College : : Story
Saturday, March 03, 2018

Arms stand out in Houston

Brian Sakowski        
Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

Weekend PreviewPerfect 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.

Konnor Pilkington, LHP, Mississippi State

Pilkington has been lauded as the 2018 draft classes' "safe college lefty" for over a year now, as the Mississippi State southpaw has long combined a fair amount of stuff with a high level of command and pitchability. His stuff has seemingly taken a step forward, and while it's tough to project much on him given his rather physically maxed-out build, the stuff is plenty good at present and he may end up a first round draft choice. 

He was, simply put, sensational on Friday night vs. Louisiana-Lafayette at the Shriners College Classic in Houston, going seven innings on 93 pitches, scattering three hits and one walk to account for his only one run allowed, while racking up an incredible 13 strikeouts. He was in complete command the entire night, putting his fastball and curveball wherever he wanted them while also demonstrating excellent changeup feel. 

Pilkington is the total opposite of a Nick Lee, who he started against on Friday, or Sean Hjelle in terms of projection. He's a thicker, very physical and strong, pretty maxed out lefthander who pitches with an average fastball. He repeats his delivery very well, and while it's a little high maintenance, there's no real mechanical red flags to be overly concerned about. He is a bit of a closed strider but is very strong through his torso and is flexible enough to get over his front side consistently, and again, repeat that delivery with no issues (repeatability in a pitcher's delivery is vital to projecting command). The arm action is mostly clean, and while the back elbow creeps up a bit, it stops short of reaching shoulder height and transitions into a clean spiral, working up an extended three-quarters slot release, creating both plane and angle to the plate. 

He worked 90-93 mph with his fastball early on, before settling into the 89-91 range for the duration of his outing, putting that fastball wherever he wanted it in any count. The angle and plane he creates, in conjunction with the fastball command, allow for the fastball to play up about a half grade in terms of effectiveness past the raw velocity grade, which is average. The curveball was dynamic, thrown in the mid- to upper-70s with excellent tunneling out of his hand, very tight spin and hammer depth on a 1-to-7 shape. The pitch showed plus quite frequently, and continues to project as such long-term given the qualities listed above, as well as the command he had of the offering. He threw a changeup as well, mostly breaking it out early in the game and then kind of moving away from it as he realized he could get any hitter out on the fastball/curveball combination, but it, too, was very good. Thrown in the low-80s, the pitch plays very well off his fastball and is a weapon against righthanded hitters with late fade and excellent deception, and has the makings of another above average pitch. 

The questions in terms of the draft are pretty minor, given that Pilkington is further along in his development and closer to a finished product than most draft-eligible arms. He's unlikely to gain much in the way of velocity, especially once he has to pitch every fifth day instead of every seventh, but the combination of stuff, polish, command and performance history make him a potential first rounder in June, though it's more fitting to slot him into the 1s-3 round range.

Cole Gordon, RHP, Mississippi State

A 6-foot-5, 240-pound righthander, Cole Gordon is a converted infielder who just took to pitching last year for Mississippi State, and ended up throwing over 55 innings in a swing role. This year he looks like he'll be a key component out of the bullpen, and was very good on Friday night, earning the win by throwing two perfect frames in relief of Pilkington, racking up four strikeouts in the process. 

Primarily a fastball pitcher, Gordon touched 93 mph early in his first inning, before settling in at 88-91. There's some deception in his delivery as he gets a little topsy-turvy making his way downhill, but it's timed up well and he threw mostly strikes. He creates good plane to the plate from a high three-quarters slot, and powers downhill while hiding the ball well. The deception aids in the effectiveness of his fastball, which really seemed to jump at hitters. 

Mississippi State is a little light in their bullpen in the early stages of 2018 due to injury, and as such, having a veteran – granted a relatively new to pitching veteran – step up in the back end as Gordon did will be absolutely huge for them moving forward.

Nick Lee, RHP, Louisiana

Nick Lee started the nightcap for Louisiana-Lafayette and really woke all of the scouts up in the top of the first, though the rest of the stadium – filled with Mississippi State and ULL fans – certainly didn't need waking up. Lee, like his counterpart Konnor Pilkington, was excellent on Friday night, though their respective excellence led to a no-decision as neither offense could really find much footing. Lee worked 5 2/3 innings, allowing one run (unearned) on four hits and three walks while racking up seven strikeouts in the process. 

