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Home » Draft Insider Forum » College notes from weeks 4/5

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3/19/2012 1:45:10 PM

pebert
pebert
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Posts: 44
Since I was in Minneapolis at the Metrodome last weekend, I hadn't taken the time to check out the Florida/Florida Gulf Coast game that I had set to my DVR. I also tuned into Arkansas/Alabama this past Saturday, and still have to take a look at Kentucky finishing the weekend sweep of South Carolina from Sunday. Tonight, the final game of the FSU/Virginia series is on ESPNU (with Branden Kline on the mound for VA).

Jonathan Crawford has taken really well to a starting role for the Gators. He had another strong performance yesterday, and has really taken well to the Sunday role with Karsten Whitson shut down for the time being. I had the opportunity to cover Crawford last summer when he pitched for the Madison Mallards of the Northwoods League, and the general consesus on Crawford was that he threw 4 very promising pitches, all of which moved, but none of which he knew where they would go. That immediately reminded me of Jamey Wright, who was frequently compared to Kevin Brown due to the amount of movement on his fastball, but unlike Brown he didn't command the pitch well enough for consistent success.

Here is the report on Crawford from last summer, when he was ranked No. 10 on our top 75 NWL prospect list:

[font=verdana]One coach commented that he typically didn't like to consider a player with less-than-ideal productivity a legitimate prospect. Crawford struggled all summer for Madison, going 2-2, 5.21 ERA with 39 walks in 38 innings, but his upside was impossible to ignore. Throwing strikes is Crawford's biggest problem, but his projectable 6-foot-2, 175-pound stature and electric stuff suggest he has ace potential. Most of his control issues stem from mechanical problems and lapses in concentration, and he was pulled early in several outings. He will have difficulty gaining much-needed experience in 2012 as part of an incredibly-talented Florida pitching staff, and may struggle to work meaningful innings until he starts to pound the strike zone with greater regularity. His fastball sits at 88-93 mph and was as high as 96 on occasion this summer, with good late life, leading to the bulk of his 51 strikeouts. His curveball, slider and changeup also project as plus pitches.[/font]

The first thing that is evident is his size and overall athleticism as noted above. However, his command/control look to be significantly better. In particular he did a really nice job hitting the inside corners on both side of the plate with his fastball, and also back-doored a couple of curveballs into the zone. He threw almost all fastballs early, mixing in a 2-seamer later to go along with the curveball, slider and changeup that he also throws. His curveball is the pitch he snaps off to drop in the zone, while his slider got nastier the more he threw is, frequently using it to bury it in the dirt when ahead in the count to get batter fishing. The first hard-hit ball he gave up came in the sixth inning (a double), and then gave up another 2 batters later for the 2nd of the 2 runs he gave up. Should he stayed focused and keep the command he has been showing in recent weeks his stock could sky-rocket over the next 12+ months.

I'm not going to write too much on any of the other players in this game. I have seen a lot of Florida the last 3-5 years, and feel I have seen all I need to know about guys like Mike Zunino, Nolan Fontana and Preston Tucker. I know Kendall Rogers has gushed over Freshman Taylor Gushue, who should be a senior in high school, and I remember being impressed with his size and presence in the batter's box the first time I saw him in person last October in Jupiter. He provides great depth to the Gators lineup, playing 1B most of the time and filling in for Zunino about once a week behind the dish.

Across the infield was another freshman, Josh Tobias, who has filled in nicely at 3B with Zach Powers injury. Powers is going to have a hard time getting himself back in the lineup given the play of Tobias and Gushue. This is the third game this year that I have seen Tobias at 3B, and while he has had a few hiccups defensively, I really like his lateral quickness, release and arm strength at the position.

I've written before how impressive Florida's bullpen is. The whole team is impressive when it comes to talent, as I don't think I've ever seen a college team built like a pro team like they are. LHP Daniel Gibson and RHP Austin Maddox worked the final 4.1 innings of this game.

Gibson overall is a very similar prospect, both physically and in regards to his stuff, as Vanderbilt LHP Kevin Ziomek. Gibson throws from a low 3/4 delivery with a little bit of effort, although he may throw harder in shorter stints than he would as a starter (which I think he may be once Hudson Randall and Brian Johnson move on to begin their pro careers). He throws in the upper-80s to low-90s and lives in the lower half of the zone. He has a sharp curveball with a shorter, tight break and can also throw a more violent version of his breaking ball that acts more like a slider.

