Cook, Thompson impress in duel

LONG BEACH— The premier pitching match up of Division I college baseball’s 2010 opening weekend in Southern California occurred Friday night at Blair Field in Long Beach. Pepperdine righthander Cole Cook, BA’s No. 39 ranked college draft eligible prospect, squared off against Long Beach State’s Jake Thompson, who checks in on the same list at No. 67.

Two thousand fans and approximately 60 scouts watched the contest, which began in cool, breezy conditions that later gave way to a steady drizzle. Thompson prevailed in a taut pitching duel as the Dirtbags edged the Waves, 2-1.

Troy Tulowitzki, star shortstop of the Rockies and a Long Beach State alumnus, threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the game. Tulo fired a fastball for a strike, starting a trend that would continue throughout the evening.

Thompson is a strong, mature-bodied junior righthander who resembles, in frame and pitching style, long time big league star Troy Percival. He pitched a complete game, needing just 105 pitches to subdue Pepperdine, scattering three hits, permitting two walks and striking out six.

Exhibiting a great deal of confidence in his fastball, Thompson pounds that pitch home between 92-92 mph, peaking at 95. He maintained that velocity into the ninth inning, and also displayed the ability to work his four seamer around the strike zone—up, down, in, out.  Thompson adds an excellent 82-84 change which he sprinkles in sparingly but effectively.

A veteran scout analyzed Thompson: “He is big and physical, but does not have particularly long arms or big hands. From the side, his arm stroke is unusual. He doesn’t always come out clean or finish strong, and he sometimes circles off in his finish. The (77 mph) curveball needs work. He doesn’t finish it cleanly and kind of short arms it.”

Cook is a draft-eligible sophomore, who, at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, has a build and delivery reminiscent of the Weaver brothers. He has one of the most fascinating back stories in all of college baseball. Cook’s father, Peter, is a self-described baseball rat who is one of the busiest character actors in Hollywood. Using the screen name Peter MacKenzie, he recently appeared with Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin in the film, “It’s Complicated”.

After 10 years on the New York stage, Peter ventured to Hollywood 15 years ago and has appeared in several notable films and TV series, including “The West Wing”, “Will and Grace,” “One Hour Photo” and “Good Morning Vietnam”.

Cole Cook did not break a leg on opening night, but reviews of his performance were mixed. He did a commendable job of battling out of numerous jams, and his final line for the evening was decent if not spectacular: seven innings, two earned runs, one walk, seven strikeouts and 96 pitches.

Utilizing a low three-quarters arm slot, Cook fires a 91-93 fastball, an 84 change and a hard 77-78 slurve. Cook had difficulty corralling the breaking ball, and he lost 3-4 mph off of his fastball as the evening progressed.

The scout offered his take on Cook: “On the fastball to his arm side, he stays closed well. That’s his best pitch—it runs in and jumps at the righthanded hitter. He struggles with all of his glove-side pitches. On those, his release point strays too far from his body, and his front side pulls out. His front foot landing is too soft; it needs to be firmer to give himself a better foundation. The back stroke of his arm is way too inconsistent—he dips its too low, wraps it behind him.”

Adding a comparison of the two hurlers, the scout said:  “Thompson is more advanced at this stage, but with that body, he is now what he will be. With Cook, there is a lot more in there, the mechanics just need to be cleaned up.”

Opening weekend continues as Long Beach State hosts Oregon and Pepperdine travels to Cal State Fullerton.