Weekend Preview: Stanford-Texas, Beck-Butler Matchup Add Intrigue

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Series Of The Week: No. 12 Texas At No. 2 Stanford

After Texas lost a home game to Texas-Arlington on Tuesday, dropping the Longhorns to 2-2 on the young season, a reporter asked UT coach Augie Garrido if his team was ready to play at No. 2 Stanford this weekend.

William & Mary at (1) Florida
(12) Texas at (2) Stanford
Elon at (3) South Carolina
Valparaiso at (4) Arkansas
Dallas Baptist at (5) Rice
Holy Cross at (6) Texas A&M
Appalachian State at (7) Louisiana State
Auburn at (8) Arizona
Winthrop at (9) Georgia
Wright State at (10) North Carolina
Ohio State at (11) Georgia Tech
UC Riverside at (13) Arizona State
Albany at (14) Miami
(15) Texas Christian at Cal State Fullerton
Maine at (16) Clemson
Oregon at (17) Vanderbilt
Florida International at (18) Florida State
Boston College at (19) Central Florida
UNC Wilmington at (20) Mississippi
(25) Baylor at (22) UCLA
Hartford at (23) Oklahoma
Oakland at (24) Louisville

Top 25 Tournaments

San Diego/San Diego State Tournament:
(20) Oregon State, Kansas State, Pacific, San Diego, San Diego State
Garrido was taken aback by the question: "I said, 'Did you just see the game I saw?' He said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'Do you think you can answer your own question then?' "

Garrido had Stanford's statistics through four games sitting on his desk Wednesday afternoon, and one glance down at them confirmed the Cardinal's hot start. Stanford is hitting .329/.435/.497 as a team, with most of that production coming in three games against Vanderbilt's talented pitching staff.

Then Garrido looked down at his team's statistics.

"We're banging it out at .217," he said.

Garrido, of course, is not one to measure his team's offensive proficiency by its batting averages. The Longhorns hit just .269 a year ago (224th in the nation), but they won 49 games and reached the College World Series. So Garrido isn't stressing over his team's early numbers. He's annoyed because he believes his position players are out of character, out of sync and trying too hard to get hits—then carrying their offensive struggles over to defense.

"I keep using the words 'out of character' because I saw them in the fall, and saw them in the spring prior to games starting. They hit our pitching," Garrido said. "They hit Corey Knebel and Ricky Jacquez and Parker French; they hit the guys that the other teams are having trouble hitting now. If they didn't ever hit, they wouldn't be out of character because they wouldn't have any character to begin with."

Obviously, Texas does not have the personnel to be a high-octane offensive juggernaut with big home run power in the middle of the lineup, but Garrido does expect his club to be offensively dangerous in its own way.

Friday RHP Nathan Thornill
RHP Mark Appel
  (0-0, 0.00)
(1-0, 1.29)
Saturday LHP Hoby Milner
LHP Brett Mooneyham
  (1-0, 3.60) (1-0, 4.50)
Sunday RHP John Curtiss
RHP A.J. Vanegas
  (0-1, 3.86) (0-0, 21.60)

"We can be about sustaining rallies and doing the little things to make it work," Garrido said. "We're not a power-driven lineup. We are dependent upon taking quality at-bats rather than hitting. I haven't been able to get the position players let go of the concept that hitting is what satisfies their ego. That's what most position players say all their life. When you ask them what kind of game they had, they say, 'I went 2-for-4' or '0-for-5.' They don't say, 'I got a bunt down, moved a guy over from second to third, executed a perfect hit-and-run.' It's always about the hitting. We're trying to get them to be more realistic to relate to a quality at-bat. They haven't bought into it yet."

Only sophomore outfielder Mark Payton is off to a strong offensive start for Texas, going 7-for-13 with two doubles, two triples and four RBIs through four games. He also has six walks and no strikeouts.

"He's been our most consistent offensive player," Garrido said. "He's been effective. But that's about it."