After making an immediate impression as a freshman positional prospect, Maddox is for real on the mound. He always has been, but for the second time this season threw the most devastating breaking ball I have seen so far this season. He is very thick throughout with a big and muscular frame, and pitching may be the better path for him long-term as his body is a little on the stiff side. His fastball is hard to catch up with, and he also throws a solid changeup that could give him the opportunity to start at the next level. He threw 6 pitches, all for strikes, to record the final 3 outs of this game. His last 2 pitches were sliders, the last of which froze the opposing batter to end the game.

As for the Arkansas/Alabama matchup, my focus was completely on RHP Ryne Stanek. Again, the hitters didn't do much in this game, and I was particularly anxious to see Stanek after Kendall Rogers took some quality video of him at the Houston College Classic.

As you can tell from the video, Stanek has a tall, skinny and very projectable frame with long legs and a high waist. In the game against Alabama, he was elevating his fastball, although he has the velocity to get away with it, and wasn't throwing his slider as consistently well as he has done in other games. He was throwing more of a sharp, short-breaking curveball, similar to Crawford's as detailed above, that he used well to drop in for strikes. His velo was reported in his usual 93-94 range, and he retired the first 6 hitters in order, including 2 via strikeout. He wasn't as sharp in the 3rd, struggling with control, and he gave up an RBI 2B to Taylor Dugas, the first extra-base hit he had allowed all season. He got back on track in the fourth, and was solid through the sixth before seeing his day come to a close.
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3/20/2012 9:55:48 AM

pebert
pebert
Administrator
Posts: 44
Here are some more notes from the Florida State/Virginia series from over the weekend. I focused on three promising hitters in this series.

James Ramsey is enjoying another big season for Florida State. The first thing that stands out is his visible, vocal leadership qualities. He's barking at everyone he can the entire game, and proudly wears the Captain 'C' on his chest. As good as his numbers are, I'm not sure how well his swing translates to the next level. His approach is similar to that of most Japanese hitters, flying open while swatting the ball with a swing path parallel to the ground. Plus, there is a little hitch in his swing that you just don't see from big league hitters. That said, he does have intriguing power for his size, and I've seen him hit the ball deep to left-centerfield a few times (he's a LH hitter). He hustles, shows good instincts defensively and on the basepaths and has good, not great speed.

Jayce Boyd is also enjoying a big season hitting behind Ramsey. He has looked pretty much the same both physically and as a hitter since his freshman year. He has good size and athleticism, although there isn't much speed or quickness to his game. He played some third base early in his college career, but looks as though either first base or left field is his eventual destination. He'll never be known for his defense, as his run production at the plate is where he stands out. He has sloped shoulders with a very good and confident approach. He also has good bat speed with very strong wrists. He has a patient approach and takes a lot of pitches with the ability to foul others off until he gets something he likes. His approach is mostly to hit the ball hard to left field and up the middle. He hit a 2-run single in the game I watched, and ripped a fastball down the left field line for a double later in the game. The big question is his eventual position, as he doesn't loft the ball, at least not currently, to have the ideal power profile for first, but he does have a knack for driving in runs.

Derek Fisher is starting as a freshman for Virginia after he opted not to sign with the Rangers last summer as their 6th-round pick. The times I have seen him before he has reminded me of a younger Jay Bruce, and that comp still works. Like Bruce, Fisher is starting to fill out, has offers a strong, mature and physical presence in the batter's box. Also like Bruce, Fisher is likely to slow down as he continues to get bigger, but has a mature approach and a swing path made for power. We could/should be talking about Fisher as a first-rounder 2 years from now.
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3/21/2012 8:34:15 AM

pebert
pebert
Administrator
Posts: 44
Notes from Sunday's Kentucky/South Carolina game. As detailed in Kendall Rogers' recent work, the Wildcats sweep of the South Carolina certianly added significant legitimacy to their 21-0 start.

Christian Walker has been the Gamecocks best hitter the past few years. He's a perfect college player that is unselfish that knows where and how to hit the ball to parts of the field to help move runners over, drive them in from 3rd with sac flies, groundouts to 2B, etc. He's a physically mature athlete, reminding me somewhat of a RH hitting version of Preston Tucker of the Gators. He squares the ball up consistently well with a line drive swing. He also works the count, but has more doubles power than home run power at this stage. He was the only player that hit the ball hard last June in Omaha, and there is power in his swing and body, as it may simply be a matter of him figuring out how to add loft and backspin to the ball off the bat.

