Zac Gallen, RHP, UNC – The junior right-hander put up just about the best possible Opening Day line you could hope to put up, working 7 2/3 shutout innings and allowing just a single hard-hit ball with 11 strikeouts. The third strikes came in every color, too: he tied up lefties with an inside cutter, generated in-zone whiffs with his fastball, got righties to chase his slider down and away, and even dropped a doubled-up curveball out of the zone to announce his third time through the order. Gallen’s command to both corners and below the knees was outstanding, and he worked a step ahead with sequencing and consistent execution of his deep arsenal all night.
He stands a listed 6-foot-2, 191 pounds, with a narrow but reasonably filled-out frame. His long legs provide a sturdy base, and he generates good momentum into his turn with a deep rock. The leg kick is high and quick, and his front leg swoops down to plant. The move to foot strike, along with an arm swing that stays behind his body, helps create some deception. He stays tall through his drive, and his above-average arm speed and efficient path help him repeat consistently to a higher-than-three-quarters slot.
Gallen’s fastball opened the evening all fired up, sitting 92-4 and scraping 97 in the first, before settling into 89-91 range, with run for the next several frames. His cut fastball played in a similar velocity band (88-90), and gave him a potent weapon to stay off left-handed barrels. His advanced command of each offering allows for the potential that both variants will eventually grade out to above-average. His slider showed moderate tilt at 83-84, but the pitch would sweep at times with below-average bite. He commanded the offering well, only hanging a couple and generally missing to the side of the target you want to miss to. There’s average potential here, though a larger gap to hit that projection. He sprinkled in a handful of changeups in the low 80s with some tumble, and three slow hooks at 74-75 with “show-me” shape.
He was leaned on in this start, eventually throwing 107 pitches while his velocity ticked down to 87-89 mph over his final two-plus innings and the scouting gallery groaned. But if Gallen stays healthy and the command shows up for the majority of the season like it did last Friday, he’ll make for one of the better “safe” college arms in the class.
Grant Dyer, RHP, UCLA – I saw Dyer a couple times last year in his set-up role, and he worked in the low 90s, with a very sharp curveball. In his first Friday Night Start, he worked in the low 90s with an inconsistent curveball. It was inconsistent in part because he went to it so much, particularly later in the start. Dyer is well-built at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, and his height plays up on account of a high three-quarters arm slot and a long stride with extension. There’s some uphill in his delivery, with a pronounced stab at the back of his arm swing that causes some timing issues getting to slot consistently. The motion gives him late life when he runs the ball to the top of the zone, but it leaves him susceptible to missing in dangerous places.
Dyer’s curveball flashed plus on Friday, showing some yack with late depth. He showed the confidence to front-door it as well as take it out of the zone. But without a third pitch to turn to, he lost feel and consistency with his deuce as the start wore on, and hitters started seeing it better out of his hand. He wasn’t able to move beyond fastball-up/curve-down sequencing, and once he turned the lineup over for a third look he had no answer for how to put hitters away.
Still, for a first start it was a solid showing. There’s a nice raw one-two combination of stuff, though as a guy who works more north-south and lacks plus velocity, he’ll have a thinner margin for error.
Kyle Molnar, RHP, UCLA – Molnar’s strong commitment was enough to ward off potential suitors until the Cardinals went through the motions in the 25th round, and it’s easy to see the appeal of the freshman’s tool kit. At 6-foot-2, he leverages his height effectively to a high three-quarters slot, with a deep arm action but quickness to slot that drives a solid (if still appropriately unrefined) command profile. His arm is easy and loose, with above-average arm speed to his release point. He was greeted to the collegiate ranks rudely, however, as he missed up in happy-hitting territory several times in his first inning, surrendering a rocket of a three-run bomb to the fourth batter he faced. His fastball worked 89-92 mph for the most part, touching 94 once, with average life and command (particularly to his arm side) that ebbed and flowed through his five innings of work. His plant is slightly inverted, and he didn’t come all the way through his drive at times, which limited the consistency of his fastball execution. His curveball worked 76-79 with depth and an occasional second plane.