Another sophomore, Christian Summers, is one of the biggest keys to UT's season. Summers faces the tall order of replacing stalwart Brandon Loy at shortstop. In addition to being a perfect fit for Garrido's offensive style, Loy was rock-solid defensively for three years at the most demanding position on the infield.

Summers has gotten off to a slow start with the bat, going 1-for-8, but he has played solid defense in three of his first four games. In Sunday's series finale against Duke, Garrido said Summers "became strangely affected" and lost his rhythm, timing, range and throwing accuracy. He bounced back and had a better game Tuesday. Summers has all the physical tools to be a standout shortstop, but his mental game is still developing.

"He might be the best professional prospect we have on the team, besides the pitching," Garrido said. "You've seen this a million times, man. It's between your ears that determines what kind of player you are."

Maybe Texas won't keep up with the physical, powerful, extremely talented Stanford lineup in a slug-fest this weekend. But the Longhorns can execute better on offense and defense than they have in their first four games, and if they do, they'll have a chance to win the series.

"The beauty of 18-to-22-year-olds is they can look like neophyte performers one weekend and superman the next," Garrido said. "It's incredible what confidence can do for the quality of the performances."

John Curtiss
The 'Horns have plenty of confident pitchers who are also talented enough to hold the Cardinal in check, so the Texas offense shouldn't have to do the heavy lifting. Texas will stick with its opening weekend rotation of Nathan Thornhill, Hoby Milner and freshman righty John Curtiss, and the bullpen will continue to lean heavily on freshmen French, Jacquez and Dillon Peters in support of All-America closer Knebel.

After losing stalwarts Taylor Jungmann and Cole Green to the draft and expected ace Sam Stafford to shoulder surgery, the Longhorns knew they would need their talented freshmen to excel early in their college careers. UT's recruiting class ranked second in the nation last fall thanks mostly to its impressive collection of arms, and so far the young guns have matched their talent with their poise.

"The performances of the pitchers have been pretty consistent," Garrido said. "They're throwing strikes. they're hitting the mitt, which is what we ask them to do. And they're not backing off of it when somebody hits them hard. They're staying focused."

That fearlessness and perseverance will be critical at Stanford, and beyond.

Scout's View: Stanford

We wrote in detail about Stanford's weekend rotation in Weekend Preview last Thursday, but Stanford's offense was perhaps the biggest story in college baseball's first weekend, as the Cardinal pounded Vanderbilt's quality pitching staff to the tune of 35 runs in three games. There were plenty of scouts at Sunken Diamond last weekend, and they came away buzzing about Stanford's impressive collection of talent. We asked one National League area scout for his assessment of just how good the Cardinal can be.

"They've got a good club. That's as loaded a ball club offensively at the college level as you'll see. I'm not saying there's nine big leaguers there, but I'm saying from top to bottom, that's as good of a college lineup as I've seen. When you're hitting Austin Wilson in the nine-hole, that's saying something. He's like Jobu (from the film Major League)—he couldn't hit the breaking ball, so I think they were hiding him down there. But he's much improved. Improved in the outfield, improved at the plate. He was just overwhelmed last year. Once teams found out he couldn't hit the breaking ball, that's all he got. There were some at-bats he got seven breaking balls. He's still going to see a lot of them until he shows people he can hit them.

"They're tough. They don't strike out a lot, they can work the count, and for the most part they can catch the baseball. They've got three outfielders who can really go get 'em. (Tyler) Gaffney, (Jake) Stewart and Wilson, they cover a lot of real estate out there. Wilson and Stewart can throw; Gaffney throws below-average but accurate. Gaffney can really work the count. And that's a part-time guy—he's a football guy. Gaffney's their best pure hitter, Gaffney and (Brian) Ragira. Stewart's been leading off for them, but I don't know how much he's going to hit; I imagine Gaffney will be in that (leadoff) role before much longer. And the thing is, they can come from behind. They grind you. Tyler Gaffney, to me, is just the heart and soul of that team. He's what you want. He's a battler, he plays hard, he's got that football mentality. I'm a big fan of Tyler Gaffney. I think he can really hit. It's ugly; it's very Hunter Pence-ish, but look at his career. He's done a good job (career .327 hitter in his first two seasons), not being a full-time (baseball) guy.

