Clemson-South Carolina highlights weekend action
Sure, Tulane-LSU drew 8,000-plus earlier this week, and the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Texas-Texas A&M and Miami-Florida State rivalries are always entertaining. But nothing matches Clemson-South Carolina.
The debate over Kellen Kulbacki in the scouting community is becoming less and less of a debate. Last year, many scouts wondered how legitimate Kulbacki's insane offensive production was, due to the fact that he plays in a hitter-friendly park against mediocre competition at James Madison. But he showed some power with wood bats in the Cape Cod League, and he's off to another quick start this spring, batting .611 with three homers through five games. Two of those long balls came against Kansas State in the Buckeye Baseball Classic in Tampa last weekend, and both were impressive. One talent evaluator who saw that game said Kulbacki is "ridiculously good." Here's what else he said about Kulbacki and about Ohio State, which opened its season going 1-3 against James Madison, Kansas State and Seton Hall in the Buckeye Classic:
"[Kulbacki's] first home run was a pitch out over the plate and he crushed it over the left-center fence. However, the second one was off a changeup that was about three inches off the ground when he drove it on a line over the center-field fence. All this stuff about him being bow-legged, can only hit with aluminum, hits in a hitter-friendly park -- all this is irrelevant. That kid would put up numbers in any league with any home field, swinging any type of bat. Also, the wind was blowing out, but both the home runs he hit it wouldn't have mattered.
"Ohio State looked like a team that was outside for the first time. I like their lineup, and it will continue to get better as they play more games. They have plus speed and skills at the top of the order with [Matt] Angle, Jacob Howell and Tony Kennedy, a three-hole [hitter] with power in [Eric] Fryer and I really liked their four-hole, J.B. Shuck, a lefthanded hitter with speed and power. He could be scary after he gets some at-bats under his belt. They have the makings of a regional type team for sure.
"Ohio State's lefty [Cory] Luebke looked like a polished college lefty with above-average stuff to me -- mid- to upper-80s with three solid pitches. Maybe a fifth- to 10th-round type guy from what I saw."
Louisiana-Lafayette and Southern Mississippi have cruised through the first few weeks of the season against lesser opponents, but both teams will be tested this weekend in Hattiesburg, Miss. The Ragin' Cajuns (10-0) swept through their first week of competition without the services of Moody, their ace junior left-hander, who was battling elbow soreness. But Moody, a 12-game winner a year ago, returned to action last Friday against Illinois, allowing one hit over five shutout innings to pick up the win. More importantly, he was economical with his 62 pitches and he didn't report any pain. Moody isn't overpowering, but he's a proven winner who knows how to pitch and won't be intimidated by a potent Golden Eagles offense.
Southern Miss (8-1) counters with Belanger, who last week shut down a Georgia Southern offense that was hitting .363 as a team entering the weekend. Belanger, a senior right-hander, allowed just one run on four hits while striking out seven in that one, bringing his season line to 2-0, 0.60 with a 14-2 strikeout-walk ratio in 15 innings. Belanger, who tied for the Southern Miss lead with eight wins a year ago, relies on an above-average curveball and an improved changeup, and he's done a better job locating his fastball early this spring.
With a young team whose best win so far has come against a solid but unranked Troy team, Auburn has not garnered much attention this season. But the Tigers might hold a pitching advantage over ASU. Auburn sports three talented sophomores who have a chance to keep ASU's potent offense in check. Right-hander Justin Woodall (2-0, 0.00), a sinker-slider pitcher who is a groundball machine, gets the Friday start for Auburn against junior left-hander Josh Satow (3-1, 2.03), a savvy command-control guy. Auburn's Saturday and Sunday starters might have the best arms in the whole series. Righty Paul Burnside (3-0, 1.72) has a projectable 6-foot-4 frame and runs his fastball up to 93 mph, to go along with a promising slider and a changeup. Lefty Evan Crawford (2-0, 3.00), Sunday's starter, works in the 88-92 range with a cut fastball, and has done a good job developing his curveball and changeup.
Throw in freshmen Scott Shuman and Taylor Thompson and sophomores Luke Greinke and Justin Bristow in the bullpen, and Auburn's pitching staff is brimming with quality arms.
"Shuman's been lights out," Auburn coach Tom Slater said. "He's low three-quarters, 88-92 with heavy sink and a really good slider to go with it. He's a very aggressive strike thrower, a late-inning guy for us."
Auburn has some punch on offense too, led by two players who could both go high in the 2007 draft--junior catcher/third baseman Josh Donaldson (.452 with four homers) and left fielder Mike Bianucci (.477 with five homers), an eligible sophomore. But pitching will be key if the Tigers are to pull off the upset this weekend. The Sun Devils have averaged 11.6 runs per game this year, so Auburn's young power arms will have to be at their best. Here's betting Slater will have his guys ready.
RHP Adam Mills, Charlotte
Having moved from Conference USA to the Atlantic-10 did nothing to raise Charlotte's profile as a program, and being without an on-campus ballpark hasn't helped either. The 49ers are having renovations done on-campus that have forced them to be nomads at home for over a year.
But coach Loren Hibbs has been able to count on Adam Mills, a 6-foot, 195-pound right-hander, each of the last three seasons. He made 33 starts in 2005-2006 and made steady improvement. Now he's bidding to become the program's best pitcher since John Maine, now with the Mets.
