GOLDEN SPIKES AWARD NEWS

GSA Spotlight: Jonathan India

April 18, 2018

Over the course of Kevin O'Sullivan's tenure as Florida's head coach, the Gators have been college baseball's most consistent big winners, making six College World Series appearances in the last 10 years. The Gators are loaded with superstars every year, and they've produced All-Americans and premium draft picks by the bushel.

But a strong case can be made that no other Gators in the last decade matched the all-around greatness of Jonathan India in 2018. Florida's junior third baseman enters week 10 hitting .438/.562/.860, ranking him first in the nation in OBP and second in OPS - and he's doing it against the best competition college baseball has to offer, in the rugged Southeastern Conference. India leads the SEC in those triple-slash categories, and he's one off the conference lead in home runs (12). He has eight stolen bases in nine attempts. And he's quite possibly college baseball's best defensive third baseman. He's the total package, and he's performing at an incredibly high level for the nation's best team.

"We've had some other guys in the past - Preston Tucker, Mike Zunino - we've had a few guys that have gone on a run like this, but this has been different," O'Sullivan said. "It's kind of like comparing him to a Zunino type: he plays a premium position, and he's just defending at such a high level, it's not just one part of his game. All phases he's performing at an extremely high level. He's not putting any pressure on himself, I don't think the draft has been an issue at all. I think he's kind of handled himself in a way that a true veteran would."

It may seem to the casual observer that India's sensational season came out of nowhere, considering he's nearly doubled his OPS from a year ago (.774). But to O'Sullivan and to scouts, India's emergence as the nation's best college third baseman feels more like fait accompli.

India has a premium pedigree and tools to match. He showed up in Gainesville as a blue-chip recruit, and scouts tagged him early on as one of the top position-player prospects for the 2018 draft after he hit .303 with 16 doubles during a solid freshman year in 2016. But he failed to take the anticipated jump to superstardom as a sophomore, hitting a modest .274 with a .429 slugging percentage, down from .440 the year before. As he entered his junior year, many observers had begun to wonder when the production would match the tools, and the hype.

"I said to him at our end of fall meetings - he had a good fall, and the thing we were stressing with him was to match up the production with the skill set, because the skill set has always been there," O'Sullivan said. "He was a big prospect coming out of high school, just the numbers hadn't matched up with his abilities. But he had a good freshman year, a really good freshman year, and last year he just wasn't quite as sharp, but he still went to the cape and hit like .300."

Scouts liked India's bat speed and overall game in the Cape, where he finished .273/.390/.394, though he hit just one home run. It seemed like just a matter of time until the power came, and boy has it come this year. Through 117 at-bats, India already has more homers (12) than he hit in 442 at-bats over his first two seasons (10).

The power surge really began during his current 24-game hitting streak, which began March 9 against Rhode Island. That streak began with seven straight two-hit games, and has grown to include 16 multi-hit games, along with seven doubles, three triples, eight homers and 21 RBIs. India is hitting an absurd .513/.623/.975 during that 24-game hitting streak.

"I mean, I guess I have a little bit more juice this year," India said a couple of weeks ago after hitting a homer to left field against Vanderbilt in the series opener. "I'm not trying to hit homers by any means, but I just put a good swing on the ball and it carried."

Later in that weekend, India showed off his opposite-field pop, driving another long ball out to right-center. His ability to drive the ball with authority to all parts of the ballpark is a result of hard work on his approach, and innate strength in his compact 6-foot, 200-pound frame.

"He's strong in all the right places. He's strong in his core, he's got strong hands, strong forearms. he's an extremely hard worker," O'Sullivan said. "He had power out of high school, but it was only to the pull side. If you went and watched him take BP, he would launch to the pull side, but he was susceptible to balls on the outer half of the plate. It's taken him a couple years to figure that out.

"(This year) he's used the whole field. He's not really gotten into any stretches where he's just been one side of the field. He's been pretty consistent that way as far as staying through the middle of the field. I was talking to (hitting coach) Craig (Bell) the other day about his BP; in the first round, execution - he never launches the ball to the pull side unless it's the last round. Everything he hits is squared up from that right center to left center gap, and he doesn't come off it until the final round. He's trained himself to stay in the middle of the field. He hit two balls out to dead-center field at our place the other day in one round, with no wind. Which doesn't happen very often."

He's also become a more patient hitter, who doesn't get himself out nearly as often. After posting a 45-85 walk-strikeout mark over his first two seasons, India has 30 walks and 26 strikeouts as a junior.

"I've matured more as a player. I feel like I've been in the league for two years now, and I'm realizing more things, and I've learned from my past years," India said. "Not swinging at pitchers' pitches, having a good approach at the plate. And just being more mature, not getting down on myself after bad at-bats. It's working out so far, I'm happy."

In addition to showing an elite hit tool and power tool, India has proven he can beat opponents with his speed. Against Vanderbilt, India dropped down a bunt and then blazed up the line in 3.85 seconds - a premium time for a righthanded hitter on a drag bunt. He has always been an instinctive and aggressive baserunner, and he plays the game the same way no matter the circumstances. O'Sullivan tells a great anecdote that reinforces that point.

"His freshman year, our last game of the year against Texas Tech in the College World Series, he hits a ball down the line, nobody on, and he gets banged out at second base - that's the last out of the season. The season's over," O'Sullivan said. "I told him, 'I want you to understand something, Jonathan: if that play happens 10 times in a row, you absolutely made the right decision to stretch that thing into a double. He had to make a perfect throw to get you, but absolutely without the shadow of a doubt, you made the right decision.' Most guys would have rounded first hard and not taken that chance, and he did.

"He never gives you a poor effort down the line. He never takes an infield off in pregame. The other neat thing is, it's hard. You can kind of get wrapped up in your own little world. These guys are 21 years old, there's a lot expected of them, especially him, he's probably elevated where he's going to go in the draft now. But he's so engaged with the team. … He's always at the right end of the dugout. He's always down there by me. When he's not hitting, he's not in the middle of the dugout BSing or screwing around, or in his own little world. He's right there with me, in every pitch. He's watching the other guys hit, encouraging them, giving them advice."

And then there's the defense piece. India isn't putting up these crazy numbers while playing first base or left field; he's manning a challenging defensive position, and he's made just three errors on the season. He filled in ably at shortstop earlier this year when Deacon Liput was suspended, before returning to the hot corner, where his footwork, body control, strong and accurate arm and instincts are all assets.

"It's the hand eye, same as the hitting ability. He's got some really, really good flexibiliy in his lower half," O'Sullivan said. "He gets below the ball, he's pretty much textbook defensively. He never gets flashy or stylish, we call it the olé, he never gets beside the ball. It's always in front of him, he doesn't shy away from balls hit hard. He can really come get a slow roller. It's just really good. You never worry about him, ever, defensively."

That entire package makes India a slam dunk first-round pick this June, and gives him a real chance to be the first position player drafted. It also makes him the best all-around player in college baseball in 2018, and a driving force behind top-ranked Florida's bid to repeat as national champion.

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GSA Spotlight: Davis Martin

April 12, 2018

Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock saw this type of career coming from righthander Davis Martin.

Sure, it's hard for anyone to predict that a freshman would be an All-American and they'd have a career ERA well under three going through their draft year. But Tadlock had a hunch. He knew Martin, a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder, had all the tools and ingredients to be a premier arm and a game-changer for the Red Raiders. Martin has been exactly as advertised in his three years on the South Plains, and his role in this program has never been more important than it is now after junior lefthander Steve Gingery went down with a season-ending injury earlier this season.