Erik Payne is South Carolina's leading hitter this year. He has sloped shoulders and compact strength, built similar to former LSU IF Aaron Hill. He too has a patient approach and will take big, aggressive hacks when he gets a pitch he likes. He exhibited good bat speed, and like Walker is a very good college hitter whose upside at the next level is in question.

TJ Costen is one of several freshmen in the Gamecocks' lineup, and was rated as our No. 62 high school prospect in the class of 2011. He's an impressive looking athlete with a lean, tall frame with a lot of room for added strength. He showed very quick hands as a RH hitter, and did a nice job pulling his hands in to poke a ball down the RF line. His speed is his best tool presently, as he was very quick out of the batter's box down the first base line. He took some aggressive swings showing good bat speed, as I imagine Costen will be hitting much higher in the Gamecocks' lineup in the next 1-2 years.

I've been impressed with Adam Matthews' power/speed toolset in the past, and while he still gets down the first base line very quickly, he didn't show the same swing I've seen in the past. He used to employ more of a crouched stance with a wide base, but has straightened up. Everything he hit was on the ground in this game, which did lead to a pair of singles, but didn't hit the ball hard. He has bat swing and some patience, but also a propensity to swing and miss. He missed 30-40 games last year due to a hamstring injury, and his tightly chiseled frame reminds me of Bryce Brentz.

Tanner English is another freshman in the Gamecocks' lineup, and is a short little bugger that somewhat reminds me of former FSU star OF Shane Robinson. English can absolutely fly, as he showed off his speed at our 2011 World Showcase. He uses his speed well by hitting the ball on the ground to leg out infield base hits. In this game he hit two high choppers to the left side of the infield in which the Wildcats' shortstop had no chance to throw out English.

The best hitter in this game was Kentucky's slugging catcher Luke Maile. He has very good size, with room to still add strength without losing mobility. He is a loose athlete with good flexibility, leading me to believe there's a really good chance he could stick behind the plate for a long time. He is very patient at the plate, and showed his power potential and bat speed early by golfing a low curveball over the left field fence. He did so on a 2-2 count, showing the confidence that he has in his swing in any count. He hit a screamer later in the game that was snared by South Carolina's 3B, and did a nice job laying back on another low breaking ball and driving it to shallow right-centerfield for a single. Maile was rated our No. 3 prospect in the PGCBL last summer for his offensive prowess, and hit 9 home runs a year ago as a sophomore, putting him among the SEC leaders in that category. Keep on eye on Maile this spring as he's a candidate to be in the conversation for the early rounds come June.

Sophomore LHP Corey Littrell took the start for the Wildcats, giving Kentucky a very solid weekend rotation. He has good size and athleticism and pitches like a prototypical crafty lefty. There is deception out of his hand and he shows good command of his fastball that usually peaks in the upper-80s with the ability to drop in his 12-6 slow curve for strikes. His swing-and-miss pitch is a slider that he buries in the dirt. He also threw 1-2 good changeups. Like most lefties with a similar profile, he has a very good pickoff move.
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3/21/2012 8:47:43 AM

pebert
pebert
Administrator
Posts: 44
A few quick thoughts from last night's Florida/Samford matchup:

Samford's C.K. Irby is an interesting player to follow. He's the team's second leading hitter, and came on to pitch the final inning, showing a 93-94 fastball and a wicked slider. He's definitely a short relief prospect with his max effort delivery, although he has started a handful of times. Command/control can be an issue, but he's a pretty intense competitor.

I covered OF Philip Ervin last summer in the Northwoods League, where he was named our No. 22 prospect and received support as one of the league's most athletic and dynamic players. He didn't do much in this game, going 0-4, but his athleticism is evident. He has a high waist and really long legs for a shorter player, and took good routes in CF.

If you haven't already noticed, Austin Maddox has been really impressive serving as Florida's closer. Not only does he have great stuff, but he has also showed very good command and the ability to play his fastball, slider and changeup off one another. He pitched a quick inning to secure a 5-3 victory.

LHP Lex Rutledge started the game for Samford. His stuff wasn't fooling the Gators hitters, and he doesn't (or at least didn't) have the command to establish the strike zone or find any kind of tempo. Kendall Rogers tweeted about this last night, but he's having a tough year.
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