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Know Your Prospects: Asher Wojciechowski, RHP, Citadel Bulldogs

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It’s more difficult to spell than the longest name in baseball, Saltalamacchia. And its pronunciation is even more mind boggling than Duchscherer.

For baseball writers everywhere, there’s a new brain aneurysm causing name on the scene.

Wojciechowski. First name Asher.

Prounounced Woah-jeh-how-ski, I have the name copied so I can simply press Apple+V whenever it comes up. When I started this blog, I didn’t know I’d have to become proficient in the study of Polish linguistics.

But, it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to avoid the name for any duration. Currently ranked 23rd in Baseball America‘s April Draft Preview, Wojciechowski has established himself as a first-round talent while pitching for the hometown Citadel Bulldogs.

I’ve had the opportunity to see Wojciechowski pitch on numerous occasions. Early in the season, it was easy to temper expectations for him. He was raw, his aggression unbridled, and maybe he was trying a little too hard to replicate his success from 2009. His fastball command was inconsistent, so hitters sat on his curveball and routinely laced it for hits. During more than one early season outing, Wojciechowski yelled “FUCK!” into his glove as hitters fed on his secondary pitches.

Wojciechowski has progressed steadily since then and has, by a large margin, become the Southern Conference’s best pitcher. As of April 30, Wojciechowski lead the league in earned run average (2.47), strikeouts (98 through 73 innings), batters struck out looking (68) and wins (8).

A 6’4″, 230 pound, righthander out of Beaufort, South Carolina, Wojciechowski is one of the more advanced pitchers I’ve seen at the college level, both physically and stuff-wise.

His tall, but stout body is perfect for his leg-driven motion. His frame is surprisingly compact and moves quickly when he drives off the rubber with his large quads, meaning he gets all of his weight behind every pitch.

As a result, Wojciechowski is a power pitcher in the purest sense. His fastball resides in the low-to-mid nineties. During the Citadel’s game against Appalachian State on March 26, he sat at 91-93 with the pitch. As the season has progressed, however, he’s actually sustained that velocity and his fastball now sits closer to 93-94, even late into games.

Wojciechowski also possesses a good slider. The action on the pitch looks more like a power curveball, but I’m assuming he’s told scouts that it’s a slider because on nearly every outside scouting report, they call it a slider. Still, I’m sticking with my guns and calling it a power curve. Whatever it really is, the pitch sits at 89-91 miles per hour and has also shown positive development as the year has worn on.

Even though it’s not his best pitch, Wojciechowski shows absolutely no hesitation throwing his breaking ball, no matter the count. In several outings, I’ve actually felt he was throwing it to a fault, like he refused to accept that it’s not an out-pitch. Now, however, the pitch isn’t a pitch you can really sit on. It’s got good, sharp lateral movement and when he can command it, he uses it to expand the plate well.

His changeup, like so many young pitchers, is almost non-existent. He’s only thrown it a handful of times in the three games I’ve seen. It needs work.

Wojciechowski has a lot working for him, though. His success in the Southern Conference has made him an imposing figure. When he toes the rubber, opposing batters feel like they can’t win, like they can’t hit, like they can’t do anything.

Wojciechowski begins his motion upright and holds his glove over his face so the batter can only see his glaring eyes. Looking in my notes, on more than one occasion, I’ve recorded something along the lines of: “Looks like he’ll rip your face off when he’s on the mound.” When he goes from the stretch, he begins by expanding his whole body, just showing the opposing team how physically dominant he is.

And when he’s at his best, he doesn’t let up and pounds the strikezone, over and over, with his boring fastball. With that coming at you at 95 miles per hour and a sharp breaking pitch, he’s been nearly unstoppable in the Southern Conference.

Some scouts say he’s a bonafide number two or number three starter at the major league level. Others say he’s a flamethrowing reliever.

Like that offspeed pitch, there’s some thrash over what Wojciechowski is, what he will be, or where he’ll end up.

