This was one of the most contested and weirdest games I have seen all year. It was a battle of the Eastern (Kent State) and Western (Central Michigan) leaders in the MAC. Both teams had 11 wins in conference and had spilt the previous two games, so the series was on the line, as was the best record in conference.
It was odd for a multitude of reasons. The home plate umpire had a few interesting calls on the day. The Central Michigan coach got himself thrown out for arguing a balk call. It was the first time I have ever seen a college coach thrown from a game. He had been out to argue earlier in the game as well. The fans were also arguing and yelling with the umps and each other more than I had ever experienced in a game at this level. It was a contentious day.
I chose to go on Sunday for a few reasons. First, I knew the weather would be the best that day. Second, I wanted to see sophomore Joey Murray, whose numbers have been very impressive this year For Kent. He is in the top ten this year in strikeouts per nine, with a rate over 13. Third, I wanted to see Pat Leatherman, who I have been following since he started strong as a freshman, before needing bicep surgery that required him to miss the majority of his freshman year.
The fact that Leatherman is the Sunday starter shows that things have not quite gone as hoped. Leatherman is the senior member of the staff, which normally results in a pitcher getting the Friday or Saturday gig. His hit rate, walk rate, E.R.A., and home run rate have all increased every year. Again, his freshman year was only 30 innings, so it was the smallest of sample sizes. His strikeout rate is up over eight this year, which is a positive.
On Sunday, he was mid 80’s with his fastball and curve. His slider was in the 70’s. My gun had some issues throughout the day, but I was able to get information from the team during the course of the game.
In relief, I saw Colton Bradley and Jordan Grosjean. Bradley was reported to me as mid 70’s with his curve and low 90’s with his fastball. He has not been much of a strikeout guy this year in spite of what would be plus velocity in the MAC. He was pitching for the second day in a row and ended up with a blown save and the loss. He looked very good at points, but there were some control issues during the game.
Grosjean was 84 to 89 with his fastball. This was the second week in a row I saw a 6’4”, 22 year old pitcher from Oregon, Ohio, as just the week before I saw Ross Achter pitch. Needless to say, that high school team should have been very good.
Murray was not the pitcher that he had been to start the year. I had heard him being up to 93, but he was more like 88-91 and the velocity dropped as the game went on. He was down to mid 80’s by the 6th. He was hanging quite a few curveballs, one of which Daniel Jipping crushed to left field. He was still effective, but just not the dominant force I expected based on the numbers he had put up this year.
I had seen Robert Zeigler pitch before, but this was his best outing of the year. Ziegler is a redshirt junior, who transferred from Kentucky. His velocity has backed up a bit since high school, but he seems to be getting stronger as the year as progressed for him at Kent. The transfer has seemed to be a very positive one in terms of his growth. He has mostly worked out of the pen this year, but has also started three games.
Zeigler came in with a man on, after the previous reliever failed to record an out. The next three batters were walk, out, and a single, which gave Central Michigan the lead. Zeigler would then get a double play to get himself out of the inning and keep the deficit at one. After the single, Zeigler would end up pitching 3.2 innings and would allow just one more base runner through a hit by pitch. He would strike out five over four innings.
Zeigler was 88-92 in the game. He was able to use his mid 70’s curve to put away several hitters. Zeigler is interesting, as he is an older arm, but not one with a lot of mileage. He has a chance to step into the rotation next year for Kent, depending on how draft day plays out both for both himself and the Golden Flashes. His age could make him a senior sign player with some added growth potential, in spite of age.
The hitter who I was most intrigued to see was Daniel Jipping. He is a big left fielder for Central Michigan. He is listed at 6’2”, but seems bigger than that. Jipping has both walked and struck out a lot in college. His power this year has taken a step forward and he is up to 10 homeruns on the year. His ISO is up to .276 and, as a matter of fact, almost all his numbers are up this year. He has shown strong BABIP numbers as well, which often show a player with good contact rates.
It is easy to see plus right handed power potential with Jipping. It's a strong, quick swing and, while he might miss, he always got a good rip. In one at bat against Joey Murray, he missed a hanging change and, when Murray did it again on the next pitch, Jipping got the Chippewas on the board with a two run shot.
He was not the most mobile player in the outfield. I saw two plays where he let another play make a much harder play than it would have been for Jipping. He looked like a below average defender in the outfield, in terms of breaks and routes.
In the end it is the bat that gets a player like Jipping drafted and, so far this year, he is one of the more impressive players I have seen in the MAC. I still have to see Ross Haffey but, as of now, I would expect Jipping to be the first bat off the board from the MAC this year. His mix of power potential and consistency with the bat give him a chance to be an everyday player. Among the MAC batters who are likely to be drafted, he has the most likely outcome of being a two WAR player in the future.
I have to note that I got to see Central Michigan DH Dazon Cole. Cole is a draft eligible sophomore, who is also the Friday night starter. He has played DH when not pitching. Cole is a great athlete who could play center field or be tried as a pitcher. The numbers this year are not strong either way, but the athleticism is easy to see. He is undersized, at 5’11”, and has posted very low strike out totals in college, which leads me to think he is a hitter moving forward. I think he is a player who could see a jump in performance when he just has to focus on one half of the game.
One final note on this game---In the 7th, Dylan Rosa took a 90 mph fastball right on the hand. He dropped to the ground in pain and was down for a while. When he got up, he was still clutching his hand. He was holding his hand at first base and when he ran as well. He was removed from the game between innings and Kent has not played a game since. It is hard to know how this will affect him. Hands are delicate to begin with and hand injuries can zap power, which is Rosa’s best tool. I hope it’s nothing, but I will be checking the box score to see how he does when he’s back and to see if he gets right back into games.