Baseball Scrimmage Observations: 10/19

The Gators took Tuesday off from scrimmaging to allow most of the draft eligible pitchers to see the mound Wednesday afternoon with 30-35 MLB scouts in attendance. The offense was slowed by the dominant pitching staff until the later innings.

ON THE MOUND:

Hudson Randall started the game on the mound for his team. He said on Tuesday during the media session that his velocity is slowly getting back to where it needs to be. For a pitcher like Randall that doesn't depend on his velocity, it will ramp up when the season starts and he gets on the mound during a game.

He showed glimpses of that on Wednesday. With scouts littering the stands behind home plate, Randall sat in the low 80s during the early parts of the scrimmage. However, when Mike Zunino came to the plate, the velocity immediately jumped to 88-89 mph to meet the challenge of an All-American catcher.

His change up was effective and had good movement to it. Randall also featured his new pitch, the cutter. He learned it from left-hander and roommate Steven Rodriguez, who has carved up opponents with the pitch in his first two seasons in Gainesville.

Randall threw the cutter inside to left-handers, and the success was tough to ignore. He threw it to Nolan Fontana and Preston Tucker during the first inning and neither could put the ball in play, only fouling it off. Tucker put it in play during his second at-bat, but it was a double play.

Brian Johnson's outing was the first of the fall for him. After pitching last season, Johnson jumped to Team USA and straight to the Cape Cod League from there. He threw plenty of innings, so the coaches decided to give him a break to start the fall.

Johnson threw just one inning on Wednesday and his velocity wasn't where it will be during the season. His fastball was 87-88 mph with a sharp curveball that got plenty of swings and misses, including his final strikeout of the inning. Johnson is also mixing in a two-seam fastball this fall.

Austin Maddox dominated for three innings. His change up was very good and has good depth to it. His curveball started out slow and was left up in the strike zone or above the strike zone. Maddox made an adjustment midway through the outing and started to throw the curveball for a strike, and when that happened, any hope of hitters making consistent, hard contact was over.

John Magliozzi hasn't been sharp during the three outings I've seen this fall. However, every time he gets hit hard, it's easy to see the potential he has. Each time the biggest struggle for Magliozzi has been his location. He walked six hitters in 2.2 innings on Wednesday and struggled to throw most of his pitches for a strike.

The fastball was 88-90 to start his outing and increased as he went on. Magliozzi has a lot of confidence in the change up, and he throws it inside to right or left-handed hitters. His curveball is a true 12-to-6 breaking ball, meaning it doesn't move side-to-side, instead showing sharp bite as the pitch heads toward the plate. It froze multiple hitters when he threw it for a strike.

It's a good outing for Greg Larson when they seem boring because of the ground balls he gets. It took six hitters for one to hit the ball in the air, and even that was a soft line drive single by Tyler Thompson. Eight of the 11 hitters that Larson faced on Wednesday hit the ball into the ground. When he is getting ground balls, he's a dominant reliever.

Steven Rodriguez has received plenty of praise this fall, and he'll earn even more after Wednesday's outing. He threw a cutter in on the hands of Daniel Pigott that fooled him so much, Pigott's bat snapped cleanly in half and flew to third base. Rodriguez gave up one hit, and it came when Preston Tucker stayed on a cutter and hit it down the left field line. As Tucker made it to second base, he was telling Rodriguez about how good the cutter was and said his hands were still hurting, despite hitting the ball hard.

Don't be surprised if Aaron Rhodes has an impact this season. The freshman right-hander from Venice High School has one of the nastiest curveballs on the team. It's a Frisbee-type that has sharp, late action. I haven't seen a third pitch that he trusts much, but he won't be called on for more than an inning this season. He has a good, firm fastball and the curveball, which should be more than enough for a middle relief role this year.

Rhodes settled in during his first inning of work, and then watched as the curveball made veteran hitters embarrass themselves. He starts it at a right-handed hitter's shoulder and drops the pitch over the heart of the plate. Then, he'll start it for a strike and make it look like a fastball out of his hand, before the late movement drops it out of the strike zone. By that time, it's usually too late for hitters to hold up.

Justin Shafer only threw one inning on Wednesday. He has been up-and-down in the outings I've seen, but the tools are there if he can put them together. He struck out Mike Zunino with a breaking ball and came back to strike out Daniel Pigott with a fastball on the inner half of the plate. As his confidence grows, Shafer could become a solid two-way player for the Gators, as his bat hasn't wasted time making an impact.

AT THE PLATE: After pitching, Brian Johnson then went 2-for-2 at the plate against Randall. He showed off the two-way potential that is forcing scouts to make a decision when the MLB Draft comes in the summer. Johnson has put in a lot of work with assistant coach Craig Bell on clearing the front side in his swing, and it is paying off. Even when he got out on Wednesday, it came during a good at-bat where he saw a lot of pitches.

Tyler Thompson also had a good day at the plate. If he can stay healthy in center field, he is setting up to have the best year of his career. Health will be the issue, but the Gators have enough depth to keep him fresh.

No matter how many times you see Nolan Fontana do it, it never gets old. He faced Magliozzi and could tell his control wasn't sharp, so Fontana stood at the plate, fouled pitches off and worked a walk. He's turned it into an art form during his time in Gainesville.

Fontana also advanced a base twice on pitches in the dirt. When the ball went out of the pitcher's hand, he read that it would be short of the catcher, and took off immediately. Some players have the ‘it' factor, and Fontana is one of them.

Vickash Ramjit had a few good at-bats. He doubled off Rhodes to score two runs. He's got a solid line drive swing that could be a trusted bat as a pinch hitter.

Overall, it wasn't a great day for the Florida offense. That's usually the pattern in the fall. The hitters use wood bats to get a better feel for the sweet spot on the bat, and it gives the pitchers added confidence.


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