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College  | Story  | 4/20/2018

College Notebook: April 20

Photo: Jackson Kowar (Tim Casey)

 College Notebook: April 19College 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

The other guy of Florida's two-headed junior rotation monster, Jackson Kowar hasn't had the consistency of success that teammate Brady Singer has over the past two years, but one could make the argument that he has higher overall upside and louder stuff. Kowar threw seven shutout innings against Kentucky on Friday night in a 9-4 win, but much like his career to date, the start was dotted with inconsistencies throughout. He allowed five hits and four walks while picking up five strikeouts to move his record to 7-1 on the season.

Kowar is a rail thin, tall righthander whose length portends to some projection remaining, but his body is of the wiry-thin variety, narrow through the hips and shoulders, and likely won't carry all that much additional weight. There's athleticism throughout the delivery with good balance and he could repeat the delivery better than he currently does given those components, as he lands online and gets over his front side well.

The arm action is very fast, in the plus to plus-plus range of arm speed, with a hook through the back that gets offline but is pretty well timed up coming through, with the ball/hand up at foot strike though still a bit offline. He releases from an extended three-quarters slot, creating good angles to the plate. His fastball worked in the 93-95 mph range to start with solid life to the pitch, but he struggled with his command/control on this day, showing flashes of dominance but overall leaving too many fastballs up and over the heart of the plate. The arm speed is really easy to dream on from a velocity perspective, but to really have an elite fastball as a starter one must also have excellent physical strength, and Kowar's physicality doesn't quite match that yet. 

The off-speed stuff flashes quite well, showing an above average curveball and an easily plus changeup, but the key word there is "flashes." He's especially inconsistent with the curveball, with it ranging literally anywhere from 30-60 on the 20-80 scouting scale, taking a little while to find the feel for the pitch, but once he did it settled into the 50-55 range. It was anywhere from 73-78 mph on the evening, with the best ones being firmer with good, sharp, late break that was effective against both right and lefthanded hitters. The changeup is the bread and butter pitch, thrown in the low-80s with tremendous deception and arm speed, turning it over quite well and creating excellent fading action. The inconsistencies with the changeup had more to do with command, as Kowar would still leave it up a bit where, despite the action of the pitch, it was far more easily identifiable and hittable than it should be, as evidenced by Tristan Pompey's loud double in the first at-bat of Kowar's outing. 

On the whole, Kowar's stuff is extremely live when it's on, and as such he's likely a first rounder in June, potentially a top 15 overall selection. He's much riskier of a prospect than teammate Brady Singer, for example, though Kowar's stuff flashes better and as a result his overall upside is higher. It will be especially interesting to see who is selected first between the two, given the safety vs. risk debate, and we've had Kowar just a few spots higher than Singer on our draft lists over the past several months.

Michael Byrne, RHP, Florida

Byrne, Florida's closer and head coach Kevin O'Sullivan's most trusted bullpen arm for over a year now, came on in the eighth inning of Florida's 9-4 win over Kentucky on Friday night and escaped a bases-loaded jam with two outs by getting a weak flyout. He did run into some trouble in the ninth and gave up a couple of runs as a result but pitched well enough for Florida to secure their sixth straight series win in the SEC. For the most part, Byrne has been absolutely dominant for over a year, often asked to record multiple-inning saves and delivering consistently for the Gators. 

He's not one of those closers who will blow hitters away with power stuff, but rather relies on pitchability, command and sequencing to be as good as he is. His fastball worked in the 88-90 mph range on this night, playing well off of his off-speed stuff and effective when in the zone, but it's not a pitch that's likely to miss many bats at the next level. His curveball is a solid pitch, but what is most impressive is his command of the pitch. He lands it for strikes over either corner and can work it down in the zone as well, going to the pitch frequently. His changeup was solid as well, thrown in the 80-82 range with good fading action, though he didn't quite have command of the pitch on this evening. 

Byrne is the classic case of performance over stuff and will likely be drafted significantly higher than his scouting report would indicate, given that he barely walks anyone, mixes three pitches with success, dominates at the highest level of amateur baseball and has shown the ability to hold his velocity over multiple innings. Given the velocity race of today's pro baseball bullpens, Byrne could very easily be drafted and developed as a starting pitcher and should see success in pro baseball in that role.

Sean Hjelle, RHP, Kentucky

Kentucky's ace and reigning SEC Pitcher of the Year Sean Hjelle has been very good in 2018, but at the same time hasn't quite pitched at the same level he did in 2017. He took the loss against Florida on Friday night, rebounding from a rough first couple innings to settle in a deliver a solid enough start, going seven innings while allowing four runs on four hits and three walks while striking out five. 

Hjelle, as has been well-documented, is extremely tall at 6-foot-11, and his athleticism is so impressive as it allows him to repeat his delivery pretty well despite all that length. He has the occasional trouble getting timed up and over his front side, as he tends to still be pretty arched back at foot strike, landing closed off with his front foot, but for the most part Hjelle is a very good strike-thrower who usually pitches with average command. He was a tick off against Florida, walking three – he had walked nine total in 2018 coming into this start – and leaving some fastballs up in the zone. 

When he's in sync it's very tough to square Hjelle up, as he creates excellent plane to the plate from a high three-quarters slot, which, when combined with his height and arm length, gives his fastball a significantly steep entry to the hitting zone when he's working down. He worked 91-94 mph in the first inning with average life to the pitch, settling into the 90-91 mph range for the majority of the rest of his outing. While his height and length make it pretty easy to want to project Hjelle physically, he is narrower through the shoulders and hips and may not hold all that much more weight/strength. The fastball is average right now but how will it play when he's pitching every fifth day as compared to every seventh, especially if he's unable to add much more in the way of weight/strength?

The curveball was good in this start, as it usually is, thrown in the 78-83 mph range with 11-to-5 shape and very good, sharp depth. He's able to land it for a strike as well as bury it down and out of the zone, getting a fair numbers of swings-and-misses over the top of it. The pitch is pretty easy to project plus long term, and should be a weapon for him at the professional level. He threw a few changeups as well, a pitch that could project as average and has been solid for him in previous outings, but he didn't throw very many in this game. 

On the whole, Hjelle seems to be right in that late first comp/early second round range at present, somewhere in the neighborhood of picks 30-50 or so. His performance history and athleticism will help him, as will his present arsenal of stuff and mostly consistent strike-throwing ability, but the overall fastball projection as well as physical projection could potentially be hangups for Major League teams.