Tag: Michael Kopech

Draft Watch: Arms Race Week 6

NewcombHartfordIt has been all about pitching this spring at both the college and prep levels. The BBCOR bats are certainly having ramifications on the game, as offense among the amateur ranks is at an all-time low. There are two storylines in particular to keep an eye on this weekend; first the arms race between left-handers battling for spots on team’s draft boards, and also the prep pitchers who are lighting up radar guns in the early goings.

TCU Southpaw Brandon Finnegan has been piling up strikeouts at a ridiculous rate this spring. In four of five starts he has accumulated more than 10 punchouts. Finnegan has elite arm speed and can dial his fastball up into the upper 90’s MPH, which is extremely impressive for a left hander. He complements his heater with a hard slider and an improving changeup. His height and arm slot lead some to believe that he could wind up in the bullpen, but his command has also taken a step forward this spring, and Finnegan looks like he has the makings of a possible top-20 pick. Finnegan will be taking the hill against Texas-Tech this weekend.

Another lefty making noise this spring is Sean Newcomb of Hartford. Newcomb reminds some of Sean Manaea from last year’s draft because he is an athletic left hander with a big frame and a big arm. Also, like Manaea, Newcomb hails from a mid-major Northeast school and pitches against inferior competition, which can make it tough for scouts to gauge his true talent. Newcomb had an inconsistent summer on the cape after struggling with a bout of mono, but in his last two starts has yielded just four hits in 14 scoreless innings. Like Finnegan, Newcomb could be a factor in the middle part of Round No.1.

Cal Poly’s Matt Imhof is a sleeper in this draft that could be a great value pick for a club somewhere in the middle of Round No. 2. Imhof is a physical 6-foot-5 and pounds all quadrants of the strike zone. The big lefty had a breakout summer for Team USA and is carrying that success into this season, currently boasting a 4-1 record with a minuscule 1.29 ERA. Cal Poly’s baseball program is also surprising a lot of people, and is starting to look like one of the top teams in the nation.

Kyle Freeland, the ace of the Evansville staff, is yet another southpaw putting up video game numbers. He has struck out 29 batters and granted just two walks heading into this weekend. Freeland already possesses a live fastball and his thin 6’4” frame offers more projection than the average college arm. With Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos in attendance last weekend he hurled six shutout innings with nine K’s. Although it might be a little early for him, the Jays hold the No. 9 and No. 11 picks in this year’s draft.

As usual the spotlight will be on NC State’s Carlos Rodon this weekend. Rodon came up short last weekend in an epic battle with FSU’s Luke Weaver, but it was an encouraging start as he flashed his devastating slider and struck out 12 against one of the nation’s best lineups. This weekend he will be taking on Maryland, another quality opponent. It will be key for him to demonstrate improved fastball command as his location has been spotty at times his year. He still remains the top prospect in this draft, but needs to cut down on the walks that he has been giving up. However, in the past both his fastball command and velocity have improved with the weather.

Another strength of this 2014 class is the depth of talented college backstops. Kyle SchwarberGrayson GreinerMax Pentecost, and Aramis Garcia are the cream of the crop, but keep an eye on Brett Austin of North Carolina State. Austin was a high-profile prospect out of Providence High, but struggled to hit as an underclassmen. This year however, Austin is hitting .391. Last week in a devastating series in which NCSU was swept by Florida State, Austin went 7-for-15. Austin is probably a second-tier catching prospect behind some of the aforementioned guys, but could go as early as Round No. 3.

Another catcher to keep an eye on is Mac James of Oklahoma. James played sparingly last year and wasn’t really on anyone’s radar entering the season, but that could change soon. It is not a guarantee that he will be able to stick behind the dish, but he is currently raking.As of right now the Sooner’s catcher’s triple-slash line  reads: .442/.494/.636. And yes, you did read that right.

There is no doubt that offense has been down significantly throughout college baseball this year, but a pair of Cal State Fullerton sluggers are still performing well.Outfielder J.D. Davis controls the strike-zone well and generates a lot of power due to the natural loft in his swing. Davis is slugging at a .537 clip so far. His teammate Matt Chapman has also has plenty of pop in his swing. The third baseman has connected for two bombs and six doubles through his first 17 games, but he needs to make more consistent contact. Both Chapman and Davis could be taken somewhere in rounds No. 2 or No. 3, but could go earlier if a team is willing to gamble on their raw power.

