Ryne Stanek starts slow, finishes strong

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek has a chance to be one of the top three college players off the board in this year's draft if he has another strong, healthy spring pitching in the country's premier conference for college baseball.

On Thursday, he started on short rest (six days rather than a full week) at Surprise Stadium against Arizona State, with a ton of heat in the house, including at least four general managers and at least seven scouting directors or vice presidents who oversee scouting. Stanek was good, not his absolute best, but helped himself with a strong finish before he left the game, which Arkansas lost 3-2.

Stanek started out the game in the 91-94 mph range, certainly good for most pitchers but a little below what he can usually show. He was struggling with his release, getting on the side of both the fastball and the slider, with the latter pitch backing up on him frequently and even coming in 1-2 mph slower than normal. Later in the outing, however, his velocity crept up to the point where he was 95-97 mph in his final inning of work, with the slider much sharper at 84-86 with good tilt, and he seemed to be staying on top of the ball better as well.

Stanek takes a very long stride to the plate after a high leg kick, swinging his front leg (rather than the "step over" move) and extending fully before landing. His arm is very quick and he pronates pretty early, although it lags slightly behind that front leg and his shoulder is wide open as a result. His arm slot was closer to low three-quarters he had in high school, but he's now just under true three-quarters, high enough that he really shouldn't be getting around the side of that slider so often, but low enough that he still gets some life on the fastball.

Stanek's in the group with Stanford's Mark Appel and Indiana State's Sean Manaea at the top of the draft, although there are a few college arms trying to pull a Kyle Zimmer and jump into that discussion (Brady Shipley at Nevada-Reno comes to mind). Stanek's showing on Friday probably didn't help or hurt him particularly; had he stopped after three innings, there would have been questions, but the way he added velocity as he got deeper into the game was a big positive, with one veteran scout remarking to me afterward that it boded well for what Stanek might look like later in the season.

I'm back to Surprise on Friday afternoon to see Gonzaga lefty Marco Gonzalez and will also report on Arkansas second baseman Dominic Ficociello, who made his season debut Thursday, lacing an outside fastball to center field in his first at-bat. I'm also hoping to see Hogs reliever Colby Suggs, who's been erratic in two appearances this season; both he and Ficociello are coming back from oblique strains suffered just before the season started.