College : : Story
Sunday, March 04, 2018

Kentucky shows depth at Shriners

Brian Sakowski        
Photo: UK Athletics

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. 

Zack Thompson, lhp, Kentucky

Kentucky's Saturday starter, and the only underclassman in their weekend rotation, Zack Thompson came into the season with a boatload of hype pointing towards the 2019 draft, even ranking No. 6 overall on our Top 2019 Draft Prospects list. He got off to a bit of a rough start this year, but righted the ship in a big way against Sam Houston State on Day 2 of the Shriners College Classic. Thompson picked up the win, going six innings and allowing no runs while scattering four hits and a walk while punching out seven. 

Thompson looks the part, with a strong, physical build on a large frame, looking like he'll be very durable and able to stand up over the course of 200+ innings, something imperative for scouts to look for when evaluating starting pitchers. The delivery is relatively simple, driving off his back leg quite well and rotating around his trunk well, engaging his hips and getting downhill online. His arm action is likewise pretty simple, with a clean takeaway into a bit of a scapular pinch as he initiates his elbow spiral; and while the back elbow creeps up a bit, it's not a red-flagged arm stroke, as he spirals clean and gets up to a high three quarters slot, on time and over his front side consistently. 

His fastball reached 95 mph early on, 4-5 times by my gun, and he settled into the 89-93 mph range. He changed speeds with his fastball frequently, working 89-91 early in counts and then rearing back for 94-95 when he wanted to blow it by hitters. The pitch has solid arm side life with occasional heaviness to the bottom of the zone, and plays up thanks to the steep angle Thompson creates downhill. 

He pitched with three distinct secondary offerings, all of them flashing big time effectiveness. He preferred the slider in this outing, thrown firmly with great conviction in the mid-80's, showing very sharp tilt and late break, doing a very good job both running it away from lefties and in under the hands of righties. His curveball, while a touch soft, is a second breaking ball that may have a plus future. It was thrown more in the mid-70's with 1/7 shape, but has all the makings of a second plus offering once he throws it a bit harder. At present, it's got excellent spin and hammer depth, and Thompson showed the ability to land it for a strike consistently. He also threw a rare changeup, this too in the mid-80's, and while he didn't throw it often, there is undeniable feel for the pitch, turned over well out front at release and showing very good deception with solid fade. It could be projected as average long term at this point. 

On the whole, Thompson, 15 months from his draft, looks like a potential high first rounder. There's potential here for three plus pitches and an average 4th, with a solid command profile, durable build, and quality mechanics. 

Zack Haake, rhp, Kentucky

One of the headliners of Kentucky's 2017 Junior College recruiting class, Zach Haake turned down legitimate higher-round draft interest last year to make it to Lexington, coming from perennially strong John A. Logan in Illinois. With Kentucky already having a loaded rotation, Haake was slated to potentially close for the Wildcats out of the gate, but a minor injury kept him out of action through the first couple weeks. Having made his season debut earlier this week in the midweek, Haake was a big draw for scouts here in Houston when he came on to close out UK's win over Sam Houston State. 

He ran into a little trouble by giving up some scattered knocks, but the upside here is absolutely undeniable, and it's quite likely that Haake would be the Friday night starter at a great deal of other big time schools. So for Nick Mingione to have him available out of the bullpen is a tremendous weapon. He's long and lean with an excellent pitcher's build that can be projected upon, with a free and easy arm action to pair with a repeatable, pretty simple delivery. There was probably some rust to knock off in terms of command, and though he did throw a lot of strikes (64%), he had some trouble consistently getting the fastball where he wanted it. 

He hit 96 mph early in his outing, settling in at 93-94 mph for the duration and the fastball really explodes out of his hand with excellent jump and still-projectable velocity. There's a lot of ease of operation going on with Haake, and once he dials in his command and shakes off the bit of rust, there's a good likelihood that he could be drafted and sent out as a starter. The breaking ball--a curveball in the low 80's--is a hammer, a plus pitch in this look with power depth and spin. It's deceptive out of the hand, perfectly suited for Haake's higher 3/4 slot, and then just drops off the table with power and bite. He can land it for strikes or bury it as a chase pitch, and was a big reason why Haake struck out five in two innings. 

