How many people can say that they went to three baseball games last weekend? To pull this off, you would have to live in one of the Sunbelt states, love baseball, and not care all that much about the Super Bowl. Well, folks, let me introduce you to this week's college baseball correspondent.
Twelve of Baseball America's top 25 teams played on Friday, Saturday, and/or Sunday. However, there was only matchup--#17 USC vs. #22 Long Beach State--involving two ranked teams. I had the privilege of attending all three games: Friday and Sunday at Blair Field in Long Beach and Saturday at Dedeaux Field on the campus of the University of Southern California.
After getting swept by SC last year (in the traditional three-game series in February plus once more in the Regional in June), the Dirtbags returned the favor and beat the Trojans 4-2 on Friday, 9-6 on Saturday, and 8-6 on Sunday. Long Beach State was behind in all three games but battled back to beat Ian Kennedy in the fog in the opener and ace reliever Paul Koss in the daylight twice.
On a damp, chilly night for Southern California, Kennedy was dominating the Beach through five innings when the fog began to hover in the outfield. Down 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth, the 49ers mounted a two-out rally against USC's first team All-American and Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year. Freshman shortstop Danny Espinosa singled to center and advanced to third on a ball that preseason All-American Evan Longoria fisted into shallow right field. Roberto Lopez got a late break on the ball and instead of making a routine catch for the third out, dove and trapped it.
With runners on first and third, cleanup hitter Sean Boatright lifted a fly ball to medium right field. Lopez lost the ball in the fog and both runners scored, tying the game at two each. Brandon Godfrey was polite enough to hit a similar ball to right for those who didn't see the first one and once again it fell untouched for a double that put the Beach ahead, 3-2. The Dirtbags, who held the Trojans scoreless after the first inning, added an insurance run in the seventh and won, 4-2.
Kennedy, who should be 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA, had the following pitching lines:
IP H R ER BB SO
Pre-Fog 5 1 0 0 1 7
In Fog 1 4 3 3 0 0
Total 6 5 3 3 1 7
Jared Hughes picked up the victory for Long Beach. The junior right-hander overcame a shaky first inning, allowing three walks and a single before getting an out. He settled down, retired 12 batters in a row, and escaped a jam in the fifth when he got leadoff hitter Matt Cusick to hit into an inning-ending double play. The preseason All-American posted a respectable 6-3-2-2-3-3 line with two HBP. He got two GIDP, eight other groundball outs, and a pickoff.
Longoria and Boatright were the heroes in game two. Long Beach's third and fourth hitters each slugged two-run homers, with Longoria's blast off the scoreboard in right-center field giving the 49ers the upper hand in the first and Boatright's poke off the top of the wall in center providing the go-ahead lead in the eighth. USC sophomore first baseman Lucas Duda lined a two-run home run that hooked over the wall in right field in the bottom of the third to give his team a temporary 5-3 lead, but it wasn't enough as the 49ers outscored the Trojans 6-1 the rest of the way.
On Sunday, USC jumped on top to a 5-0 advantage after four innings, knocking out the highly touted freshman starter Vance Worley in the process. The Dirtbags clawed back to tie the score at six in the seventh, then Espinosa ripped a two-run triple off Koss in the eighth inning to give Long Beach a lead that Brett Andrade saved for the second time in two appearances over the weekend.
Espinosa went 6-for-13 with two doubles and a triple during the series. He scored three runs and drove in five. The switch-hitter could have picked up a couple more hits on Sunday but was twice robbed by left fielder Cyle Hankerd, who made a diving catch in the first and a running grab in the fourth.
Longoria went 4-for-10 with a home run, triple, two walks, and two HBP, while scoring five times and knocking in two. Boatright also went 4-for-10 with a home run, two doubles, a walk, HBP, three runs, and five RBI.
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There were more than 20 radar guns in action Friday night. Scouts from the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, and Toronto Blue Jays were visible. Bill "Chief" Gayton, the scouting director for the San Diego Padres, was in attendance on Saturday.
Here are my scouting reports on the players most likely to be taken high in the amateur draft in June:
Ian Kennedy - 6-0, 195 - Jr. - SP
W-L 12-3 | ERA 2.54 | 158 K/38 BB in 117 IP
Following in the footsteps of fellow Trojans Tom Seaver, Randy Johnson, Barry Zito, and Mark Prior...Consensus All-American...Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year...Two-time pitcher for Team USA...Although stuff is no better than average for a major league hurler, the right-hander exhibits outstanding command of four pitches...Fastball ranged from 89-91 all night...Throws strikes and changes speed...His stretch position is similar to Mike Mussina...Top ten draft pick unless his advisor and soon-to-be agent Scott Boras scares off potential suitors.
