Each of the three games that I was able to catch from the five-game tournament offered an intriguing matchup on the mound among the starting pitchers in addition to some exciting arms out of the bullpen for the College of Southern Nevada.
Game One - Joe Robinson vs. Austin Wright
In the first game of the tournament, right-hander Joe Robinson, a projected top pick, started the contest for the Southern Nevada Coyotes, going against left-handed pitcher (and former Aflac All-American) Austin Wright of Chipola Junior College.
Robinson appears to be generously listed at 6-foot-2, with a smallish, modest frame. Reports say his fastball has touched 95 both this year and in the past, but he didn’t eclipse 92 on this day, working mostly in the 89-91 range. He showed a very simple, no-nonsense delivery with no wasted movement, and showed good command of his fastball. When he missed, he missed low, which is always a good sign.
He struggled with the consistency of his secondary stuff that led to some long innings. Robinson did flash both a nice slider and changeup, snapping off a few nice breaking balls in the fifth inning, and he opened the second inning with a strikeout courtesy of a fading change that got hulking Chipola outfielder Joey Rapp fishing.
I wasn’t the only person in attendance who was surprised to see Robinson continue to pitch after landing awkwardly on the first base bag as he attempted to cover on an infield single by Chipola third baseman Michael Revell to open the sixth. It appeared as though he either twisted his ankle or tweaked his foot, and after he was given the opportunity to throw a few pitches from the mound it seemed clear that he was not comfortable. However, he was allowed to continue to pitch, which led to two hit batters and a walk before he was removed, leading to three earned runs before the inning finally came to an end.
Even before the sixth, on a day that started in the mid-60s but dipped to a cool, dry 50 degree evening after the sun went down (which seemed to not only affect the pitchers’ velocities, but also the tempo of the game), I got the sense that I didn’t see Robinson at his best.
After left-handed reliever Taylor Larsen (who threw in the 86-87 range) loaded the bases in the seventh without recording an out, CSN coach Tim Chambers turned to fire-balling righty Tyler Hanks. Hanks, like Robinson, appears to be generously listed at 6-foot-2 with a stature similar to big-leaguers Scott Kazmir and Billy Wagner. The first pitch Hanks threw, a 92 mph fastball, induced a double play. He froze the next batter on a nasty 84 mph slider to get out of the inning with only one run crossing the plate.
Hanks is intense, and seems to have been born for short relief. His fiery temperament was clearly visible from the stands, and his fastball sat in the 92-94 range and touched 96. He struggles to repeat his delivery and his fastball appears to be as straight as an arrow. While he has the velocity to get away with mistakes, he will need to make his slider more consistent to keep batters at the next level from teeing off on his heat.
The College of Southern Nevada pitchers seemed to have a knack for getting out of jams, at least on this day. After Hanks was allowed to start the ninth inning, and the first two batters reached, Coach Chambers turned to closer Aaron Kurcz to shut things down.
Chambers talked about Kurcz in my conversation with him the week before, and his assessment couldn’t have been more accurate. I’m not sure how he is listed at 6-feet and 175 pounds, but when he started his warm-up pitches you got to see just how loose his delivery is. There appears to be no stress on his arm, as he threw the easiest 93 that I have ever seen. Once he set batters up by getting ahead with his fastball, he put them away with a hard 76-77 slurve.
There were a few players I saw from this weekend that I think will be drafted higher than where they were initially projected to open the season, but none more so than Kurcz. He may not have the ideal size, but his arm, and stuff, works.
I remember being impressed with Austin Wright’s stature after the 2007 Aflac All-American Classic. He still offers a very physical, intimidating presence on the mound, and matches that with an equally fearless, aggressive approach.
His fastball sat in the low-90s, hitting 93 once on the high end and dipping below 90 only once on the low end at 89. Similar to Robinson, he has the potential for a solid repertoire, but the consistency just isn’t there for both of his breaking balls and his changeup. He throws both a curve and a slider, and normally for such a player I would suggest that he should ditch one to hone the other, but both have the potential to be plus pitches.
