College : : Story
Saturday, February 24, 2018

Arms carry Gators to series win

Vincent Cervino        
Photo: Tim Casey

Singer, Gators bite backPerfect Game College Player Database

During the season Perfect Game scouts will be traveling to some of the top series to watch the very best players in college baseball. Those observations, captured with both written notes and video, will be shared in the College Player Database as linked above, notes that can also be accessed on the players' individual PG profile pages. Throughout the season select reports will be shared in feature format to promote the players, the teams and college baseball as a whole.

Jackson Kowar, RHP, Florida

With back-to-back performances from potential first rounders, the Florida Gators have an embarassment of riches when it comes to talented arms, and on Saturday it was Jackson Kowar's turn to throw against the Miami Hurricanes. The results were clearly positive, the Gators went on to win 8-2 after Kowar's strong five-inning stint, however, there were both positive and negative takeaways from the North Carolina native's performance. 

It's not often where you can project a lot physically onto a college prospect but Kowar might be an exception as he is extremely lanky at 6-foot-6, 185-pounds with extremely long limbs which aid him in garnering plus extension down the hill. The righthander has tons of room for strength to be added and it's scary to think that the velocity could continue to climb. The fastball is the pitch Kowar went to most often, and the velocity and life on the pitch really stood out all evening. His heater worked mostly in the 93-95 mph range, with no fastballs registering below 93 all night. Kowar bumped a few 96's and one 97 in the third inning and could ramp it up with a bit more violence to the release when needed. 

Kowar's extended arm slot and ability to get on top of the fastball were both exceptional and created really heavy sinking life on the fastball with downward tilt. This worked best in the lower part of the strike zone and when he was commanding into the lower third it became impossible to lift the pitch into the air. Kowar didn't miss a lot of bats on Saturday, only three strikeouts and 10 total swings and misses, but he relied instead on weak ground balls and pop outs. 

The changeup is the pitch Kowar is perhaps most well known for and it was the best weapon in his arsenal all night. It worked in the 82-85 mph range with tremendous sinking action and fell off the table to the arm side. Kowar's confidence in the pitch was very evident as he would mix it in against righthanders often and would attack lefties primarily with the changeup. It graded out as plus for the evening and it's not hard to project more from the pitch. 

The slider was a bit of a mixed bag from Kowar as there was sharpness and shape to it both early and late in the game and he would get around it somewhat during the middle innings. At it's best the pitch was up to 79 mph with two-plane action and could be thrown for strikes.The pitch showed better sharpness later on in the game when he was able to rack up a couple swings-and-misses on it and it's not unreasonable to project the pitch as average. 

The command is where the concerns came from on Saturday as Kowar walked three batters, hit two more and had approximately eight three-ball counts. The fastball command, in particular, was not very great at times as it looked that Kowar had more confidence in throwing the changeup or breaking ball for strikes. 

Overall, it was a great reminder that Kowar is absolutely one of the 10 best prospects in this year's draft class as the stuff and arsenal are exceptional. The breaking ball and command will be two questions going forward, but it's hard to look at the package and see anything other than a guy who gets drafted in the top half of the first round, possibly along with the Gators' Friday starter Brady Singer.

Jack Leftwich, RHP, Florida

The embarrassment of riches for the Florida Gators continue to show as coach Kevin O'Sullivan reaps the benefits of freshmen arms once again. On Saturday for the Gators it was electric righthanded pitcher Jack Leftwich who came on to close out the final three innings by allowing zero baserunners and striking out six batters on only 32 pitches. 

Leftwich came on in relief of Jackson Kowar and immediately started in attack mode against Miami. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Florida native is a physical, long-armed righthander with an up-tempo delivery. The arm speed is notable as it allows him to be on time and get downhill even with a bit of a longer arm action with a slight hook in the back. Regardless, Leftwich gets downhill and goes right after hitters, primarily with his fastball. 

The fastball worked up to 97 mph and was routinely in the 92-95 range flashing some sink when working low in the zone. Explosive is a good word to describe the pitch as it came roaring out of the hand with lots of angle from a tough arm slot that is extremely difficult on righthanded hitters. Leftwich's delivery features him turning his back toward the hitter at the start of the windup which allows him to hide the ball longer and helps his stuff play up. He was very timed up in that regard too and had zero issues throwing strikes. 

Leftwich's slider was his primary secondary pitch and showed average consistently while even flashing above average at times. The pitch worked mostly 79-81 mph with late bite and what made the pitch extremely difficult was how well he tunneled it with his fastball. The arm slot was very similar to the fastball which gave it the look of a heater out of the hand and then immediately buckled hitters. He got a couple of tough swings through the pitch and had no issues front-dooring righthanders with the pitch for strikes. 

The righthander also flashed a changeup that projects nicely. He only threw it a couple of times, but it worked in the 84-86 mph range with significant arm-side fade. Leftwich does slow ever so slightly in terms of arm speed, but the pitch has the makings of a solid one and could be projected as average. 

Overall, Leftwich got a significant number of swings and misses. Whether it was the deception of the delivery or simply the overpowering of the stuff, Leftwich was doing nothing but missing barrels all night long and would likely already be in the weekend rotation on any other pitching staff in the nation. And, he's just one of several impressive freshmen players already making an impact with the team, a group that includes Tommy Mace, Hunter McMillan and Brady McConnell.

Greg Veliz, RHP, Miami

Sophomore righthander Gregory Veliz proved throughout his freshman year at Miami, and during high school as well, that he has an electric arsenal on the hill. The issues for Veliz on the mound come in the form of command and controlling his pitches in order to throw enough strikes which he struggled with at times, along with not receiving a ton of defensive support early in the game, during Saturday's start against the Florida Gators. 

Veliz' stuff is pretty electric. For the first few innings he worked in the 90-93 mph range while bumping 94 mph in the first and showed good, late life to the fastball when working to the arm side. The slider too flashed plus at times with hard, biting break in the 84-86 mph range that could fool righthanded hitters badly as it came out of the hand looking like a fastball. The consistency of the slider wasn't quite there, however it certainly showed its potential at times. Veliz also mixed in a slurve-type tweener pitch at 80 mph that could've also been a slip in his slider grip. 

Veliz' first inning didn't go great as three unearned runs came across the plate to score following an early error in the infield. The command issues popped up right away as during that first inning Veliz walked two batters and hit another. The arm action is longer through the back and offline so those are good indicators to some of the causes of the command in addition to some effort through release on his pitches.

The control is the one concern about projecting Veliz as a starter, but the stuff profiles well in the back end of the bullpen with two potential plus pitches in his arsenal with the fastball and slider. Veliz' velocity dipped after about the third inning where he was 88-91 mph after that.

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