Trio Of Top Draft Prospects Make Statement On First Day Of Shriners College Classic
HOUSTON — The first day of the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic dealt out a handful of aces for the crowd at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Friday’s games featured three pitchers—Rice righthander Matt Canterino, Texas Christian lefthander Nick Lodolo and Texas A&M lefthander John Doxakis—who project to be drafted in the top three rounds, if any of them slips past the draft’s first day. The trio was spread out across the day’s three games, presenting an impressive, 11-hour long pitching clinic.
For good measure, Texas State righthander Nicholas Fraze, matched up with Canterino in the opening game, took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. He isn’t as big of a prospect as the other three, but with his projectable frame and good slider, he also made a good impression. And by game score, a simple metric to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness in a given start, Fraze outperformed Canterino, Lodolo and Doxakis.
But with dozens of scouts in the stands at Minute Maid Park, the trio of aces put their best foot forward and made a strong impression.
Rice RHP Matt Canterino vs. Texas State
7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K
Canterino, a Preseason All-American, got off to a strong start to the season, striking out nine batters in 6.1 scoreless innings on Opening Day against Rhode Island. But he scuffled last week against No. 25 UC Irvine, giving up six runs (four earned) in 4.2 innings.
On Friday, he showed last week’s start was just a blip. He was in control from the start of the game, striking out five of the first seven batters he faced. He didn’t allow a runner past first base until the seventh inning, when back-to-back errors by shortstop Trei Cruz and an RBI double led to the only run of the game, as Texas State won, 1-0.
Canterino said he knew right away that with Fraze throwing so well, he would need to be at his best to keep the Owls in the game.
“Out of the gate, you could tell their guy was going to be throwing a good game,” Canterino said. “My job as a pitcher is to keep my team in the game, so I knew no matter what I’m just trying to keep my team in the game and that meant throwing up zeroes every inning. Just came up a little bit short today.”
Canterino threw his fastball in the low 90s and located it well. His curveball is typically the secondary pitch he’s known for, but on Friday he went to his slider more often and also mixed in some changeups.
Canterino said he reworked his slider this fall, using a new grip to make it a bit shorter and tighter. It has been an effective pitch for him so far this season, and when he realized how effective it was on Friday, he rode it.
“Early in the game, we saw it was working and it was kind of, ‘Hey if it’s still working throughout the game, then why go away from it?’” he said. “It showed up today that we got a lot of key outs with that pitch rather than the curveball. Doesn’t mean I’m scrapping the curveball, I’m always trying to keep it in the back of their head.”
While Canterino impressed and is now 0-2, 2.00 with 24 strikeouts and three walks in 18 innings, Rice lost for the sixth time in seven games and fell to 3-7. Canterino said at this point in the season, his goal is just to help the Owls improve.
“We’re not where we want to be right now, but we’ve got to get to where we want to be,” he said. “We’ve got time to do that, it’s a long season. So, just get more wins. Keep my team in a position to win from my side and trust that they’ll have my back.”
TCU LHP Nick Lodolo vs. Houston
7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 13 K
Lodolo’s last appearance in the Shriners College Classic didn’t go so well. Two years ago, as a freshman, he made the third start of his career at Minute Maid Park against Texas A&M. He got knocked around, giving up five runs on four hits and a walk in 0.2 innings, though TCU came back for an 11-10 victory in 15 innings.
Lodolo will have much fonder memories of his start Friday. He was electric against Houston, retiring the first 14 batters he faced and matching his career high for strikeouts in a 10-6 victory for No. 24 TCU.
“It felt good, now I have something good to remember about this place,” Lodolo said. “Even though we ended up still wining (in 2017), that was awesome, especially in a 15-inning game. But it was definitely nice to come out and pitch the way I did (Friday).”
Lodolo is projected to be a first-round pick and has a chance to be the top pitcher drafted in June. He showed why on Friday. The 6-foot-6, 185-pound lefthander threw his fastball in the low 90s, touching 94 mph and mixed in an above-average slider and changeup, throwing strikes with all three pitches.
In the last couple weeks, Lodolo has worked to improve his changeup and slider, work that has paid off in a big way. After a lackluster start on Opening Day, Lodolo has been locked in over his last two starts and is now 1-2, 2.37 with 25 strikeouts and two walks in 19 innings.
Lodolo said he has played catch with his slider more and is feeling more comfortable with the pitch.
“Now I feel like I can throw that whenever,” he said. “It really helped me with all my pitches really. I think it helps my fastball play up.”
As for his changeup, Lodolo spent this week working with pitching coach Kirk Saarloos on getting it to be more consistent.
“Really, just get it back to getting the direction I wanted it to,” he said. “The first two weeks it was 50-50, one would be good, one wouldn’t be so good.”
Now, Lodolo wants to continue to build on his impressive start and continue to refine his pitches throughout the spring.
“Really just continuing to get all my pitches rolling at the same time,” he said. “At times it was, but at times it wasn’t. Limiting the free passes is another thing. Making them earn it to get on.”
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Texas A&M LHP John Doxakis vs. Baylor
8 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 12 K
Doxakis’ pedigree isn’t quite the same as Canterino and Lodolo, who were both voted Preseason All-Americans by MLB scouting directors. But the Texas A&M junior showed Friday night that his own draft stock is climbing.
Against No. 16 Baylor, which came into the game hitting .375 as a team and averaging 10.4 runs per game, albeit against lesser competition, Doxakis delivered a dominant performance and led Texas A&M to a 5-2 victory.
Baylor came out swinging and leadoff hitter Richard Cunningham doubled to start the game. While he came around to score, after that double, Doxakis retired 15 of the next 16 hitters. Only one other batter advanced past first base against him, and he faced just two batters over the minimum.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous going in to pitch against Baylor,” he said. “I think they were hitting .370 or something, which is crazy. We knew we had to mix it up well and locate. That’s why in the first inning they got to me because I was leaving it right down the middle. A good hitting team like that is going to hit those pitches.”
Doxakis, listed at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, threw his fastball mostly 90-92 mph with good life. His slider was sharp, and he mixed in his changeup well. He said working in his changeup was important against the Bears.
“You could tell they knew my slider was my putout pitch, it has been all season,” he said. “So, we actually mixed in a lot of changeups in 0-0 and 1-1 to keep them off balance so they wouldn’t see the slider until late and it helped a lot.”
Doxakis improved to 3-0, 0.43 with 32 strikeouts and two walks in 21 innings this season. Baylor was by far the best hitting team he has faced in the early going, and he passed the test with flying colors.
Doxakis didn’t pitch with quite as much velocity as Canterino or Lodolo, but the combination of his stuff, size, pitchability and competitiveness make for an impressive overall package.
On Friday night, it powered him and Texas A&M (9-2) to a statement win.
“It was a real emotional night,” Doxakis said. “It’s always been my dream to play at Texas A&M and you know a bunch of guys at Baylor, so you want to do your best tonight. That’s pretty much what it was. All heart and I wanted to do it for the guys behind me.”