Unlike Robinson, Wright struggled to command his fastball, and when he missed he frequently missed upstairs. His control came and went, and like any pitcher he got into trouble when he was forced to throw his fastball down the pipe. His stuff is good enough to get away with some mistakes, and he can be effectively wild.
There is some effort to his delivery, and he essentially is the same pitcher I saw nearly three years ago, but a big lefty that sits in the low-90s will be given plenty of looks between now and the June draft.
Game Two - Bryan Harper vs. Rodney Quintero
Lefty Bryan Harper (CSN) took the mound opposite righty Rodney Quintero (Chipola) for the first game on Friday.
Bryan Harper is Bryce’s older brother, who many felt came to the College of Southern Nevada to help make the transition easier for the younger Harper. While that played a part in the decision for Bryan to transfer, he has lofty professional aspirations of his own.
A difficult freshman year at Cal State Northridge last year had Bryan looking for a favorable situation for him to improve his own talents and overall draft position. While he doesn’t have the natural talents of his younger brother, he does have promise at the next level.
At 6-foot-5 he has good size for a left-handed pitcher, with a lanky stature and plenty of room for added strength. His first pitch was clocked at 90 mph, and he sat comfortably in the 87-89 range during his six innings of work.
It took a while for him to sharpen his breaking ball, which ebbed between a curve and a slider early in the game. As he found his groove he started to drop in some really nice breaking balls that were closer to a curve in the middle innings, although he did freeze Chipola slugger Michael Revell on what appeared to be more of a true slider to get of of a jam in the first.
His stuff was good enough, recording eight punchouts, allowing only two hits and one unearned run. He was rarely hit hard, and the only negative on his game were the six walks he issued.
Quintero was one of the more pleasant surprises from the tournament. I had seen his stats prior to game play and was happy to see that his stuff matched his early success.
He started the game throwing 88-89, but was up to 92 before the first inning was over. Once he had a chance to warm up, he was throwing more consistently in the 92-93 range.
His secondary stuff never seemed to come together for him. He eventually seemed to tire, as hitters knew to identify and wait for his fastball, including one that CSN left fielder Marvin Campbell blasted over the wall in left-centerfield in the bottom of the fourth inning. Quintero appeared to throw a slider that lacked bite thrown at 77-78, and while he did snap off a couple of good, low-70s curveballs, the pitch wasn’t thrown consistently well. At least not on this day.
Possibly his most impressive attribute was his fearless approach. He challenged hitters with his fastball, and stepped up twice to strike out Bryce Harper swinging on high heat, both times with the count full.
He has a stocky strong frame, and frequently changed his arm angle from a high three-quarters slot to nearly side-arm to give hitters different looks. Once he is part of a professional organization I see his delivery settling in to the low-three-quarters area, and he may be better off in relief given the lack of a polished repertoire.
And if he is given the chance to relieve, I could see him throwing harder in shorter stints, and his aggressive nature would serve him well in such a role.
Game Three - Donn Roach vs. Ray Hansen
Joe Robinson may have entered the game as the higher-ranked prospect, but I was more anxious to see fellow right-handed starting mate Donn Roach pitch coming into the tournament. Coach Chambers had told me the week prior that his stuff had enjoyed a jump in velocity after regressing his first year in college.
“Arizona wasn’t the place for me. I love Vegas, I love being at home,” Roach said about his experience at the University of Arizona during his freshman year. “I slacked off a little in the weight room doing my conditioning stuff. I changed my arm angle a little bit which didn’t help with the velo. I wasn’t really having a good time out there so it just all added up to a bad year.”
Coach Chambers and his staff knew Roach well enough from his days at national powerhouse Bishop Gorman High School in neighboring Las Vegas. They were aware of the change to his delivery and felt they could get him back where he used to be, if not better.
“I brought some videos I had from high school and we looked at those,” Roach continued about his decision to return closer to home. “We looked at my arm angle and we looked at my mechanics, and got it back to where it was in high school. (With the change to his delivery) I’ve been 90, 94 and touched 96.”
His arm angle isn’t the only thing that the CSN coaching staff has tried to change.
“I’m just working my butt off. I’ve been working with a physical therapist that works with some big leaguers that (Coach) Chambers actually told me about, so I’ve been going there and it’s helped a lot.”