With Gingery going down, more pressure and potential workload was placed on Martin's shoulders. Some pitchers might succumb to the pressures of trying to keep a top-five team's head above water. But not Martin. He's thriving more than ever, putting up career numbers as the Red Raiders try to get back to the College World Series after falling just short last season.

Rising to the occasion is just part of Martin's DNA, and it's precisely why he's one of the best and most feared arms in the game.

"Well, what's the saying, pressure is a choice. He wants the ball every time we play and he'd take it from you if you gave it to him," Tadlock said. "He's an absolute guy and he's got what you need to win. He's been that way ever since he stepped on campus.

"There's a reason we were in line to get him out of high school," he continued. "We were very fortunate that he and his family trusted us enough to get him. It's been a lot of fun to watch, that's for sure." While Martin is having a season to remember as a junior and is ranked the No. 36 college prospect, up from 51 in the preseason, he established his consistency and brand on the national stage a long time ago. He made his presence felt two seasons ago, tallying a 10-1 record and a 2.52 ERA in 89.1 innings, along with 61 strikeouts and 27 walks. Incredibly, that was as a freshman, as the San Angelo, Texas, native helped the Red Raiders reach the CWS for the second time in three seasons, this after the program had never made a trip to Omaha before 2014.

His sophomore campaign was good, but it had some serious road blocks. Martin was diagnosed with tendinitis and discomfort in his arm, and was sidelined from the middle of March until the Big 12 tournament in late May. Even with the setback, Martin still managed to tally a solid 3.07 ERA and a 4-2 record, while also throwing 44 innings, striking out 37 and walking just 10 and holding teams to a .259 average, which was an improvement over the .271 OBA his outstanding freshman season.

In his first start back from the injury last season, a date with Oklahoma State in the conference tournament, he sat 90-91 in the first inning and settled in at 87-89 - a slight change from the velocity he showed in the Shriners College Classic and against Mississippi State earlier that season - 93-94 early and 89-92 for six innings. Still, getting him back on the mound was good news for the Red Raiders, and helped set the tone for what has been a fruitful 2018 campaign thus far.

"I think he's gotten better each week for us. He's been really, really steady. He's been as advertised," Tadlock said. "His breaking ball and changeup have been fine, and his fastball has been above average. But he still has that great makeup.

"His makeup is just off the charts. His mound presence - it's off the charts," he continued. "He's one of those that guys who as a hitter when you step into the batter's box, you know you better jump in there ready to hit. He's just got it, and that's the biggest thing about Davis. And he's going to continue getting better."

He's put together strong results for the Red Raiders so far this season, and quite frankly, he's had to. We talked about the loss of Gingery for the season, but Tech is also without Erikson Lanning for the rest of the season, while Jake McDonald, who was supposed to be a premium arm who would log some significant innings, also is out the rest of the spring with a shoulder impingement. In essence, Tech's bullpen depth has been depleted a great deal, and that means guys like Martin need to put together consistent starts. That hasn't been a problem despite dealing with chilly conditions in Kentucky earlier this season and at Kansas this last weekend.

After dealing with tendinitis and discomfort last season, Martin sticks to a rather simple workout regiment - he makes sure he has a ball in his hand each day. He obviously doesn't throw bullpens every day, but Tadlock said if there's a ball around, even the day after he pitches, he's out there playing catch with someone. Tadlock said that simple change has helped his prized righty alleviate soreness - at least so far this season.

"He's throwing every day right now, and I think that has really helped him. It's certainly an old school way of doing things, especially when you have some guys who take the entire next day or two off after they pitch," he said. "He's very diligent about making sure he has a ball in his hand the next day." For the season, Martin continues to tally All-American type of numbers. He has a 5-2 record with a 2.63 ERA in 41 innings, along with 49 strikeouts and 16 walks. Most striking is the difference in opponent batting average from his first two seasons to now. Teams hit .271 against him as a freshman, .259 last year, but this year? Teams are hitting the West Texas native at a low .182 clip.

Why, you ask? Martin's stuff has gotten better. He has better feel for his entire arsenal, and his fastball command and velocity have improved. While he's dipped down to 89-92 at times this season, particularly when it's cold, Tadlock said his velocity has been more 91-93 and up to 94 at times, while also showing the ability to reach back and touch 95 and even 96 at times.

Martin has also made strides with his secondary stuff. The slider continues to be an effective pitch, though Tadlock doesn't notice much different about it so far this season. Meanwhile, he has shown better feel for the changeup, which has resulted in the Red Raiders calling it more this spring.

"I'd say the biggest difference with him is his fastball command. I would say maybe where in the past he was relying too much on his stuff, he's now commanding both sides of the plate much better," Tadlock said. "He's gotten better and better each week. I would say he's been up to 96, and it's been very good.

"I'm not sure there's much different about the slider, but I do think his secondary stuff has been a little crisper so far, " he continued. "The biggest thing with Davis is there are no worries week to week right now. He's 100 percent and he's ready to go and wants the ball every time out. He's always the kind of pitcher who wants more. He doesn't want to stay where he's at on a given day. He works really hard each day, and that type of attitude makes everyone around him that much better."

Davis Martin has already had a career that will long be remembered by Tadlock and Texas Tech fans alike, but there's plenty of time to add more scenes to this movie.

Given his past, perhaps we should be ready for a Martin trilogy.

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USA Baseball Releases Golden Spikes Award Midseason Watch List

April 10, 2018

DURHAM, N.C. - USA Baseball released the Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list on Tuesday, moving closer to naming the top amateur baseball player in the country. Presented in partnership with the Rod Dedeaux Foundation, the 41st Golden Spikes Award will be presented on June 28 in Los Angeles.

The midseason watch list features 40 of the nation's top amateur players from the college ranks. The Golden Spikes Award Advisory Board will continue to maintain a rolling list of athletes, allowing players to play themselves into consideration for the award before announcing the semifinalists on May 21.

"We are excited to announce the forty players on the Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list," said Paul Seiler, USA Baseball's Executive Director and CEO. "These athletes have proven themselves worthy of consideration for this prestigious award through the eyes of the advisory board and from the overwhelming fan support through our nomination process."

Joey Bart (Jr., C, Georgia Tech), Blaine Knight (Jr., RHP, Arkansas) and Casey Mize (Jr., RHP, Auburn) have each earned a spot on the midseason watch list for the second straight year, joining two-time midseason watch list selections Luken Baker (Jr., 1B/DH, TCU) and Seth Beer (Jr., IF, Clemson). Baker and Beer were also recognized on the list as freshmen in 2016 with Beer ultimately being named a finalist for the award that year.

In total, 13 different NCAA conferences have at least one athlete on the list, including two NCAA Division II conferences in the Gulf South Conference and the Sunshine State Conference. The Southeastern Conference leads all conferences represented on the midseason watch list with nine athletes, while seven players represent both the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Pac-12 Conference.

The defending College World Series champions, Florida, leads all schools with three athletes on the 2018 midseason watch list. Arizona State, Kentucky, NC State, Oregon State, and Southern Mississippi all placed two athletes on the list.

