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2018 Draft Notebook: Cole Sands, Griffin Roberts and Daniel Lynch

With ACC play starting last weekend, scouts were able to get eyes on at three pitchers who rank among the top 100 of Baseball America’s top 300 draft prospects list, including a heavily-attended matchup between Wake Forest and Florida State that saw newly-minted Friday starters Griffin Roberts and Cole Sands go head-to-head. 

Below you can find full reports and video on Sands and Roberts, as well as a breakdown of Virginia lefthander Daniel Lynch, who shutout Duke for seven innings on Saturday, as well as a notes on a handful of interesting college prospects who took the field last weekend. 

Cole Sands | RHP | Florida State
Top 300 Rank: No. 57

Sands moved into Florida State’s Friday night role after lefthander Tyler Holton went down with an elbow injury and needed Tommy John surgery at the beginning of the season. So far, Sands has performed as well as head coach Mike Martin could have hoped, going 4-0, 2.45 in his first four games.

Against Wake Forest on Friday night, Sands threw six innings and allowed only two earned runs while striking out nine batters and walking one on 102 pitches in front of around a strong crowd of scouts.

Sands opened the game with a 92 mph fastball from a low, three-quarter slot and sat in the 91-92 mph range—regularly touching 93—for the first four innings. Throughout the first three innings, Sands threw with very low effort and his fastball included some late life in addition to a 79-81 mph breaking ball and a 83-84 mph changeup. Sands started showing more effort in the fourth inning and saw a noticeable drop in velocity to start the fifth inning, but touched back-to-back 94 mph fastballs to end the frame with a strikeout before getting back to his regular velocity in his final frame.

Sands’ breaking ball had a slider shape to it with 10-to-4 movement at the upper ranges of the velocity, but the pitch would occasionally show more vertical shape when thrown in the upper 70s and begin to look more like a curve. Of the secondaries, Sands seemed most comfortable with his changeup, throwing the pitch in any count against batters on either side and frequently doubling up on the offering.

In total, Sands got seven swings and misses on his fastball, five on his changeup and one on an 81 mph breaking ball in the first inning. Seven of his nine strikeouts came on swings and misses. The last pitch on eight of the nine strikeouts was a fastball, with the one exception being a changeup that showed impressive fading action in the third inning.

Griffin Roberts | RHP | Wake Forest
Top 300 Rank: No. 66

After earning All-ACC honors in 2017 while posting a 2.19 ERA as a reliever with Wake Forest, Roberts has made a successful transition to the starting rotation this season and is 2-1, 2.21 in his first three starts for the Demon Deacons. Thus far, Roberts has kept his strikeout rate at a similar level (13.28 K/9) from last year, while cutting his walk rate from 5.40 walks per nine to 3.10 this spring.

Friday night Roberts faced the best competition he’s seen this spring and struggled, allowing six earned runs over 6.1 innings while striking out 10 batters and walking five. His final line is a bit uglier than his entire outing might suggest as his first and final innings were rough, but in between Roberts was effective when he managed to find the strike zone regularly.

From the second through the sixth inning, Roberts struck out nine batters while walking two and hitting another, and allowed two singles and a double to FSU first baseman Rhett Aplin.

However, Roberts struggled to throw strikes in his first inning, walking three batters as he missed to his arm side with a fastball that was 89-92 mph and touched 93. He also struggled to find the zone with a low 80s slider that is a plus pitch with sharp movement. In the seventh inning, with his pitch count rising, Roberts returned to the mound in a tie game, but the Seminoles jumped on his fastball to great effect, singling three times in addition to a home run to left field from Jackson Lueck.

Roberts throws from an extremely low, three-quarter slot that gets sidearm at times and had a large amount of inconsistency with his release point throughout the outing with both his fastball and his slider. At its best, the slider is a plus pitch that can lock up batters or cause them to swing and miss as he buries the pitch in the dirt or finishes outside the zone, but Friday night he didn’t get on top of the pitch at times. That limited the sharpness and bite of the pitch, as well as the control. Still, Roberts managed to get eight of his 10 strikeouts with the slider, including four swings and misses.

As Roberts warmed up he was regularly in the 91-93 mph range with his fastball and held that velocity throughout his start and also featured regular running action. He threw an occasional changeup in the mid 80s as well, but not enough to get a great feel for the pitch. Because of the control issues, as well as Roberts’ low slot and primary two-pitch repertoire, there are starter/reliever questions with him for the draft. Roberts does, however, have the pure stuff that should persuade teams to give him the opportunity to develop as a starter.

Daniel Lynch | LHP | Virginia
Top 300 Rank: 98

The most impressive statistical outing of the week among the top 100 college arms throwing in North Carolina was from Lynch, who ranks below both Sands and Roberts in the most recently updated BA 300. Lynch tossed seven innings of shutout ball against Duke in the first game of a Saturday double header, helping Virginia get their sole win of the three-game series in Durham.

The lefthander struck out seven batters and walked two on 100 pitches, with 69 of those pitches going for strikes. It was a great showing for the 6-foot-4 lefthander, who had allowed 10 earned runs over 13 innings during his first two starts of the season against Eastern Kentucky and Yale.

Lynch is a lanky (listed at 195 pounds), thin-waisted lefthander who throws from a three-quarter slot with slight crossfire action and a good finish over his plant foot in a delivery that starts from the extreme third base side of the rubber. He showed a four-pitch mix that included a 90-92 mph fastball, 81-83 changeup, a low 80s slider and an upper 70s curveball. Lynch got ahead of Duke batters regularly in this start, throwing both fastballs and secondary offerings for first-pitch strikes and locating his fastball effectively to either side of the plate.

Lynch’s changeup occasionally showed good fading life that led to three swings and misses on the day, but regardless of its life, the pitch regularly got batters off balance and led to a few ugly swings and ground outs. The breaking balls occasionally blended together, but—especially early in the outing—his slider was sharper and appeared to be a step ahead of a slower curve that had more top-to-bottom shape. Of the 10 swings and misses that Lynch got on his breaking balls, eight were on pitches 80 mph or harder.

His command of the entire repertoire was impressive, though he began to miss with his changeup more often in the fifth inning and also started going to his secondaries more frequently than his fastball in the sixth and seventh.

Other players to note:

  • Wake Forest third baseman Johnny Aiello went 4-for-11 over the weekend against FSU with his third home run of the season, though he went 0-for-4 on Friday night with two strikeouts and swung and missed repeatedly against breaking balls. He recorded a 4.51 home-to-first time on a groundout to third. Aiello is hitting .258/.368/.435 through 16 games with 23 strikeouts and seven walks.
  • Duke outfielder Griffin Conine went 3-for-12 over the weekend against Virginia, including a home run on Friday that a Duke baseball representative said left the bat at 111 mph (Durham Bulls Athletic Park is equipped with TrackMan). Conine is now hitting .241/.348/.463 through 15 games with three home runs, 18 strikeouts and 10 walks. Game one on Saturday was particularly a struggle for the Duke slugger, as he went 0-for-4 and rolled over a couple low 90s fastballs for groundouts and also swung and missed on breaking balls down and out of the zone.
  • Virginia catcher Cameron Comer went 2-for-4 at the plate during game one Saturday, including a pair of doubles—the first of which one-hopped the fence in right-center and scored a runner from first and the second a sharp ground ball down the right field line. Comer looked like a well-below average runner on the bases, but also showed some talent throwing behind the plate, catching two of the runners who attempted to steal against him. Comer has started just nine games for the Cavaliers this season, but is hitting .318/.444/.455 with five walks and five strikeouts through 22 at-bats.

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