(Photo via the University of San Diego website, seen here)
During the 2018 Tony Gwynn Classic, the University of San Diego baseball team went undefeated over the weekend, as the Toreros defeated Michigan, Grand Canyon, Arkansas, and Arizona at Fowler Park.
Nick Sprengel (LHP, San Diego), a top 100 draft prospect, made his first start of the season against Arkansas on February 25. Rich Hill, the San Diego head coach, decided to wait a few games to give Sprengel his first start of the 2018 season, as the team wanted him to work on his command. In 2017, the southpaw walked 33 batters and posted a 1.34 WHIP. Although his command can be an issue, Sprengel misses bats consistently. As a sophomore, he used his fastball and breaking ball to post a 9.4 K/9.
In his delivery, Sprengel uses a leg kick that reaches just above his waist, and he throws from a three-quarter arm slot.
During the first inning, the command concerns were valid. With a large section of scouts on hand, Sprengel threw three straight balls to left-handed batter, Jax Biggers, as he missed inside with all three fastballs. Luckily, he worked his way back into the count with two inside fastballs for strikes before striking out the shortstop on a breaking ball (swinging strike) down in the zone. While he varied up his location, working middle-in and low and away to outfielder, Eric Cole, all three 91-mph-plus fastballs were out of the zone. His ability to throw an inside strike at the knees and paint the outside of the plate at the knees demonstrated what the left-hander is capable of with stronger command. Moving away from his fastball, he was able to get Cole to chase on a breaking ball out of the zone. After falling behind (1-0) to his third straight batter, Sprengel had Dominic Fletcher out in front of a changeup down in the zone. His ability to locate his fastball in at the knees gave him a 1-2 count, and he struck out the side with a pitch low and away. Even though the command was an issue early in counts during the first inning, Sprengel’s ability to hit inside corners and outside corners helped him strike out the side in the first inning.
The second inning wasn’t as kind to Sprengel. A fastball away to Luke Bonfield was a first-pitch strike, but Bonfield legged out an infield single on the fourth pitch of the at-bat with a lined shot to the third baseman. Getting ahead of Heston Kjerstad, with a changeup, helped him induce a pop-up to the second baseman for the first out. Carson Shaddy reached on a fielder’s choice for the second out of the inning. Even though Sprengel allowed Jared Gates to reach via a hit-by-pitch (on the foot), he still had a chance to close out the inning with two runners on base. With a 2-2 count to Casey Opitz, an away pitch just missed off the outside corner. On the next pitch, Sprengel threw a pitch down and in at the knees, but Opitz put an inside-out swing on it to guide the ball to shallow right field for an RBI single. Casey Martin used foul balls to work a ten-pitch at-bat against Sprengel. The southpaw worked both sides of the plate, but a ball in the dirt allowed Martin to draw a walk. The walk kept the inning going, which led to more runs.
The next two at-bats were a microcosm of Sprengel’s outing. He missed on four straight pitches, two were in the dirt, to walk Eric Cole and load the bases. Sprengel used two-effective breaking balls (outside and inside) to move to an 0-2 count versus Dominic Fletcher. As in the first inning, Fletcher chased a ball low and away for the third out. While control was an issue at times (50 pitches through 2 IP), his ability to strike out batters helped him avoid more damage in the second inning.
In the third inning, Sprengel became more efficient, as he set down the Razorbacks in order. Moving from a fastball to a breaking ball, induced two 4-3 putouts. Building on two outside fastballs, he got up in the count, 1-2, against Carson Shaddy. Continuing to move his pitches inside and outside, he struck out Shaddy swinging on an off-speed pitch down and in to end the inning.
Sprengel opened the fourth inning with a breaking ball to Jared Gates for a first-pitch strike. The southpaw doubled down on another breaking ball at the knees to force an 0-2 count, and throwing it a third time led to a swinging strikeout of Gates. While Opitz earned an RBI knock against Sprengel in the second inning, the southpaw got ahead in the count, 0-1, with an outside fastball. Missing outside with one fastball and low and outside with another fastball gave the count, 2-1, back to Opitz. Mixing up his speeds, with a changeup, induced a swinging strike for strike two at the belt. Sprengel registered his seventh strikeout with a fastball on the outside corner that caught Opitz looking. In the next at-bat, Casey Martin fouled off a fastball at the belt for strike one. After missing with a fastball down (1-1), Sprengel fought back (1-2) with a fastball low and away at the corner. Staying low in the zone, Sprengel coaxed a swinging strike from Martin to strike out the side.
Overall, Sprengel’s fastball, breaking ball, and off-speed pitches resulted in eight strikeouts in four innings against fourth-ranked Arkansas. Although he fell behind in all three counts in the first inning, Sprengel had the stuff to come back and strike out all three batters. During a three-run second inning, his lack of control helped out the Razorbacks, as two walks and a hit-by-pitch kept the inning alive. Once again, Sprengel’s strikeout ability helped him escape the second inning. Throwing strike one to four of his last six batters contributed to efficient innings and four strikeouts.
Nick Sprengel answered the call in his first 2018 start. His ability to change speeds effectively and use all parts of the zone backs his skills. Monitor his next few starts to see if he can gain a feel for his command earlier in games. Once the feel for his command/control settled in, during the third and fourth innings, Sprengel worked efficiently and effectively. If he can continue to sharpen his command, Sprengel should improve his 2018 draft stock.