On Monday, May 21, USA Baseball will announce the semifinalists for the 2018 Golden Spikes Award. The list of semifinalists will then be sent to a voting body consisting of baseball media members, select professional baseball personnel, current USA Baseball staff and the 40 previous winners of the award, representing a group of more than 200 voters. As part of this selection process, all voters will be asked to choose three players from the list of semifinalists. On June 6, USA Baseball will announce the finalists, and voting for the winner will begin that same day.

Fan voting will once again be a part of the Golden Spikes Award in 2018. Beginning with the semifinalist announcement and continuing through the finalist round voting deadline, fans from across the country will be able to vote for their favorite player on GoldenSpikesAward.com.

The winner of the 41st Golden Spikes Award will be named on Thursday, June 28, at a presentation in Los Angeles. The finalists and their families will be honored at the Rod Dedeaux Foundation Award Dinner that evening at Jonathan Club in downtown Los Angeles.

USA Baseball has partnered with the Rod Dedeaux Foundation to host the Golden Spikes Award since 2013. The Foundation was formed to honor legendary USC and USA Baseball Olympic team coach, Rod Dedeaux, and supports youth baseball and softball programs in underserved communities throughout Southern California.

Last year, Louisville's Brendan McKay took home the prestigious award, joining a group of recent winners that include Kyle Lewis (2016), Andrew Benintendi (2015), A.J. Reed (2014), Kris Bryant (2013), Mike Zunino (2012), Trevor Bauer (2011), Bryce Harper (2010), Stephen Strasburg (2009), Buster Posey (2008), and David Price (2007).

The 2018 Golden Spikes Award timeline:

  • Monday, May 21: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award semifinalists announced, voting begins
  • Sunday, June 3: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award semifinalists voting ends
  • Wednesday, June 6: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award finalists announced, voting begins
  • Friday, June 22: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award finalists voting ends
  • Thursday, June 28: USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award trophy presentation

 

A complete list of the 40-player Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list is as follows:

Name, Class, Position, School, Conference
Luken Baker; Jr.; IF/DH; TCU; Big 12
Joey Bart; Jr.; C; Georgia Tech; ACC
Seth Beer; Jr.; IF/OF; Clemson; ACC
Alec Bohm; Jr.; IF; Wichita State; American Athletic
Kyle Brnovich; So.; RHP; Elon; Colonial Athletic
Brian Brown; Sr.; LHP; NC State; ACC
Logan Browning; Sr.; LHP/OF; Florida Southern; Sunshine State
Kris Bubic; Jr.; LHP; Stanford; Pac-12
Michael Busch; So.; IF; North Carolina; ACC
Michael Byrne; Jr.; RHP; Florida; SEC
Gage Canning; Jr.; OF; Arizona State; Pac-12
Kody Clemens; Jr.; IF; Texas; Big 12
Joe DeMers; Jr.; RHP; Washington; Pac-12
Colton Eastman; Jr.; RHP; Cal State Fullerton; Big West
Jeremy Eierman; Jr.; IF; Missouri State; Missouri Valley
Tyler Frank; Jr.; IF; Florida Atlantic; Conference USA
Logan Gilbert; Jr.; RHP; Stetson; Atlantic Sun
Luke Heyer; Sr.; IF/OF; Kentucky; SEC
Chris Holba; Jr.; RHP; ECU; American Athletic
Jonathan India; Jr.; IF; Florida; SEC
Jake Irvin; Jr.; RHP; Oklahoma; Big 12
Mitchell Kilkenny; Jr.; RHP; Texas A&M; SEC
Brett Kinneman; Jr.; OF; NC State; ACC
Blaine Knight; Jr.; RHP; Arkansas; SEC
Trevor Larnach; Jr.; OF; Oregon State; Pac-12
Davis Martin; Jr.; RHP; Texas Tech; Big 12
Shane McClanahan; Jr.; LHP; South Florida; American Athletic
Keegan McGovern; Sr.; OF; Georgia; SEC
Drew Mendoza; So.; IF; Florida State; ACC
Casey Mize; Jr.; RHP; Auburn; SEC
Tristan Pompey; Jr.; OF; Kentucky; SEC
Griffin Roberts; Jr.; RHP; Wake Forest; ACC
Adley Rutschman; So.; C/IF; Oregon State; Pac-12
Nick Sandlin; Jr.; RHP; Southern Mississippi; Conference USA
Zack Shannon; Sr.; RHP/IF; Delta State; Gulf South
Brady Singer; Jr.; RHP; Florida; SEC
Bren Spillane; Jr.; IF/OF; Illinois; Big Ten
Spencer Torkelson; Fr.; IF; Arizona State; Pac-12
Andrew Vaughn; So.; IF; California; Pac-12
Matt Wallner; So.; UT; Southern Mississippi; Conference USA

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GSA Spotlight: Kyle Brnovich

April 4, 2018

For some pitchers, the strikeout is almost a byproduct of making good pitches, rather than the intended outcome. Some guys don't care if they record an out via strikeout or groundout of flyout, as long as they get the out.

Elon's Kyle Brnovich is not one of those guys. It's no accident the sophomore righthander leads college baseball with 75 strikeouts through just 47 innings.

"The biggest thing is he's a competitor. I've been doing this for 22 years here, and he's probably the biggest competitor I can remember," Elon coach Mike Kennedy said. "He likes to strike guys out, and he tries to do it. You can't argue with the numbers. Sometimes as a coach you're like, 'Let's pitch to contact more and keep that pitch count down,' but he doesn't like contact, he doesn't like guys to hit off him. It's like a personal challenge for him to strike you out."

That mentality made me think of 2011 Golden Spikes Award winner Trevor Bauer, who told me that spring, "I like making hitters look stupid. That's fun." Bauer never gave in, always sought the strikeout, and led the nation in Ks two years in a row. In his famous 2011 campaign, Bauer averaged a national-best 13.37 strikeouts per nine innings.

Brnovich is currently averaging 14.36 strikeouts per nine.

"I coached with Team USA in 2009, and Bauer was on that staff," Kennedy said. "It's a great comparison. It's a very, very similar mentality, no question. Bauer knew he was good, and Brno has a lot of that in him too, that's what makes him special."

Of course, the other main reason Brnovich is a strikeout machine is that, like Bauer, he can really spin a breaking ball. That's his trademark pitch, and it's a serious weapon.

"It's hard to describe because he doesn't throw many of them the same. He adds and subtracts, he can throw it 82, he can throw it 74 - it does a lot of crazy stuff," Kennedy said. "The thing is sometimes you call a breaking ball, you're hoping he throws this breaking ball and he throws that breaking ball. It's slider velocity with a curveball break. It's not a traditional breaking ball, and I think that's why it's so successful. He does a lot of things with it, you can't describe it. It's really that good."

Brnovich's ability to manipulate the shape and speed of his breaking ball is rare, and he also "commands it like crazy," in Kennedy's words. But he's far from a one-trick pony. He also has good feel for a changeup that is effective against lefties, and Kennedy said it can be just as good as his breaking ball when he's really got it going. His 90-92 mph fastball is plenty firm enough to keep hitters from sitting on the offspeed stuff.

When Elon recruited Brnovich at Georgia's Kings Ridge Christian High School, he was a skinny, projectable righty with an 86 mph fastball. He had plenty of success, helping lead his team to back-to-back Georgia 6A state titles in 2014 and '15, then leading the state with 135 strikeouts in 72 innings as a senior in 2016. But Kennedy said Brnovich drew interest from bigger power-five schools that wanted him to walk on; Elon landed him by making a stronger commitment to him.

