Setting the Stage
I finally feel whole again. After coming back from spring training, the time is here for me to start attending games several times a week. I kicked off my season with North Carolina State against Boston College in Chestnut Hill, MA. NC State entered the game ranked 27th in the country, while BC has struggled through the early part of their second ACC season; including a 24-4 beat down at the hands of the Wolfpack on Friday. A great matchup on paper with potential top ten pick Andrew Brackman on the hill, and a BC team looking for revenge. Here's what stood out on a gorgeous day.
• No need to waste time here; let's get to talking about Brackman. He was positively electric on Saturday, touching 97 mph with his fastball and consistently working in the 93-95 range. He worked low for most of the game, demonstrating solid command of his heater, and was able to work up the ladder; changing the hitters line of site. His immense size allows him to generate a great downward plane on the ball. The ball jumps out of his hand, and is on top of hitters quickly. His biggest obstacle this season has been his curveball, which has been inconsistent much of the time. Today, that pitch was absolutely dominating for large stretches. He kept it low with great biting action and set it up well with his fastball. With increased consistency, Brackman has a potential plus-plus curveball on his hands, giving him two dominating Major League caliber pitches. His change-up was roughly average, though he rarely threw it. In the end, Brackman tossed 7 innings (111 pitches) of one run ball, walking three and striking out seven. He probably didn't need to go that many innings in the blowout, but with his recent struggles I can understand wanting him to build some confidence on a day when his stuff was outstanding. All-in-all, this kid has stud potential, and if he finishes strong he should be picked in the upper half of the first round.
• Brackman's battery mate, senior Caleb Mangum, was quite impressive in his own right. Entering the game as one of the team's better hitters, Mangum did nothing to change that, going 3 for 4 with a double and three RBIs. He's a little on the small side for catchers, but he is strong, quick, and very intelligent behind the plate. I had his pop times routinely in the 1.9 second range, which is certainly pro quality. He blocked pitches well, and did very well receiving a difficult fastball from Brackman. He demonstrated the ability to calm an inexperienced pitcher, and get him back on track. He's an above average runner, and very aggressive on the bases. He's probably not a high round choice, but he should be a solid senior sign for somebody this June.
• BC senior Jared McGuire is realizing how difficult the ACC really is. After drawing qutie a bit of hype his sophomore season, McGuire struggled through a mediocre junior campaign in 2006, and the same appears to be true this season. He's still a toolsy player, with good raw power, reasonable speed, and a very strong arm, but he needs quite a bit of work. He reminds me a lot of Kody Kirkland; a great athlete with some inspiring tools, but he can't quite figure it out. His outfield instincts have improved greatly in the last 12 months, as he is getting better jumps on balls, and made a couple very nice plays in left today. Just as I thought last year, I still think he's got pro potential, and I won't be surprised if some team takes a flier on him this summer.
• I gave quite a bit of grief to BC lefty Nate Jeanes in this space last year, but I walked away a bit more impressed this time around. He's added a couple of ticks to his fastball, working in the 84-87 range today, with a solid curve and good control. He struck out nine in seven innings of relief work (coming on for Nick Asselin to start the 3rd), and generally slowed an NC State offense that had been rolling since they took the field on Friday. With the endless need for lefties in the pro ranks, Jeanes could still garner a shot, and that shot got even better with the elimination of DFEs in this year's draft. He could be another late round guy, or an interesting undrafted free agent.
• Possibly NC State's most complete hitter, Ryan Pond put his skills on display again today. Tied for the team lead with four homeruns heading into the day, he knocked his fifth of the season, while driving in four runs in a 1 for 5 effort. Pond is a big bodied kid that doesn't move particularly well in the outfield, but his bat could carry him to some serious attention. He has a very balanced swing, that generates good loft to all fields. He's worked on the mound in the past, but has yet to toe the rubber for the Wolfpack this season. Despite limited range in the outfield, he does quite well and flashes a good arm from right. He's only a junior, and he could use a bit more polish, but if the money comes calling after a big 3rd year, he could be gone.
In this section this season, I'll give a bunch of quick snippets from the game....Stash the name Marcus Jones in the back of your mind; he's an aggressive hitter with a five-tool skill set, he just needs to learn how to play....NC State DH Mike Roskopf could start making some noise if this weekend's power display is for real....Jeremy Synan is another kid to watch, only a freshman, but he's got tons of tools....Andrew Brackman made Ryan Hutchinson's knees buckle in a huge way in the third, burying him with his best curve of the day....BC's freshman catcher Tony Sanchez bears watching, great receiver, strong arm, and a potentially potent bat....Johnny Ayers won't run anyone off the field, but he's such an instinctual runner he might as well be as fast as Vince Coleman.
Next up 'At the Game' - Charlotte at Rhode Island.