Two weekends ago, I had the chance to take in a game between Stanford and Washington. I went on a Sunday, so I got to see the Huskies best prospect, Jeff Brigham, take on the Cardinal and potential first rounder Alex Blandino. Each player has obvious talent, and I jotted down a few notes about both over the course of the game.
Washington’s Jeff Brigham didn’t stand out when I saw him last season, but he looks like a different guy in 2014. He attacks hitters with a fastball that sits 90-93 MPH and features a slight tail. When he wants, he can rear back to 95-96 mph and he even hit 98 once or twice.
Thus far, Brigham has struck out just 26 hitters in 55 innings, which is odd for a pitcher who can light up a radar gun. His numbers suggest that he doesn’t have much with which to attack hitters besides the fastball, and from what I gleaned on Sunday, that appears to be the case.
First, his slider was inconsistent. It didn’t break much, and he really struggled to locate it. For that matter, he didn’t have good command of his fastball either, routinely leaving it up or in the middle of the plate. The right-hander didn’t throw many change ups, and at the moment it’s a forgettable pitch featuring limited tail. He threw strikes, but often they were hittable strikes without much movement or good location. He waited a few innings before amping up the velocity, and until he did, Stanford was able to put good swings against him.
Ultimately, Brigham has a powerful enough arm to warrant a reasonably high draft selection. Some team will gamble that they can teach him a better breaking ball and try to turn him into an impact arm, most likely out of the bullpen. To start, he’ll need to have much better command than he showed when I saw him.
Blandino is one of the better position prospects in a class dominated by high school pitchers. He has a pretty swing — yes, we are allowed to say that about right-handed hitters on occasion — that features a bit of loft, suggesting that he could hit 15-20 home runs a year if everything clicks. He sees the ball well, and did a good job of keeping his head down throughout his swing (something he hasn’t always been able to do). Given that he’s walked more often than he’s struck out this season — and that I didn’t see him chase a pitch outside the zone — it seems safe to say that he has a good understanding of the strike zone.
The one thing that jumped out at me was that, on a day where Brigham struggled to throw anything past Stanford, he got Blandino to swing through two fastballs in the same at-bat, an eventual strikeout. Blandino has a long swing, and while he doesn’t have a slow bat, he does wrap the bat behind his head as he strides, which just gives him one more thing to do before he has a chance to make contact. That could make him susceptible to swings and misses at the next level, particularly against arm-side velocity.
Blandino is projected as a second basemen by some sources, but I saw him play third. He’s well built, at six-feet and 190 pounds, and has more than enough athleticism for either the hot corner or the middle infield. He has a strong arm, and he fielded everything hit to him cleanly. The junior also made the highlight play of the day, taking a step and a dive to his right on a hard grounder, fielding the ball with a enough time to hurry to his feet and dart a throw to first for an impressive putout. It was just one look , but from what I saw, I don’t think he’ll have to slide down the defensive spectrum any time soon.
Add it up, and he’s the kind of player who could start, as long as he can make enough quality contact. Between potential strikeout issues and a fly ball swing, he probably won’t have a high batting average, but if he hits for enough pop and doesn’t expand the zone, he should have enough stick for an infielder. It’s not an impact profile, but Blandino looks like a big leaguer.
Eye-catching Player of the Day: Austin Rei, C
The Huskies catcher isn’t a big pro prospect, but he impressed me with his defense. Rei, a sophomore, sets up quietly behind the plate and is an effective pitch framer, even for a guy like Brigham, who presents challenges with his velocity. He sets an early target, keeps his head calm, and re-positions his glove to catch the pitch with minimal wasted movement. I also liked the way he blocked, particularly his ability to keep pitches in the
dirt turf in front of him. His arm was just ok, but I came away impressed with his other skills behind the dish.
At the plate, I saw him hit his first homer of the season. He’s hitting a good but not great .289/.385/.433 this season with 22 strikeouts and 11 walks in 100 plate appearances. Rei doesn’t have impact tools, but every organization can use a minor league catcher with good defensive chops and a bat that can play at the bottom of the lineup.
The new Husky Ballpark is awesome. It’s best enjoyed on a sunny, calm day — the field’s placement near Lake Washington makes it a miserable location to take in a game when the wind howls, renovation or not — but whenever you go, you’ll see an entirely new yard.
New turf covers almost the entire field, which is an aesthetic improvement over the patchwork half grass-half turf setup the Huskies have used for as long as I can remember. Gone too is the purple warning track, the decrepit green bleachers, and the outhouses behind the third base stands. In there place are new stadium seats, a concourse, comfortable restrooms, and a handful of suites. My only criticism is that the bowl-shaped seating area makes the seats kind of far away from the action, particularly since the school decided to leave tons of room between the plate and the backstop. That complaint aside, the renovation looks great, and provides a much better setting for a baseball game.