"We got in there and got a chance to see him back-to-back outings, he threw extremely well. We thought the breaking ball was really special, so we gave him a great scholarship, and I think that's what he was looking for," Kennedy said. "I think he likes our school size, a lot of what's going on here in terms of the mentality. The commitment for him was I think the biggest thing - a commitment comes with an opportunity." When Brnovich returned to campus after the holiday break in January of his freshman year, his fastball velocity started to jump, which took him to another level.

"All of a sudden he was 88-89 and able to locate it," Kennedy said. "And now he's 90-92 just about every time, and I think there's another jump in there. The arm works, he's got a little bit of effort in there and creates a little deception, but watch the arm swing and arm path, it works good. There's still room on his frame to put on some good weight, and he could pitch at 92-94 maybe. I don't think that's a stretch."

But that's a matter for down the road. In the short term, Brnovich's stuff is plenty good enough to dominate Division I hitters. Last week against red-hot College of Charleston, Brnovich racked up 14 strikeouts over 7 1/3 innings, allowing just one run on two hits to lead the Phoenix to a 9-3 win. That improved him to 4-0, 1.53 on the season, with 75 strikeouts, 19 walks, and a .156 opponents' batting average in 47 innings. He was already very good last year, when he went 6-5, 3.10 with 103 strikeouts in 90 innings to earn Colonial Athletic Association rookie of the year honors - but he's taken his game to another level as a sophomore. A day Brnovich shut down CofC, fellow prized sophomore righty George Kirby worked 5 2/3 strong innings to help lead the Phoenix to a 7-5 win, clinching a huge CAA series for the Phoenix. After starting the season 2-6, Elon has gone 15-6 since. The offense has found its stride, and the defense is very strong up the middle, led by rifle-armed shortstop Ryne Ogren (also the team's leading hitter at .378), talented center fielder Zach Evers (.322) and powerful second baseman Cam Devanney (.313 with 4 HR, 19 RBI). The bullpen has a pair of lights-out late-inning options in righty Robbie Welhaf (2.51 in 32.1 IP) and lefty Jared Wetherbee (1.80 in 15 IP), both of whom attack hitters at 90-93 with good breaking balls.

So after a few disappointing seasons marred by a seemingly endless parade of injuries, Elon is finally healthy and dangerous, with its best club since the last of its 14-straight 30-plus-win seasons in 2013. In fact, this may be the best Elon team since it won 40-plus games three times in four years from 2006-09.

And the biggest reason this team could be special is the duo of Brnovich and Kirby (5-1, 2.29), though sinkerballer Ryan Conroy (1-2, 2.80) is no slouch on Sundays either. But very few staffs in college baseball can match the pure talent Elon is running out on the mound every Friday and Saturday, which gives the Phoenix a great chance to win every weekend series, especially when combined with the Welhaf-Wetherbee bullpen pair. If Brnovich is Elon's Bauer, then Kirby is its Gerrit Cole, a flame-thrower with a fastball that regularly sits 95-96, and sat 96-98 against Georgia Southern, according to Kennedy. That's not to say Brnovich and Kirby are going to be two of the top three picks in the draft next year, like Cole and Bauer were - Kirby needs to continue to refine his secondary stuff, though he flashes an above-average changeup and a solid curveball that he's learning to throw with more power, while Brnovich doesn't have Bauer's fastball velocity. But like Bauer and Cole, Brnovich and Kirby really push each other.

"You really feel good about what's going to happen on a Friday and a Saturday, I can tell you that," Kennedy said. "Our guys play with confidence when they're out there; you have a chance to do some damage if you have guys on the front end like that. It's nice to be able to run those two dudes out there. And they both came in as freshmen together, so they're growing together, learning together, kind of feed off each other. It's fun to watch. I think there's a good battle between those guys - who's our Friday guy, so to speak? It's a good competition, and they make each other better."

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GSA Spotlight: Bren Spillane

March 28, 2018

Illinois always knew Bren Spillane had the potential to be a big-time player. Before the season began, the Illini coaches were asked to size up the 2018 team. In that, pitching coach Drew Dickinson said that Spillane was a potential breakout player. After all, he showed premium raw power in the fall and had all the tools to take a huge step forward.

Well, that assessment is proving to be accurate, as Spillane, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound, junior is doing his best Tyler Jay impersonation this season. No, Spillane isn't a pitcher. But back in 2015 when the Illini made a run to the super regional round, Jay was the face of the program and had eyeballs everywhere keeping track of the Illini. Spillane has had that same impact so far this season, as the Illini sit ranked No. 25 with an impressive 15-5 overall record, 3-0 mark in the Big Ten, and perhaps most important, a highly respectable RPI of 34 with room to go up.

This hasn't been a one-man show. The Illini have established consistency and have built a well-rounded offensive lineup with enough arms to have a strong campaign. But Spillane is the most important piece to the puzzle, as he ranks fifth nationally in batting average, and also has developed into a force on the base-paths. He's been one of the nation's most well-rounded players, and is one of several reasons why the Illini are where they are at this stage of the season.

"We've had some really good hitters come through here and I've seen some guys go through some streaks, but the thing that impresses me about Bren is that I think he has more power than anyone we've ever had at Illinois," Illinois coach Dan Hartleb said. "He can mishit balls that can go out of the park, and sure, he'll strike out at times. But he's learned not to chase a bunch of bad pitches.

"He'll also go out there and steal a bag for you, and he's a really, really good team player," he continued. "He's playing with a calm about him, and he's been really impressive."

Spillane has made gradual progressions since arriving on campus two years ago. He had Tommy John surgery in high school, and though he arrived in Champaign healthy from that standpoint, he was hit in the head and suffered a concussion in a summer game prior to arriving on campus. He missed the entire fall because of that, and suffered yet another concussion for the same reason in the spring. That time, the concussion symptoms lingered, leaving some of the coaching staff very concerned. The injury issues carried into his sophomore campaign last year, but Spillane made noticeable progress, especially later in the season when he finally began to get healthy. No matter what he had to do, Spillane was going to overcome those roadblocks.

After all, this was the same slugger who had to overcome the tragic passing of his father in high school to develop into one of the nation's premier sluggers, ranking 89th nationally and 7th in the State of Illinois by Prep Baseball Report in the 2015 recruiting class. Last season's leap was part of his process.

As a sophomore, he batted .295 with six doubles, a triple, five homers and 23 RBIs. He also walked 14 times and struck out on 32 occasions. So, progress was made, but he still had plenty of room to grow to become a premier hitter. He hadn't reached his full potential just yet.

"He just had to deal with some injury issues the past two years, just some really nagging things that seemed to affect him," Hartleb said. "He wasn't on the field on a regular basis and didn't see a lot of plate appearances, especially his first year. His body was always in really good shape and the preparation had always been good, but now he's healthy and the prep has been outstanding."

All the time, effort and patience is paying off for Spillane so far this season. In addition to helping the Illini get off to their best start since the super regional campaign a few years ago, the athletic junior is forming into one of the nation's premier overall players and quite an intriguing prospect. At least one head coach of an Illini opponent this season doesn't have to be convinced about Spillane's worth now and moving forward as a prospect.

"Spillane is a kid in the middle of the lineup who can hit out of the park at any time, and he's a freak. He's really tough to pitch to," the coach said. "I think when you look at his approach, when he's in positive counts, he's trying to hit it out to center field. But he doesn't get fooled a lot. You can pitch to him a little bit, but if you try to come in late, he has enough bat speed to hurt you that way. And if you live away, he'll hurt you there, too. He can hit a single, and he can mash with some power, too.

