A second trip to Wisconsin Rapids was in order after seeing them earlier this summer as the Rafters approach the playoffs with the best overall record in the Wisconsin/Illinois pod of the Northwoods League. In this game they hosted the Wisconsin Woodchucks from (relatively) nearby Wausau.
Although they have lost numerous “star” performers at this point of the summer, plenty of intriguing pieces remained. Plus, the pitching matchup between right-hander Chris McElvain (Vanderbilt) of the Rafters and left-hander Nate Madej (South Alabama) of the Woodchucks – two of the league’s premier strikeout artists – made this a compelling matchup.
Chris McElvain, RHP, Vanderbilt
McElvain had a solid freshman season at Vanderbilt and has enjoyed an even more successful summer for Wisconsin Rapids. He went only two innings in this game by design, keeping his arm fresh for the upcoming Northwoods League playoffs, and while he had a solid outing – giving up one run and striking out three in those two frames – he also wasn’t especially sharp.
At 6-foot-1, 205-pounds McElvain has some obvious strength in his frame. It isn’t an overly projectable body but there is room for added strength. He repeats his delivery well and it doesn’t take too much effort for him to produce 91-93 fastballs, touching 94 once. He mixed in a sharp 80-83 mph slider, threw a curveball consistently at 78 mph and threw a pair of really good looking changeups at 87 and 85 mph. The second of which struck out a batter, maintaining his arm speed really well on the pitch as compared to his fastball, and in fact his three strikeouts came on a slider, a changeup and a 92 mph fastball.
The breaking ball variation is the one aspect of his game that he’ll need to be more consistent with, full recognizing that he may have been more consistent with that pitch this summer. In this game the slider showed sharp downward break, down and away from right-handed hitters. However, he lost the feel for the pitch as his outing progressed, although he could always go back to his low-90s heat, and it’s easy to envision him throwing more consistently in the mid-90s as his career progresses.
Part of a dominant staff at Vanderbilt, McElvain will have some stiff competition for the Sunday and weekday starter roles, considering Friday and Saturday will already be spoken for with Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter. However, from what McElvain showed in this look I would be somewhat surprised if he wasn’t starting games in some capacity for the Commodores next season.
Nate Madej, LHP, South Alabama
Madej started opposite McElvain and looked sharp in his first two innings of work before laboring through a difficult six-run third inning. A left-hander with an athletic and well-proportioned 6-foot-1, 205-pound frame, there’s some funkiness to Madej’s delivery, which creates some deception, although he throws across his body as a result.
The fastball was thrown at 85-88 mph, peaking at 89 and showing some nice running and sinking action, mostly sitting at 85-86 during his three-inning outing. He also threw a sweeping, slurvy breaking ball at 75-78 mph that he used well to get in on the hands of right-handed hitters. I also saw one changeup, pulling the string nicely at 74 mph. Madej did a nice job to tunnel all three pitches from the same delivery, maintaining his arm speed and making the change of speeds and eye levels that much more effective.
Not surprisingly the big third inning against him began with a pair of walks and from there he was forced to get too much of the plate with his fastball. When he stayed in rhythm the first two innings you could really see how his tempo worked to his favor and he should be poised for a big redshirt junior season at South Alabama.
Travis Adams, RHP, Sacramento State
Following McElvain on the mound was Travis Adams, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound right-hander from Sacramento State. From the very beginning of his outing it was clear he wasn’t fooling the Woodchucks hitters as there was some hard contact, although nothing damaging in his first inning of work as the hardest hit balls against him went foul. He appeared to be elevating his fastball and his breaking ball wasn’t offering much relief to help him get opposing hitters off of his heater from a timing perspective.