Kenny Diekroger
"(Kenny) Diekroeger will hit .300 worth of singles, and (Stephen) Piscotty's a good hitter with some thump in his bat. Piscotty probably either ends up in right field or first base. You send him out as a third baseman until he absolutely proves he can't do it. Do I think he's going to end up playing third? No, I don't. But that doesn't mean he can't. His resume speaks pretty loudly. He won the Cape Cod batting title—enough said. He's a good-looking player. The ball jumps off his bat, he's got some feel to hit, a big man who doesn't strike out much, and that's rare. He runs good for his size, very heads-up, alert baserunner.

"That's an intangible for Stanford: they're very, very good baserunners. When a team bobbles the ball, boom, they're taking the extra base. When they need to go first to third, boom, they're doing it. We always want to talk about hitting and defense, but they run the bases well. They probably penalized Vanderbilt five or six times, going full throttle taking the extra base. That gets back to the old man (coach Mark Marquess). The old man demands it. There's no 90 percent at Stanford, no 99 percent at Stanford—it's full throttle all the time. The old man demands high energy, and you're always going to get high effort from them, always.

"If (second baseman/shortstop) Lonnie Kauppila was eligible for the draft this year, I don't care if he hit .100, I'd take him. He's that good defensively. Game one was Diekroeger at shortstop, and he wasn't very good there, so they immediately put Kauppila at shortstop the next two games. I think (Kauppila) can hit, too. He's not a zero offensively. He hit like .298 as a freshman. But he can really, really really defend it. The arm absolutely plays at shortstop. It's not, 'Wow, look at that arm!' But he's an infielder who can flat-out pick it.

"They're going to have to outscore teams; their pitching's not very good. Not in the least. They're going to have to club teams to death. That's my opinion. You look at the box score and go 'Wow, (Mark) Appel went seven innings and only gave up two hits.' If his outfielders didn't make SportsCenter plays the first three innings, he could have easily given up nine earned runs. Vanderbilt absolutely tattooed him. I was shocked when I got home and pulled up the box score that he had only given up two hits. He's easy to see, you see it early. He's a drop-and-drive guy with a long arm action in the back. As a hitter, you're licking your chops at that. He's got a big weapon in his slider, but he's got zero swing-and-miss with the fastball. You don't want to get two strikes on you, because then he'll knock you out with that slider he's got. But he doesn't get to two strikes that often because there's a lot of early contact.

"(Brett) Mooneyham is another guy that's painful to watch pitch because it's ball one, ball two, strike one, ball three. At the end of the day he has eight strikeouts but he went 3-and-2 to every hitter, it seemed like. In the bullpen, (freshman righty David) Schmidt is interesting. He's going to be a middle reliever for them, and it's interesting. He's got life on the fastball. He comes in and attacks the zone. He's going to have a real valuable role for them. But they don't have the Chris Reed at the back. There's nobody on that mound for them that excites me at all.

"But they're so loaded in the lineup, and it's a mature team. They seem to really like each other. There really seems to be some team unity there. If these guys believe and trust in each other, like they seem to, I don't see why they couldn't get to Omaha. I just think the weak spot might be the depth of the pitching, or lack thereof."

Marquee Mound Matchup
Radford's Eddie Butler vs. Georgia Southern's Chris Beck

Scouts will be spending a lot of time in Statesboro, Ga., this spring, because Georgia Southern has a pair of likely first-round picks in ace righty Chris Beck and slugging outfielder Victor Roache, both first-team preseason All-Americans. But there figures to be a little more scouting heat than usual in town this Friday night, when Beck will duel the top prospect he is likely to square off against all season: Radford junior righthander Eddie Butler.