It'll be especially interesting to see how Haake fares the rest of the season, particularly what the arsenal looks like out of the bullpen. He does have more than two pitches, as there have been reports of both a slider and changeup, but when you have two plusses in a fastball and curveball out of the bullpen, a third pitch isn't really needed like it is in a rotation. He'll be followed especially closely. 

Jack Burk, rhp, Louisiana 

Louisiana-Lafayette handed Vanderbilt their second loss in a row on Saturday afternoon, and a lot of that had to do with Jack Burk's performance on the mound for the Ragin' Cajuns. Burk threw seven innings of dominant, shutout baseball; scattering five hits and two walks to go along with five strikeouts. He did a fantastic job of attacking the Vandy hitters early and often, generating consistent weak contact while missing some bats along the way. 

Burk's windup is aggressively slow-paced, surely aggravating to opposing hitters, almost lulling them to sleep before driving forward into his release. It's not a collection of varying deliveries as are popular nowadays, just one seemingly impossibly slow windup that without a doubt adds deception. 

His fastball worked in the 88-91 mph range to start before tapering a bit into the more 86-89 mph range towards the middle and end of his 95-pitch outing. The pitch has good heaviness to it with sinking action down in the zone, tough to square and lift when located down there, which is was frequently. He mixed in his breaking ball and changeup to great effect as well. The breaking ball, which we'll call a curveball though it had it's bouts with slurviness, was a good pitch pretty consistently. There's some two-plane shape to it in the low-80's with good depth and solid command, landing it for a strike almost at will and getting righthanders to swing over the top of it. He liked to go to the changeup vs. lefties, and while it took him a bit to find his feel for it, once he got it going it was a solid fringe-average offering that faded away from and under the bats of lefthanded hitters in the 81-84 mph range. 

A redshirt sophomore, Burk is eligible for the draft this June, but with two years of eligibility remaining, he looks to be better served to go back to school for 2019, where he'd be an interesting draft follow out of the Deep South region. 

Logan Stoelke, rhp, Louisiana

A key piece out of the Ragin Cajun's bullpen in 2018, Stoelke locked down the win with a two-inning save on Saturday evening. He walked a couple, but picked up two strikeouts and for the most part had an uneventful couple innings. 

He's got a pair of fastballs, with a heavy running two seamer in the 87-90 mph range and a riding four seamer that worked more 91-94 mph. Both are effective and he mixed them to great effect. His changeup is a dynamic pitch that he found more and more comfort with as the game went on, thrown with conviction and trust in the low-80's with excellent deception and fade, burying it down in the zone and getting empty swings over the top of it. 

With those two fastballs and a swing-and-miss changeup, Stoelke profiles well as a good bullpen piece for ULL, and there is some potential senior sign draft utility if he keeps performing as a high level as well. 

Patrick Raby, rhp, Vanderbilt

Raby got a lot of run last year in Vanderbilt's rotation, even throwing on Friday's for a good bit while Kyle Wright worked some things out, and he's back in the rotation this year in his more usual Saturday slot. The elder statesman of the Vandy staff, Raby provides a steady presence for the Commodores. 

Raby ended up taking the loss in this one, struggling a bit with his command uncharacteristically and only lasting 3.2 innings, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks while striking out two. He's a physically mature righthander whose stuff right now is likely what it's going to be longterm, but that's not to say the stuff isn't solid. He has some funky deception to his delivery, but the delivery boxes are mostly checked in terms of being on time and working well in conjunction with each other. He gets online and drives downhill, and while the arm action is initiated by a pretty deep plunge, he accelerates into his arm circle without getting his back elbow too high and does so without being violent. He hides the ball well behind his body and generates significant plane from a higher three quarters slot. 

The fastball peaked at 91 mph and settled into the 88-90 mph range, lacking much in the way of life but being aided by the deception as well as the plane. He had an uncharacteristic tendency to rush his delivery a bit in this one, which impacted his command and caused him to miss low on several occasions. The best pitch here is his slider, a pitch that pretty consistently shows 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale, thrown with the same arm speed and slot as his fastball before breaking sharply with two-plane tilt. It's a bat-misser vs. both right and lefthanded hitters, and a legitimate out pitch for him. The changeup mimics the fastball well, lacking much in the way of action but having good deception due to being thrown with fastball arm speed and buried down in the zone. 

