This week we gather some insights from a couple of the top series in the country, #3 Vanderbilt vs. #12 Stanford and #4 TCU vs. #11 Cal State Fullerton, from reporters who were there (rankings based on the College Baseball 360 Week Two Composite National Rankings).
Both series were hard fought. Vanderbilt and Cal State Fullerton each took two of three games from their fellow ranked foes.
Jack Blanchat was at the Vanderbilt-Stanford series in Nashville…
Jordan Pries looked very solid in both of his starts this week (Tuesday against Cal and Sunday vs. Vanderbilt) – add them up and you have two wins, 11.0 innings pitched, 4 hits, and 2 earned runs. He varied his stuff well, and he will definitely be a stalwart this season who the Cardinal can count on all year long. Pries’ fastball reaches into the low 90s at times, but the impressive stuff is his off-speed pitches. He has t a slider that looks the same as his fastball coming out of his hand, but dives hard across the plate and ends up for a lot of called strikes.
Brett Mooneyham, unfortunately for Stanford, will miss the entire season with finger surgery on his pitching hand. The blow is definitely a big one for the Cardinal pitching staff, who will miss having a front line starter who could potentially eat up a ton of innings and help keep the bullpen fresh.
Friday’s game was a true pitcher’s duel, and both sophomore (Stanford’s) Mark Appel and (Vanderbilt) junior Sonny Gray brought some good stuff to the table. Personally, I thought Appel had better stuff, but I mean that as a compliment to Gray. Gray definitely didn’t have his A-plus stuff on a very cold Friday night, but he still managed to sneak his way to six strikeouts and give up just one run on three hits. To me, that’s the mark of a good pitcher – a guy who can silence a potent Stanford lineup when he is having control issues with his fastball and he frequently missed the strike zone with first pitches. Gray brought scouts out in droves to see his performance (there were probably 15 to 20 teams there), and even though his pitches weren’t great, his pitching was.
The depth of the Vandy staff is also a high point for a team that I think is legitimately a top five team in the country. Gray is far and away their best starter – Grayson Garvin wasn’t as impressive in his Sunday start – but the Commodore bullpen is a force to be reckoned with, particularly Navery Moore. Moore can reach 98 miles per hour on the radar gun, and he also throws a nasty 94-mile-an-hour sliding fastball that is nearly impossible to hit. Having a true closer separates the men from the boys in college baseball, and I think Moore gives the Commodores a big advantage late in games.
A good example of how important a solid closer is to a top team is how the Cardinal let a three-run lead slip away in Saturday’s game, even though they had 17 hits and seven runs (and stranded 13 base runners). Stanford knows what it’s like to have a pure closer – Drew Storen in 2009 – so they know how to develop a guy to compete at the end of games as well.
Offensively, both teams were about equal, but Vandy does stand out for one reason. Stanford trots out a lineup that is full of right-handed hitters, but Vanderbilt has a totally balanced lineup, with a near-equal number of righties and lefties in the lineup at any time.
For Stanford, shortstop Kenny Diekroeger had another good week, hitting his first dinger of the season on Tuesday against Cal, then going 4-for-5 on Saturday with three RBIs. Similarly, sophomore centerfielder Jake Stewart had another good weekend, as he’s hitting .367 after hitting just .209 last year. He leads the team with three doubles already, and he is blazing fast in centerfield. Senior DH Ben Clowe is also hitting at a nice rate (.385), and he blasted a big home run off Garvin on Sunday. A sore spot for the Cardinal, though, was the suddenly poor Austin Wilson. The big rightfielder struck out eight times this weekend, and had serious trouble with the sliders the Vandy staff kept throwing him.
Vandy’s balanced offense can score in a lot of different ways – Tony Kemp and Mike Yastrzemski are fast and scrappy (but couldn’t swipe a single base this weekend thanks to Stanford catcher Zach Jones, who threw out three baserunners), Aaron Westlake is a big power hitter, and Jason Esposito is a very solid hitter.
Overall, I think both of these teams are legitimately top ten teams. Stanford easily could have won both the Friday and Saturday games, and Vandy could have easily swept the series. Keep an eye on both of these teams – they will be around deep into the postseason this year.
Blanchat was also there last Tuesday when Stanford hosted rival Cal in a midweek game…
Tuesday’s night’s matchup against Cal was very positive for both teams- the reception for the Bears in their last year of baseball for the foreseeable future was pleasant, even though there was some heckling. (A couple choice insults – “That was a big cut! Kind of like your baseball program!” and “Better luck next year!”)
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Stephen Francis was on hand to see TCU host Cal State Fullerton…
With Titan Friday starter Noe Ramirez, looks can be deceiving. He doesn’t look like an overpowering pitcher, but he uses off-speed pitching and location with his fastball to throw hitters off and for the most part he did it with success against the TCU lineup. They made solid contact on a few pitches in the second inning though and with the way Kyle Winkler was handling the Fullerton lineup, that was all they needed.
The TCU and Fullerton lineups compare pretty well to each other at this point, although seven games may be a small sample size. What sets the two lineups apart though is the power and speed of the TCU lineup vs. the execution ability of the Fullerton hitters.
With TCU, hitters one through nine are capable of driving the ball every at-bat with authority, although things appear to be “all or nothing” at this point. The Frogs also have a fast group of players that remain aggressive on the basepaths from beginning to end. With the new bats and the addition of a new hitting coach, the Horned Frogs do appear to have some kinks to work out.
For Cal State Fullerton, they executed very well on the weekend with clutch hitting late in the game. They seemed to look a little more “seasoned” at this point in the season and took the final two games of the series by winning in the late innings.
While it would be interesting to see what these two teams would do against each other late in the year, it’s clear that Fullerton’s lineup had the easier time this weekend. That doesn’t tell the full story though because between both teams, pitching was very good across the board.
Kyle Winkler won TCU’s only game of the series in Friday’s matchup with Ramirez. Matt Purke did not start all weekend due to a blister on his finger. TCU right hander Andrew Mitchell made his second start of the week in Sunday’s series finale and tossed five scoreless innings. He also earned a win after holding Baylor scoreless over 6 2/3 IP in his start last Tuesday. Although the bullpen couldn’t hold onto his lead in Sunday’s 2-1 loss, the freshman still ended the week with 11 2/3 innings pitched with a 0.00 earned run average, three hits allowed, six walks, six strikeouts and his first career win.