I made my first-ever trip to Reno, Nev., on Thursday to see a pair of potential first-rounders play at the University of Nevada, with both players showing well on a cool and very windy evening.
• Nevada starter Braden Shipley, a converted shortstop, will probably find himself going in the top half of the first round, with a good chance to go in the top 10, after a strong start to his season that has seen him reach 99 mph and pitch with a 60 fastball and even better changeup. I saw him Thursday night at home against Fresno State, a relatively cold evening, where he started out at 92-95 for two innings but backed off to 89-92 for the remainder of his outing, perhaps owing to the temperature.
He showed a 65 or better changeup, with great arm speed and heavy late action on the pitch, but the pitch calling by Nevada's coach was horrible, as Shipley couldn't finish off right-handed hitters without his curveball, which he didn't throw until there were two outs in the third. The curveball was solid-average at 78-80 with some 11/5 break and plenty of depth, but he doesn't have the feel or consistency on the pitch that he has on the changeup, likely because he doesn't use it enough.
Shipley's arm is extremely quick and the ball isn't visible early, so even at 92 his fastball shouldn't be easy for hitters to pick up. He takes a long stride toward the plate, turning his pitching hand over at about the last possible second (before I'd call it "late"), generating a little arm speed from hip rotation but more from his upper body. He doesn't finish well out over his front side, likely because the stride is long and his arm is so quick once he turns it over.
He is very athletic, fielding his position well and showing no problems repeating the delivery. He is behind Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray but firmly in the next tier of college arms with guys like Jacksonville's Chris Anderson and Arkansas' Ryne Stanek.
• Fresno State center fielder Aaron Judge is also a likely first-rounder, probably falling more toward the back of the round than Shipley will go, but in a draft light on college bats, Judge stands out as one of the most promising.
Judge is a monster at 6-foot-7, 255 pounds, taller than any outfielder in major league history except for Frank Howard (who is listed at 255 pounds as well on Baseball Reference). He is very athletic for a guy his size with a surprisingly short swing given his height. Judge wraps his bat behind his head when he's finished his load, which usually adds length to the swing, but the path for his hands from there to the zone is very short. It's more of a concern that he doesn't have his top hand fully extended until the bat is most of the way through the zone. Like a lot of taller hitters who set up high, he prefers the ball up in the zone, and the huge (70) raw power he shows in BP doesn't always appear in games because he doesn't get under the ball enough to drive it out.
He won't play center in pro ball, but Judge is an average runner who should have above-average range in either corner, with a plus arm to handle right, along the lines of Jason Heyward's defensive profile. Judge has 30-homer potential for a team willing to overlook what might be 150 strikeouts a year, but a poor man's Giancarlo Stanton is still an above-average every-day player.
• Fresno State started left-hander Tyler Linehan, who was 89-92 with a fringy curveball and below-average slider/cutter. He has touched 94 in the past but has a bad body that will probably scare a lot of pro teams off. He needs to improve his conditioning to have a pro career, although I could see him working more consistently in the 90-94 range if he sheds the extra weight.
• One name to remember for next year's draft is Austin Byler, Nevada's third baseman who is off to a huge start, with seven of the Wolfpack's 16 homers so far. (They do play at altitude, about 4,400 feet above sea level.) Undrafted out of Peoria High School in Arizona, Byler is another big kid at 6-3, 225 pounds, with above-average raw power and strong hands at the plate. He is an average runner and made several strong plays at third base, although he's not that loose or agile at the position and may profile better in a corner. He might be a guy for the top 4-5 rounds next year, especially given the chronic lack of college bats in recent drafts.