"The biggest thing about him is that he doesn't hit the ball on the ground a lot, he knows how to elevate pitches and hit the ball absolutely anywhere," he continued. "He's one of those guys who if he's healthy in high school, might not even end up on campus. He's just really good. He ran a 4.15 down the line when we played them and he can hurt you on the base-paths. He doesn't have great baseball instincts just yet, but they're good enough and he can run. He's really athletic and just adds another dimension to that team."

How impressive has Spillane's surge been this season? Digging through his numbers uncovers some interesting trends. For instance, last season, he tallied 14 walks. He already has 10 walks this season, though he's tracking ahead in strikeouts as well. Furthermore, Spillane already has eight more RBIs than he had all of last season, four more homers and a whopping 11 more doubles. He's also hitting .461 with a ridiculously good .528 OBP, 1.000 slugging percentage, and to cap it all off, a 1.528 OPS.

That's what we call a loud statement, and his surge has come about primarily for two reasons: 1) He's much mature from a mental standpoint and 2) His plate approach has gotten much better since last season. "From a mental standpoint, he's a year older and more mature, and I mean that from a baseball standpoint. I can't say enough about the strides he's made there," Hartleb said. "He doesn't step up to the plate feeling like he always has to do something special. His approach has been much so much better in the sense that he isn't chasing balls all over the place, and when he gets to two strikes, he doesn't panic.

"He can throw, he can run and he's got the power. He's shown that he can hit for a high average, and he has a really, really high ceiling," he continued. "He's the type of guy who's in a pack on this team. He really cares about everyone around him, and he isn't going out there worrying about what he can do for himself. He's worried about the team."

And that approach has helped Spillane stay grounded and focused on his own craft, while also helping the team have an immense amount of success the first half of the season.

Who knows at this point if Spillane can keep up the current trend for the whole season, but it's been fun to watch from afar.

Some, such as Dickinson and the coaching staff, had seen this coming for a while.

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GSA Spotlight: Logan Gilbert

March 21, 2018

In 20 years as a head coach, Steve Trimper has coached some great players with wonderful makeup who went on to be very successful after their playing days were over. But he can count on one hand the guys who stood out above the rest for their work ethic, personalities and overall class.

Stetson junior righthander Logan Gilbert is among that select handful with the very best makeup. And he also happens to be quite possibly the most talented player Trimper has ever coached, a preseason All-American and a very likely first-round pick come June. That's a pretty special combination of talent and intangibles.

"He's an unbelievable - with an exclamation point - clubhouse guy," Trimper said. "He comes out and sets up the screens every day like everybody else. He does the charts. He was lugging a bag recently and I told him not to worry about it, and he said, 'Coach, I got this.' He doesn't do that to show up, it's just his personality. His parents are wonderful people. When you get a player like that who was raised right, with great morals and values, it's just a real all-around success story. He's one of those pro players physically, but he's going to be the pro guy of an organization, that's gonna do the right things for an organization. When baseball's done for him, he's gonna be a high-end professional business person, or whatever he chooses to go into."

Gilbert is intelligent and self-motivated, a standout student who is just fun to be around. He's also a proven winner, with a career line of 16-1, 2.35 with 200 strikeouts in 172 innings at Stetson. He emerged as a bona fide star as a sophomore last year, going 10-0, 2.02 with a 107-26 K-BB mark in 89 innings to earn Atlantic Sun pitcher of the year honors. Then he became a Cape Cod League sensation, posting a 1.72 ERA and a 31-4 strikeout-walk mark in 31.1 innings for Orleans.

The Cape is where Gilbert really established himself as a candidate to be selected near the top of the 2018 draft. The 6-foot-6, 225-pounder overpowered hitters with an explosive fastball at 93-97 mph early in games, then settled in at 92-95 on most nights. And his fastball was even more explosive because of the incredible extension he generates - TrackMan measured it between 7-foot-3 and 7-foot-6 last summer, which is even than big leaguers with elite extension like Noah Syndergaard and Stephen Strasburg.

With his extension and the riding life on his heater, Gilbert gets an uncommon amount of swing-and-misses up in the strike zone, something he does by design.

"I was talking with (Blue Jays pitching coach) Pete Walker about how their philosophy is pitching up in the zone," Trimper said. "I said, 'I want you to meet Logan some day because he does that, he gets a lot of swinging strikes on a 90, 91 mph fastball at the letters, it's hard to lay off.' Particularly since he's coming at you from about 52 feet, so 91 really looks like 95. It's incredible. I think that's what makes him so intriguing at the pro level in a few years, you add a few more pounds and a little more strength, and the ability to develop, you've got a really special guy."

After the summer in the Cape, Gilbert's offseason regimen was hampered a bit by some nagging soreness in his back - nothing alarming, but enough to limit his strength training and running routines. So when the season started, his legs weren't quite in shape yet, and it took him a couple weeks to build up his endurance. He still showed 92-94 mph heat and touched 95 in his first couple outings, but his velocity would drop down toward the 89-91 range later in the game. Trimper said he's been consistently sitting 92-93 and touching 94 recently - but sometimes he'll intentionally sacrifice some velocity in favor of movement. That's the thing about Gilbert: for a big-bodied, long-levered power pitcher, he has an advanced ability to manipulate his fastball and pound the strike zone.

"Here's the other unique thing about Logan: a lot of the guys that can bring it, that's their MO: I'm coming at you, this is how the big leaguers do it, let's dial it up every pitch," Trimper said. "Logan pitches. If he knows he's got to work away, and he has to dial his fastball back to 89 with a little bit of cut to it, he does that. People ask, 'Hey, he threw a fastball at 89, what happened?' That's because he's trying to do that. His strikeout-walk ratio is awesome because he hits spots."

This year, Gilbert is on pace for his best strikeout-walk ratio yet. Through 33.2 innings, he has 50 strikeouts and just eight walks, helping him go 4-0, 2.67. He was dominant in his last start against Rhode Island, allowing just one run on two hits and two walks while fanning 11 over 7.1 innings of work.

"I think he's getting stronger and that's why he's been a little sharper," Trimper said. "His breaking ball is getting better and better each week. He throws that upper-70s, low-80s kind of slurve, he's had a lot of command of that. It's almost like what happened last year, he was awing people with that fastball early, then he started getting that slurve going, then I remember vividly against Florida Gulf Coast last year, he started going to the changeup, so he developed into even another guy."

The fastball remains Gilbert's calling card, and he'll need to refine his secondary stuff in pro ball, but right now he knows how to use his slurvy breaking ball effectively, and he can maintain his arm speed on his changeup, which flashes promising late tumble at times. Trimper thinks whatever pro organization drafts Gilbert will eventually teach him a cutter or power slider that will help complete his arsenal, but for now Stetson pitching coach Dave Therneau is wisely letting Gilbert dominate with the stuff he's already got.

"We don't want to overcoach him right now," Trimper said. "He's got a power arm, a great career in front of him, and he's very comfortable right now. But I think down the road, I think there's a lot of room for him to grow physically and with his velocity, and also an organization can say, our organization throws cutters or sliders, or whatever it is. But I trust Dave Therneau; he's been really successful with what we work with him on here."

