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05/26/08 3:44 PM ET

Cashner's dedication begins to pay off

But the righty's sudden improvement has some scouts wary

ARLINGTON -- Andrew Cashner still has something to prove.

That much was apparent, as Cashner took the mound in the ninth inning of the Mountain West Conference title game with a 15-2 lead. He needed just seven pitches to seal the victory, as his final pitch caught the corner -- with the opposing hitter looking -- and registered at 97 mph.

Cashner needs more than one flawless inning of relief, though, to silence his skeptics. Sure, he has the velocity, but can he harness it? Yeah, he's been a dominant college closer this year, but can he cut it as a starter? These are some of the questions scouts have about Cashner.

"I hear what they say, but it's just their opinion," said Cashner, a junior right-hander from Texas Christian University. "There's a few things, mechanic-wise, that I need to clean up, but for the most part, I think I have really good mechanics."

Draft hype is nothing new to Cashner. He's been drafted every year since graduating from Conroe (Texas) High School, going as high as the 18th round to the Rockies in 2006. But, until this season, his fastball had topped out in the low- to mid-90s.

So when he stepped foot on TCU's campus last fall, after two years at Angelina Junior College, he did so with the goal of filling in his 6-foot-5 frame.

Cashner has been listed as big as 195 pounds, and he's built up the strength and durability he was hoping for. In 28 appearances this season -- all out of the bullpen -- Cashner has worked more than an inning 19 times, including five appearances of at least three innings. On six occasions, he's pitched on back-to-back days.

"We felt like, if we put him in that role, he could really take off," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said.

Of course, with shorter outings comes the opportunity to reach back for that little extra, and the little extra, Cashner is finding, has been impressive. This season, he's hit 98 on the radar consistently, and he's been clocked at 100 mph.

Cashner complements his fastball with a sharp slider that can reach the upper 80s, but the sudden emergence of his fastball and his lack of a third pitch have some scouts leery.

"He's got two-plus pitches right now with a good delivery," one scouting director said. "His lack of history and sudden increase in velocity is a concern."

Cashner has tried to overcome this lack of history with an overpowering debut season at TCU.

In 50 innings this season, Cashner has 74 strikeouts, a 1.80 ERA and a .120 opposing batting average, to go along with his nine saves and 8-3 record. But those numbers don't hide his 25 walks, seven wild pitches and eight hit batsmen.

Cashner's command issues were summed up in his two-inning appearance against Texas A&M on April 29. In the ninth inning of that game, Cashner walked the Aggies' leadoff man and hit the third batter of the inning. Texas A&M eventually scored the game-winning run when Cashner uncorked a wild pitch.

Schlossnagle believes once Cashner gets into a system that focuses on development, his command will improve.

"I think what will happen is, in pro ball you're not as concerned with winning and losing in the Minor Leagues," Schlossnagle said. "Cash is a guy that, the more he gets to pitch, the better he is."

Despite the concerns surrounding Cashner, he's a consensus first-round talent, and he could be the highest pick in TCU history. The school's only other first rounder was Lance Broadway, who went 15th overall in 2005. And despite Cashner's successful conversion to the bullpen this spring, it's doubtful he will continue in that role once he's drafted.

Cashner is expected to be selected as high as No. 11 to the Rangers, and as low as No. 21 to the Tigers. The belief is, the higher he's drafted, the more likely he'll be moved back into a starting role. Cashner said he's spoken with all 30 Major League clubs, but only a handful have expressed interest in drafting him as a reliever.

"I don't know if you'd want to take a guy up high and start changing him around, but I guess you could have him start and always move him back to the bullpen," the same scouting director said. "His size and delivery are conducive to starting."

Cashner's collegiate competition for a position in the first round are fellow big-bodied right-handers Ryan Perry of Arizona and Bryan Price of Rice.

To those who doubt he's Major League material, Cashner has a simple challenge: "Step in the box."

Shawn Shroyer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.