3/19/2012 1:45:10 PM
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.