Either way, his dominant 2010 has been a fun ride. And no matter what the future holds, I’ll be watching.

College of Charleston sweeps Radford in season’s opening series.

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It’s hard to believe it was snowing here in Charleston, South Carolina, just a week ago.

Because today it feels like spring. I’m finally wearing shorts (beware the glow!) and the anoles have emerged from their winter hiding places and are torturing my dog by running just fast enough to stay out of her reach.

And that means one thing, folks: it’s officially baseball season.

Major League Baseball’s pitchers and catchers reported on Thursday and the NCAA baseball season began nationwide on Friday.

The College of Charleston Cougars (hereby ordained “C of C”) opened with a non-conference series against the Radford Highlanders at nearby Patriot’s Point Park in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

In the Southern Conference coaches’ poll, the Cougars were chosen to finish fourth. The media, however, picked them to finish third. Baseball America, my favorite source for college baseball information, has ’em finishing second.

The consensus favorite to capture the SoCon league title is Elon, a team filled with dominant pitchers and an above-average group of hitters.

And while it will be hard to wrestle the title from Elon, C of C has all the trappings of an extremely competitive, even championship caliber, team. They’re arguably the best offensive team in the league, their defense is solid, and their pitchers have good upside.

Everything came together for the team during the opening weekend, as they swept Radford in dominating fashion to start the season 3-and-0. They won the first game 8-4, the second game 9-1, and the third 11-3.

The offense was explosive and the pitching was good. There were few scouts at the first game, at least three at the second (Texas, St. Louis, and San Diego) and one at the third (Atlanta).

That means it’s time for a rundown of the team’s top players thus far. For fun, I’ll throw one Radford player into the mix.

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UConn’s Dan Mahoney surprisingly drafted in fourth round of MLB draft.

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As a “security guard” for the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Newport Gulls in 2007, I saw Dan Mahoney close out game after game for the team. He quickly became the standout player on the team.

When he took the mound, it was all but over. Still, closing out games in collegiate summer ball is a different animal than pro ball; I didn’t expect scouts to take notice.

And it looked like they didn’t.

That's a fourth round pick right there.Occasionally I’d Google his name and see if there was any news on the draft front. I never found anything. And when the Baseball America Prospect Handbook came out earlier this year, Mahoney was nowhere to be found in the College Top 100. Still, Mahoney left an impression on me. I even kept some game day programs so I’d remember his name…

As I tuned into the MLB First Year Player Draft conference call today, I expected to hear “Jesse Simpson” and “Brandon Sizemore” before “Dan Mahoney.” Truthfully, I didn’t even expect to hear his name at all. So, I was incredibly shocked when I heard “Florida selects Daniel Mahoney, a righthanded pitcher from the University of Connecticut” during the fourth round. He went 128th overall.

To say that Mahoney’s selection in the fourth round is a surprise is an understatement. There was more-heralded, more-publicized, players still left on the board. Florida must have noticed something…

As a friend of the general manager of the Gulls, I got certain privileges at games. In a park with no dogs allowed, I was able to sit with my newly-adopted mutt on the field near the Gull’s bullpen.

There, I got to see Mahoney and the other Gulls’ pitchers in action. Mahoney always gave the impression that he actually enjoys baseball, that this is a way of life for him. He consistently kept the mood light among the other pitchers, joking and playing pranks. When it was time to pitch though, he was beyond focused.

He always trotted to the mound with nothing but intent in his eyes. He didn’t nibble at corners, he came straight at you.

Here’s my shit, I dare you to hit it.

In 2007, Mahoney was lights out for the Gulls. By the end of the year, he was the NECBL’s top pro prospect.

This year, he’s a fourth-round pick in the amateur draft. His makeup and character are off the charts. He’s got good stuff, and it should develop more with some strength and conditioning training from professional coaches.

All I gotta say is, I told you so.