And apparently he wasn’t worried about the temptations of Las Vegas getting the best of him. “I’ve lived here my whole life. When you live here you may go to the strip once every couple of months, maybe, so it hasn’t been a big problem for me. I know it can be a big problem for some people.”
That type of character serves Roach both on the playing field and off, as even his coach quickly identified him as one of his team’s more vocal and charismatic leaders.
“I just like to talk it up when I’m in the dugout,” Roach said of his persona. “(I try to) get guys going, make sure the bench is up on days I’m not pitching. I like to make people laugh. I think it makes the game better and gets everyone up and going, cheering and rooting for our guys on the field.”
With his newfound power arsenal, his approach is rather simple: “Throw strikes. Go right at people and challenge them. I like to compete.”
Unfortunately that approach may have worked against him during the game he started, the third overall of the tournament.
This was the first game of the weekend in which aluminum bats were used, and instantly there was a change in not only how hard the ball was being hit, but also the overall tempo of the game. In the previous two games, only a handful of balls made it past the infield, and in this contest the Cypress hitters came out swinging.
The first several balls were hit, albeit hardly, right at the CSN infielders. They too didn’t look ready for the speed and decreased reaction time necessary to field balls that otherwise should have been routine. A few balls bounced off the ends of gloves, as things got ugly in a hurry for Roach.
However, only five of the 11 runs that Roach allowed in his 3.2 innings of work were earned, as his defense behind him committed five errors during his time on the mound, which also made him work that much harder to record the outs he did.
The first pitch he threw was a 92 mph fastball. He followed that ith a 93 mph heater, and was up to 94. His repertoire also includes a curveball, a split-fingered fastball and a cut fastball. I didn’t get a look at his cutter, but his curve was a hard downer thrown 74-77 mph, and he saved his first split for the second inning to get out of one of many early jams. The bottom fell out on the pitch at 82, and I was surprised that he didn’t throw more of them given how effective it appeared to be. That may have been by design given the reported wear throwing a split-fingered fastball can have on one’s arm.
While his final line wasn’t the prettiest, it was clear that there are bigger and better things to come.
Cypress’ Ray Hansen was coming off of an extraordinary game over Merced College the weekend before in which he struck out 11 and didn’t walk a single batter in 6.2 innings of work. He worked in the 88-90 range in this game and touched 91 on a few occasions. He mixed in a big, very slow curveball that was clocked as low as 69 mph.
His stuff belies his stature, as he resembles a power forward at 6-foot-7 and 235 pounds. In this game, he struck out seven and walked only one over six frames, giving up only one run. He does a nice job controlling the strike zone, keeping hitters off balance with a steady dose of fastballs away before snapping off his curve. I could see him succeeding in the lower levels of the minor leagues, but unless he manages to find a way to add a few ticks to his fastball, not to mention his overall repertoire, I’m not so sure how long he will get away with just average stuff.
I was not present for the games on Saturday to catch Chipola’s Jake Eliopoulos and Brian Ellington, or the College of Southern Nevada’s Kenny McDowall.
Reports had Eliopoulos’ fastball sitting in the 88-90 range, and he had difficulty getting his curve over for strikes as he was roughed up for eight earned runs in only 2.1 innings of work.
Command was really his worst enemy in the game, walking five in such a short appearance. His ERA and overall stats going into the game were solid (2.93 ERA, 13-to-2 strikeout to walk ratio in 9.2 innings), and while he hasn’t been hit that bad, with a .220 opponent’s batting average, when he has he’s been hit hard. Six of the 11 hits he has allowed so far this year have gone for extra bases, including a two-out, two-run triple in the first inning of this game.
I’ve seen him better, and the best part about him is his projectability. He’s listed at 6-foot-3, 165 pounds, and after standing next to him that seems to be right on. It’s easy to see how much better he could become once he adds pounds and strength to his tall, razor-thin frame.
The thoughts and opinions listed here do not necessarily reflect those of Perfect Game USA. Patrick Ebert is affiliated with both Perfect Game USA and Brewerfan.net, and can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.