He's a long, lean prospect with good physical projection remaining on his 6-foot-5, 190-pound frame, and one could easily see him continue to add strength as he matures. He was more inconsistent than his starting counterpart in Pilkington, but the stuff was arguably just as dynamic, if not more so, when he was going right. The delivery is pretty standard, with a short rocker step back into a slight hip turn at balance point, driving off his backside well and uncoiling with authority, rotating his hips well and getting online to the plate. The arm action has some length to it, circling back into a soft stab and being pretty flat at foot strike, so there are some timing concerns there but nothing major. He gets up to a three-quarters slot with good angle at release and there's a good bit of extension there as well. 

The fastball came out blazing, working 93-96 mph in the first inning before settling into the 90-92 range for the duration, though he did demonstrate the ability to reach back for 94-95 mph again later on when he wanted to ramp up for one pitch at a time. It has some life to it, and while the overall command was below average, he does show the ability to work it to both sides while ramping it up above the letters as well. 

The curveball and changeup both flashed plus, but the key word there is flashed, as neither of them were as consistent pitch-to-pitch – similar to his fastball command – as one would like to see when evaluating an arm of his caliber. The curveball is thrown in the low-80s, reaching 84 when he really let it rip, and again, though there were inconsistencies in terms of repeating and commanding, the pitch has hammer potential and it showed frequently. He did a good job showing the ability to both freeze hitters by landing it in the strike zone, as well as bury it down and out of the zone, with 11-to-5 shape and extremely sharp, late break. The changeup, which was more consistent, also showed potential as a plus offering. Thrown in the low- to mid-80s, he had no problem starting at-bats with it, and was even so convicted in the pitch that he would double and triple up on it. It's very cleanly released out of the hand, with big-time deception and action at the plate, and was a dynamic, double-digit swing-and-miss pitch, especially when commanded down in the zone. 

The inconsistencies are noted, but at the same time Lee is a projectable righthander who flashes three plus pitches and shows the potential for average command. He'll be watched, potentially closer than most as we inch towards the draft, to see if that consistency comes around a bit more. If it does, he could potentially go extremely high in the draft this year.

Sean Hjelle, RHP, Kentucky

Ranked No. 31 in the most recent MLB Draft rankings, Kentucky's ace Sean Hjelle delivered another very good performance on Friday evening in Houston. The extremely tall (6-foor-11) and extremely slender righthander delivered a victory for the Wildcats, though the 14 runs UK's offense scored against the University of Houston may have had something to do with that as well.

Hjelle worked six innings, allowing two runs (one was earned) on six hits and one walk while punching out a pair of Houston hitters. As has been talked about ad nauseam, Hjelle is extremely long-limbed and lanky. He weighs in at 225, but when stretched out over a neatly 7-foot frame, that 225 disappears quickly and as such, Hjelle is still quite skinny. There is projection there for him to add weight, though he's not especially broad-shouldered or wide-hipped, so the projection may not be as much as one would think given his present build. 

He does a fantastic job of controlling his body and repeating his delivery, a task that cannot be understated in it's difficulty considering just how much body he has to control. Oftentimes scouts will see a pitcher who is 6-foot-6 and ask if he can be trusted to control his body and repeat his delivery given that amount of length. Hjelle has 4-5 more inches than that and does very well. 

His delivery is very low effort and easy, with a small rocker step back and driving off from the first base side of the rubber, taking a long stride downhill and landing ever-so-slightly closed off, but his torso flexibility allows him to consistently get over his front side with no problems. The arm stroke is likewise pretty clean and easy. It has some length to it but it's free and loose, getting up on time at foot strike, and consistently showing big time extension out front at release from a semi-high three quarters slot. 

His fastball sat 91-94 mph early, settling into the 90-92 mph range for the majority of his outing, which totaled 93 pitches. He demonstrated very good ability to work the ball to both sides of the plate while also generating the expected steep plane given his height. There is good life to the fastball, with average arm side run for the most part, though he will flash plus life, especially when down in the zone. There are some concerns about projecting Hjelle's fastball into the plus range in pro ball once he has to throw every five days vs. every seven, but the physical projection he has remaining, his arm speed, and the easy of his arm action give this evaluator enough reason to give the fastball a future 60. 