In a couple of years, my guess is that Mahoney will regret this (he’s #19):

C of C’s Brandon Sizemore will be drafted. But who else?

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The College of Charleston’s baseball season is over.

During their late season playoff run, the Cougar’s usually potent bats went dead. The Citadel Bulldog’s swept them in a regular season series and then Furman beat them in the first round on May 21, effectively ending their run at the SoCon Championship. It was a disappointing end for the league’s most dominating offense, but it was perhaps deserved: the team was entirely too focused on slugging for a good chunk of the season.

For C of C, next year will be all about rebuilding. The team will lose eight seniors, most of which formed the team’s everyday roster, including Southern Conference first team second baseman Brandon Sizemore and second team selections Jesse Simpson and Joash Brodin. The team will still have several promising players, including SoCon co-player of the year Joey Bergman, but will have noticeably depleted depth.

I’ve spent a good amount of time watching College of Charleston games over the past year. Every game I go to, I sit in the front row behind the home plate. It allows me to see the movement on pitches and also to steal radar gun readings from the opposing team. I hate being behind the net, but there’s something to be said for being within an earshot of amateur umpires.

I’ve sat next to the same guy for most of the year. He’s an older man, probably in his 60’s. He brings his own gun and pad of paper and he usually leaves around the 4th inning, only to return around the eighth.

For a while I thought he was Charleston’s statkeeper. For a while I thought he was someone like me, someone keeping score and scouting so we can someday say, “I saw so-and-so and knew he was going to be good in ’99, three years before anyone else.” Then I realized a) they usually have an off-duty pitcher or first-year player do the stats thing and b) he’s doing something during the time he leaves in the middle of the game.

At the Charleston versus Citadel game last week, I finally broke down and asked him what his deal was.

“If you don’t mind me asking, what organization are you doing this for?”

“Atlanta,” he said back.

As in the Atlanta Braves. I’ve been sitting next to a professional scout for an entire baseball season and not said a single word to him until the last series of the regular season? Nice move, Dylan.

Still, it got me thinking. Who is he watching? Over the last four seasons, 24 Cougars have been drafted by MLB teams. Atlanta, despite its relatively close proximity to Charleston, has yet to draft from the school. There’s someone they’re watching closely enough to have a scout attend every game, but who is it?

Obviously there’s Sizemore. As a junior, he was drafted in the 46th round by the St. Louis Cardinals. He chose to return to school and it’s probably a good thing he did. After an impressive senior year, which saw him get promoted to the Golden Spikes watch list, there’s no doubt Sizemore will be drafted in a higher round.

I don’t think it’s Sizemore though.

With Atlanta’s first ten picks last year, they took eight pitchers. Unlike 2007, when they drafted bats, this tends to be the team’s draft focus. I don’t think it’ll be any different this year.

For that reason, I think Atlanta is looking at Jesse Simpson.

Could RHP Jesse Simpson become a Brave?

Could RHP Jesse Simpson become a Brave?

Simpson acted as Charleston’s ace in 2009 and bolstered what was never truly a great starting rotation. He stands at 6’0″, 175 pounds, and throws right. This is an unofficial scouting report (done myself at a game versus Appalachian state):

Fastball: It sits routinely at 86-88 mph and looked to have good movement. It tails in on righties and dips away from lefties. I think it was of the two-seam variety, but it could also just be a straight fastball with good movement.

Changeup: At the two games I saw him pitch, Simpson’s changeup sat at 79 mph. He throws it consistently and gets swings and misses. Obviously a 79 mph change will be a meatball at higher levels, but it’s a good pitch.

Curveball: Thrown in the high-70’s, Simpson throws it overhand, but it tends to be more of a power-curve. Of all the college games I’ve been to this year, I’ve yet to see a good 12-6 curve and Simpson’s is something like 11-5, or 10-4.

Simpson has a good pitcher’s body that’s compact, lean, and built. From the games I saw him pitch, his motion look extremely repeatable and fundamentally sound. There didn’t appear to be any added wear-and-tear on his elbow. I do not remember much about his makeup.

