At this time last year, one of the draft eligible players with the most helium was Boston College RHP Justin Dunn. A reliever for most of his first two college seasons and starting his junior season, he moved into the rotation and proved he could maintain his electric stuff over longer outings. As a result, he shot up draft boards, into not only first round consideration but potentially high first round consideration and was one of the more intriguing options to me for the Blue Jays drafting 21st overall.
By the time draft night rolled around, it appeared very unlikely he'd get to the Jays, but as their pick got closer and closer he was still there...until the Mets grabbed him two spots before the Jays at 19th overall. That left the Blue Jays to select another righty from an ACC school, Pitt's T.J. Zeuch.
This background set the stage for an intriguing pitching prospect matchup last night in Dunedin between the two, though briefly delayed by J.P. Howell's first rehab outing. He threw the first inning, and was pretty good facing five batters of whom he struck out two while giving up a bunt single with an error on a reasonably well struck ball. His fastball was 87-88 MPH, and threw 15 of 18 pitches for strikes with 4 whiffs. Hopefully this is a sign he's back to where he should be health wise.
Meanwhile, Dunn got off to a bit of a rocky start, as Cavan Biggio got a singled on a ground ball and Max Pentecost smashed a double back-to-back in the 1st, both on fastballs. Dunn stranded both, and then settled into a groove for the next few innings, working 93-94 and touching 95 with his fastball.
Zeuch took the mound for the 2nd inning, and was greeted with a hard double on his third pitch. That runner scored after a sac bunt and RBI groundout before Zeuch struck out the last batter. Zeuch too settled in, and the next two innings were perfect as he induced five weak groundouts and a strikeout. His fastball was working around 93, touching 94 as he set down nine in a row after the double.
The 5th inning was rough for both pitchers. Zeuch gave up another hard double to start the inning, followed by an error on a rounder to third, and a hit-by-pitch to load the bases. Biggio couldn't cleanly field a well struck ball, and his second error of the night scored a run. Next came a sac fly to plate the third run, before Zeuch induced a couple weak grounders to prevent further damage.
For his part, Dunn was facing the bottom of the order, and they got to him with three runs to tie the game before the middle of the Dunedin order faced Dunn a third time. Biggio struck out, but Max Pentecost launched his second home run to give Dunedin the lead. Juan Kelly followed that up with a hard line drive single and Danny Jansen worked a walk to end Dunn's night.
After yielding a leading walk in the 6th (after starting 0-2, my pet peeve), Zeuch put things in gear for the his last two innings, with another run of weak grounders and a strikeout. His fastball velocity dipped into the 91-92 range over the second half of his outing. His final line was 6 innings, giving up 3 runs (2 ER) on 3 hits against one walks, one HBP and 3 strikeouts.
Zeuch threw 82 pitches, and was generally in the zone with 54
walks strikes. He did a good job getting ahead of batters (62%) and piled up 10 swinging strikes on 40 swings for a solid 75% contact rate. The most impressive thing was his batted ball profile, with only 3 of 19 balls in play in the air (though two for very hard contact). Of the other 16, on the ground, only 3 were decent struck (one single, two errors on Biggio).
Elsewhere, Francisco Rios turned in an okay start for New Hampshire, going 6 innings with 5 runs allowed (2ER) on 5 hits with 3 walks and 3 strikeouts. As usual, he didn't miss many bats, with just 6 whiffs on 36 swings (83% contact rate). He finished his outing strong with a run of groundouts, and generally managed contact well with 13 of 19 balls in play on the ground and no extra base hits yielded.
Of note, Blake McFarland made his 2017 debut after missing all of last year, throwing a scoreless inning and giving up a hard two out double. He wasn't terrible sharp, needing 21 pitches for four batters, but just getting back on the mound is the big positive here.
Lansing got shutout 6-0, with Vlad Guerrero Jr. having the night off. Bo Bichette hit a hard line drive double in the first for his only hit, and struck out twice on hard battles where he ran the count full and saw a combined 17 pitches. There's some swing and miss, including chasing ball 4 on a high fastball last night, but beyond the the results speaking loudly, his ability to work counts is pretty impressive and advanced.
On the mound, Osman Gutierrez didn't have a good outing, struggling to throw strikes (43 pitches, 19 strikes) and giving up some hard contact before exiting midcount to the 10th batter he faced with an injury. That brought in the recently assigned Denis Diaz, who was not very effective last summer in Vancouver.
It didn't look like things were going to go much better for him in Lansing, as he was greeting by a sac fly and then a 2-run home run. But he rebounded to strike out the last batter, starting a run of 13 straight batters retired. That was broken up by his only walk, before he retired the last three batters he faced. He struck out 7 in 5.2 innings, though perhaps a caveat in that 5 were looking. His contact profile was mixed, with just under half the balls in play on the ground and a couple hard hit balls.
Finally, 2016 third rounder Zach Jackson pitched the last two innings, giving up 1 run on 3 hits with a walk and 2 strikeouts. His command wasn't terribly sharp, particularly on his 93-94 fastball, but his curveball was effective and he was able to miss 6 bats on 19 swings (68% contact)