The Kentucky Wildcats also possess a potent offense that has been churning out runs by the truckload this season. Juniors Austin Cousino and AJ Reed anchored the offense as freshman, but struggled mightily last year. However the duo has bounced back in a big way. Cousino is slashing .409/.455/.613 and is showing an improved approach at the plate. Reed, who doubles as a power-armed reliever, improved his conditioning over the off season and is reaping the benefits. Reed is currently pacing the country with nine home runs this season. Come June, both Reed and Cousino will be rare commodities with top-three-round-talents and performance to match.

The top arm in a deep high school class is Tyler Kolek, a country strong 6’5” 240 lb. Texan from Shepherd High. Through his first four appearances he has not yielded a hit and has reportedly topped out at 101 MPH. Because his fastball is so overpowering, he doesn’t necessarily need to use his changeup or breaking ball, but he has done a good of incorporating him in his arsenal anyway. He has massive hands which leads many scouts to believe that his change could evolve into a true out-pitch with more polish.

Kolek has been connected to the Marlins early and often this spring, and is probably a good bet to go No. 2 overall, especially given Jeff Hoffman’s recent struggles. In the past the Marlins have a track record of drafting physical pitchers from Texas and Oklahoma, and Kolek certainly fits that bill. In the meantime however, I pity the poor sophomore that has to face Kolek, because he is probably soiling himself in the batter’s box.

No prospect has had more helium this spring than Brady Aiken, a prep lefthander out of the San Diego area. Aiken entered the year with the reputation of a projectable strike-thrower with a hammer curveball, but his velocity has taken a huge leap forward. Early reports have clocked him as high as 97 MPH on the gun. He has also added a cutter to his repertoire, giving him the potential for an arsenal that includes four swing-and-miss offerings. Once considered a factor at the backend of Round No. 1, he has established himself as a likely a top-10 pick.

Mt. Pleasant’s Michael Kopech continues to fly up team’s draft boards and in his most recent start he reportedly hit 98 MPH. Kopech’s delivery is unconventional to say the least, but it does generate a lot of deception and he possesses elite arm speed. The amount of prep arms with premium velocity in this draft class is absurd, but Kopech is beginning to separate himself, along with Aiken, Kokek, and Grant Holmes. In his last outing, Kopech was actually out-dueled by Whitehouse High’s Patrick Mahomes, a legit prospect in his own right, who hurled a no-hitter. Mahomes is top quarterback signee for Texas Tech, and it is not clear whether his future lies on the diamond or on the gridiron. Some team could be tempted by his athleticism and blazing fastball and try to pry him away from football with a seven-figure bonus this June.

Finally, Touki Toussaint of Coral Spring, Fla. continues to improve his stock by flashing better fastball command. With a knock out curve and an electric fastball that has been up to 97 MPH this year, Toussaint may offer the greatest upside of any pitcher in the country. Although he is extremely athletic, he is lacks polish, and it showed last summer in various showcases. Although, it is important to remember that Toussaint, a Haitian native, grew up a soccer player and only began playing baseball his freshman year.

Draft Watch: High-profile matchups

WeaverLukeWhile the weather is still chilly in some regions throughout the country, college baseball will have a postseason feel on Friday night. This is in large part due to two epic pitching matchups that will take place, featuring four of the top five collegiate arms in the country. North Carolina State’s Carlos Rodon will square off against ACC foe Florida State and their ace Luke Weaver. In the SEC, two titans, Vanderbilt and LSU, will battle with their top starters on the bump, right-handers Tyler Beede and Aaron Nola.

