Setting the Stage
Up until now, Northeastern's claim to baseball fame was likely the production of former Tiger Carlos Pena. Well, it appears the Huskies may be on the verge of producing a couple more legitimate prospects. Right-hander Adam Ottavino and outfielder Chris Emanuele had helped lead Northeastern to a 21-17 record heading into the three game Colonial Athletic Association contest against the Hofstra Pride. The CAA has produced plenty of top-notch baseball talent over the years, and the Tigers have been one of the teams to frequently farm the small conference. In recent years, the Tigers have selected players from William & Mary (Will Rhymes), Towson (Casper Wells), Virginia Commonwealth (Brandon Inge), and Old Dominion (Justin Verlander). Hofstra entered Friday's game struggling through a difficult season, but there was no doubt they would try to spoil Northeastern's run towards the top of the CAA standings. With a sunny day and the weekend staring me straight in the face, it's on to the details from Friedman Baseball Diamond in Brookline, MA.
• Let's not beat around the bush. I'm going to jump right into talking about the top prospect in the game; Adam Ottavino. Ottavino is a big right-hander with all the tools to be a dominating power pitcher at the next level. He has a strong fastball, consistently sitting in the 90-94 range, and touching 96. His curveball has plus potential, just requiring some refinement to improve command and consistency. Adam flashed a change-up and a slider, but both are very poor at this point, and will need extensive work. Ottavino is a big, strong kid with thick legs and the projectability scouts love. His mechanics will require some work, as they are currently very high effort, but his rough tools should be enough to allow him to be successful making these adjustments. Ottavino is climbing draft boards because of his ceiling, and the generally weak nature of this year's draft. Friday's game was crawling with scouts and scouting directors, with representatives from at least 20 teams present, although none from the Tigers. With Ottavino climbing draft boards, it is not out of the question that he could sneak into the back of the first round for a team looking for a relatively easy sign. Adam's ceiling is extremely high, but in the end, I think he profiles as a dominating reliever rather than a starter.
• Ottavino's counterpart, Ryan Dunn, pitched an outstanding game. Dunn entered Friday's game as Hofstra's ace, and exited with the win. Dunn consistently sat in the 87-89 range with his fastball, and used solid sinking action to keep hitters off balance. He also flashed a change-up that he threw for strikes routinely. Dunn doesn't have a true out pitch, and is forced to rely on his defense to make outs for him; which can be tough on a fast turf field like Friedman Diamond. Ryan's makeup was off the charts, as he remained composed in tight situations and battled against an inconsistent strike zone, to pitch an outstanding game. His pro prospects are probably very limited, but he should be a solid weekend starter for Hofstra through the 2007 season.
• Northeastern's home park is a very difficult environment to get a handle on. There are certainly some aspects that dramatically favor pitchers, while others are quite a benefit to the hitters. The hard and fast turf field gives hitters a chance to get balls through the infield and into the gaps much easier. However, with a 435-foot fence in dead center, and 380 to the power alley's, pitchers can get away with mistakes on a frequent basis. In addition, the backdrop in center has several white or light-colored buildings, making it difficult to pick up the ball out of the pitchers hand. With all these factors involved, and the general orientation of the park, I think Friedman Diamond plays as a bit of a run supressing environment. It's an interesting field, and I'd be curious to see how Northeastern did playing the majority of their games in a little more offense-friendly environment.
• The other intriguing prospect in the game was Northeastern center fielder Chris Emanuele. Chris is the Huskie's top offenseive weapon, and a guy to keep an eye on come draft day. Having grown up in Ontario and played four years in the north east, he's still a relatively inexperienced player, despite being a college senior. Emanuele has has a great swing; very smooth and consistent. He loads his swing well, remaining balanced throughout, and the bat explodes through the zone. He adjusts well to balls all over the zone and routinely centers the ball, hitting it hard nearly every time at the plate. His leadoff double in the first, was an absolute rocket, that would have been way out of the park had it not been for a 15-20 mph wind blowing in from left. His single in the 5th was his 216th career hit, setting a new Northeastern record. Chris also displayed plus speed, and great instincts in the field. He tracks balls well, and takes straight routes to the ball. He's a gamer who leaves everything on the field. Both offensively and defensively, I liken him to a less fragile version of Seattle's Chris Snelling. He will be a very solid senior sign for some team next month, and I'd love for that team to be the Tigers. He has the potential to continue improving as he plays more, and his ceiling could be quite high.
• Hofstra third baseman Ricky Caputo has a narrow window of opportunity to play some pro ball later this year. He's got some pop in his bat and plays a very solid third base defensively. His arm is strong, and he's a very confident player. If he goes in the draft, it will be very late, but he's got a chance. If everything broke properly for him, he has a chance to be an organizational soldier, but not much more.
In the end, Hofstra left Friday's game with a 3-2 victory, sending Ottavino (4-4) to a disappointing loss against a weak opponent. While Ottavino displayed less than impressive command, his blazing fastball and ideal pitchers build will likely push him into the early rounds of the draft. No matter what, Northeastern should soon see two more alumni gracing professional baseball fields. Overall, Northeastern's debut season as a member of the CAA has been extremely successful, but I don't expect them to have much postseason success. They just don't have the depth of talent to compete consistently with teams like James Madison and UNC-Wilmington. With another game in the books, it's time to sign off until next week.
Next up 'At the Game' - Northeast 10 Conference Championship Tournament.