(Photo is property of the author, Brant Chesser)
As exhibition games begin play later this month, publications have released team rankings and player rankings. Collegiate Baseball Newspaper ranked the University of California-San Diego as the seventh-best team in Division II to start the 2018 season. There are two freshman players for UCSD that both received accolades from the Perfect Game. Perfect Game ranked Shay Whitcomb (2B/SS) as the seventh-best Division II freshman in the country, and they ranked Noah Conlon (Pitcher) as the eighth-best Division II freshman in the country. What skills do both players offer?
Shay Whitcomb carried strong bat-to-ball skills during his last two years of varsity play at Newbury Park High School. His batting average steadily improved throughout his high school career, from .176 his sophomore year to .321 his junior year, and he hit .381 with four doubles, one home run, and 16 RBI in 21 games played during his senior year. His ability to draw walks can help him transition to games at UCSD, as he drew three walks in 38 plate appearances as a sophomore, 14 walks in 95 plate appearances as a junior, and seven walks in 71 plate appearances as a senior. His plate discipline and contact contributed to a .430 on-base percentage as a junior and a .437 on-base percentage as a senior, which, according to MaxPreps, were both above the national average. Once he reached base, he added a few stolen bases each year.
In a video from 2016 seen below, Whitcomb’s small front leg kick (49 seconds) gets down in plenty of time to provide balance in his swing before shifting his weight. His weight transfer is balanced, and his ability to load on his front leg allows him to drive the ball.
In his second swing, Whitcomb loads his front leg in enough time to get a little more loft on the ball. As he works on his opposite field approach, he lets the ball travel deeper into the zone before using his quick hands to make bat-to-ball contact. Whitcomb then shifts to driving the ball to left field (1:42), center field (1:47), and right field (1:51) in consecutive swings. Carrying over an all-fields approach could ease his transition from high school baseball to Division II in 2018.
1.17.18 Exhibition Game
During UCSD’s second exhibition game, Whitcomb batted leadoff and played shortstop.
He used his patient approach to work the count to 2-1 in his first at-bat before the pitch below.
The hand movements are slightly more exaggerated than his high school years and used as a timing mechanism. Whitcomb’s small leg kick is still there to drive the ball, as he just hits underneath the ball to foul it off. After fouling off another pitch straight back, Whitcomb squared up the ball below.
Widening his stance slightly, Whitcomb loads on his front leg and hits down on the ball to pull a double down the line. His above-average speed allowed him to reach second base in 8.7 seconds.
In his next two at-bats, he pulled two more pitches. In the third inning with a 2-2 count, he grounded out to the shortstop. He worked the count back in his favor (2-0) in the fourth inning, and his speed allowed him to beat the third baseman’s throw for an infield single.
Swinging over the top at a ball down put him behind in the count for the first time in the game.
The pitcher’s sequencing shifted Whitcomb’s timing, as his hands were behind a pitch at the belt. After displaying good bat-to-ball skills in his first three at-bats (2-3), the pitcher finally struck out the shortstop.
Whitcomb continued to display solid contact. He moved away from pulling the ball in his last two at-bats, as he flew out to CF (below) and RF.
While it is only one exhibition game, Whitcomb’s ability to recognize pitches and work the count should help him progress as a hitter during his freshman year. Staying in the leadoff spot could also boost his counting stats and stolen base totals. He also looked comfortable in the field, as he made strong throws on two put outs while also adding two assists.
Noah Conlon (RHP) is the brother of New York Mets pitching prospect, P.J. Conlon. According to a Perfect Game profile from 2016, Conlon consistently reached “88 mph with his fastball with some arm side run that has some sinking action.” As a member of the Oakland Athletics scout team in the fall of 2016, Conlon posted a 1.33 ERA in 21 innings pitched while striking out 22 batters and only allowing six walks. During his senior year in 2017, his fastball reached 90 mph, and he posted two saves with 12 strikeouts, four walks, and a 3.27 ERA in 15 innings pitched.
In the video below, the six-foot Conlon uses a smooth, high leg kick before releasing his fastballs from a three-quarter arm slot. After his follow-through, he has a high left leg kick and his right arm moves across his body as his head moves to the left of his front knee.
His ability to drive downhill consistently towards home plate should continue to help his command, and carrying over his 2.5 BB/9 (36 innings above) would bode well for success in Division II. When Conlon throws the two change-ups in the video, his arm speed remains consistent with his fastball, which should help keep aggressive hitters off-balanced when they are looking for a fastball. While throwing his first slider, the ball moves across the zone, and Perfect Game notes how Conlon’s slider has “sweeping action with late tilt,” which will allow him to stay away from the barrels of bats.
Shay Whitcomb and Noah Conlon will look to make an impact in 2018 for the Tritons. Whitcomb is the favorite to win the shortstop position, and Conlon should see multiple innings for UCSD. As the season begins, these top-ranked Division II freshmen are worth tracking.