John Manuel

Key ACC weekend series' will have eyes of scouts

Posted March 17

With March Madness in full swing, it can be hard to focus on college baseball at this time of year.

But keep your eye on the three Triangle teams this weekend, all of them playing crucial ACC series. Scouts will be, and in my day job at Baseball America, I worked the phones talking about the upcoming 2017 draft (June 12-14) and picked up some rumblings and notes about all three Triangle ACC teams. We give the scouts anonymity in exchange for their candor.

• Duke plays host to Wake Forest in three games scheduled for Durham Bulls Athletic Park, starting Friday night at 6 p.m. It’s a rematch of last year’s ACC tournament play-in game, which the Demon Deacons won 4-3.

An area scout with an American League club agrees that Duke’s most important player remains third baseman/closer Jack Labosky. The junior from California rides a six-game hitting streak into the weekend, hitting .360 over that span, and also has emerged as the Blue Devils’ closer, allowing left-hander Mitch Stallings to move into the weekend rotation. The junior left-hander, whose fastball can sit at 90-94 mph at its best, starts Friday against Parker Dunshee, while lefty Adam Laskey and righty Ryan Day round out the projected Duke rotation.

Labosky has had success against the Deacons in his career, pitching 4.1 scoreless innings in three career outings while also going 5-for-15 with a homer in four games at the plate.

A second-team all-ACC player a year ago, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Labosky isn’t a premium prospect, but the scout I talked to remains intrigued by his power.

“He’s big and strong, and he’s a good college third baseman,” the scout said. “He’s got arm strength. To me, he’s their most important guy because of the power he gives them and the pitching.”

• NC State, 10-8 after a Wednesday win against George Mason, plays host to Miami, which is struggling even more by its lofty standards. With 44 straight  NCAA tournament appearances, Miami is off to a 2-1 ACC start after winning last weekend’s series against Georgia Tech. But the Hurricanes are still just 8-9 overall and entered the week tied for 13th in the league in runs scored per game (4.1) and dead last in batting (.210). One veteran scout told BA that it was the “weakest Miami team I’ve seen in years.”

The Wolfpack hope to take advantage, as NC State has a 14-34 record all-time against the Hurricanes. However, Miami native Joe Dunand, the Wolfpack shortstop, is heating up a bit, homering twice this week to bring his total to a team-high five.

He needs to keep playing well this weekend for both NC State and for his own draft status, as scouts have been in heavy to see the Pack of late and have gotten several rough looks at Dunand defensively, where he has four errors, and with 14 strikeouts in 65 at-bats. Fellow junior outfielder Brock Deatherage, the Pack’s other potential high draft pick, is also struggling with a .238 average and 17 strikeouts in 63 at-bats.

“I came in to see Dunand and Deatherage,” said one front-office executive with a National League team, “and I came away disappointed.”

• Meanwhile, North Carolina, ranked No. 13 after winning two of three from Virginia last weekend, ventures on the road for the first time this season, visiting Georgia Tech.

Plenty of scouts will continue to follow the Heels, thanks mostly to junior right-hander J.B. Bukauskas, who impressed in six innings against Virginia due to nine strikeouts, a fastball that reached 97 mph early in the game, and the liberal (for him) use of his change up. Bukauskas has a chance to be the first college right-hander drafted, as he’s gotten off to a faster start than peers such as LSU’s Alex Lange, Florida’s Alex Faedo or Vanderbilt’s Kyle Wright.

The other Tar Heel moving into first-round consideration is junior shortstop Logan Warmoth, who is trending to be one of the first middle infielders drafted in what’s considered a weak class.

Amalgamating several scouts’ evaluations, Warmoth impresses with a combination of the athleticism and arm strength for the middle infield combined with above-average hitting ability, with average future power if not more. He’s hitting .375 with three homers (after hitting four all of last season) while stealing 10 bases in as many attempts. Warmoth has a career 47-65 walk-strikeout ratio in 467 at-bats.

“He’s what teams are looking for at second base right now,” the AL scout said. “All the tools have a chance to be at least average, and he’s got a chance to be a plus hitter with a plus arm. He’s trending in the right direction.”

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