He leaned heavily on his changeup into the middle innings, going to the pitch at least half the time once he’d turned the lineup over for the first time. The pitch works well off his fastball plane, and he showed feel to turn it over with above-average drop and some fade. It firmed up at 84-85 on occasion, but showed some trap-door action in the lower-80’s, and his feel and command of the offering showed as well ahead of schedule despite inconsistent execution.
Cody Roberts, C, UNC – Roberts is one of the Tar Heels’ most interesting freshman recruits, slotting right in as the team’s starting catcher (third base and the pitcher’s mound, where he reportedly sits on 90, are on the itinerary as well). He’s a sturdy, athletic kid as a six-footer pushing 200 pounds, whose lateral agility and quickness to the dirt both stand out. His receiving showed some flashes as well, as notable wrist strength helped him snatch pitches firmly around the zone and steal a handful of borderline pitches. He brings a tone-setting aggressiveness behind the plate as well, winging throws back to the mound on quick turnarounds and firing up his hurlers at every turn. The raw arm strength is borderline plus-plus, and while wrist pronation and a lower slot left some of his balls with a heavy tail, the velocity and accuracy popped in spite of a costly error throwing away a third strike on Sunday. He was full bore on every pop between innings in both of my looks, registering multiple sub-two-second times despite a longer cocking motion and release.
At the plate it’s largely an arm-strength swing at present, with a stiff front side and an inconsistent lower half. The weight transfer is minimal, and he lacks a ton of leverage to drive the bat head through the zone with extension right now. He showed a strong two-strike approach in a couple at-bats on Friday, however, commanding the strike zone and eventually getting a decent swatch of barrel on the ball each time. There’s good projection remaining on his frame, and with eventual strength gains you don’t have to squint too hard to see an intriguing power-and-patience profile. He clocked 4.34 on a double-play ball and 4.46 on a half-step check up, and those below-average times aren’t likely to get any better as he fills out.
Kyle Datres, 2B, UNC – Datres is another freshman who showed raw if interesting skills last weekend. After playing shortstop in high school he slid over to second, and his muscular, six-foot frame offers a nice blend of athleticism and strength. There’s some drift into his load, and his back shoulder will wander into a dip, but he showed a strong barrel into the zone with quick wrists and extension to the point of contact. It’s a line-drive stroke, but one capable of producing some carry as he matures physically. He posted a plus 4.17 time from the right side, and while there’s some churn to his stride he got a good read and break on a successful stolen base in the season-opener. He showed as quite raw defensively, with a rough game on Sunday that saw him boot two balls with feet that got too quick and rushed actions.
Adam Pate, RF, UNC – I wrote up Pate on the Cape last summer, and he showed well again in these looks. His swing is quick, with evident wrist and hand strength guiding an accurate barrel delivery. He looked to have gained some muscle mass, and he showed some added leverage in his swing, going up and getting a letter-high fastball and driving it to the wall on Friday night. He gets strong reads on balls hit to right, showing explosive start-up and plus-or-better range. It’s a solid fourth-outfield profile with room for more if the demonstrated on-base skills continue to grow.
Justin Hooper, LHP, UCLA – The gallery was abuzz when John Savage brought in the ballyhooed freshman (and expected weekday starter) for what turned out to be a two-batter debut on Friday night. Multiple scouts commented on how the lanky lefty has filled out his frame and improved his delivery since his senior year. He’s still an extremely lumpy ball of clay, but it’s a strong profile. The motion looks like a low three-quarters slingshot off some backside collapse and a catapulting drive. His fastball really jumps out of his hand at 90-91 raw velocity, and the perception plays up due to his his length. The slider at 84 showed some late bite as well, with a couple darting late down below the zone. It’s going to take some time to get there with the command – possibly a lot of time – but the wait may very well end up worth it.
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