Schedule Crunch Leads Teams To Playing Fall Games

More than 80 percent of Division I college baseball coaches support keeping the spring schedule at 56 games, according to a survey conducted by the American Baseball Coaches Association last winter. But don’t be surprised if more college baseball heavyweights begin playing 52 games in the spring and four in the fall.

San Diego and Long Beach State first embraced this approach last year, playing a three-game Fall World Series and a reduced regular-season schedule in the spring. This fall, Rice, Texas and Baylor each scheduled four exhibition games and will play just 52-game schedules in the spring. The shortened schedule could have a small effect on the teams in the Ratings Percentage Index, but all three should win enough games against a good enough schedule to absorb the hit.

“Texas and us both are in the same position,” Rice coach Wayne Graham said. “They took three weeks at least out of the schedule, and we both have to take nine days off for finals. Anyone who says playing 56 games in that short a time doesn’t put stress on their academics, they don’t have any academics. It’s no good to play 56 games for us, in fact we probably ought to cut down to 50. But 52, we’ll manage. Intrasquading yourselves for five weeks, it’s hard to keep them motivated.”

Rice and Texas have played pre-determined 14-inning exhibition games each of the past two weekends, with the Owls winning both games by the same 13-6 score.

“We really have gotten a lot of information out of it,” Graham said. “As long as they keep the start date where it is, we’ll keep doing it. When Texas shows up in their uniforms—and we even had a pretty decent crowd out here—it puts some pressure on the kids to perform.”

And perform the Owls did. Graham said freshmen Anthony Rendon and Brock Holt are “ready for prime time.” The undersized Holt has shined defensively at second base and hit the ball on the screws repeatedly in fall action. The athletic Rendon has the inside track on the third base job, which came open when the Owls moved junior Diego Seastrunk to catcher.

“There is no tool missing from his catching arsenal,” Graham said. “His hands behind the plate are excellent, he’s just got to keep working on his blocking skills, because he can throw, there’s no doubt about that.”

Last year’s second baseman, Jimmy Comerota, figures to take over at first base. He doesn’t profile there down the road, but he has added strength and was lacing balls to the gaps this fall. Sophomore outfielder Chad Mozingo also has gotten bigger and was hitting for more power. He could be joined in the outfield by a pair of newcomers: speedy junior college transfer Steven Sultzbaugh and freshman Jeremy Rathjen. Graham raved about Sultzbaugh’s defense in center field.

There is a little more uncertainty on the mound for the Owls, but ace righty Ryan Berry has improved his changeup and looked very strong. Graham said Rice will rely heavily upon freshman lefthander Taylor Wall, who has excellent feel for a solid three-pitch mix. Another freshman, Anthony Fazio, ran his fastball up to 92 mph this fall and could play a key role this spring. Sophomore lefty Matt Evers is the favorite to fill Cole St.Clair’s vacated bullpen stopper role.

Texas, meanwhile, will be much better than its showing this fall suggests.

“I think they’re talented, it’s just going to take a little while to get it together,” Graham said of the Longhorns. “They’ve got some good arms, and (Preston) Clark coming back will help them, because he’s a good hitter. (Brandon) Workman pitched against us, (Chance) Ruffin and (Austin) Wood, (Taylor) Jungmann pitched, they’re all good arms. We had a remarkable two innings against Jungmann, we hit some pitches I hadn’t seen us hit before. I told Augie (Garrido) after the game, ‘Now we’ve just made you mad.'”


• Arizona senior third baseman Brad Glenn was sidelined for most of the fall after a freak accident. Glenn was sitting on a glass coffee table playing video games, and he leaned back and fell through the table, cutting an artery in his right hand and causing nerve damage. Glenn went to the emergency room for surgery and had the stitches removed last week. The Wildcats hoped Glenn, whose 14 home runs led the team last season, would be cleared to start doing drills again by the end of the fall.

The other big story out of Tucson is the emergence of righthander Ryan Doyle, who threw just one inning as a true freshman in 2008. Doyle has been Arizona’s best pitcher this fall, working in the 91-93 mph range and showing a good curveball according to the Wildcats coaching staff.

