Setting the Stage
After having the benefit of wonderful weather last weekend in Louisiana, I returned to the dreary conditions of April baseball in the northeast. On paper, Boston College has some intriguing players, but when reality finally sets in, you come to the conclusion that they just don't have the talent to match up with some of the ACC's best. The game was played in rainy, cold weather, with a light wind blowing in from the outfield, and some slick infield conditions. Shea Field plays like a bit of a hitter's park on most days, but with the conditions last Friday, that certainly wasn't the case. At 29-4 heading into the weekend, Florida State was looking to tack on three relatively easy conference wins.
• Far and away the most hyped prospect in the game, Florida State centerfielder Shane Robinson did anything but make himself stand out. After hearing him billed as a burner with surprising power and tremendous defensive skills, I was expecting a player that made me take notice. His speed didn't strike me as being in the elite class, but rather just solidly above average. The ball didn't jump off his bat like I expected, and while some of that can be attributed to the weather, even the balls he centered well seemed lazily hit. He flashed great outfield instincts and a cannon arm, but I'm not sure that's enough to warrant all the talk. He appeared to be a bit of a "guess-hitter" that had very good hand-eye coordination allowing him to get the bat on balls he misjudged. Overall, he'll likely be a relatively high-round choice because of the hype and the system he is playing in, but I'm not certain he warrants that consideration. He looks to profile as a tiny (listed generously at 5-9, 165) singles hitter with good defense; not exactly the commodity you want to spend a top 6th or 7th round choice for.
• The pitching for both teams was able to control the game because of the poor weather conditions. FSU's Bryan Henry posted a dominating line in the box score, but looked solidly average on the hill. He flashed an average fastball, solid curve, and a very mediocre change-up. A large part of his success appeared to be predicated on his deceptive, short-armed delivery. He's been pitching well all season, and shouldn't be discounted as a reasonable prospect because of one start, but I'd need to see something significant for him to improve his stock in my eyes. Boston College tossed a couple of guys on the mound that looked intriguing for short stretches. Local product, senior Nate Jeanes got the start for the Eagles and pitched well through 4 innings, before he began to labor significantly, having already tossed 83 pitches. With a sneaky quick 87-89 mph fastball and a late biting curve, the lefty baffled FSU's hitters to the tune of seven strikeouts in four innings. As a lefty, Jeanes might get a look as a late round flyer or undrafted free agent who could become an interesting bullpen arm at the next level. In relief of Jeanes, BC brought in freshman Michael Wannamaker. Wannamaker showed a good fastball, topping out at 91, with a nasty (if inconsistent) curveball. If he can gain some measure of consistency with his control, he could be a sleeper worth watching for the 2008 or 2009 draft.
• Two other players that looked interesting for Florida State were freshman Buster Posey, and junior Danny Diaz. As the far more highly touted player, Posey was expected to come in and play a significant role on this year's Seminole squad. He showed solid potential at the plate, only needing to add strength and tighten up his strike zone. His range at shortstop was less than desirable and his arm from the hole was a bit below average. If he remains in the field (he's also a pitcher), I can see a move to either second or third base down the line. Diaz hasn't showed much of substance at the plate so far this season, but the tools are there. He has a very fluid swing with surprising pop, and good strike zone judgment. He needs to add strength and improve his confidence at the plate, but if he can make even modest strides offensively, his defense could carry him to a professional career. Diaz displayed phenomenal catch-and-throw skills, great blocking ability, and was extremely agile behind the dish. His arm was strong and accurate to second, and he showed an aggressive nature that rallied his teammates. I don't expect him to be picked in the draft this summer, but keep an eye out for him as a senior in 2007.
• I'm beginning wonder if teams are spending time working on reading pitchers any longer. Two instances stood out from Friday's game. The first being that none of the Florida State players seemed to be able to read whether the pitcher was going to home plate or coming to first. Jeanes' move to first was below average, yet was still confusing the FSU runners. I even saw two Seminoles, and one Boston College runner, step back to first base with indecision as a right-hander started his motion towards the plate. How does this happen? In addition to this baffling display, the FSU hitters never seemed to catch on that Jeanes was tipping his curveball. When throwing his fastball and change-up, he merely reached into his glove and started his delivery. When prepping to throw his curve, it was quite apparent that he was digging for his grip. Now, Florida State may have picked up in this by the 5th inning, as they started to knock Jeanes around the park, but i'm inclined to believe they didn't. In eighteen 5th inning pitches, Jeanes threw only four curveballs, all of them way out of the zone. Have coaches stopped (or drastically cut back) their teaching of reading pitchers from the bases and the dugout?
• Lastly, Boston College designated hitter Jett Ruiz, has a bat that warrants attention. The 6-1 sophomore from California has plenty of natural power and loft in his swing and still has room to fill out his large frame. Watching him work out defensively before the game, he seemed to have solid blocking skills and a very strong arm, but without seeing his defensive skills during the game, they are impossible to accurately judge. At a minimum, he deserves some attention for what he's shown at the plate so far, and I'll be sure to keep an eye on him when I head back to Chestnut Hill later this spring.
As I suspected, Florida State was the far superior team. There was no comparison in talent between the two rosters, and it is likely to be a while before Boston College is going to be competitive in the ACC. They were a nice Big East team, but the ACC is a different level of college baseball, and they are clearly out-classed right now. Florida State has an awfully shiny record, but I'm just not buying into the fact that they are one of the elite teams in the country. They pitch and field the ball very well, but their offense is susceptible to solid pitching and could be shut down easily once tourney time rolls around. I'll be mildly surprised if the Seminoles make the trek to Omaha this summer.
Next up 'At the Game' - Army vs. Holy Cross.