I am hesitant to comment on how Simpson’s stuff would translate at a higher level because I need to learn more about added velocity, the tangible differences between college and the minors, and the like. He doesn’t appear to have anything dominating, but hey, what do I know?

The Brave’s scout was also at the Appalachian State game on April 16 where Simpson truly impressed by going 7 innings, striking out nine, walking three, and giving up three earned runs. Simpson’s pitching during this game was particularly dominating and he showed amazing control of all his pitches.

Of the pitchers that Charleston trotted out this year, Simpson is the only one I can picture Atlanta taking a flyer on.

People who have taken me under their wing, Chuck Paiva edition.

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I need a career in baseball.

I don’t care if it’s cleaning urinals, peddling popcorn, or writing about it (although I would certainly prefer the latter). Right now, my professional life has no other direction.

As a result, I’ve gone out of my way to meet “baseball men.” One of the first was Newport Gull’s General Manager Chuck Paiva in 2007. The Gull’s are part of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, oftentimes amateur players’ first experience with wooden bats.

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Strasburg throws first no-hitter, officially reaches phenom status.

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San Diego State’s Stephen Strasburg is good. Very good.

He has a 23 strikeout game under his belt. He pitched and dominated for the U.S. Olympic team as an amateur. And to top it off, he threw his first no-hitter yesterday.

The consensus No. 1 pick of the Washington Nationals in this year’s MLB draft, Strasburg struck out 17 Air Force batters on his way to the career milestone.Stephen Strasburg is going to beat you.

Strasburg’s rise to stardom has been swift and fast. As little as three years ago, he was a chubby high schooler struggling to reach 90 on the radar gun. With the guidance of strength and conditioning coaches and SDSU manager Tony Gwynn, the 6’2″ righty got his weight under control. As he shed the pounds, he gained velocity.

Today, his fastball is legendary.

He’s been clocked at 103 mph. Only Detroit’s Joel Zumaya has ever been clocked higher. His catcher, Erik Castro, has had his glove’s leather ripped on more than one occasion. According to lore, a crossup on a fastball means more than a bruise, it means life or death.

Scouts say that Strasburg doesn’t need to go to the minor leagues; that he’s major league ready at 20-years-old. He’s already being compared to Roger Clemens in his prime, justifiably earned by his outright domination of college competition: 11-0, 1.24 ERA, 164K’s in 87.1 IP.

There is a possibility that we will see Stephen Strasburg facing MLB hitters by the end of this year. Here’s his scouting report so you’ll be ready.

Fastball: Has been clocked as high as 103 mph, but it routinely sits at 96-98.

Curveball: The pitch is actually a slider/curve hybrid. It comes in at 86-88 mph, and when paired with the fastball it’s a true knee-buckler.

Changeup: Thrown just a few times a game, he’ll have to develop it to get major leaguers out.

Most amazing catch I’ve ever seen in person.

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About two months ago, I went to the worst baseball game I’ve ever seen.

It was a true abashment to the game.

It was the College of Charleston versus Quinnipiac at Patriot’s Point Stadium in Mount Pleasant, SC.

Quinnipiac pitchers hit 10 Charleston batters. Two Charleston batters drove in five each. Everybody but two pinch hitters had at least one RBI. The final score was Charleston 30, Quinnipiac 10. It was disgusting and atrocious, a monstrosity that disfigured the beauty of baseball.

Out of the darkness of such a game, there was a highlight: I saw the most amazing and most unforgettable catch I’ve ever witnessed. I remember getting home and telling my girlfriend exactly that. She didn’t understand why I was on cloud nine.

I never thought I would see the catch again. There was only a small crowd on hand and none of them seemed to have video cameras.

Well, I was wrong.

I don’t have any idea how I found this today, but apparently the catch was ESPN’s #1 Play of the Day for March 10, 2009.