The first weekend of the 2019 NCAA baseball season is in the books, and the two of us were out in Georgia and an uncharacteristically chilly Arizona to see players. Presented here is the first of what will be a periodic collection of notes from games we’ve seen, as well as some things we’ve learned over the phone. We plan on updating our draft rankings in a week, after we have two weeks of college games under our belts; many of the players whose stock has changed are noted below.
An Update on College Pitching
In last week’s pre-season draft ranking update, we maligned the depth of the college pitching in this year’s draft. While the first weekend wasn’t universally sunny for college hurlers (more on that below), there were some strong performances. The game most heavily-attended by scouts in Arizona was Stanford left-hander Erik Miller’s start on Sunday (5IP, 4H, 2BB, 9K). Miller was consistently in the mid-90s last summer on Cape Cod, but was walk-prone. Sunday, his fastball was 89-92 for the meat of his start, but he threw strikes and was reaching back for 93-95 when he wanted it, even in his final few innings. His vertical arm slot (if you were to imagine a clock face, Miller’s arm swings through the 1 o’clock position) generates efficient backspin direction on the baseball and also creates tough plane for hitters both at the top and bottom of the strike zone, and he can get outs simply by varying the vertical location of his heater.
Miller’s changeup is his best secondary. When trying to fade it away from right-handed hitters, it was fairly easy to identify out of his hand, but beneath the strike zone it was often plus. At 82-86 mph, it was just bottoming out beneath hitters’ barrels and into the dirt, garnering several ugly swings. The better of his two breaking balls is a firm, mid-80s cut-action slider. It doesn’t have the vertical depth typical of a bat-missing slider (again, if you imagine a clock face, his slider moves from the 2 to the 8), but Miller uses it in a variety of creative ways (for early-count strikes, back door vs. righties, away from lefties) and it’s consistently average, flashing above. His loopy, 80 mph curveball gives hitters a different look, and is best deployed as a first-pitch surprise to get ahead of hitters looking to cheat on his fastball.
As a quick comparison, Stanford lefty Kris Bubic was drafted 40th overall last year as a changeup-heavy lefty, and Miller is much better than Bubic was when Eric saw him last year. With a future plus change, above-average slider, and average everything else, Miller is off to a start befitting a first rounder.
Scouts indicated to us that Texas Christian LHP Nick Lodolo was throwing harder in the fall, and he was mostly 92-94 on Friday after sitting 88-92 in each of Eric’s looks last year. The fastball didn’t miss many bats, though, and while Lodolo held Cal State Fullerton in check for five innings, he only struck out two. His slurvy, upper-70s breaking ball was often plus and he has great feel for dotting it on the edge of the plate; otherwise his usage was fairly limited. He threw just two, maybe three changeups and all were below-average. Lodolo has a well-made frame similar to Tyler Glasnow’s. His delivery is very smooth, there’s a lot to like, and the lefty velo and spin combo is enticing, but there is more pitch development necessary here than is typical for a college arm.
Meanwhile, TCU lefty Brandon Williamson seems to have made the right decision by not signing as a 36th round junior college draftee last year. He struck out seven Vanderbilt hitters in 3.2 innings on Sunday, and utilized four good pitches to do so. He was up to 93 but mostly sat 89-90, and commanded all of his secondary stuff. It took him a while to get feel for his changeup but once he did, it was great, and Williamson sometimes threw it three times in a row without diminished effectiveness. It was 84-86 mph and had surprising tail given Williamson’s vertical arm slot. He has advanced command of an average, low-80s slider, gave hitters a different look with a slower curveball a few times, and threw any pitch in any count. He executed several unpredictable sequences, and fought back with secondary stuff a few times when he had fallen behind hitters. We don’t yet know if he can retain this kind of stuff deep into games, but what he showed Sunday was better than some of last year’s third round pitchability college arms.
West Virginia righty Alek Manoah started the season ranked 44th on our latest rankings but will be higher in the re-rank next week after a loud season debut vs. Kennesaw State. The report on Manoah coming into this game was that he didn’t have the starter traits needed to comfortably see him turning a lineup over multiple times, but flashed two plus pitches in his mid-90s heater and slider. There was also some thought that he may need to watch his weight. His body composition was strong and likely contributed to improved feel to go along with the same high octane stuff: he sat 95-97 mph and located a 65-grade slider, occasionally mixing in an average changeup over the first few innings.