And with Stetson (17-3) in the midst of what could shape up as a special season, the Hatters aren't going to mess with Gilbert's success. They're just going to enjoy the ride.

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GSA Spotlight: Andrew Vaughn

March 14, 2018

Sometimes players simply shatter expectations.

That would be California sophomore first baseman Andrew Vaughn, whose rise up the college baseball ranks began last season, while his overall story as a budding baseball player began well before he stepped on campus in Berkeley.

California head coach Mike Neu remembers recruiting Vaughn out of high school in Santa Rosa, Calif., well. Neu spent the last two seasons as the head coach at Pacific. However, he was an assistant for the Golden Bears before that and recruited Vaughn as a sophomore. Way back then, Neu, former Cal coach Dave Esquer and other Golden Bears staffers saw impressive potential. They saw a high school hitter with a consistent, mature approach and swing, and they saw a guy they believed would hit for a good average in college.

What Neu didn't see was his ability to hit for big-time power at the collegiate level, something that he mastered last season as a freshman, and continues to make serious strides with as a sophomore so far this season. How so? He hit 12 home runs last season, and after hitting another home run against San Francisco on Tuesday, is tied with NC State's Brett Kinneman for the national lead with 10. He'll easily eclipse last year's mark.

"You know, we recruited him as a sophomore, and the reason we recruited him is we thought he'd have a chance to really hit at the collegiate level," Neu said. "He had a flat swing and great hands at the time, and we honestly kind of compared him to Tony Renda, who excelled here.

"It was a short, flat swing and we knew he'd have a chance to be good. I never thought he'd develop into this, though," Neu continued. "He was a guy, even when he showed up here, who had a chance to hit for a high average. But then that raw power started showing up. In recruiting, you never know for sure what you're going to get, but it's extremely impressive to see what he's developed from a power standpoint. He had some power out of high school, but it wasn't anything like this."

Vaughn was ranked the No. 39 prospect in the 2019 MLB draft class before this season, but he wasn't always this highly touted. As Neu alluded to in our conversation, Vaughn was anything but a high profile guy during his high school days. He wasn't on any Area Code Games rosters, he went undrafted out of high school and he actually flew under the radar a little bit, as some players from the "North Bay" area, as Neu calls it, often do.

But someone else's loss has become California's gain when it comes to Vaughn. He made an instant impact as a freshman last season with a .349 average, .414 on-base percentage, .555 slugging percentage and .969 OPS, along with seven doubles, 12 homers and 50 RBIs. He also had a solid showing with the USA Collegiate National Team over the summer.

"He's a very legitimate power bat who had a strong freshman season and who was really impressive in the fall and coming into the season," a National League scout said. "He has made a huge, huge jump from high school. His lack of position does bother me a little bit, but you can't deny his ability as a hitter."

So far this season, Vaughn has established himself as one of the nation's premier overall hitters. Sure, he co-leads the nation in home runs, but he's such a complete hitter. He's hitting a ridiculously high .472 (fifth nationally) and has a .627 OBP, 1.113 slugging percentage, four doubles, 10 homers and 26 RBIs. Vaughn also has a 1.734 OPS, but most impressive to me and probably others is his control of the zone with a whopping 16 walks versus four strikeouts. The sophomore is three walks away from equaling his total all of last season.

"It's been really impressive to watch. He has such a professional offensive approach. He goes up there and he kind of knows what he wants to do every time," Neu said. "He doesn't chase a lot of pitches out of the zone and he takes his hits. Obviously, he has a lot of raw power, but some of the balls he hits go a long, long way.

"For me, he's just the complete package," Neu continued. "He has a ton of bat speed, he can hit it out of the ballpark every time he steps in the box, he's disciplined and he's a really good teammate. He's honestly everything you want out of one of your best players."

While Vaughn is shining from an offensive standpoint, some have wondered why he hasn't pitched. Last season, he made 10 appearances in 8.1 innings. And while his ERA wasn't good (7.56), he was up to 90-92 with his fastball and proved to be a potential future bullpen weapon.

Neu isn't opposed to pitching the heralded sophomore, but it's not at the top of his priority list at the moment. He'd rather develop other arms, though Vaughn continues to have periodic bullpen sessions. Ideally, the Golden Bears would like to keep him focused on the offensive side of things, with the potential of using him on the mound in a key spot later in the season, and perhaps in the NCAA postseason, which is a safe bet for now with a 12-4 record.

"You know, we've had him throwing bullpens each week. What I had in mind is kind of using him the same way we used Lucas Erceg a few years ago. We pitched Lucas about 10 innings his last year when we went to a regional, so maybe that's the way we'll use him," Neu said. "Andrew is such an offensive weapon and so important to our team as a hitter, that we just haven't used him as a pitcher just yet.

"Honestly, I'd rather go out there and develop some of the younger pitching that we have, while also having the ability to throw him if we need to," he continued. "It's probably an emergency situation with Vaughn for now. It'd be one thing if he was out there like Erceg throwing 94-96 mph, but he's more 89-90, and up to 91-92 with an ability to get some guys out."

It wasn't that long that Vaughn was considered a talented high school hitter who would head to college, maybe hit for a solid average and be a spot reliever.

Now, he's one of the nation's elite hitters with premium power.

"He's got impressive power to all fields and doesn't miss many mistakes," one Pac 12 coach said. "He stays balanced and does a great job of staying inside the ball."

Andrew Vaughn is all about exceeding expectations.

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GSA Spotlight: Brett Kinneman

March 7, 2018

NC State recruiting coordinator Chris Hart remembers seeing Brett Kinneman terrorize opposing pitching during a tournament in Charlottesville, Va., when he was a high school underclassmen. A week later, Kinneman did the same thing at a tournament in Atlanta, and Hart's mind was made up. The Wolfpack offered Kinneman a scholarship quickly and beat out plenty of other interested schools for his commitment.

Kinneman never really put up gaudy numbers in high school up in York, Pa., hitting .316 as a junior and .278 with three homers as a senior - but Hart knew he was getting a good player. He just didn't know how good. How could anyone know Kinneman would grow into one of college baseball's premier power hitters - and well, premier all-around players, gauging by the season's first three weeks - by the time he was a junior?

"You know how it works, you never really know until they step on campus, but I felt good about him," Hart said. "We gave him a pretty good scholarship and felt really good about him as a player."

As a freshman in the fall of 2015, it took no time at all for Kinneman to work his way into NC State head coach Elliott Avent's good graces.

"When he walked on campus, I told Chris Hart - who recruited him - 'I love that kid.' He's just a throwback to everything the game used to be when we all fell in love with it," Avent said. "I grew up loving Mickey Mantle, and I call him Mickey Mantle because he reminds me of Mickey Mantle. That guy's playing hurt. He banged into the wall his freshman year and dislocated his shoulder that he had dislocated on a swing. He does so many things. He reminds me a little bit of (former Wolfpack baseball/football player) Russell Wilson too - Russell used to play hurt all the time, and nobody would ever know he was hurt because he'd run off the field, and everybody thought he was fine.

"Kinneman's got that same makeup. And it's probably from his parents or grandparents or somebody, who knows where he got it from - he's just got that toughness that makes him a special player. He runs the bases well, he makes great turns. He plays the game like Pete Rose played it. He plays the game like you'd picture maybe Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, who had great respect for the game, Willie Mays - he'd always make great turns. They didn't play the game according to the score, they played the game the way it's supposed to be played. He reminds me of that since his freshman year."