• A pair of touted freshmen from the Northeast were off to good starts for Atlantic Coast Conference teams. Slender righthander Cory Mazzoni carved up opposing hitters all fall, including during North Carolina State’s final intrasquad scrimmage of the fall last week. Mazzoni worked two perfect innings, spotting his fastball to both sides of the plate and using his excellent curveball to get strikeouts, both swinging and looking.
Later in the week, lefthander Eric Pfisterer also had a six-up, six-down outing in a Duke intrasquad. Pfisterer’s fastball topped out around 88 mph, but it had good sinking life and he commanded it very well to all quadrants of the zone. He also used his low-70s curveball and mid-70s changeup effectively to get outs. Word around Duke is that Pfisterer has also been very impressive with the bat this fall. Maybe there’s something to those Sean Doolittle comparisons he earned from scouts in the Northeast this spring.

• Minnesota expects to start three redshirt freshmen in the infield next spring along with junior Derek McCallum, who will move from shortstop to second base, where he’s more comfortable. He’ll be replaced at shortstop by the scrappy, speedy A.J. Pettersen, whose reliable defensive skills will stabilize the infield. Nick O’Shea earned Northwoods League all-star honors this summer and has had a tremendous fall; he’ll bring power to the first base position. And Kyle Geason, who suffered a shoulder injury right before last season started, will replace departed star Nate Hanson at third base. Geason hit just .200 in the New England Collegiate League this summer but has made progress with the bat this fall, according to Minnesota assistant coach Rob Fornasiere.

• When asked which player has most caught his eye this fall, one American League scout based on the East Coast did not hesitate to name Long Island lefthander James Jones, who ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the Northwoods League this summer. “Three months ago, nobody knew who he was,” the scout said. “I saw him up to 94, and other guys said they saw him up to 95 at another scrimmage. His breaking ball and command are inconsistent, but a lefty with that arm strength and athleticism, there’s a lot to like there. He’s the surprise of the fall.”

The scout was disappointed by Seton Hall righthander Sean Black on scout day because of a below-average slider and poor control, but the Nationals’ unsigned second-rounder in 2006 still shows serious arm strength. He touched 93 on scout day, and the AL scout said he wouldn’t be surprised if Black adds velocity in the spring and vaults up draft boards.

Princeton righty David Hale is a similar long-term project, but he’s had a very strong fall. When he’s on, Hale works in the 92-94 range and shows a good slider, though he needs to develop a changeup to better combat lefthanded hitters.

• Few players have stood out in the state of Virginia this fall, but keep an eye on William & Mary’s Kevin Landry, a projectable righthander who touched 92 this fall and shows an average breaking ball at times. The most impressive Virginia Cavalier has been senior righty Andrew Carraway, who also tops out at 92 and has excellent command of all his stuff, including a good curveball.

• After posting a 1.32 ERA in 27 innings of relief as a freshman, UC Riverside righthander Joe Kelly struggled with injuries and command as a sophomore this spring, going 2-1, 9.35 in 17 innings. But he’s bounced back strong this fall, sitting in the 93-94 range with his fastball and reaching 96 mph with hard sinking action. His secondary stuff lags behind, but Kelly’s build, delivery and stuff evokes former Pepperdine righthander Brett Hunter. The sleeper at UCR is lefthander Paul Applebee, who gets arm-side run and sink on his 84-86 mph fastball. But his bread-and-butter is a 75 mph changeup that is already a plus pitch and could become plus-plus down the road.

• A National League scout based in Southern California said the teams in his area appear to be down somewhat this year. But he still saw things that he liked this fall.

“Fullerton looks like the best team overall with San Diego State having the best pitcher on Friday (Steven Strasburg) and a pretty good one on Saturday in (Nate) Solow,” the scout said. “UCLA should be OK and (Southern California) will have a good Friday guy in (Brad) Boxberger, and (San Diego) will be good with their pitching as usual.”

Contributing: Dave Perkin.