His fastball sat at 85-91 mph, sitting mostly at 88-89 and he grabbed what I would call an “angry” 93 in his second inning of work after allowing some hard hit contact to open the fourth inning. It took him a while to find the feel for his curveball and even when he did it didn’t look as though he was snapping off the ball as well as he could. His curve was thrown in the low-70s (72-74) and he also appeared to throw a 80-81 mph slider in the dirt that wasn’t compelling enough of a pitch for the Woodchuck hitters to offer at it.
As noted, his fastball was elevated more than it should and the pitch was mostly straight, making it hittable (which it was). It was a two-inning outing for one of the league’s top pitchers this summer as a tune-up for the playoffs. Leading up to the game I was told Adams was consistently in the upper-80s to low-90s with very good statistical success, so this outing was more difficult than what he was accustomed to.
Of the Wisconsin Rapids hitters, outfielder Andy Garriola (Old Dominion) is a player I profiled in a previous report. Built tall and strong with stature similar to that of Aaron Judge, Garriola is certainly a player to watch heading into the 2021 season. His size and strength are notable; he moves well for his size, has a very strong arm that is fitting for right field and the statistical numbers to match offensively. The biggest area of his game that needs development is his approach at the plate, as while he can square up baseballs and hit them hard and far, he also can get crossed up frequently and needs to have a better plan when he steps into the right-handed batter’s box.
Third baseman Christian Sepulveda (UTRGV) is another player I covered previously. Like Garriola he certainly looks the part at 6-foot-4, 200-pounds but appears to be a work in progress. In this game he had a great at-bat in the bottom of the third inning, working the count and fouling off numerous pitches to get himself into a full count. He finally got a pitch he liked, waiting back on an inner-half fastball and he didn’t miss, drilling it over the wall in left-center field for a three-run home run.
Infielder Jason Dicochea (Santa Clara) has had a strong summer for the Rafters, mostly playing second base, showing some good foot and hand quickness at the position with a line drive bat. He had a pair of hard-hit singles, both hit up the middle of the infield. A right-handed hitter, he has a line drive swing plane and a contact approach, and the second of his two singles broke a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the third, a lead the Rafters would only build off of as part of a 10-3 win.
In the games I saw outfielder Richie Schiekofer (Rutgers) he didn’t do much at the plate but it’s clear he knows how to handle a bat. A left-handed hitter, Schiekofer routinely displayed a patient approach, knowing what he could handle and what he couldn’t with a line drive stroke that has some pull-side power. He runs well, has a good arm and overall is a solid ballplayer who was enjoying a solid redshirt sophomore season at Rutgers before COVID-19 abruptly shut everything down. For the Rafters he spent a lot of time at the top of their order, where he was a good fit.
For the Woodchucks, at 6-foot-3, 230-pounds Nick Romano (UCF) offers an imposing presence in the batter’s box. He displayed a very patient approach in this game, as he was walked three times and was hit once. However, the one hit he did record was a big one, blasting a ball over the wall in left-center field, a majestic shot that he even stopped on the base line to admire. The power/patience approach is evident and he was leading UCF in batting (.315) before the 2019 season was cut short.
Pablo Ruiz (UCF), Romano’s teammate with the Woodchucks and at UCF, followed Romano’s big blast with a double pulled to the left-center field gap, a similar location to Romano’s home run. The hit made a different sound off of the bat as it was evident he barreled up the baseball. With a physical 6-foot, 190-pound frame, Ruiz took some good looking swings from the right-handed batter’s box and was a promising recruit coming out of high school; he hit .275 with three home runs during his abbreviated freshman season. In this game Ruiz had a pair of hits, including a sharp, run-scoring single in the first inning off of Wisconsin Rapids starter Chris McElvain.
UTRGV is a program on the rise and they had two standouts in this game, one for each team. Freddy Rojas, Jr. is a physical 6-foot-3, 200-pound player that offers some versatility. He played right field in this game, and while his game stats didn’t have much to offer I really liked watching his at-bats. A left-handed hitter he did a nice job to work the count and fouled off some tough pitches. Rojas was a junior this past season and will return to school with some positive momentum.