From a draft perspective, Raby profiles as a guy who can really eat innings, has a good slider, and has a good performance history at Vanderbilt. Though the fastball is likely to never get above a 40, Raby still has a chance to be a late Day 2/early Day 3 selection this June if that's the route he opts to go based on the qualities listed above. 

Zachary King, lhp, Vanderbilt

One of the primary lefties out of Head Coach Tim Corbin's bullpen, 6-foot-6, 210-pound Zach King has pretty legitimate upside for the Commodores as he keeps maturing and adding strength while working under pitching coach Scott Brown. King came on in relief of Patrick Raby in this game and did a fine job over his 2.2 innings, allowing a single run on three hits and a walk while picking up three strikeouts. 

King's long and lean frame has solid strength on it already, but has big time projection remaining and he has a chance to be a physical monster at maturity. There's some violence to his delivery in the form of a pronounced head whack, but the mechanical operation below neck level works pretty well. He gets rotated cleanly and his athleticism is evident in his delivery overall, having minimal trouble controlling his body and getting downhill on line. The arm stroke is more compact, staying on line well and hidden from the hitter behind his body, getting his hand above his elbow at foot strike before releasing from a nicely-extended three quarters slot. 

He worked up to 92 mph early on, settling into more 87-90 mph range as he went on, creating excellent angle from that extended slot. The fastball has that standard lefty tail on it, and when located down in the zone, it's a very tough pitch to hit for hitters of either handedness. What's especially interesting is that, in addition to a good slider that wreaks havoc on lefthanded hitters, King also has a pretty solid changeup with good fade that is very effective vs. righthanded hitters. He's got a full arsenal with a good body and clean arm, and it's certainly within reason that Vanderbilt may try and stretch him out as a starter, maybe with an eye towards next season when he'll be a junior. 

If he takes the mound in 2019 as a starter, his draft outlook becomes a whole lot different. 

Hayden Wesneski, rhp, Sam Houston State

The Saturday starter for Sam Houston State, sophomore Hayden Wesneski was saddled with the loss vs. an outstanding Kentucky club, but that doesn't mean there weren't things to like from the young righthander. He went five innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out four in the process. 

He's a large-framed, projectable righty with a sinker/slider profile and a serious tenacity about the way he attacks, though the results in this outing weren't ideal. The arm action has some length to it with average arm speed, getting a bit long in the back and while it's mostly clean, it can and did lead to some timing issues getting over his front side at release. When timed up, the fastball was heavy with good sink down in the zone at 85-89 mph (up to 91 early); but when the timing wasn't in sync the pitch was often up and without the benefit of that sink, which is when he got hit. 

He worked in a solid slider in the low-80's, a good pitch to work off of his sinker in that it moves in much the same way as the sinker, just in the other direction. It's tight and sharp with shorter break, a very good pitch when, like his sinker, located down in the zone. 

Only a sophomore, Wesneski has a lot of things to like throughout his profile, and has a chance to be an innings-eating ground ball machine once everything synchs up and he's consistently down in the zone with that sinker-slider combo. 

Dakota Mills, rhp, Sam Houston State

In a game where Sam Houston State used five relievers and eventually lost to Kentucky 7-2, Dakota Mills was the most effective, going 1.1 innings and allowing a run while picking up a strikeout. He's a physical, strong 5th year senior who started his career at West Virginia before transferring to Blinn College, and then ending up at Sam Houston State a few years ago. An elite strike-thrower with good deception in his delivery, Mills hides the ball well through the back and throws from a very high overtop slot, creating very tough plane to the plate. 

He worked 87-90 mph with his fastball, that velocity aided by the combination of deception and plane, and he does a good job of consistently finding the bottom of the zone, making his fastball tough to lift even if squared up. He also shows a solid slider that is a good secondary pitch for him, thrown from the same slot and angle as his fastball before veering off to the glove side with some depth to it as well. He's a solid two-pitch reliever for Sam Houston who should log a lot of innings this year. 