Like Maine, Mills thrives on control. He walked just 19 last season in 114 innings and had handed out just five free passes in three starts this year, covering 20 innings. More impressively, Mills has double-digit K's in each of his first three starts -- 12, 14 and then 13 in a complete-game three-hitter last time out, a 1-0 win against Campbell. He's 2-0, 1.35 so far as the 49ers play host to All-America slugger Kellen Kulbacki and James Madison at Kannapolis' Fieldcrest-Cannon Stadium, home of the Class-A Intimidators.
"He can really pitch -- his fastball was short early in his career, so he had to really develop a feel for both his breaking balls and his change," Hibbs said. "He's got a compact delivery and repeats it.
"Now his fastball touches 90, but it sits upper 80s. He has a feel for both his slider and curveball; he's just the prototypical upper-echelon college pitcher. He doesn't light up radar guns, but he really, really competes."
The 49ers, 7-3, haven't earned a regional bid since 1998. If Mills stays hot, they have a chance against a navigable A-10 schedule.
OF James McOwen, Florida International
James McOwen tied a Florida International record by recording hits in eight consecutive at-bats last weekend against Rhode Island. The junior is now riding a 12-game hitting streak and leads the Sun Belt Conference with a .608 batting average through 12 games. He went 11-for-15 (.733) in the four-game series against URI. McOwen showed athleticism and a smooth, left-handed stroke last summer in the Valley League, where he ranked as the No. 6 prospect. He led the Valley with 17 doubles, and he's already got six for the Golden Panthers this spring. McOwen also has above-average speed, a strong outfield arm and good defensive instincts.
RHP Wes Roemer, Cal State Fullerton
OK, "slumpin'" might be a relative term, considering Wes Roemer struck out 12 over seven innings of work last Friday against UCLA, but he also allowed four runs (three earned) and took the loss. Roemer is a victim of his own high standards. The first-team preseason All-American has now lost back-to-back starts (he also took the "L" against Arizona two weeks ago, when he allowed two runs over eight innings while striking out nine). At 2-2, 3.41, he has now matched his loss total from all of 2006, when he went 13-2, 2.38. Granted, Roemer's strikeout-walk ratio is impeccable (36-1 in 29 innings), but we've come to expect that from him. Losses we don't expect.
Roemer will have his hands full ensuring his losing streak doesn't stretch to three games this weekend against Rice. Since stumbling to a 3-4 start, the Owls have gotten hot, running off seven consecutive wins, including a sweep of last weekend's Rice Invitational. Still, it seems foolish to bet against Roemer. The Fullerton players have been anticipating this series against Rice all season, and Roemer is the fiercest competitor the Titans have.
"I think when they look at the schedule before the season starts, they circle that Rice series," Fullerton coach Jason Gill said of his players.
So do we.
Georgia's fielding percentage. The Bulldogs, who posted the three highest fielding percentages in school history the last three years under coach David Perno (including a .968 mark a year ago), already have committed 18 errors in eight games. Part of that can be attributed to a young lineup that features as many as four freshmen. Georgia switched its corner infielders last week, moving senior Ryan Peisel from first to third and sliding freshman Luke Stewart from third to first, and neither has made an error in the four games since. Stewart, by the way, is the son of Padres scout Jeff Stewart. When the younger Stewart smacked a home run for his first collegiate hit in Georgia's second game of the year against Oregon State, his father was on hand -- and they got the ball back.
The Bulldogs play host to Southern California this weekend in a fun three-game series, with Georgia hoping for better manners from its latest Pacific-10 Conference guest; Oregon State rudely swept the Bulldogs three weekends ago. The young Trojans have weathered their grueling early-season schedule and have won their last two series against San Diego State and Tulane. The Trojans and Bulldogs have a little bit of history; the Trojans beat the Bulldogs 11-5 in the 2001 College World Series behind future big leaguer Mark Prior.
1B David Cooper, California
The reigning Pac-10 player of the week, Cooper is riding a serious hot streak. He went 6-for-8 with a double, two home runs and five RBI in Cal's two-game sweep of UC Santa Barbara, giving him a .444 average on the year with a .759 slugging percentage and 17 RBIs. This weekend the sophomore will try to keep it going as the Bears travel to archrival Stanford. Cooper addressed his hot start, his decision to transfer from Cal State Fullerton and his thoughts about Stanford.
Q: You've got Stanford coming up this weekend, and of course you're familiar with them having played them when you were at Fullerton last year. How is it different preparing for the Cal-Stanford rivalry, as opposed to the Fullerton-Stanford rivalry?
Q: You're really tearing it up right now, and I've got to ask you: Does it help at all that you've played seven games against Big West teams, who you've seen before when you were with Fullerton? Or is this tear completely unrelated to that -- are you just seeing the ball real well right now?
Q: Are you as locked in now as you were in Omaha, when you had hits in seven straight at-bats?
Q: What was it like to perform that well on such a huge stage like the College World Series in your freshman year?
Q: Why did you decide to transfer from Cal State Fullerton, where you had a very successful freshman year capped by a trip to the College World Series?
Q: It sounds like academics are pretty important to you.
Q: Time to put you on the spot: If you had to pick one pitcher to win a big game for you, would you take Wes Roemer or [Cal sophomore right-hander] Tyson Ross?
Q: You've seen a lot of good pitchers between last season and the Cape Cod League. Who was the toughest?