head under control. A bad-ball hitter, Belt could also use some more patience at the plate. The Longhorns plan to use him at first base next spring, but he’s a solid-average runner with a strong arm that could ticket him for right field down the road, if he can improve his reads and routes to the ball.
8. Tyler Ladendorf, if/of, Denton (So., Howard, Texas, JC)
Ladendorf was a two-sport standout in high school before tearing his labrum in the 2004 state baseball playoffs, causing him to miss all of 2005, but he has since regained enough arm strength to play shortstop. An exceptional athlete with a physical 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame, Ladendorf’s best tool is his game-changing speed–he stole a national junior college-best 60 bases in 60 attempts this spring, then led the TCL with 18 swipes in 19 attempts for Denton. Ladendorf is a good hitter (.295/.379/.403) with some raw pull power, but he mostly goes to the opposite field in games. He played shortstop for Howard this spring, but the Outlaws used him at second, short, third, center field and right field. He has soft hands, outstanding range and a playable arm at short, but he might profile even better in center field. Ladendorf is already a good, versatile player, but he has plenty of room to get much better if he can polish some rough edges.
9. Jeff Nutt, c, Coppell (Sr., Arkansas)
Nutt had a solid spring for the Razorbacks after transferring from Navarro (Texas) JC, but he was even better for Coppell this summer, batting .317/.400/.366 in 82 at-bats. Nutt’s smooth lefthanded swing is one of the best in the league, and though his power numbers were unimpressive this spring and summer, he has the ability to drive the ball from gap to gap with occasional home run pop. He can turn on an inside fastball just as easily as go the other way with a breaking ball on the outside corner, and he rarely chases bad pitches. Nutt caught plenty this summer (Preston Clark mostly was a DH), and he showed average receiving skills and a fringe-average arm that plays up because of his quick transfer.
10. Sean Jones, of, Coppell (Sr., Arkansas)
Like Jeff Nutt, Jones transferred from Navarro JC to Arkansas last year, and like Nutt he had a solid but unspectacular spring followed by a strong summer. Jones is a tremendous athlete with well-above-average speed that helped him steal 13 bases in 15 attempts for Coppell. A switch-hitter, Jones has a better swing from the right side but gets up the line in 3.6 seconds from the left side. He worked hard to hit the ball on the ground and improve his bunting this summer–Coppell coach Heath Autry forced him to bunt at least once per game–and his progress with it helped him finish with a solid .295/.412/.395 line. Jones is a very good defender at all three outfield positions, though his arm is fringy. The 6-foot, 189-pound Jones needs to get a little stronger so he can hit more balls into the gaps and become less of a slap hitter, but he’s doing a better job utilizing his blazing speed.