Marquee Mound Matchup
Georgia Southern
Friday RHP Eddie Butler
RHP Chris Beck
  (0-0, 3.00)
(1-0, 1.50)

"I'm thinking for a February matchup, that might be one of the better ones in the country," Radford coach Joe Raccuia said.

Beck, of course, is a well-known commodity after his sterling summer in the Cape Cod League last year. Butler also showed flashes in the Cape, posting a 4.38 ERA and a 31-12 strikeout-walk mark in 39 innings, but he did not establish himself as a first-round talent, the way Beck did.

Eddie Butler
But Butler has a big arm despite a slender 6-foot-2, 165-pound build, and Raccuia thinks he has a chance to go in the second or third round this June. He got his junior year off to a solid start, allowing two runs on six hits and a walk while striking out five over six innings in a no-decision at Samford last week. His fastball ranged from 91-96 mph in his season debut, in line with the velocity he showed in the Cape League out of the bullpen.

"He can run it up there at 93-94 with run and sink over and over," Raccuia said. "He held it through five, then I think he got down to 89-90 at the start of the sixth, which is when he gave up the two runs. But he's always been a guy that can hold his velocity; he's loose, he always bounces back, never sore—nothing."

A promising sign for Butler's future is his ability to get swings-and-misses with his fastball, and to command it. Raccuia said five or six of his strikeouts last week came on the heater.

"Not many guys in college do that," Raccuia said. "They'll have to bury a breaking ball in the dirt, but he has the ability to beat you with the fastball, because of the arm-side life to it. That's what (scouts) want to see: guys who can pitch in the zone and get outs in the zone."

Butler has good feel for his changeup, which has good arm speed and rates as his second-best pitch. He flashes a swing-and-miss power slider at 82-84, but Raccuia says it's about a 50-50 pitch for him. Half of the time, it's really good offering, but the other half of the time it flattens out and stays on the same horizontal plane. He also throws a 75-77 curveball, which is similarly inconsistent.

"He's 50-50 on both; I would like him to cut down to one of them and be about 75 percent on it," Raccuia said. "With the arm speed and the arm slot, I think it's doable that the slider will get better. On days when it's really good, he's really, really electric because you have to cheat inner half on the fastball and the slider away is not easy to stay on."

Chris Beck
We profiled Beck (pictured at right) in depth in our Early Draft Preview a few weeks back, and he also got off to a solid start last week, allowing one run on three hits and a walk while fanning eight over six innings in a win against Tennessee-Martin.

But Beck's line was somewhat deceiving, as scouts came away with the feeling that he wasn't as sharp as he can be. He worked in the 87-93 mph range and tended to leave the ball elevated, according to one American League scout who was on hand.

"His slider was 82-86, but in the fall it was like 86-90," the scout said. "It doesn't have a lot of depth to it, but the velocity plays. It did not have that velocity or shape Friday night. He was in a hurry occasionally and the ball flattened out. He didn't pitch at the bottom of the zone the way he's capable of doing. But he was fine; it was the first time out of the gate. Do I expect him to pitch better? Absolutely."

Stat of the Week

That's the composite winning percentage for the nine teams in the West Coast Conference heading into this weekend—they are 25-7. Four teams—Santa Clara, St. Mary's, Gonzaga and Portland—are unbeaten, and every team in the conference posted a winning first weekend with the exception of preseason favorite San Diego, which dropped two of three at Sam Houston State.

Martin Agosta
In our College Preview, we wrote that "the always-competitive WCC looks poised for a banner year, as its overall talent level compares favorably with other Western mid-majors (including the Big West), and five to seven teams look like legitimate contenders for the conference crown." Certainly, the first weekend reinforced that view, though it was only the first weekend. Most notable were the performances of Gonzaga (sweeping three games at Nebraska), Santa Clara (beating Texas State, Wichita State, Louisiana-Lafayette and then winning a midweek road game against unbeaten Cal Poly), league newcomer Brigham Young (taking two of three at UC Riverside) and Pepperdine (taking two of three from No. 19 Oklahoma, then sweeping a two-game midweek set against Virginia Commonwealth).

