Long Beach State's Thompson Shines on Rainy Opening Night
The NCAA college baseball season got underway on Friday night. I was fortunate to be on hand for an opener once again as Long Beach State upended the visiting Pepperdine Waves, 2-1, behind Jake Thompson's first complete game of his career.
Six years ago, I saw Jered Weaver strike out the first ten USC batters, including four in the third inning, in Long Beach State's home opener. I was also in attendance when Stephen Strasburg ushered in the 2009 season by striking out 11 while fashioning an electric fastball that registered at 100 mph on the radar guns.
While Thompson is not in the same class as Weaver or Strasburg, the junior righthander is a legitimate prospect. His fastball sat at 92-93 all game and hit 95 with an adrenaline rush on the last pitch when he struck out Ryan Heroy on a high heater to end it. The Friday night ace was efficient, throwing 105 pitches (including just one that was called a ball in the first three innings) while whiffing six and allowing only a half dozen batters to reach base.
At 6-3 and 225 pounds, Thompson has a thick body with strong legs. Only 20 years old, he is young for a junior. Jake passed his GED and skipped his senior season at Wilson HS to enroll at Long Beach State a year early. Thompson is also short on experience due to the fact that he sat out his junior year in high school after transferring from Mayfair HS where he went 6-1 with a 1.33 ERA as a sophomore.
Recruited by the highly regarded Troy Buckley three years ago, Thompson didn't receive his new pitching coach's tutelage in his freshman and sophomore years owing to the fact that his mentor left the program to become the minor league pitching coordinator with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Buckley returned to Long Beach as an assistant head coach prior to this season and Thompson appears to be back on track after not living up to expectations the past two years.
Buckley has an outstanding track record in handling college pitchers. In order, Abe Alvarez, Jered Weaver, Jason Vargas, Cesar Ramos, Andrew Carpenter, and Brian Shaw were all selected in the first two rounds of the MLB draft after working under Buckley. All but Shaw, the most recent draftee of the six, have reached the majors.
Thompson outdueled Cole Cook, a draft-eligible sophomore who posted a 7-3 record with a 3.69 ERA as a freshman in 2009. The 6-6, 220-pound righthander's favorite player is none other than Jered Weaver. Cook's fastball was mostly 93 with a high of 96. He also flashed an excellent curveball and induced two inning-ending double plays in the fourth and fifth. Cook threw 96 pitches, including 66 strikes, over seven innings while allowing seven hits, a walk, two runs, and striking out seven. Look for Thompson and Cook to get taken in the early rounds in the MLB Draft this June.
In a weekend tournament that featured Long Beach, Pepperdine, Cal State Fullerton, and Oregon, the Dirtbags fell to the Ducks, 6-2, on Saturday and to the No. 4-ranked Titans, 8-1, on Sunday. CSF's Christian Colon, a potential first-round draft pick, went 2-for-4 with a solo home run in the latter contest.
Oregon is led by two-time National Coach of the Year George Horton, who spent 11 seasons at Cal State Fullerton and led the Titans to the 2004 National Championship. He is one of nine men to have appeared in Omaha as a player (1975) and a head coach. Horton's club beat his alma mater, 7-3, on Friday and lost to Pepperdine, 11-7, on Sunday.
Elsewhere, Gerrit Cole of No. 23 UCLA threw a dandy in an MLB Urban Invitational contest on Friday evening at UCLA's Steele Field at Jackie Robinson Stadium. He allowed two runs but only one hit and no walks over six innings en route to a 16-2 victory over Southern in which the Bruins belted four home runs. Cole is one of the early candidates to go No. 1 in the 2011 draft. The Yankees took him in the first round in 2008 but the 6-4, 220-pound righthander opted to attend UCLA instead.
Top-ranked Texas dropped two out of three to New Mexico over the weekend. No. 2 LSU swept Centenary with the Tigers outscoring the Gentlemen 34-12. The 6-7, 230-pound Anthony Ranaudo, who could make a strong case as the best college pitcher in the country, allowed one unearned run over five innings on Friday. Paul Mainieri won his 1,000th career game on Saturday.
No. 3 Virginia took two out of three from East Carolina, No. 5 Rice lost all three games to No. 30 Stanford, and No. 6 Florida State, No. 7 UC Irvine, No. 8 Arizona State, No. 9 Georgia Tech, and No. 10 Florida all swept their opponents over the weekend. The Seminoles outscored Georgia State 37-12. However, the Rambling Wreck did them one better, crushing Missouri State 37-3, including a 4-0 whitewash in Bryan Smith's featured opener that saw Deck McGuire, a 6-6, 218 junior righthander, toss seven scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts and no walks. If Ranaudo isn't the top college pitching prospect in this year's class, then it is probably McGuire.