Live Looks: Iowa vs. UC Irvine, with a side of Kirkwood

With the MLB Draft in around a month, here are some notes on some guys that I got the pleasure to get a live look at over the past week. Most are 2019, with Trenton Denholm being 2020. However, he was just so good that he had to make the list.

Austin Martin, 2019, C, Iowa

This 6’1” 205-pound Iowa catcher currently leads the Hawkeyes in average (.308) and hits (52). He has a nice athletic frame that goes into a simple right-handed swing. The swing resembles a Cody Bellinger-esque starting the feet closer together then extending them out as the way to get into the load position. He does an excellent job at coiling the front foot, leading to good timing at point of contact. Has some good amount of pop in the bat and has gap to gap power. Mix that with his swing which he tends to not pull and that explains why he is hitting for .300 in the Big Ten. However, Martin has been getting many more looks due to his excellent job behind the plate. I can’t think of how many times Martin has saved a pitch by properly framing it. He’s proven adept at blocking the ball as well. He has arm strength but the accuracy needs to improve. However, don't be surprised if you see him going at some point in Day 2 this year.

Tanner Wetrich, 2019, SS, Iowa

Tanner is someone that has been solid all year at SS for Iowa. The six foot, 185-pound SS has been one of the better defensive players for the Hawkeyes. He has a good amount of speed that can lead to many different plays being made. His arm plays average at shortstop but he’s likely better suited at second base. On the more recent looks of him, he showed that he can make multiple tough throws. One of them was a tough throw from deep in the 5-6 gap to get them out, he also makes slow rollers look easy to deal with. Has an all right bat with a surprising amount of pop on it.

Cole McDonald, 2019, RHP, Iowa

Cole has been excellent for Iowa this year posting up some great performances. He successfully out-dueled highly touted Andre Pallante last weekend. He has a very effective fastball when he’s able to hit his spots at 89-93. When he is on, he hits all four quadrants. But issues arrive when he loses command of the heater. His second favorite pitch is his SL at 85-87. He started to use it less throughout the season but it’s still his go-to breaker. He shows a CH (~83 mph) around 10 percent and uses a CB (75-79) every once in a while. I wish he threw the pitch more but I can see why he doesn’t use it as he sometimes doesn’t have the best command on it. However, the slider and curve both flash good bite. Meanwhile, the change was regularly missing bats against Irvine. Has a quick type of delivery that can catch some hitters off guard at points, and likes to attack batters, an Iowa trait.

Andre Pallante, 2019, RHP, UC Irvine

Andre, measuring six feet, 203 pounds, was one of the most highly touted players that I got the chance to watch live so far this year. Coming off of an excellent summer with the USA baseball team, Pallante is getting a ton of hype heading into the draft. Thanks to a stellar season he has had so far that will not be stopping. Although Pallante got into some trouble in the game against Iowa, he really didn’t have that bad of a start. In this look, he left a lot of FB (91-95) over the middle third of the plate, but he missed in the lower part of the zone leading to plenty of grounders. Iowa just happened to find gaps off of those groundballs.

Four solid pitches, curveball (72-75) gets tons of movement and dies over the plate. He will use the slider (83) on the outside to righties, it is average at best doesn't get much movement. He has a slow methodical delivery to him and long arm action but features a high three-quarters slot that creates a hard angle for fastballs. This creates a ton of groundballs, especially when left in the lower half. The only times in this look that a fly ball was created was off of a breaking ball hanging. I can see why he is highly touted, nothing too flashy outside of the curveball but the dude is effective and can pitch his way out of trouble. I can see him going early Day 2 for sure.