This weekend, conference play actually begins for two teams, as BYU visits St. Mary's. Want another Stat of the Week? The Gaels' four starters—Martin Agosta, Kyle Barraclough, Ben Griset and Kurt Jahnke—have yet to give up an earned run through 26 2/3 innings, helping St. Mary's put together a 0.49 staff ERA.

The rest of the WCC will try to keep rolling against nonconference competition, and after this weekend we should have a better feel for just how good this conference is. Several WCC teams will test their mettle against teams that won their conferences last year: Pepperdine hosts WAC champion Fresno State, Portland hosts Missouri Valley champ Creighton, and Gonzaga faces Big Ten champ Illinois twice in a tournament at Lamar. The Toreros also face a pair of 2011 regional teams (Oregon State and Kansas State) in a tournament in San Diego, while San Francisco hosts a quality Missouri team that just won a road series against Auburn.

Quick Takes

Texas Christian-Cal State Fullerton has become one of the best annual series of the preconference schedule. Since the two teams started playing early-season three-game sets in 2008, the visiting team has taken all four series. Consider the 15th-ranked Frogs a slight favorite to keep that streak going at Goodwin Field this weekend, but the Titans showed plenty of fight last weekend at top-ranked Florida, culminating in a tension-filled upset win Sunday.

Both teams are still trying to find their way on the mound, but both have studs in the Friday starter roles (TCU's Andrew Mitchell and Fullerton's Dylan Floro), and both should have dangerous offenses. But the Frogs have scored just 10 runs total in their first three games, so they'll be eager to get the bats going this weekend. TCU surely misses injured third baseman Jantzen Witte, one of the best pure hitters and defenders on the team, and several of its new starters have struggled: Brett Johnson, Zac Jordan, Davy Wright and Keaton Jones have each started all three games and are a combined 3-for-33 (.091).

One of Fullerton's new starers, on the other hand, was its hottest hitter in Gainesville: fleet-footed outfielder Austin Kingsolver went 5-for-9 in the series, and one evaluator on hand came away impressed with Kingsolver's improved approach and ability to hang in there against lefthanded pitching.

I plan to take in most or all of this series and will have a report in Monday's Three Strikes.

• Several teams with high hopes got off to poor starts last weekend, and it happens that several of them will now try to rebound against teams that got off to hot starts. Vanderbilt, coming off its sweep at the hands of Stanford, will try to get back on track against Oregon, which took three of four at Hawaii last weekend. Of note: The Ducks got their offense going in the final two games of that series, scoring 26 runs. Leadoff man J.J. Altobelli is on fire for Oregon, having gone 10-for-17 in the last three games of the series at Hawaii.

Sun Belt Conference favorite Florida International was also swept on the road last weekend against a top 10 team (No. 6 Rice). Now FIU faces the daunting task of trying to break into the win column in a three-game series at Florida State. The Seminoles have scored nine or more runs in all four of their games so far, but they also have surrendered six or more in three of them. The Golden Panthers should be much better offensively than they showed last weekend, when they scored just seven runs in three games against Rice's loaded pitching staff. Expect this series to feature plenty of scoring on both sides.

UCLA already rebounded from its stunning home series loss to Maryland by waxing Cal State Northridge in midweek play. Its offense—which was held to one run in losses Friday and Sunday—exploded for 19 runs on 17 hits Tuesday, but now the Bruins host a Baylor team that has allowed just seven runs in five games against three quality teams that were in regionals a year ago and stand strong chances to be in regionals this year, as well (Oral Roberts, TCU, Texas State). Forget runs; even hits have been tough to come by against the Bears, who have surrendered just 4.4 hits per game thus far. I'll have more on this series Monday as well.