It's a testament to Kinneman's authentic throwback style that Avent can go on and on about his turns around first base and his toughness and his genuine love for the game, before the coach ever gets around to the fact that Kinneman is hitting .462 and leading the nation in home runs (eight) and total bases (55), ranking second in RBIs (25) and fourth in slugging (1.058). Avent can't help but compare him to Mantle, Rose, Cobb, Musial, DiMaggio and Mays - for his hustle and his intensity and his joy on the diamond.

But OK, it's also nice that Kinneman has hit like those guys over the season's first three weeks.

Kinneman has always had a pretty lefthanded swing, and he has been a productive hitter his entire career at NC State. He posted a .931 OPS with six homers in 135 at-bats as a freshman in 2016, then put up an .874 OPS with 10 homers in 209 at-bats as a sophomore.

Those are rock-solid numbers, but they pale in comparison to Kinneman's 1.575 OPS so far this spring. He already has eight home runs in just 52 at-bats, not to mention three doubles and two triples.

Kinneman tantalized scouts with his bat speed and all-around tools package last summer in the Cape Cod League, but he also struck out an eyebrow-raising 47 times in 121 at-bats, following a sophomore spring in which he whiffed 64 times and drew 29 walks. So he's always seen a lot of pitches, and he's always shown the bat speed to catch up to good fastballs, but he needed to do a better job recognizing spin and picking the right pitches to swing at.

Hart said plate discipline has been a point of emphasis for the whole team this year, but nobody has made more progress in that area than Kinneman, who has seven walks and eight strikeouts, and is excelling at doing damage when he gets his pitch in the zone.

"It's like everybody does through time, their plate discipline becomes better," Avent said. "He's still gonna strike out, so did Mickey Mantle. All the guys who the ball jumps off their bat, they have some swing and miss in them, probably the only one who didn't was Barry Bonds. So he's still got some swing and miss in him, but his plate discipline has become so much better through the last couple years. And I think that's what's starting to make a big difference too."

Obviously Kinneman has been a wrecking ball at the plate, but there's a lot more to his game than just the bat - he's a very good all-around player. The 6-foot, 197-pounder is an above-average runner who can run the 60-yard dash in 6.7 seconds, and he has an above-average arm from left field, where he's become a very good defender.

"He is an underrated runner, and an underrated defender, and an underrated thrower," Avent said. "He just does every part of the game really well. So he's had a lot of success since he's been here, but it's because he's worked so hard. Coach Hart and I were talking the other day, and he said, 'What round do you think Kinny is?' I said, 'Well, I don't know, but if they see the way he runs the bases every day, if they see the way he plays defense and makes throws to bases every day, then you would appreciate his game a lot more than if you just see him hitting home runs and doubles, the ball just jumps off his bat.' If they can watch everything that kid does, then he's a high-round draft pick, because his makeup is off the charts."

The combination of tools and performance give Kinneman a chance to keep on climbing draft boards - maybe he'll follow in the footsteps of Virginia's Adam Haseley as a well-rounded college oufielder with advanced baseball instincts who plays his way right into the first round. That will depend on whether he can keep performing at a high level against stronger competition once ACC play begins this weekend. But the way he's playing now, it seems like there's nothing he can't do.

"There's nothing missing with that kid, I'm telling you," Avent said. "Plus he's got a great smile. And he wears his hat kind of tilted on the back of his head like Mickey Mantle. And when he hits a home run, I remember Mickey Mantle said this one time - 'When I hit a home run, I figure the pitcher's embarrassed enough so I don't want to add to it by looking at him,' so he ran around the bases with his head down. I always remember that about Mickey Mantle. Kinneman did that, and the first time I saw it, that's when I started calling him Mickey Mantle. He probably thought I was telling him he was as great as Mickey Mantle - he ain't that good. He ain't that good."

Nobody is, except Mike Trout. But Kinneman's first three weeks have been downright Mantle-esque.

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GSA Spotlight: Joe DeMers

February 28, 2018

As the series opener against UC Riverside progressed last Saturday, Washington junior righthander Joe DeMers kept putting up zeroes. Early in the game? Zeroes. Middle innings? Zeroes. So, when UW pitching coach Jason Kelly peeked up at the scoreboard in the eighth inning, it finally started to sink in. Not only was DeMers closing in on a no-hitter, he was on the verge of recording the first perfect game in Husky history.

Perhaps no pitching coach expects his arms to record a perfect game at any point in their careers, but when the Huskies signed DeMers out of high school, Kelly envisioned being able to share many of these types of moments with the premier righty. He was expected to be an elite arm in college baseball and a total game-changing prospect for UW.

DeMers got through that eighth inning against UCR unscathed and came out for the ninth with a surprisingly low pitch count. The first Highlanders hitter grounded out to third, the next struck out looking, and the final batter of the game flew out to center field.

The impossible had been accomplished. DeMers threw a perfect game. Kelly, who recruited DeMers and has taught him tricks of the trade the last two seasons, couldn't help but to soak it all in as the Huskies celebrated with their history-making hurler.

"It's something I've never been a part of, and it's not something you really anticipate at all," Kelly said. "You don't know how you're going to feel if it happens, but we got to about the eighth inning and then I realized this could happen. I was just excited for him, because he pitched so well.

"Honestly, from my perspective, it wasn't all about the perfect game," he continued. "It was about him. There aren't many days in your pitching career when you go out there and throw almost every pitch for a strike, and throw it exactly where you want it. That performance was the culmination of a lot of hard work for Joe."

Though some pitchers were lucky enough to pitch in warmer temperatures last weekend, DeMers did the deed in brutally cold temperatures - officially 43 degrees and cloudy in Seattle. In other words, you'd expect a pitcher to be somewhat rusty.

Not DeMers. Not on this day. The righty, who just missed our College Top 100 Prospects list in the preseason, but certainly could scale the rankings with a fast start, sat 87-91 and up to 92 mph with his sinking fastball. He showed great fastball command, a good changeup and threw a 79-82 mph slider for strikes.

He struck out nine batters, and get this: he also finished the afternoon with only 84 pitches.

"It wasn't the warmest of days, but he was really sharp. He was throwing the slider for strikes and really did a nice job of keeping them off balance," Kelly said. "To strikeout nine guys and throw just 84 pitches. That's crazy. It wasn't like he had two strikeouts like some of those old Greg Maddux performances where he had three strikeouts and threw just 90 pitches. He still had nine strikeouts." DeMers also challenged hitters throughout the contest. Though some pitchers would get obsessed with nibbling on the outside part of the plate with a no-hitter or perfect game in their crosshairs, Kelly said his hard-nosed righty attacked hitters from the first to the last out.

"He wasn't afraid to go in there and challenge hitters," he said. "Once you get to the seventh inning in that type of situation, you want to try so hard and you want to nibble and try to just get outs. He just kept going after guys, and that was really impressive to me."

The junior righthander's first two starts this season could be a turning point for his immediate future as a college pitcher and long-term future as a professional prospect.

The former Perfect Game All-American Classic competitor exited high school with incredibly high expectations. He was the No. 9 high school prospect in California and was ranked No. 48 with a strong commitment to Washington. He was going to be an instant impact arm for Lindsay Meggs' Huskies. Not everything went as planned for DeMers. He made 16 starts as a freshman, but the results weren't good. He tallied a 6.91 ERA in 71.2 innings, struck out 32 and walked 19. And get this: teams hit the righty at a .385 clip, something Kelly said he's never seen outside of that aberration from DeMers.