Manoah still had some reliever tendencies but they didn’t seem like long-term issues. Kennesaw State couldn’t hit 94-97 mph up in the zone, so Manoah just kept throwing it there and getting results. In pro ball, he’ll need to mix it up more, but you can’t blame him for taking the shortest path to 13 K’s over 6 innings. He held his stuff, sitting 93-96 just before he exited the game, and while his fastball was more of a blunt instrument, he showed good feel for locating his slider for a strike on his arm side and burying it as a chase pitch to his glove side. His control was average to slightly above and you can project the command to average if you believe he can be more precise with his fastball when he needs to be. When Manoah got in trouble a couple times, he kept his composure and worked his way out of it. Chatting with scouts and comparing this new version of Manoah to other players we just ranked, it seems like he’ll move into the 20’s along with rising, massive college arms like Jackson Rutledge and Miller.
Ball State RHP Drey Jameson didn’t allow a single hit over six innings against Stanford on opening night. He was up to 97, flashed a plus breaking ball, and threw a few good changeups in the 88-90mph range, including one that struck out possible first round outfielder Kyle Stowers. Jameson is wiry and a little undersized, but is very athletic, has feel for locating the breaking ball, and his delivery is pretty deceptive. He could go in the first round next year.
Jameson was opposed by Stanford right-hander Brendan Beck, who arguably out-pitched Jameson with lesser stuff. Beck was a two-way player in high school and his velocity was in the mid-80s as a prep senior and during his freshman year at Stanford. It’s not 88-90, but he hides the ball well and has plus command of a late-breaking curveball. Some other arms to watch for 2020 are Cal State Fullerton righty Tanner Bibee (90-92, some above-average curveballs, unleashed a diving split change late in his start, threw a ton of strikes) Vanderbilt lefty Hugh Fisher (94-97 with cut action, some plus sliders), and Virginia righty Griff McGarry (was wild but 92-93, good arm action, flashed plus curveball, change, average slider).
We had first round grades on right-handers Kumar Rocker and Mike Vasil when they were draft-eligible high schoolers last year. Vasil ended up at Virginia, Rocker at Vanderbilt. They each had rocky first collegiate starts. Vasil pitched pretty well but his velocity is down. He was 88-92 with feel for locating several fringe secondaries. Rocker’s first bolt was 97, then he settled into the 93-95 range for the rest of the first inning, but got hit around. His breaking ball was also well-struck several times and his upper-80s changeup was well-below average. It’s too early to be down on either of them; this is just a snapshot of where each of their stuff is right now.
On the Phone
Arizona St. righty Alec Marsh was up to 94 and threw four pitches for strikes on Friday. Gonzaga righty Casey Legumina has had a velocity spike. He used to sit 88-90 but was up to 97 over the weekend. Baylor catcher Shea Langliers is 11th on THE BOARD, but will be out for weeks with an injury that usually impacts power for a season or more, which is a hole in Langliers’ profile currently. Our 10th 2019 draft prospect, Duke lefty Graeme Stinson, was 89-93 in his season debut, down a good bit from his best relief outings when he’s be into the upper-90s. Stinson is moving to the rotation this year and maintaining his stuff over longer outings and showing more starter traits is key, so this is a down first note on the season.
On the other hand, our 58th-ranked prospect, Elon righty George Kirby, had lots of preseason late first round buzz and will now move into that range when we update our rankings next week. This week, he was up to 96, showing three above average-to-plus pitches and starter traits. Fresno State righty Ryan Jensen (who just missed the Top 100) threw a solid five innings on Saturday and is on scouts’ radar after hitting 99 mph in the fall with plus sink; the velo was still there, with him sitting 96-98 mph in his first inning. 2020 draft-eligible LSU freshman righty Cole Henry was 94-97 mph in his college debut.
On the prep side, there’s been a lot of velo in Florida lately. Our 27th prospect, righty Matthew Allan, was 93-97 and flashed a plus breaking ball Monday night; one scout said he was in the top half of the first round for him now. Our 49th-ranked prospect, lefty Hunter Barco, was 90-95 with an above average breaker and changeup, throwing from a higher arm slot (a concern scouts had over the summer) that delivered a tighter slider. Further down the list, our 93rd-ranked prospect, righty Joseph Charles, was 92-95 mph with a plus-flashing curveball in his first start last week, which helps his profile as a prep righty who’s 19.2 years old on draft day. Lastly, prep righties with velo in Texas are like death and taxes, and Houston-area righty J.J. Goss (57th in the 2019 rankings) has been 93-95 mph with a plus slider in his early starts, including on Saturday against our 36th-ranked 2020 draft prospect, catcher Drew Romo.