Tampa, FL. – The #2 Tampa Spartans faced #22 Georgia College Bobcats in a three game series February 9-11. I did not attend the first game of the series, a 3-2 GC win over Tampa ace and possible 2018 MLB Draft prospect David Lebron, but I did attend the final two.
On February 10, Cole Aker (Jr. 6’2 – 190 lbs.) took the mound for Tampa. Aker is a transfer from Division I powerhouse University of North Carolina. Aker was making his second start of the season. I have seen his name pop up in two Division II players to watch articles as someone who could be drafted next June.
Aker finished Saturday’s contest with 3.2 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1K. Of his 63 pitches only 34 were for strikes. Control was his problem at UNC and in the Cape Cod League. I saw a pitcher that had a live and loose arm, lean build, and projectable frame. His FB sat at 90-91 and his breaking ball at 81. Aker consistently struggled to throw strike one and worked from behind in the count most of the afternoon. I would grade his FB 50 and his breaking ball, which looked like a slider but has a slurvy feel to it as a 55 with the potential to be a 60. The problem is his control is a grade 40. Of the sliders that Aker threw, very few were for strikes. His one strikeout in the contest came on a backdoor slider that was tight with excellent tilt to freeze LHB Brendan Holler.
Below is a video of Aker’s mechanics.
In the video, you can see a few mechanical flaws in Aker’s delivery. For starters, Aker doesn’t use his lower half to drive and his arm lags behind his hips. His front foot lands too soon, he has a bit of an inverted W, causing timing issues. His arm lags behind his hips affecting his release point. This explains his command issues and his struggles against LHB. He was consistently up and away to lefties all afternoon. Aker would also benefit from extending his glove arm during his stride and driving his elbow into his side to create more trunk rotation and torque at foot strike.
If Aker can tweak his mechanics, improve his lower half, and get his arm into the right position at foot strike, I think he can add 3-4 mph to his FB and improve his control. Aker sitting a 94-95 with 50 grade control is a top D2 prospect in the draft.
I spoke to a Tampa area scout today and showed him the above video. This scout is familiar with UT coach Joe Urso and pitching coach Sam Militello. Both coaches have an impressive track record with developing MLB draft prospects. I was told that by the end of the season he expects Militello to work out the kinks in Aker’s delivery and I expect to see a much different pitcher in May than the one I saw two starts into his 2018 season.
- Stephen Smith (Jr. 5’10 – 175 lbs.) is hitting .519 (14-27) in his first 6 games as a Spartan. He is an aggressive lead off hitter from the left side that wears out the 5.5 hole between SS and 3B. He has good speed down the 1B line and can beat out infield hits to the left side pretty regularly. It remains to be seen if his game will translate to the next level as pitchers and defenders improve. His swing and set up remind me of a young Brett Gardner of the Yankees. Since I just hyped his speed and ability to slap balls between SS and 3B, how about a video of Smith nearly hitting his 1st HR.
- Darren Miller (Sr. 5’8 – 185 lbs.) has been Tampa’s most consistent hitter. He slashed .371/.444/.685 in 2017 with 13 HR and 24 BB/24 K. While some may knock him for his size, in the age of Altuve, I will not. This kid is thick through the chest and legs with strong wrists and does an excellent job of keeping his hands back and allowing the ball to get deep on him. His body reminds me of Boston Red Sox prospect Michael Chavis. He flashes gap to gap power and consistently barrells the ball. In 2018, Miller is slashing .391/.407/.609, but has yet to draw a walk while striking out 8 times. However, I think his lack of base on balls may be attributed to Smith’s success at getting on base. Miller hunts RBI and while the stat has fallen out of favor, I for one, want my best hitter to be more aggressive with RISP.
- Keven Pimentel (Jr. 6’3 – 230 lbs.) was sharp in his Sunday start. The big righty threw 6 IP, scattering 5 hits, 1 ER, while walking 0 and striking out 0. The zero strikeouts shouldn’t raise a red flag quite yet. Pimentel consistently worked ahead in the count, keeping the ball down, and inducing weak contact all afternoon. The Georgia College hitters collectively seemed to attempt to ambush his fastball, often swinging at the first pitch. Of his 54 pitches, he threw 38 for strikes to improve to 2-0 on the season with a 0.90 ERA. You can find a more detailed write up here.
- Harrison Bragg (Sr. 6’4 – 230 lbs.) was hot all weekend and is now slashing .391/.444/.696 through 6 games. He took Georgia College sophomore righty Matt Studdard deep for his 2nd HR of the season. The former Mississippi State Bulldog is a physical specimen at the plate and still has some physical projection to him while showing an ability to punish off-speed stuff. If Bragg can consistently utilize his strong lower half as he does in the video below, he could find himself playing at the next level.
- Tyler Beck (Jr. 6’1 – 190 lbs.) is another live arm coming out of the UT bullpen. The former Purdue Boilermaker threw 2 scoreless innings with 3 strikeouts. He pounds the zone with a 90-91 mph FB. I did not see him throw many offspeed pitches. Much like Pimentel, the Georgia College hitters were first pitch swinging. Below is video of Beck’s first strikeout against former Georgia Tech OF Brandt Stallings.https://youtu.be/JinDZeNPa0E
- Tampa won 5-4 on Saturday and 11-1 on Sunday to improve 4-2 on the season. They will play next weekend in Pensacola, FL. facing West Florida, Spring Hill, and Palm Beach Atlantic before facing the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater.