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Scouting the Big Ten-Big East Challenge

2/21/2012

Last season's Big Ten-Big East Baseball Challenge featured three 2011 first-round picks in Connecticut's duo of outfielder George Springer and right-hander Matt Barnes, and St. John's shortstop Joe Panik. While last weekend's tournament talent didn't offer any players to rival last season's premium trio, there were still early round prospects to see, headlined by a group of power arms.

I wouldn't be surprised if Louisville righty Matt Koch ends up being the highest draftee out of this year's tournament as teams continue to pop college relievers high in the draft to potentially prop up a big league bullpen in short order. Koch closed out a one-run win on Saturday with an inning of 94-97 mph heaters and a couple 81 mph knockout slurves. While the comparison isn't perfect, the max effort delivery and two-pitch arsenal reminded me of former Georgia closer and Mariners 2008 first-round pick Josh Fields. If Koch continues to show this kind of stuff, he could be next in line to become a first round college reliever.

St. John's right-hander Kyle Hansen has a name scouts are familiar with as his brother Craig, who also pitched for the Red Storm, went 26th overall to the Red Sox in the 2005 draft.

Kyle is a lanky 6-foot-8, and while he starts now, there is enough effort in his delivery, along with the lack of a usable changeup, that he'll likely be a reliever like his brother was. Hansen came out of the gate on Friday against Michigan State with big velocity, sitting 94-96 for a few innings with a four-seam fastball he elevated for strikeouts but finished his outing using an 89-92 mph two-seamer that he effectively kept down in the zone with run and sink. Hansen's primary off-speed pitch was an 80-83 mph slurve that was sharp early, flashing above-average potential but the shape, bite and command varied all night as it was sometimes hard to distinguish from his 75-79 mph curveball. From this look, I'd put an average present grade on the slurve, with a chance for more as Hansen continues to develop.

Hansen's teammate, right-handed reliever Matt Carasiti, also came out throwing smoke this weekend. He appeared Friday night but didn't get anyone out while he sat 93-95 mph, touching 96, while his curve, splitter and command were below average. He appeared again on Sunday afternoon and was much more effective, working 93-94 mph with his fastball and getting it under the hands of left-handed hitters regularly. Carasiti's secondary stuff showed average potential and his feel improved on Sunday, but he will be held back by his max effort delivery.

Other notables

• St. Johns left fielder Jeremy Baltz may have been the most hyped prospect coming into the tournament, but he was streaky at the plate. He's athletic for a corner athlete and really looks the part. Baltz has big power and will hit the ball where it's pitched -- it's clear he's got tools and skills. He had a triple Friday night and a (wind-aided) home run on Sunday, but looked surprisingly off-balance in other at bats. I noted four times that he was completely fooled, lunging at a breaking ball, and he didn't see one breaking ball better than average all weekend. Granted, this was a short look so these approach issues could be an aberration, but repeatedly lunging at below-average stuff is more indicative long term for me than two extra-base hits.

• Koch's setup man was senior righty Derek Self, and he displayed solid stuff as well with an above-average 91-94 mph fastball and an effective 79-80 mph slider with good depth that was inconsistent but has average potential. Other arms worth mentioning include Michigan State right-handed reliever Tony Wieber and Louisville right-hander Justin Amlung, who are similar in that they are both solid junior arms that showed average fastballs and sliders with solid command.

• Minnesota sophomore southpaw D.J. Snelten and Louisville sophomore righty Jeff Thompson are solid follows for the 2013 draft. Snelten has some funk in the arm action (Terry Mulholland-style move out of the glove) and some effort in the delivery, but sat at 91-94 mph for multiple innings with an 81-82 mph slider that flashed average along with an above-average 79-80 mph changeup. Thompson is a beast at 6-6, 245 pounds, and his fastball was only 88-91 mph but he has a very clean arm and an 80-83 mph slider that showed above-average potential.

Kiley McDaniel has worked in the scouting departments of the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates, and has previously written for Baseball Prospectus.