Paul Koss - 6-4, 215 - Jr. - RP
W-L 4-1 | ERA 2.81 | 42 K/21 BB in 51 IP
Right-handed closer...Came of age last year...Recorded three saves with 3 2/3 scoreless innings in the Regional...Didn't get any gun readings on him although I would be surprised if he was throwing harder than 90 or 91...Failed to record a strikeout despite facing 12 batters on Saturday and Sunday...Composite line (1.2-4-4-4-3-0 with 2 HBP and two Ls) unlikely to earn Coach Gillespie's early-season confidence.
Cyle Hankerd - 6-2, 205 - Jr. - OF
.298 AVG/.378 OBP/.404 SLG | HR 1 | SB 0 | 24 BB/42 SO
Drafted in the 45th round by the Chicago Cubs in 2003...Broke out last summer in the New England Collegiate League, hitting .383 with nine HR and 36 RBI (two short of winning a triple crown)...Big, strong kid...Keeps weight back with left heel off the ground...Lifts front foot straight up...Slight uppercut swing...Hits the ball hard and usually in the air...Outfield defense is plenty good enough...Made three spectacular catches, including diving grabs to his left and right plus a running catch going back and toward the line in left field...Also threw out a runner trying to score on a single from second base with two outs with a one-hop strike to the catcher...Should be moving up draft boards as the spring progresses.
Jared Hughes - 6-7, 235 - Jr. - SP
W-L 8-3 | ERA 2.83 | 87 K/23 BB in 89 IP
Drafted in the 16th round by the Tampa Bay Devils Rays in 2003...Transfer from Santa Clara University...Named a second team Summer All-American by Baseball America following a 7-0, 1.62 ERA in the Cape Cod League...Fastball sits at 90-91 and touched 92 on several occasions...Good curveball...Can induce groundballs...Needs to develop more consistency with his command...Hit a single-season school record 19 batters in 2005 and plunked two more back-to-back in the sixth inning Friday night...Projected to be a late first or supplemental round draft pick.
Evan Longoria - 6-2, 213 - Jr. - 3B/SS
.320 AVG/.368 OBP/.421 SLG | HR 5 | SB 10 | 15 BB/41 SO
Second-year transfer from Rio Hondo JC...Named the Cape Cod MVP after leading the league in homers (8), RBI (35), and SLG (.500) and a first team Summer All-American by Baseball America...Can play 3B, SS, or 2B...Adequate defensively...Slightly open stance with left heel off the ground...Steps into ball as it is pitched...Drives ball to all fields...Hit a long flyout that was held up by the thick air in the first inning on Friday against Kennedy...Tattooed a line drive past a diving CF for a triple in the fourth inning vs. the USC ace...Runs well for his size and is a good baserunner...Rated as the 10th-best prospect by Baseball America and is a lock to be one of the first position players drafted in June.
Sean Boatright (6-0, 190, Sr. OF), a 36th-round selection by the Florida Marlins in 2005, opted to return to Long Beach State to improve his draft status. The oft-injured outfielder, who appears to be healthy, is a good athlete. He should move up in the draft but is unlikely to go in the top several rounds.
Shawn Olsen (6-1, 200, Jr. SP/DH) is USC's Saturday pitcher and will also see action as a DH. He was the conference player of the year at College of Southern Nevada last year, primarily as an outfielder.
Players to keep an eye on for the 2007 and 2008 drafts include Danny Espinosa (6-0, 185, Fr. SS) and Vance Worley (6-2, 215, Fr. SP) from Long Beach State and Lucas Duda (6-4, 220, So. 1B) from USC.
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In other Top 25 action, San Diego swept the #1-ranked Texas Longhorns 4-2, 6-0, and 12-8. Host Stanford also surprised #5-ranked Cal State Fullerton. By winning all three games, the Cardinal will surely jump back into the Top 25 when Baseball America releases its rankings on Monday.
Florida State (#15), Arizona State (#16), and North Carolina State (#24) also got the broom out, beating Charleston Southern, Northern Illinois, and Delaware State, respectively. Tennessee (#9), Pepperdine (#11), and Fresno State (#21) took two of three over their unranked opponents, while UC Irvine pulled a mild upset by doing the same vs. the 25th-ranked Cal Bears.
In the only other action involving a ranked team, Rice shut out Central Missouri, 9-0, on Saturday. Joe Savery pitched four shutout innings, then pinch hit for the DH and went 2-for-3 with a double. As a two-way player, Savery could be one of the most valuable players in college baseball this year. He earned Freshman of the Year honors in 2005 while being named player and pitcher of the year in his conference.