"Joe was giving up an average of something like 15 hits per nine innings as a freshman. He was throwing strikes, but was just getting hit really hard," he said. "Now? He never really has to give in and he can throw the ball on both sides of the plate, up and down, whenever he wants to." DeMers took a significant step forward last season. He tallied a 3.35 ERA in 14 starts and 99.1 innings and struck out 65. Teams didn't hit him at a .385 clip like his freshman season, but they did hit at a .289 clip, illustrating that he still had some work to do."

This season, DeMers, through two starts, looks like the guy everyone thought he'd be out of high school. He has a huge arm and has the ability to reach back and touch 94-95 mph with his fastball when he wants to. But he feels more comfortable throwing at a slightly lower speed with better command. DeMers, who has yet to allow a run in 15 innings, while also striking out 16 and walking three, continues to throw a good changeup, while he's made big strides with the slider. When he arrived in Seattle, his primary breaking ball was more of a curveball. But now, he feels more comfortable with the fast-developing slider, giving him a strong three-pitch mix and setting the stage for what should be a fruitful junior season.

"The big thing with Joe has been his commitment to command and his overall development of the stuff. It was about learning to sink his fastball and really developing the changeup and slider," Kelly said. "He's become a more dynamic pitcher and he's doing whatever he needs to do to experience success at this level. "He's pitching in to righties and lefties, he's pitching backwards and he's doing a great job of exploiting hitter's weaknesses," he continued. "There's not really a hitter or lineup that seems to be giving him trouble right now. The changeup has always been good, but now it's really good. The slider has been the big one for him. He's taken that pitch to another level, and that's helped him become a more well-rounded pitcher."

DeMers and Kelly will forever remember what happened this past Saturday, but they don't want that to be the only special memory this season. As a team, the Huskies still have some pieces to put together to get where they want to be at the end of the season. But at least so far, there's been one constant, and that's the arm of the righty from California.

He's back on the national map, and he might just be here to stay.

"Having a guy like Joe on Friday, it not only gives you some reliability, but it also gives you a guy who can go out there and shut someone out," he said. "Noah Bremer and Tyler Davis could beat other people's Friday guys, but there's no doubt having a guy like Joe makes teams a little more thoughtful and how they approach you both offensively, and how they use even their own pitchers throughout the weekend."

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GSA

Golden Spikes Spotlight: Shane McClanahan

February 20, 2018

TAMPA - The list of major league lefthanders who threw a pitch 100 mph in 2017 is short. Just six big league southpaws managed it, and only four of them threw more than one 100 mph pitch.

So to say Shane McClanahan is valued as a rare commodity by MLB clubs is an understatement. McClanahan, a redshirt sophomore lefthander for South Florida, is one of the hardest-throwing southpaws in college baseball history. Multiple scouts confirmed that he hit 100 mph multiple times in a recent preseason scrimmage, and in his season debut Friday against North Carolina he touched 99 at least twice.

Big velocity is sexy, but McClanahan is trying to ensure that his story doesn't start and end with the radar gun readings. He's working hard to make himself a more complete pitcher, a process that began after he recovered from Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss all of 2016. He had a very encouraging redshirt freshman season in the USF rotation last year, going 4-2, 3.20 with 104 strikeouts and 36 walks in 76 innings, but one of his primary objectives in 2018 is to reduce that 4.26 walks per nine rate.

In that respect, his season debut left something to be desired - he issued five walks and hit a batter in six innings of work. But he also allowed just three hits, and whenever UNC got runners on base, McClanahan knuckled down and escaped unscathed. Three times, the Tar Heels got the leadoff man aboard, twice via walk, but McClanahan kept them from capitalizing on any of those scoring chances, and he exited after six scoreless innings and 11 strikeouts.

Perhaps the highlight was the fourth inning, when he allowed a leadoff single to Zack Gahagan and then proceeded to strike out the next three batters, on a 95 mph heater, an 81 mph slider and a 96 fastball.

"I had five walks and that's unacceptable, but I just really worked on just trying to locate my pitches and not trying to overthrow," McClanahan said. "But first-game jitters, and it's one of those things, we'll come back next weekend and really tweak some things and not let that happen again, because that's unacceptable."

As part of McClanahan's attempt to lower his walk rate and save some of his big bullets for when he really needs them, he is making a concerted effort to dial back his fastball early in counts, often pitching at 89-94 mph, then reaching back for 95-98 in big spots.

"I thought he did a really good job adding and subtracting on his fastball," USF coach Billy Mohl said. "When he needed he could reach back and hit the 97, 98, but I thought he did a really good job - I think he ranged anywhere from 88 to 99 on the board. But that's what he needs to do, because we've had many talks where, you just cannot keep your foot on the gas, and he did a really job doing that tonight. Mixing in breaking ball, we were fastball-dominant early, then he started getting the offspeed going. That's huge to have a couple quick innings instead of trying to strike everybody out."

Last year, McClanahan pitched overwhelmingly off his fastball, but he has worked hard to develop his secondary stuff in the offseason. His changeup is his clear No. 2 pitch, an 84 mph offering with good arm speed that he uses to induce weak contact against righties, though he also got at least one strikeout with the pitch Friday. His slider is still his third pitch, but it is making clear progress; he threw some really good ones early in the game at 83-86, and when he throws it with conviction like that, it's a real weapon. Usually it comes in around 79-82, and he still needs to throw it firmer more consistently, but it's developing.

"Let's just say I was tired of it being terrible," McClanahan said. "Just trusting the grip and trusting the arm with it, mechanics and everything like that. That's really all it was."

Even when he throws it with less velocity, the slider is starting to become an effective offering for him, and he's learning to command it much better, as Friday illustrated.

"Just the feel of it, the ability to throw it for strikes. I mean, we threw a 3-2 slider tonight; last year I could never call a 3-2 slider with him," Mohl said. "The shape of it and everything else has gotten a lot better. It's still not a finished deal, he still needs to trust it more and throw it a little firmer, but right now I'd say the changeup is the No. 2 pitch, he throws that with good arm speed. And the slider we're still working on, it's still developing. When he trusts it and he rips it, it's good. (Last year) he wouldn't, because it would be off the backstop."

During the middle innings Friday when the Bulls were at bat, McClanahan went to throw on the side. "Ah, well UNC's like a human rain delay, so I had to stay loose," he quipped.

McClanahan has a quick wit and a blunt manner about him, as you can see. He's got a little edge about him that translates well to the mound, where he always competes hard. His off-the-field maturation, however, has been just as impressive to Mohl as his development on the mound.

"Shane's a big kid. That's really what he is. When it's time to compete, he competes. But off the field, he's a character," Mohl said. "He's kind of a smart aleck, kind of throws out one liners at you. That's just who he is, he's fun to be around. Compared to what he was three years ago when he was kind of shy, immature, now he's just one of the guys, jokes around, has a good old time.

"From the deer in headlights as a freshman, being away from home for the first time, kind of holding his hand through a few things. Now, the leaps and bounds he's made from a maturity standpoint is unbelievable."

McClanahan is a good teammate, and on Friday he just seemed happy to get a win for his team - and the first career win for Mohl as head coach.

"It's awesome," McClanahan said. "That guy has our back and we have his back no matter what. We wanted him here, we got him, and we're gonna go out there and bust our ass for him."

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