His primary off-speed pitch is the curveball, thrown in the low-80s with 11-to-5 shape and very good depth. It was pretty consistently a 50-55 offering on the 20-80 scale, a pitch that with a bit more consistency could become a second plus pitch for him in time. He froze a few hitters with it in the zone and was comfortable starting at-bats with the pitch, and also showed the ability to bury it. He showed a changeup a few times, but couldn't quite get fully comfortable with it, thrown firmly in the 86-87 mph range with some fade. Though he didn't have his best changeup on this day, there's enough there to project it to average. 

So if one were to buy the projection of two plus pitches with a third average pitch and good command, that certainly speaks to a first round draft choice, and potentially a high one. The concerns from this outing are really quite simple: despite having all of those positives workings for him, Hjelle hardly missed any bats. Of getting quick outs and working ahead and keeping a pitch count low and going deep in games are positive traits, but whenever a potential first round pick with big-time stuff struggles to miss bats in a college game, that's going to be a bit of a nagging concern. Although he did have 13 punchouts in his first game of the year.

Alec Maley, RHP, Kentucky

A Junior College transfer from Howard College a couple of years ago, Alec Maley has found himself among head coach Nick Mingione's most trusted bullpen arms as a senior after battling some command problems for the majority of his career. 

In a 14-2 game over Houston at the Shriners College Classic, Houston loaded the bases with one out in the seventh inning (which, in this tournament, can be the end of the game if either team is up by 10 or more runs). Kentucky went to Maley out of the bullpen and he delivered, getting Houston slugger Joe Davis to pop out weakly and then getting a strikeout to end the game. 

Maley is a reliever all the way, with a max effort delivery and there's some concern with his arm action, which is highlighted by a severely offline hook through the back, but the raw stuff is good and the sidearm slot gives righthanded hitters fits. He worked 90-93 from that sidearm slot, with good arm-side life, and the pitch was explosive up in the zone. He has a frisbee slider he throws in the mid-70s that, while not even average in this look, serves as a very good change-of-pace option for him, especially if he commands it as he did this evening. He's likely best suited for right-on-right matchups, which is where he can be especially effective given his stuff and slot. 

Trey Cumbie, LHP, Houston

Fitting the mold of the pitchability lefty, Houston's Trey Cumbie got roughed up a bit by Kentucky in this start at the Shriners College Classic, though there are certainly some things to like in Cumbie's overall profile, and he's got a good shot to be a Day 2 draft selection in June. 

Cumbie is an average sized, average built lefthanded pitcher with a good amount of pitchability and a fair amount of stuff, and he's done well in his Houston career thus far. Working from the third base side of the rubber, Cumbie takes a rocker step back and turns his back a bit into his delivery, hiding the ball very well, and then rotating well and landing online to the plate for the most part. At footstrike, the ball is pretty much right behind Cumbie's head as he comes out of his elbow spiral, and that aids in deception to the hitter given how well the ball is hidden. He creates good angles from an extended three-quarters slot, though there is a lack of plane at times. 

He worked 88-90 mph in the first inning, then the velocity eventually tapered off as he went along, ending up more in the 85-88 mph range towards the end of his outing. As stated above, the deception and angle help aid in the overall effectiveness of his fastball, but he was leaving the ball up in the zone and flat pretty frequently, which gets barreled at 96, let alone 86. 

He does have a pretty good slider, however, a pitch that was pretty consistently average on the pro scale. Thrown in the upper-70s, the pitch is tunneled well out of the hand and has pretty sharp break with longer 2-to-8 shape. It's an especially effective pitch vs. lefthanded hitters, as he does a good job starting it over the inside corner and then running it away, out of the zone. He flashed two-plane break to the pitch, generating some depth to go with the horizontal shape, and it's projects as a solid pitch long term. 

There exists feel for a changeup as well, thrown right around 80 mph with solid deception out of the hand to go along with solid fade, and it was another pitch that showed average for him. However, as is the case with the vast majority of changeups, it's effectiveness hinders directly on it being down in the strike zone. When Cumbie's was, it was a very good pitch. When it wasn't and was up, it got hit. With a bit more command of the pitch, it's very easily a usable, effective weapon for him.

