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2018 Draft Notebook: Zack Kone Impresses

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DURHAM, N.C.—With three Duke position players ranked in the Baseball America Top 200 for the 2018 class, Durham Bulls Athletic Park will be a consistent stop for area scouts in the Carolinas this spring. During the second weekend of the college season, the Blue Devils handled Bucknell with a three-game sweep, but two outfielders at the top of Duke’s lineup struggled, while a 2019 southpaw stole the show Friday night.

Here are reports from several notable players who played in Durham this weekend.

Griffin Conine | OF | Duke

Weekend results: 2-for-12, 1 2B, 4 K, 2 BB.

Conine (ranked No. 16 in the BA 200) struggled throughout the weekend, with just two hits over three games including an 0-for-5 performance Sunday. During infield/outfield before Friday’s game, Conine showed easy plus arm strength from right field, throwing accurately to third base and home plate on a line with solid carry. At the plate during Friday’s game, Conine looked in control of every at-bat and did a nice job spitting on breaking balls that fell just outside the zone. He turned on a few mid- to upper-80s fastballs in several at-bats, hitting them hard but pulling them foul. At the same time, he also got under several upper-80s fastballs over the plate that he should have hit with authority. His lone double of the weekend came against a sidearming righthander who left a 71 mph pitch over the heart of the plate. During Saturday’s game, Conine continued to miss velocity up in the zone that his bat speed should have allowed him to get to with ease, and he also expanded his zone and swung through a 90 mph fastball up and away for a three-pitch strikeout.

In the video above, you can see Conine’s obvious bat speed. He sets up in an open stance with a high back elbow and has no issues getting back to even with his feet as the ball crosses the plate. There is some movement with his head and his hands drop as he goes to reach the ball, which might explain some of the missed pitches up in the zone, combined with an uppercut bat path. Conine also has a very long two-handed finish around his body, but when everything is timed up he has easy power to all fields.

Jimmy Herron | OF | Duke

Weekend results: 2-for-12, 2 BB.

Herron (No. 79) has a simple, easy stroke and a clean bat path, but had a tendency to lunge at the plate this weekend and also had fairly significant collapse on his back side on his swing. Herron flew out in his first three at-bats Friday night before walking in his fourth trip to the plate and then singled in his fifth on a 72 mph curveball on the outer half of the plate. He showed solid contact on this offering and drove a ball through the left side of the infield. Herron gets out of the box quickly and has a smooth stride on the bases and in the outfield.

Playing in left field, Herron has to deal with Durham’s blue monster on a regular basis and had mixed results Saturday. On one chance, Herron sprinted back after a well-hit ball only for it to hit high up the wall and rebound back towards the infield where shortstop Zack Kone had to finally field the ball. On another opportunity, Herron sprinted back and to his left and made a leaping catch into the wall, showing impressive athleticism and route-running ability.

Zack Kone | SS | Duke

Weekend results: 7-for-11, 1 HR, 1 3B, 1 2B, 2 BB, 0 K.

Playing alongside Cape Cod League All-Star game MVPs (Conine and Herron), it was Kone (No. 182) who looked like the best hitter in Duke’s lineup this weekend. The big, 6-foot-3 shortstop has a very low hand setup pre-pitch which at times makes it difficult for him to get in good position to hit, especially on balls in the zone. However, he makes the approach work with impressive bat-to-ball skills and quick hands. His loudest at-bat was on Saturday, when he jumped on a first-pitch, 83 mph breaking ball and sent it into the second level of the building behind the high left field wall. Kone also hit balls with authority to the opposite field, doubling on a low line drive to right-center in the same game.

Defensively, Kone has a strong arm that’s likely enough to handle the position at the next level, but his work with the glove, footwork and hands around second base leave a lot to be desired. He made several routine plays, but also allowed a playable ball up the middle go underneath his glove and into the outfield and later wasn’t able to make a play in the hole on a deep backhand—a difficult play certainly, but one pro shortstops need to make. His size and stiffness make a move to third likely at the next level, but his strong arm and ability to throw from a lower slot on the run give him some defensive tools to work with.

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A Little Of Everything

Adley Rutschman catches, he hits, he can kick 60-yard field goals and he is great at starting dogpiles.

Adam Laskey | LHP | Duke (2019 class)

Weekend results: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 10 K

Laskey bounced back from a disappointing debut start and shut out Bucknell’s lineup for seven innings Friday night. Laskey starts his windup slowly at first, but speeds up at his leg raise, throwing from a three-quarter slot with some effort and head whack. There’s a lot of arm strength in the delivery and he could probably incorporate his lower half more efficiently, but managed to strike out 10 batters and walk none thanks to a solid three-pitch mix.

Laskey sat 90-92 mph in the first inning, touching 93 at times and settled in a tick lower from the third inning to his final frame in the seventh. The pitch has regular running life and was paired with a 78-80 mph curveball and an 83-85 mph changeup. The latter pitch was his most consistent secondary offering. It didn’t have much fading life or movement, but the separation in velocity from his fastball and the arm speed that he throws it with helped him get 10 swings and misses with it. His curveball looked below-average through most of the outing and ranged from having 2-to-6 break to more top-to-bottom shape. The pitch had tight spin on occasion but Lasky too often hung it over the plate or didn’t get on top of the pitch. He did seem to get more comfortable with the curve as the outing progressed.

Connor Van Hoose | RHP | Bucknell

Weekend results: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 9 K,

Bucknell senior righthander Connor Van Hoose entered the spring as the Patriot League Preseason Pitcher of the Year, and went toe-to-toe with Laskey for six innings, with his lone blemish a solo home run to Duke freshman Michael Rothenberg in the fourth inning.

Van Hoose starts his delivery with both feet close together and his left foot significantly in front of his right. He has a high leg kick and some ankle movement and toe lift on his landing, and also has fairly significant stabbing action in the back. His first two innings were fairly erratic and he had trouble spotting an 88-89 mph fastball that touched 90. During the third inning though, the fastball velocity ticked up as he navigated through the middle of Duke’s lineup and he began spotting the pitch much more consistently. A 75-78 mph curveball which previously looked well below-average showed better spin and he got two swings and misses on the offering, both of which came on strikeouts. During the fourth inning Van Hoose dropped down to 86-87 mph with his fastball, which doesn’t have much movement and he threw an occasional low-80s changeup.

After a debut start to the 2018 season that saw Van Hoose exit after 1.1 innings and eight earned runs vs. Arkansas, this was a nice return to form for the righthander who led the Patriot League in strikeouts last season.

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