Aaron Fletcher, lhp, Houston

Houston's Saturday starter Aaron Fletcher was very solid on Saturday night against a quality Mississippi State team, earning a no-decision in a game that went to extra innings, throwing 6.1 innings and allowing only a single run on seven hits and a walk while punching out six. 

He's extremely well-built and strong throughout his entire body, a positive in terms of durability and strength, though he's physically-maxed out and non-projectable for the most part. He's got some funky deception in his delivery, tilting onto his back side and turning his hip at the same time, getting online with his hips and driving downhill well. He's got a very lengthy arm stroke through the back that is fine in terms of timing and looseness, but does show the ball pretty clearly to the hitter through the back. Despite the complexities of this delivery and arm action, Fletcher is an outstanding strike-thrower, doing a very good of consistently attacking hitters in the zone. 

He creates pretty good angle to the plate from the amount of extension and arm slot he throws from, working in the 87-90 mph range with his fastball and showing the ability to hold that velocity deep into games. The fastball is sneaky in that it seems to play up, given the swings against it, from the raw velocity numbers. When it's down in the zone, it's very tough to hit, and while the strike-throwing is plus, he did have a tendency to miss up in the zone and will get hit a bit as a result. 

His breaking ball, a curveball with 1/7-2/8 shape in the mid-upper 70's, was a weapon for him versus hitters of either handedness. It's sharp with late bite, tunneled well out of his hand and being pretty consistently a 50 (on the 20-80 scale) pitch for him, landing it for a strike or burying it, especially under the hands of righthanded hitters. He also flashed a changeup that has some promise, thrown in the 77-80 mph range, though he was inconsistent with his trust for it and would tend to slow his arm down and float it a bit. There were a few, however, that he threw with conviction and good pronation out front, getting the pitch to have quality deception and good action at the plate. 

There is some draft upside here as a potential Day 3 selection, as Fletcher is a redshirt junior with a solid three pitch mix and a fair bit of deception to go along with his excellent strike throwing skills. 

Ethan Small, lhp, Mississippi State

Small, who is anything but small in stature standing 6-foot-3 and weighing in at a broad, physical 208 pounds, got the start in Mississippi State's Saturday tilt with Houston. Small exited a bit early, as he got his pitch count up, but was effective. He went 4.1 innings, allowing a single run on three hits and three walks while striking out seven. There was flashes of brilliance mixed with frustrating inconsistencies, which led to bouts of wildness and poor command, which, in the end, ran up his pitch count. 

There's lots to like about Small, starting with his size and build as described above, and he looks every bit like a physical specimen. There's some serious funkiness to his delivery, pretty reminiscent of Michigan's Oliver Jaskie of last year, with kind of a hunched over and tilted load into a deceptive drive, striding a bit towards the LHH box but landing online and creating that crossfire action, though without the potentially inhibitive closed toe. The arm action is very long through the back, getting offline into a soft stab, but there is looseness to the stroke as he gets up to a very high three quarters slot, creating excellent plane and angle to the plate when on time. 

He came out firing, working up to 92 mph early on before settling more into the 87-90 mph range, and while the delivery and arm action can pose some serious timing issues and therefore allow his command to get out of whack, when he's synched up and downhill the fastball is a dangerous pitch to the bottom of the zone. There is solid arm speed here and given his body, one could project the fastball more into the average range long term than the fringy one he pitches with now. 

He showed a pair of offspeed pitches, working with a curveball and a changeup. The curveball worked in the 72-75 mph range and while it wasn't a power-breaker, there is plenty of depth and spin to go with good deception out of his hand, perfectly suited for that high 3/4 slot release. He showed the ability to land it for a strike while getting it under the hands of righthanded hitters, something that isn't always easy to do for lefthanded pitchers. The changeup showed very good action as well, with fading life at the plate and conviction in the arm speed it's thrown with, and it, like the fastball and curveball, showed a solid-average projection. 

Small is a big lefty with very good physicality and size, to go along with deception and a three pitch mix of solid average offerings, though the delivery and arm action pose some concerns in terms of projecting out future command. Draft eligible this year as a redshirt sophomore, he'll be intriguing to follow this spring to see if more consistency and/or velocity comes. 
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