Drake Fellows, RHP, Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt's Friday starter thus far in 2018, Fellows took his lumps in 2017, getting a fair amount of run on Sundays for the Commodores a year ago. He looks like a different pitcher this season, a testament to both the developmental capabilities of pitching coach Scott Brown as well as his own work ethic. 

Fellows worked six innings in a no decision against Sam Houston State in Game 1 of the Shriners College Classic, though the no-decision was no fault of his own. He was sterling, striking out eight over those six frames while walking only one, and scattering five hits. He allowed two runs, which both came on an inside-the-park home run. The situation was a bit scary, as Vanderbilt left fielder Alonzo Jones was tracking a deep fly into left field, when he collided full speed into the wall as the ball glanced off of his glove. Both runs came home and are earned to Fellows, but the situation wasn't what it appears in the stat sheet. 

Fellow has outstanding physicality, with excellent size already and some projection remaining even still. He's had trouble repeating his delivery in the past, which has led to wide variations in command and stuff, but looked very good in this game in terms of repeating that delivery. He gets downhill quite well and online, timing up his arm stroke and getting over his front side effectively and repeatably. His arm stroke is a bit exerted, getting slightly offline through the back with a bit of wrap, but he showed much more consistency in his release point, and, as a result, had much more consistency of both stuff and command. 

He worked at 88-92 mph for the majority of his 99 pitches in this game, comfortably working to both sides with the fastball and generally showing average command of the pitch. He generates solid angle to the plate and can also show average life to the fastball, though he actually preferred to pitch backwards in this game. 

The slider was absolutely dynamic, thrown in the 80-84 mph range and staying there the whole game. Somewhat reminiscent of Kyle Wright last year, Fellows showed an innate ability to manipulate the shape of the pitch, landing it for a strike to both sides of the plate with a bit fuller shape at 80-82 mph, while then sharpening it up and throwing it for a chase pitch at the high end of the velocity range. It's pretty easy to project the pitch as a plus offering at the pro level, and he showed no issues throwing it to both lefthanded and righthanded hitters with equal effectiveness. 

The changeup, one could argue, was also a pitch that could be projected as plus, though it wasn't quite on the same level of consistency as his slider. Thrown in the low-80s with excellent arm speed and release point consistency, the pitch has very good fading life and does what it's supposed to do: mimic the fastball release. He turns it over quite well out front and was more than comfortable leading off an at-bat with it, specifically to lefthanded hitters. 

Overall, Fellows is on the watch list for the first round in 2019, though there are some concerns at this early juncture. He's come a very long ways since his prep days, and even last year, so his consistency levels will be tracked closely over the next year-plus. Also, even with the potential for a plus slider and plus changeup, he pitches with an average fastball right now. He's got the body to potentially project on the fastball, but at the same time, his raw velocity has been pretty much the same for a few years now, though, granted, the effectiveness of the fastball has jumped significantly due to the strides he's made with his delivery and command. The question about 15 months from the 2019 draft is how many righthanded pitchers go in the first round with an average fastball? Regardless, Fellows was excellent in this outing and will be followed closely as such.

Jackson Gillis, LHP, Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt's bullpen was something of a question mark heading into the 2018 season, and while Jackson Gillis was responsible for allowing the game to be tied late (a game Vanderbilt lost in 10), there were still quite a few things to like from the sophomore lefthander who looks like he'll be one of Coach Corbin's primary weapons out of the bullpen this year. 

Gillis is a solid-sized lefthander with a very strong build, with good strength throughout his body. He definitely fits the mold of a power-armed lefthanded reliever, given the power stuff and exerted delivery, and has a chance to be a real weapon for the Commodores. His delivery has some effort to it, and he will tend to rush through balance, which causes hi arm to lag at times, which in turn leads to concerns with command. The arm action is a bit troublesome as well, loading deep with his scapulas and getting his back elbow quite high through the back, before releasing from an extended three-quarters to low three-quarters arm slot. 

