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Top college pitchers struggle mightily

It took six weeks, but the top four college arms in Keith Law's preseason Top 50 all struggled by their own measures this past weekend. Stanford's Mark Appel, LSU's Kevin Gausman, Michael Wacha at Texas A&M and San Francisco's Kyle Zimmer combined to yield 18 earned runs on 39 hits over 28 1/3 innings Friday night. They joined forces to walk just six against 28 strikeouts, but that's a 5.72 ERA and WHIP of nearly 1.6.

Appel appears to have struggled more the others, since despite his five earned runs allowed, Gausman posted 12 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings. The Stanford ace was battered for 12 hits over eight frames, surrendering six runs, all earned, and ended the night with just five punchouts against Arizona. Law was at the game and filed a report here.

Wacha also gave up 12 hits though he lasted 6 1/3 innings. But it easily was his roughest outing of the season. He walked one and struck out five against Missouri. Zimmer was touched for 10 hits and four earned runs in 7 1/3 innings, but he walked just one and fanned six.

The quartet will remain the top four college pitching prospects in the 2012 class, at least for now, especially since two of those who gained some steam -- though not likely to jump into the top half of the round -- struggled, too.

Oklahoma State left-hander Andrew Heaney went 5 1/3 mediocre innings, giving up eight hits and four earned runs along the way. Missouri State's Pierce Johnson ended his streak of double-digit strikeout efforts at four when he managed to get through just three innings Friday night. Johnson walked three and needed 78 pitches to get nine outs.

Johnson could still end up in the conversation for the opening round of the draft and Heaney is among the few college left-handers with Day 1 cache. Florida's Brian Johnson and Georgia's Alex Wood are two other lefties with top-100 aspirations, and Johnson is considered a potential first-round pick.

More arms

All wasn't lost on the pitching front, however, as St. Mary's right-hander Martin Agosta turned in a decent outing Saturday, piling up 10 strikeouts and allowing just one earned run in seven innings.

Duke's Marcus Stroman was stellar again, too, as he threw 75 of 113 pitches for strikes and whiffed 12. Perhaps most importantly, the right-hander did not walk a batter.

Appel's teammate, southpaw Brett Mooneyham -- whom, by the way, missed 2011 with a hand injury, not Tommy John surgery as I incorrectly stated last week -- had a solid outing, though he gave up nine hits and walked four. His control was obviously spotty, but he did limit the damage to just one run and struck out seven over 7 1/3 innings.

Tampa Jesuit star Lance McCullers, Jr., who has all the stuff and physical attributes of a top talent, threw a no-hitter in his most recent start, striking out 12 and keeping his scoreless streak alive. The right-hander has now thrown 30 1/3 innings of shutout baseball and piled up 57 strikeouts.

Around the batter's box

• Clemson's Richie Shaffer is climbing draft boards, thanks to good performance, a shorter, quicker swing and improved defense at third base. He had just two hits over the weekend versus Miami but drew four walks and now has been issued 28 free passes as a result of well above-average plate discipline. Shaffer has 18 extra-base hits and boasts a .472 on-base percentage in 27 games and is creeping into first-round territory after starting the year as a potential pop-up prospect.

• UCLA's Jeff Gelalich torched Utah for five hits in 13 at-bats, including his sixth home run of the season during a three-game set. The right fielder is batting .415/.504/.660 with a 16-11 BB/K ratio in 25 games, and is garnering first-day consideration.

• Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero struggled again this weekend, going just 2-for-11 with two walks and two strikeouts. If he doesn't get it going at some point, one has to wonder whether his top-10 status might be in jeopardy.

• Florida's Nolan Fontana saved himself from a rough weekend of his own when he homered, singled twice and stole a base Sunday. He had been in a bit of a slump, and the Gators moved him down in the order after more than a month in the leadoff spot.

• South Carolina first baseman Christian Walker -- likely the top pure college first base bat in the class -- homered twice Friday and again Saturday and went 6-for-12 with four walks in three games against Vanderbilt. Walker, a right-handed hitter, is batting .333/.452/.569 with six homers and a 19-11 BB/K ratio in 28 games, with much of the damage coming in the past three weeks.

• Top overall prep prospect Byron Buxton entered last week without a long ball to his credit, but did have 10 extra-base hits and 15 stolen bases. The word is he's being pitched around regularly, which in and of itself makes it difficult for scouts to get a good look. Add to that the fact that he's facing mediocre pitching in the first place and we're talking about a blue-chip prospect who might not get a chance to truly show what he can do at the plate.

• One East Coast crosschecker on Barbe High School (La.) shortstop Gavin Cecchini: "If I had to bet on one player in this draft from this half of the country, he's the guy. There are others with better tools, but not one of them has the intangibles that makes it all work like Cecchini does."

National High School Invitational

The first annual NHSI was this past week in Cary, N.C., and gave scouts a look at some of the top talents in the class. Among those that impressed included Bishop Gorman (Nev.) High School third baseman Joey Gallo. Gallo, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound right-hander, touched 97 mph from the mound, a performance that overshadowed his struggles with the bat. He's had contact problems in the past, as Law noted Saturday, and might now be viewed more as an pitcher than when the season began.

Other stars included lefty Max Fried from Harvard-Westlake (Calif.) High School. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound UCLA commit sat in the low-90s with his fastball, bumping 94, and flashed a plus curveball and changeup. He ranked in the top 10 in the preseason Top 50 and figures to hover in that range through draft day.

Brookwood High School (Ga.) right-hander Lucas Sims mirrored Fried's performance with his own three-pitch arsenal, tossing a one-hitter Wednesday that included 11 strikeouts.

Courtney Hawkins, among the more intriguing two-way prospects in the country, shut out Gulliver Prep (Fla.) and hit a home run in a 1-0 victory. He generally sits in the 89-92 mph range and reportedly hit 94 at the event. Hawkins entered the Invitational batting .469 with six home runs to go with stellar numbers on the mound. However, scouts generally prefer him as a bat.