Fall Classic

JUPITER, Fla.–For baseball junkies, the only eye-popping velocites that can typically found this time of year are on Fox’ broadcasts of playoff games–where the radar gun readings at times appear to be more juiced than the list of players George Mitchell has stashed away in his brief case.  

But this weekend’s World Wood Bat Association fall championship in Jupiter, Fla., has offered more than its share of legitimate eye-popping velocities.

Though Friday’s action was watered down to 16 games, which didn’t begin until the early afternoon because of heavy rainfall that persisted into the night, those scouts and college coaches who sloshed around the back fields of the Cardinals and Marlins spring training facility into the night were rewarded. Senior righthander Gerrit Cole’s (Lutheran High, Orange, Calif.) fastball looked as good as it has in any of his major showcase and tournament showings, resting at 95 and touching 97 mph, albeit for just one inning. He’s shown similar velocity in the past, but he did it with seemingly less effort Friday night.

The confident UCLA signee told teammates he was going to reach back for 99 as he departed the dugout, and while he fell just shy of his prediction, his statement was made loud and clearly.

"I don’t think anyone was surprised he threw that hard–he’s got amazing arm strength," a crosschecker with a National League team said. "But the slider and changeup were pretty good, too, so even though you look at his delivery and (low-three-quarters) arm slot and think reliever, there’s going to be some reason to believe he might have a chance to do more than that."

There were 68 game scheduled for Saturday, and if the World Largest Cocktail Party was being played a few hours north in Jacksonville between Georgia and Florida, Saturday’s merciless session in Jupiter could have been dubbed the World’s Largest Caffeine Party as the recruiters and scouts lined up for concession-stand coffee in an effort to maintain their focus late into the night.

At the day’s 13th hour of baseball, senior Daniel Webb made his much-awaited return to the mound, and passed with flying colors. The senior righthander from Heath High in West Paducah, Ky., broke a bone in his left foot during the first inning of an outing in the Kentucky quarterfinal playoffs this spring, and appears to have spent his time off fine-tuning his physique.

His 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame looked chiseled, and when he was pumping 94 mph fastballs into the sixth inning of his outing against one of Houston‘s top travel teams, he had re-established himself as one of the top righthanders on follow lists for the ’08 draft.

 Cole’s teammate, lefty Keith Landers (St. Peter-Marian High, Worcester, Mass.) might not dial his fastball into the area code of Cole and Webb, but the senior lefthander might have a better delivery and more projection to his stuff that either one of them. He struck out the first two batters he faced Friday night and glided through an inning of work with an 87-91 mph fastball and promising secondary stuff.