DURHAM, N.C.—USA Baseball’s college national team made two interesting roster additions over the weekend, filling out its 22-man roster with College World Series M.O.P. Tommy Mendonca from Fresno State and Athletics seventh-round draft choice Brett Hunter out of Pepperdine. Both players made their debuts on Saturday at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park in the middle of a six-game series against the Chinese Taipei national team.
Mendonca hit .285 this season for Fresno State with 19 home runs and 70 RBIs—four of those home runs and 11 RBIs came during the Bulldogs’ six games in Omaha at the College World Series. Mendonca was 1-for-4 in his debut for Team USA and is 3-for-11 with three runs scored in three total games played. Mendonca will enter his third year at Fresno State in the fall and will be eligible for next June’s draft. Batting lefthanded, Mendonca is a pull-hitter with power but has a tendency to straigthen his right arm, locking it up—in what is called an arm bar—while loading to swing.
Typically, this is a negative element in a swing as it makes it tough to drive balls up the middle or to the opposite field and usually makes the batter suceptible to inside pitches. It helps explain how Menconca, despite his tools, set a Division I record with 99 strikeouts in 78 games this season. However, it is not a fatal flaw as there are players in the major leagues who have the same characteristic. Defensively, Mendonca seems to make all the plays at third base—he was spectacular in the CWS—even though it doesn’t always appear pretty.
Hunter was draft eligible this year, and before a spring arm injury, alternately described as anything from a blister to forearm sorness, he projected to be a first-rounder possessing one of the best arms in the 2008 class. However, Hunter fell to the seventh round where the A’s scooped him up, and is now considered one of the more interesting summer follows of the class. Before the injury Hunter was hitting 100 mph with his fastball in short stints and sitting in the mid-90s as a starter, but he has yet to get back to that type of consistent velocity. The A’s were on hand, including scouting director Eric Kubota, to evaluate Hunter’s first start for Team USA on Saturday.
Hunter’s first two pitches of the night read 89 mph before three straight 90s and then a 91—getting a swing-and-miss to strike out the first batter he faced. Hunter needed only 13 pitches total to retire the side in the first inning with his fastball topping out at 93 mph. Throughout most of the rest of the game, Hunter sat between 89-91 mph except for one at-bat in the fifth inning. Facing Chun-Chieh Wang, who had tripled off him in the second inning, Hunter threw three straight sliders at 79 mph before unloading back-to-back fastballs at 94 and 93 mph, both of which Wang fouled off. Hunter then went back to the slider, bouncing it in the dirt before plunking Wang at 94 mph with the next pitch. Hunter was obviously juiced up for the at-bat as when facing the next hitter his fastball was back down to 90 mph, and for the rest of the game, his highest velocity was 92 mph—which he touched three times in the 24 fastballs that he threw against the last six batters he faced. Hunter finished the outing with six innings pitched, allowing only two hits and one earned run. He struck out seven on the evening, walking one.
Kubota said Hunter would be a summer follow as Team USA left the U.S. for tournaments in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.