By: Burke Granger
Conference play kicked off for some of the elite conferences this past weekend, resulting in a clash between several of the nation’s top teams. #6 Miami hosted #4 Louisville in Coral Gables and took the first two games of the series thanks to big performances by some of their top prospects.
Hurricanes outfielder Willie Abreu set the tone on Friday night with a 2-4, 2 HR, 7 RBI performance against Kyle Funkhouser and the Cardinals bullpen leading to a 8-4 Canes victory. Funkhouser allowed 4 hits, 3 runs, and 5 walks while striking out 4 over 5 innings. On the season, Funkhouser has struck out more hitters than he’s walked in just 1 of his 5 starts.
Louisville’s flame throwing closer Zack Burdi also struggled on Friday. Burdi sits at 98-99 with his fastball, can touch triple digits, and uses a sharp slider to punch out hitters. That simple plan has been successful for the closer, as evidenced by Burdi’s 16.2 K/9 ratio thus far this season. After loading the bases, however, Burdi served up a walk off grand slam to Abreu to give Hurricanes coach Jim Morris his 1,500th career win, a milestone reached by only 5 other coaches.
It was another Hurricanes outfielder who carried them to victory on Saturday as Jacob Heyward hit a moonshot two-run home run off Louisville ace Brendan McKay, who entered the night with a 4-0 record and 0.33 ERA. Heyward, the younger brother of Cubs outfielder Jason, was an unsigned 38th round pick in the 2013 draft by the Atlanta Braves.
Not to be outdone by the Hurricanes, the Mississippi State Bulldogs also had a big series win that was paced by a top draft prospect. The Bulldogs traveled to Nashville and took a series against Vanderbilt. Ace Dakota Hudson looked like a first round talent as he pitched the first 9 of a 13 inning marathon giving up just 4 hits, 1 unearned run, while walking 2 and striking out 8. Hudson sat 93-95 mph with his fastball, and was a tick slower with his slider-esque cutter that was sawing off aluminum all night. Hudson out-dueled Jordan Sheffield who struck out 9 over 5 innings in which he also allowed just one unearned run, though he did walk 5. Sheffield’s control issues got him intro several jams in which he was able to work out of thanks to a devastating hammer curveball.
Kent State’s Eric Lauer took a step forward on Friday against Liberty. The lefty struck out 13 over 8.1 innings while surrendering just 3 hits, no runs and 1 walk.
Florida lefty A.J. Puk had easily his best start of the season. Facing off against Missouri’s Tanner Hock, a 2017 draft prospect, Puk put together a line of 7IP, 3H, 0R, 1BB, 11K. What’s noteworthy about this game is that it was #1 Florida’s 20th win of the season, yet just the first for Puk, who entered the season as a candidate to be selected 1st overall. Puk located has mid 90’s fastball well all evening to set up hitters and used his slider and changeup to put them away. He also elevated his fastball for swings and misses when appropriate.
Matt Krook continues to be an enigma in this draft class. The Oregon lefty has filthy stuff highlighted by a power curveball with good depth. Two weeks ago against UC Santa Barbara he struck out 12 over 6 no-hit innings, but he walked 2 and hit 4 guys in that contest. This weekend he walked 4, struckout 4 in just 5 innings against Utah. On the season, Krook has 19 walks in just 21.2 innings pitched.
Mercer outfielder Kyle Lewis continued to prove that a small school prospect can hang with a deep outfield class. On Friday night against Kennesaw State, the junior belted 2 homers and a double while scoring 4 runs and knocking in 6 runs.