CORAL GABLES, FL- I don’t project any of Duke’s prospects as first-two round type talents. Nevertheless, it was fun to watch them against Miami on Friday and Saturday and I did see tools.
First baseman Nate Freiman put on a batting practice for the ages on Friday night. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a college player hit the ball that far, that often. The 6-6, 245 Freiman has strength and loft in his swing and his homeruns have serious altitude. One homerun to center field in particular must have cleared the 400-foot fence by another hundred feet. Every bomb was pulled and I’m guessing I saw 10-12 of them.
Watching that exhibition made me real curious to see him in the game, and that’s when Freiman’s vulnerabilities as a hitter became apparent. In his first at-bat, Freiman hit a double on a hanging lefthanded slider from Miami Friday starter Chris Hernandez. But after that, Freiman struggled mightily with the benders. He struck out three times during the two days, and all strike threes were swings-and-misses on breaking balls. In another at-bat, he popped up on a curveball.
Freiman has near-average bat-speed and what I’d grade out as 70 raw power. Though he pulled the ball exclusively in BP, he hit his double against Hernandez to the opposite field. He even showed an ability to use his hands by intentionally hitting into a 6-3 RBI groundout in the first inning of game two. So I think he has a chance to hit in the big leagues, but it’s going to take work and he’s going to strike out a lot on the way. The raw power is extraordinary enough to at least give him a chance.
Defensively, Freiman moves around the bag okay and has average hands, which is nice to see for someone built like a cross between Richie Sexson and Tony Clark. I think he can become average as a fielder at first base.
His second best tool behind raw power is his throwing arm, which is well above-average. Our own David Rawnsley watched Freiman pitch in high school and has expressed the opinion that his upside is higher on the mound. It’s not hard for me to believe that he could throw high-90s if given the chance. Duke pitched him in one start as a freshman, but he hurt his arm. Unwilling to risk losing their best bat, the Blue Devils have since scrapped the two-way experiment.
But the big leagues are filled with position players-turned closers and if Freiman doesn’t learn to hit the curveball, he could be another. As he is, I can see him being a high senior draft, with consideration by the 10th round.
I’d say the same of senior righthanded pitcher Andrew Wolcott, who started game two at Miami. Another giant at 6-6, 240, Wolcott is not a hard thrower (mostly 86-90 MPH) but shows good pitchability and with a projected average curveball (73 MPH) and average change (80 MPH). His curve is a big one and it hung on several occasions, but at its best it’s a major league pitch. Wolcott is only a fair athlete, but he’s well-balanced in his delivery and repeats okay. His arm-action is fair, with an over-top slot. For me, he’s a very good senior draft because he has a chance to pitch in the majors if he continues to do well locating his pedestrian fastball. Wolcott got the only win against Miami this weekend with a strong 7.1 inning performance on Saturday.
Junior RHP/RF Alex Hassan has the highest ceiling of the group and I like him best on the mound. At 6-4, 200, he has an athletic, long-limbed build that will add 15-20 lbs as a pitcher. He showed me a loose arm and a very smooth delivery. Hassan threw with average velocity (88-92 MPH) and showed the makings of a plus curveball (76 MPH). His curve was very sharp, with a big downward bite, and that pitch is what makes him intriguing; plus curves are hard to find. Hassan’s change-up is very crude; he slowed his arm to throw it and there was only minimal movement. Hassan’s fastball was also too straight (by MLB standards).
Though he’s working as their closer this year and pitched 27 innings as a sophomore, Hassan is relatively inexperienced on the mound. I wonder what he could do if he focused on it full-time. 6-4 athletes with plus curveballs and average fastballs have upside.
Hassan is also their leading hitter and off to a terrific start for the Blue Devils (.446-2-10 in 65 AB). I think his righthanded bat has a chance, but it’s more a longshot than his arm. Hassan has length to his swing. He waits on curveballs well, but will struggle with a good fastball using wood. The ball doesn’t really jump off the bat and it’s hard for me to project more than average power. Hassan projects for a plus arm in right field, is an average runner, and gets good breaks in the outfield. So he’s a prospect both ways, but I would go earlier (perhaps 5th round) on the mound than as an outfielder (7th-10th?).
A couple other juniors are worth mentioning as potential draft picks. Lefty Chris Manno is a funky, deceptive pitcher who threw in the 82-86 MPH range. He had a big sophomore season for the Blue Devils (6-2, 3.38 ERA in 58.2 IP) and is on follow lists much more for performance than raw stuff. But his deception is exceptional; the rail-thin 6-1, 160 Manno has a short arm-action and the ball just seems to pop out of his sleeve. He also gets good four-seam and running movement on his fastball. On Friday, however, Manno didn’t have good command of his heater and he got hit. He lasted only 4.2 innings, giving up four runs and four hits. His curveball was well below-average (71 MPH) but I think his change will be solid-average in time (75 MPH). Manno’s more likely a senior draft pick in 2010, but we’ll see.
Junior second baseman Gabriel Saade shows a lot of fast twitches and athletic ability. He moves well on the infield and will have plus range and an average arm. His hands appear soft enough, but for some reason he has trouble with the ball hit right at him. Saade bobbled just like that. Nevertheless, I can see him becoming a solid-average to plus defender at second.
At the plate, the solidly built 5-10, 185 righthanded hitter takes a simple approach with 40 bat-speed and power. I don’t see him as a future average hitter, but if he’s a plus defender and can steal some bases, he has a chance as a utility guy. I would definitely play him at shortstop and third as well in the minors.