Both the Wolfpack and the Seminoles come into their weekend series with records of 14-2, so this will be a huge towards building their resumes for a chance to be national seeds. Southpaw Carlos Rodon stills remains the top prospect in the country, but he needs to start flashing the elite stuff he showed at the end of last season. Rodon is a big-game pitcher and he feeds off adrenaline, so it is possible that this could be his breakout performance for the year. Thus far, his velocity has been a tick or two down and he has not controlled his wipeout slider with as much consistency as last year, and as a result has been far more hittable. This shouldn’t be too concerning, however, since Rodon’s program in the past has been geared towards building up momentum for important games later in the season. It would be comforting however, to see him have a big game against a talented FSU lineup.

Facing Rodon will be Luke Weaver, who, like Rodon, has not dominated as scouts hoped the first four weeks of the season. Although his numbers are respectable — he has logged a 2.25 ERA — he has not missed bats with the same frequency as he did last year. His slider has not been as tight and his fastball command as been off at times, and as a result he has not been able to set up his lights-out changeup. Weaver, despite a few pedestrian performances by his own standards, is drawing rave reviews from scouts and is firmly a first-round talent.

Weaver will face a State lineup that includes shortstop Trea Turner, a potential top-five pick in this June’s draft. Turner’s calling card is his blazing speed and his all-around game is comparable to Jose Reyes, albeit with a lighter bat, at least for now. Keep an eye on Bubby Riley as well, a toolsy outfielder who transferred from Delgado Community College. Riley was taken in the very last round of the 2013 draft, but he is showcasing an impressive power-speed package that should get him drafted much earlier this time around.

In Nashville, Tyler Beede will be taking the ball for the ‘Dores against national powerhouse LSU. Beede’s stock has been soaring so far this season, and he has shown improved command and a more-fluid delivery. Beede has fanned 33 batters in 27 innings of work. He’s a surefire first-round pick with a good shot at the top 10.

Opposing him will be Aaron Nola, a renowned control artist who has issued just two free passes in his first four starts. But because so much is made of Nola’s command, his stuff is often undersold. The LSU right-hander is not just a command-and-feel guy by any means, and in the past has been known to dial his heater up into the low-to-mid-90’s. He also generates swings and misses with his changeup and breaking ball. In fact, Nola’s 36 strikeouts this season are more than Rodon, Weaver, or Beede.

Two potential regional teams, Rice and Florida International, will square off this weekend in Miami. Aramis Garcia, a catcher for FIU, has shot up the charts early this season, due to a torrid start, slashing .431/.519/.769, and showing a defensive skill set that should enable him to stick behind the dish, although he has spent some time at first base, too.

On the West Coast, Michael Conforto has stood out for Oregon State. He is one of the most polished hitters in this class and has both leverage and bat speed that enables him to create impressive power. Conforto has yet to leave the yard this season, but has connected for seven extra-base hits. His 23-6 walk-to-strikeout ratio also bodes well for him. The Beavers will go on the road to take on Utah to kick off Pac-12 regular season play.

Clovis High (CA) Shortstop Jacob Gatewood made headlines last week after launching a home run that was measured to have traveled just under 500 feet. Gatewood has long been known for that prestigious power, but his hit tool is still a pretty big question mark for him. He will have to improve his pitch-recognition skills if he wants to utilize that power. Scouts will be watching him closely this spring, and Gatewood will have two opportunities to showcase his skills this weekend, as his team will play on both Friday and Saturday.

Mt. Pleasant’s Michael Kopech has been turning heads this spring and is quickly rising up draftboards. Kopech has a projectable frame and a lively fastball with heavy life. Last summer he flashed impressive stuff, but struggled to repeat his delivery. Although it still has a lot of moving parts, the delivery seems to be more rhythmic, and his curveball also shows enticing potential with sharp break and good depth.

The Canadian Junior National Team has spent their spring training playing at the beautiful Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida. Outfielder Gareth Morgan is the top prospect on the squad and is one of the best high school prospects to come out of Canada in several years. Morgan has very quick hands that should generate solid pop. Although his swing may need to be toned down a bit in the future, as there is currently a lot of length in it. Morgan will be facing top flight competition, as the Canadian team will be facing local colleges as well as Pittsburgh Pirates’ and Detroit Tigers’ minor league squads. This might be the best look that scouts get at him before the draft, as when he returns to Canada he will be facing inferior competition.

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