There is extreme arm speed here, and it's easy to believe that Gillis could be an upper-90s guy from the left side for an inning at a time in the future, as there were reports from the fall about him reaching 97. He worked 90-94 mph in this outing against Sam Houston State at the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic in Houston, showing flashes of both good east-west command and solid life to the pitch, though the consistency with either wasn't there quite yet. The fastball, when rushing through his delivery as described above, can tend to get flat, as is the case with a lot of lower slot type of pitchers. This leads to trouble, especially when up in the zone, as even 93 mph is very hittable when it doesn't do much in the way of action. 

When synced up, however, Gillis really is a big-time asset and will be a closely followed draft arm heading into next season. He's got power stuff from the left side, including a frisbee slider in the mid-70s that has some teeth on it, and as we've seen time and time again with Vanderbilt pitchers they always get better there.

Riley Gossett, RHP, Sam Houston State

Sam Houston State's Friday starter, Gossett got a no-decision for his efforts as the Bearkats fought back to tie the game in the ninth before winning it in the 10th over Vanderbilt at the Shriners College Classic in Houston.

Gossett battled despite not having his best stuff in this game, working 4 2/3 innings and allowing five earned runs on seven hits and two walks, picking up two strikeouts in the process. A solid sized righthander, Gossett's delivery takes him a bit offline to the plate and creates a bit of crossfire through release, though he demonstrated the ability to consistently get over his front side effectively, regardless. The arm action is mostly clean, with a plunge to initiate his takeaway but never straightening out into a stab, spiraling his elbow up cleanly and being on time at foot strike. 

He does a good job creating plane from a higher three-quarters slot, working in the 85-89 mph range with his fastball throughout. The pitch lacks much in the way of life, but when he commanded it down in the zone it was very tough to lift due to the steepness of the aforementioned plane. He does a very good job challenging hitters with the fastball, unafraid to work inside and just attack the strike zone from the get go. 

He worked in slider in the low-80s that showed average relatively consistently on the pro scouting scale, with good bite and the ability to bury it down in the zone. Even when it didn't miss bats it was a good change-of-pace offering, as it's tunneled well out of the hand and can elicit weak contact.

Kyle Bachkhus, LHP, Sam Houston State

Coming on in relief of the starter Riley Gossett, lefthander Kyle Backhus was extremely impressive over his two complete innings, keeping Sam Houston State within striking distance in a game they eventually came from behind to win in the 10th inning over Vanderbilt. Backhus allowed no hits or runs over those two frames, walking one and striking out three in the process. 

He's a very long, very lean prospect with solid projection remaining, particularly through his chest and torso. His delivery and arm action are somewhat reminiscent of Eric Lauer, Kent State's all-everything ace of a couple years ago, in that they both have longer offline arm actions and somewhat crossfire deliveries, but their respective timing is very good and they create a ton of angle to the plate. Backhus worked up to 91 mph early on, settling in at 87-89 mph, and just gave hitters fits due to the angle and deception he creates to the plate. He's especially tough on lefthanded hitters, especially when he had his slider working, thrown in the upper-70s with late bite. 

It looks to be a reliever profile long-term, but these types of prospects end up pitching in the major leagues due to the trouble they give lefthanded hitters in matchup situations, especially in today's game with bullpens being expanded seemingly every year. He's definitely one to watch in South Texas heading into 2019, his draft year.

Landon Ausley, RHP, Sam Houston State

The second arm out of the Sam Houston State bullpen, and yet another effective option for head coach Matt Deggs, true freshman Landon Ausley gave Vanderbilt fits as he, like Kyle Backhus before him, stymied the Commodore hitters and gave SHSU a chance to come back, which they did. 

Ausley is a lean, young righthander whose tempo and north/south command gave Vandy lots of issues, as he allowed one run across three innings while striking out six. He worked 88-92 mph for the duration, hiding the ball well through the back of his arm stroke and throwing from an extremely high, overtop slot, generating steep plane and messing with the eye levels of the Vanderbilt hitters. He pitched mostly with the fastball, a straighter pitch that flashed average life at times, and just worked in, up and down within the zone, getting several swings and misses up in the zone on the pitch. TrackMan data wasn't available, but his four seamer appeared to have a high spin rate, given the reaction the Vanderbilt hitters had to 91 mph at the letters. 

It was a relatively brief look at a true freshman, and his draft is still over two years away, but he's a very interesting follow prospect at this juncture.

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