This weekend I went to see two of the top baseball programs in the MAC. Ball State was visiting Kent State in a battle for MAC supremacy. The starting pitchers were lefty Eric Lauer, who took the hill for Kent State to face Trevor Henderson, a left-hander for Ball State.
Before I dive in, I should note that I don’t have a radar gun. Luckily near me was someone with a radar gun who was associated with one of the programs, so I was able to sneak a few peeks throughout the game.
Lauer is a player with whom I am very familiar. I rated him the top high school draft prospect from Ohio in 2013. This might have been a mistake, as Ohio native Andrew Benintendi from Arkansas is tied for the NCAA lead in homeruns. There will be more about Benintendi to come in this weekend’s column. Lauer was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 17th round in 2013 but elected to attend Kent State. He talked about the great pitching coach at Kent State, Mike Birkbeck, being a large part of the reason he went there. Lauer started his freshman year in the bullpen, but by the end of the year, he was the Friday starter for the Flashes. This year he has had some struggles. He returned to the bullpen for a bit and worked his way back to being the Saturday starter. His numbers for the year look very good: 2.12 ERA and 60:14 strikeout-to-walk ratio. I do worry that he is allowing almost a hit an inning from a statistical point of view that is really the only negative.
This weekend, Lauer was commanding his curve well early on and it had some back door movement, which allowed it to be effective versus right-handers, as well as lefties. His fastball was sitting 89-91 and had some downward movement. He had a no-hitter through the first three innings. The next time through his command was not as sharp. He was not able to hit that outside corner, as well, and his pitch count was up. I felt like most hitters went 2-2 against him. He was nibbling a bit but the pitches he was able to get strikes on early seem to be balls later. Yet the final line was very impressive: seven innings, one earned run, five hits, one walk and 11 strikeouts. He ended up picking up the loss, as a few booted balls in the outfield led to three unearned.
I had to take time and think about his overall performance. In some respects, because he came out so dominant, it was hard not to feel a little let down when he could not keep it up. When I got home and looked up the numbers, I was surprised by how good they were. The hitters from Ball State did a nice job being patient and not swinging at stuff outside the strike-zone. Nevertheless, he still managed 11 strikeouts. He was able to hit his spots when he needed to.
Lauer is a name to know for next year. Kent State has not had a highly talked about player since Tyler Skulina and Taylor Williams in 2013. They had a bit of a run of big name, first-round type pitchers but have since cooled. Lauer has the size at 6’3” and the potential to be a top-three round pick next year if he can continue to develop.
The draft-eligible player I would have been most interested to see is do-it-all outfielder Alex Miklos. I liked him last year as junior and this year as a senior-sign, why not take a risk on a small school kid who has put up amazing numbers doing a bit of everything. Unfortunately, he hurt his knee and has not played for a while. He led the Flashes in most offensive categories during his junior year, but he also got hurt towards the end of last season.
The other interesting senior is the intriguingly named Zarley Zalewski. He was a 40th round selection by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of high school. He has been a good team player and moved to first base from the middle infield. He is a switch-hitter who has walked more than he has struck out this year. I think his future position might be the outfield, as he is not a bad athlete. The profile is not sexy. He doesn’t have big power or speed but does a little bit of everything and should get a shot with some team this year.
The starter from Ball State was a 6’4” freshman named Trevor Henderson. He was not as sharp as Lauer but he would generate some swing-and-miss out of the zone. The movement on his fastball seemed to give the hitters a hard time. He only struck out three but also only allowed three hits. Henderson was trying to work the ball down in the zone or on the corners. He was mid-80s from what I saw the few times I got to see gun. As a true freshman with nice movement and size, Henderson will be intriguing to watch develop over the next two years.
The biggest name for the Ball State Cardinals was the right-handed hitting outfielder Zach Plesac, who is hitting .208 on the year. He played first and outfield for the Cardinals on Saturday. I sadly missed seeming him do what he does best though, which is pitch. The nephew of Dan Plesac was one of the top freshmen in the country last year and has a chance to be a top-three round selection next year. On the year, his numbers aren’t quite as good as Lauer’s. He has a 2.98 ERA with 46:20 K:BB. He has a sinking fastball which sits low 90s. It is hard not to see the potential in Plesac, but this year he has not made the jump a lot of people expected. Many expected to see him put himself into the 2016 first-round conversation.
Scott Baker is the second biggest name I knew from Ball State before the game. As a sophomore, he burst onto the scene but has struggled to duplicate the success he found that year. He is a big kid at 6’4” and 215. Baker has a chance to be a senior sign for a team whose scout thinks his team can get Baker back to where he was two years ago. Since then, his command and control have regressed.
Alex Call was the most impressive hitter I saw for Ball State. He is only a sophomore but showed good speed. I have heard he has a plus arm in the outfield to go with the speed. He is second on the team in on-base percentage after the leading the team as a freshman. He is undersized but with his arm and speed, he has a chance at being drafted in the future as a fourth-outfielder type.
It was a beautiful day at the park and while I could not scout a ton for the 2015 draft this weekend, the trip allowed me to get a jump on scouting for the 2016 draft, which promises to be one of the deeper ones at the top in recent memory.