Trenton Denholm, 2020, RHP, UC Irvine

Standing at 5’11” 190 is Trenton Denholm from UC Irvine. Although not an intimidating figure on the mound, the guy is a stud in the making. In his start against Iowa on Saturday he threw a CG in a loss but looked amazing while doing it. He threw 8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 8K, 0 BB. He has a short delivery with a leg kick and three-quarter arm slot. He has excellent command of his FB in the low 90s with what looks to be a sinker tagging 94 multiple times throughout the start. The sinker regularly missed bats and was hitting plenty of corners against Iowa challenging them to hit it. Mixing with his sinker is a curveball at 76-79 that gets plenty of bite of it with 12-6 shape. He wasn’t able to command it too well in my look but his sinker carried him. He also has a change but didn’t show it much — he only threw it once or twice to left-handed hitters instead of using his curve but gets good movement on that pitch as well. After getting to watch Trenton flash over the weekend, I think it is safe to say he will be one of the better pitchers in an already stacked pitching class of 2020. He has three very solid pitches that he can throw for strikes and misses bats with all three. I have fully fallen head over heels for the kid.

Brandon Lewis, 2019, 3B, UC Irvine

At a tall and athletic frame of 6’3” 215, Brandon Lewis is on a tear. Batting .337, with 59 H, 47 RBI, 12 HR, 29 XBH, he had a 36-game on base streak going into that weekend. Brandon is tall and intimidating at the plate, with some of the best natural power I’ve seen since Jake Adams two years ago for Iowa, when he led all of D1 in home runs. He has an aggressive right-handed swing, that has a pretty large leg kick into his load with his hands wagging his bat above his head as a timing mechanism reaching a good angle at the time he starts his swing. That hand waggle also generates a good amount of power because his hands generate energy from movement mixed with the energy he loads in his back leg from the large leg kick launches directly into his bat. Leading to the ball flying off of his bat like it’s nothing. Has a good feel when getting into unfriendly counts and can hit out of those well. Although he doesn’t find the barrel on pitches all too well, his easy power is something that makes up for it.

He is an average defender at 3B with a good feel at the corner. In the look over the weekend, he was able to run up and make plenty of good plays on bunts. He has a good arm with that as well. I think he can stay at 3B but wouldn’t be surprised if he moves across the diamond.

Christian Koss, 2019, SS, UC Irvine

Koss, 6’1” 182 pounds, is a plus-plus defender and it shows with his speed. Multiple times over the weekend he made some outstanding plays with great quick arm action and a powerful arm. Koss is speedy and uses that while at shortstop. He has a nice quick first step, good range, reads hops well, soft hands that scoop up every ground ball. His glove is good enough that he’s an easy lock to stick there as he advances. As for the bat, he has shown some skill but still needs work. Koss at points has some of the best hand-eye coordination in the country and finds the barrel extremely well that leads to good gap power. However, he tends to sit all over the fastball and will swing over plenty of offspeed pitches. That being said he expects plenty of offspeed pitches and can wait back and be selective later in games and series when he needs to. For him to take the next step he will need to be better with the offspeed but all the other tools will get him playing time in pro ball.

Levi Usher, 2019, OF, Kirkwood Community College

Usher was a top 5 JUCO prospect and shows why when he hits the field. At an athletic 6’1” 195, with room to grow, he is currently committed to go play at Louisville following this year if the draft does not work out. I got to see him at the ICCAC Division 2 playoffs. In both games I caught, he helped lead them to victory. Usher is someone that has too much athletic ability to be playing at the JUCO level, making his at-bats look easy. As a lefty bat, he has a fairly simple swing with an average leg kick and rests the bat on his shoulder. When he is successful, he is not trying to do too much at the plate. But when he does try too hard — like when he sells out for power — he can lose his ability to make good contact from trying to pull the ball. He does have some pop but when he can just settle down and use his skills he can be a regular gap to gap hitter and use his speed to his advantage.

However, it isn’t his bat that stands out the most of his tools. His defense is top tier. He reads balls in the outfield well and pairs that with a plus arm, maybe even plus plus arm. In game one, he threw a laser from the middle of right field all the way to third on the dot. Levi also has good speed on him too allowing him to get to balls easily in the outfield. Levi was able to steal a couple of bases and stretch a triple in game two. It will be fun to see where Levi goes from here and how he plays in the future.