It's not easy pitching at Nevada-Las Vegas' Wilson Field, or at most of the other ballparks in the Mountain West Conference. The altitude and weather conditions at many of the schools make it the hitter-friendliest league in college baseball.
Except when Rebels right-hander Erick Fedde takes the mound. He has done so 11 times in 2014, and he has recorded 11 quality starts. Fedde owns an 8-2 record and a 1.76 ERA with 82 strikeouts and a .209 opponent average in 76 2/3 innings.
Fedde won't deliver another quality start this weekend, because UNLV decided to give him a week off when it visits Clemson for some rare non-conference action in May. Scouts eagerly anticipated a Sunday showdown between Fedde and Tigers righty Daniel Gossett, then scrambled to change their travel plans after Rebels coaches scratched him Thursday.
That's the first time scouts have been disappointed when it comes to Fedde this season. UNLV's Friday night starter since his freshman season, he has a heavy 92-97 mph fastball that he commands well. Fedde's hard slider should give him a second plus pitch, while his changeup features deception and fade.
The 6-foot-4, 180-pound Fedde is a good athlete who repeats his clean delivery well. He throws on a steep downhill plane and fills the strike zone with ease. One scouting director said Fedde is better than former Mountain West Conference rival Braden Shipley, whom the D-backs drafted 15th overall out of Nevada in 2013.
"His stuff is pretty good," a senior scouting official said. "When you see him in Las Vegas, with the dryness and the lack of humidity, it affects his breaking ball. I saw him at San Jose State, and the breaking ball was pretty good. He has a power sinker and he's athletic. I think he could go in the top 10 to a team that really likes him, and he won't go far past that if he doesn't."
UNLV hasn't had a pitcher selected in the top 150 picks since Eric Ludwick in 1993, and the school has produced just one big league arm (Ryan Braun) since then. Fedde should end both droughts, and he also should become the third first-rounder in Rebels history after Matt Williams (1986) and Donovan Osborne ('90).
Prep righty Toussaint tantalizes with electric arm
Because they have a chance to go No. 1 overall to the Astros, Cathedral Catholic High (San Diego) left-hander Brady Aiken and Shepherd (Texas) High right-hander Tyler Kolek have dominated the discussion about prep pitchers. Righties Grant Holmes (Conway, S.C., High) and Sean Reid-Foley (Sandalwood High, Jacksonville, Fla.) have gained recognition by taking significant steps forward and becoming possible top 10 picks.
As a result, the pitcher who might have the best fastball/curveball combination in the entire Draft has been overshadowed a bit this spring. Coral Springs (Fla.) Christian Academy right-hander Touki Toussaint may not be getting as much hype as might be expected, but he still won't last past the middle of the first round.
While he's not especially big at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, Toussaint has an exceptionally quick arm. It allows him to deliver 92-96 mph fastballs and mid-70s curveballs. Toussaint's curve breaks so much that he has trouble keeping it in the zone, his catchers have difficulty handling it and umpires sometimes struggle to call it correctly for strikes.
Toussaint's stuff is considerably ahead of his command at this point. That was evident during the National High School Invitational in March, when he beat Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High 1-0 in front of an army of scouts. Toussaint struck out 12 and allowed just one hit in six-plus innings, but he also walked four, hit two others and needed 116 pitches to get 18 outs.
Toussaint battled the strike zone early Wednesday, walking the first two batters he faced and surrendering a homer to the third in a first-round game in the Florida 3-A state playoffs. He settled down afterward, finishing with 10 strikeouts and a two-hitter in a 6-3 win over the Benjamin School (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.).
While the Vanderbilt recruit will need time to develop and won't race to the Major Leagues, Toussaint could be a star once he gets there. One assistant GM said that Toussaint ranks a close second behind Kolek, who can throw his fastball upward of 100 mph, as the best pure high school arm in the Draft.
"He even rivals Kolek a little bit," the assistant GM said. "You might say he has a much better breaking ball than Kolek, and their command is pretty similar. Toussaint is just scratching the surface. I'm seen him throw 96 mph with a 70 curveball and a 60 changeup [on the 20-80 scouting scale]. He's throwing better strikes.
"He might have more upside than Kolek. He has a chance to be special. He has as much upside as anyone in this Draft."
Prep shortstop Ramos dazzles with defense
In what has become a nearly annual rite of spring, scouts are bemoaning the lack of quality up-the-middle players in the Draft.
Olympia High (Orlando, Fla.) shortstop Nick Gordon gets universal love, though he's the only prepster who's a lock to go in the first round and remain in the middle of the diamond. On the college side, scouts wonder whether San Francisco's Bradley Zimmer can stay in center field and whether North Carolina State shortstop Trea Turner will hit enough. Kennesaw State catcher Max Pentecost is more solid across the board than a standout with any particular tool.
Milton Ramos may not quite go in the first round, but there's no doubt about his ability to play shortstop. He's the consensus best defensive player in the 2014 Draft, college or high school. The 6-foot-2, 165-pounder has classic infield actions, good range to both sides, soft hands and a strong, accurate arm.
"There aren't many shortstops with his ability," a scouting director said. "He has a little bit better pure defensive ability than Gordon. The bat to me is why there's a question. He's a shortstop who's a plus defender, but you've got to love the bat enough to take him in the comp or second round."
The scouting director and a senior scouting official both compared Ramos to Oscar Mercado, who signed for $1.5 million last year as a Cardinals second-round pick out of Gaither High (Tampa, Fla). Both scouts gave Ramos the advantage offensively and defensively. Like Mercado, Ramos was born in Colombia before moving to Florida as a youngster.
Ramos shows some pop during batting practice, but he'll need to get stronger and make more consistent contact to hold his own at the plate in the big leagues. There's also some concern that he has played for three different schools in the last three years, winding up at American Heritage School (Plantation, Fla.) for his senior season. Nevertheless, the Florida Atlantic recruit's defensive wizardry ensures that he won't get past the second round, and it might even sneak Ramos into the first.