Boston College was one of opening weekend's big stories after beating 2011 regional teams Virginia, James Madison and Coastal Carolina in Myrtle Beach. The Eagles get a chance to make another splash this weekend, playing three games at No. 19 Central Florida. Keep an eye on BC sophomore center fielder Tom Bourdon, a live-bodied athlete with a nice swing who is off to a torrid start out of the No. 2 hole (.571/.600/.929, 2 2B, 1 HR in 14 at-bats). BC pitched very well last weekend against three decent offenses (allowing just 11 runs total), but UCF's explosive, physical lineup will present an even greater challenge.

Buffalo opens its season this weekend at Kentucky in a series that figures to be very heavily scouted. Buffalo catcher Tom Murphy, a third-team preseason All-American, is a physical, disciplined masher with a chance to be drafted in the first couple of rounds this June, and this weekend offers scouts their best opportunity all season to see Murphy match up with professional-caliber pitching. UK's weekend starters—Taylor Rogers, Jerad Grundy and Corey Littrell—all have quality stuff from the left side, and they went a combined 3-0, 0.48 with 21 strikeouts and five walks in 19 innings last weekend. But Murphy hits righthanded, and he has shown he can hit velocity (he homered off LSU's Kevin Gausman last summer at Fenway Park), so don't be shocked if he has a big weekend and rockets up draft boards.

• The Keith LeClair Classic, hosted by East Carolina, features a strong field this year, thanks to the rise of two programs not ordinarily regarded as baseball powerhouses: Maryland and Purdue. The Terps set the college baseball world buzzing with their road series at UCLA—I probably received more chat questions about Maryland on Monday than in the previous five years combined, and I actually received radio and blog interview requests about the Terrapins for the first time I can remember. Like BC, the Terrapins have some more work to do to prove they are legitimate regional contenders, but they have the look of a balanced, dangerous club with a deep pitching staff.

Purdue, on the other hand, is an offensive juggernaut, coming off an unbeaten, 3-0 weekend at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge. The Boilermakers are hitting .367 as a team, led by Andrew Dixon (.625, 5-for-8), and just wait until slugger Cameron Perkins gets going. Perkins has the team's lone home run but is hitting just .231 (3-for-13) through three games, the worst of any Purdue regular.

Western Carolina is constructed similarly and carries similarly gaudy numbers into the weekend. The Catamounts are hitting .370 as a team after scoring 40 runs in four games against Fordham and Winthrop. Thick-bodied freshman first baseman Jacob Hoyle (.563 with two homers and nine RBIs) has announced his presence in a big way, leading the WCU offense.

But the most complete team in the field is host ECU, which has outscored Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Old Dominion 36-8 in four games. Like the Catamounts, ECU's offense has been led by a surprising upstart, but in ECU's case it's a senior: No. 9 hitter Tim Younger leads the team with a .615 average (8-for-13) through four games. The 5-foot-11 second baseman hit .250 in primarily a reserve role last year, but he's a grinder who plays the game the right way, which earned him the honorary No. 23 jersey after former ECU head coach Keith LeClair for this season. Also notable for the Pirates: the strong debuts of their talented Virgin Islands pitching duo, Jharel Cotton (1-0, 1.50) and Deshorn Lake (one scoreless inning). As a staff, ECU has a 1.50 ERA.

• Finally, Southern Mississippi and Troy reprise their nonconference series this weekend in Hattiesburg. Last year the Trojans took two of three from the Golden Eagles in Troy, earning a signature series win for its at-large resume, as USM went on to share the Conference USA regular-season crown. For the Trojans to beat Southern Miss again, they'll need better starting pitching behind ace Tyler Ray than they got against Central Michigan last weekend, when Jimmy Hodgskin gave up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings and Aaron Purdy allowed six runs in one inning. Meanwhile, the early returns for USM's all-new weekend rotation have been good, as the team boasts a 2.18 ERA despite its 2-2 record. The Golden Eagles' ace of the future, projectable righthander Jake Drehoff, just might wind up being their ace of the present, as he allowed just a run on three hits over six innings in his debut Saturday, a 5-1 win against Nicholls State.