YD's Jack Armstrong, Jr. (Vanderbilt) is no stranger to the Cape League, having pitched well here the last two summers. This summer is different because Armstrong isn't simply trying to improve his game against the Cape's fierce competition. He's out to prove he's healthy and worthy of a hefty signing bonus as a third round draft pick by the Houston Astros. Jack Armstrong, Jr. is the son of, wait for it, Jack Armstrong, a seven year MLB veteran who pitched for Cincinnati, Florida, and Texas from 1988 to 1994. Like his father, Junior is an enormous right-handed pitcher listed at 6 foot 7 and 235 pounds. Armstrong was drafted out of high school in 2008 by the Texas Rangers in the 36th round but chose to attend Vanderbilt instead.
He's had a turbulent college career having pitched sparingly out of the bullpen his freshman year and then starting a full season for the Commodores his sophomore year. Given his size, strong arm, blood lines, and solid performance on the Cape the last two summers, scouts were looking forward to his junior season when he would again be draft eligible. Unfortunately, back problems limited him to only 17 innings out of the bullpen without a single game started this season and mixed results.
Similar to Anthony Ranaudo (LSU/Brewster) last year, although with significantly less hype, Armstrong returned to the Cape to prove he was healthy and he made his first start of the season July 4th against Hyannis. Several scouts were in attendance because there was a lot of talent on the field (including Cal State Fullerton's Dylan Floro who started for Hyannis) but you could tell they were curious to see how Junior would fare in his first true start of the season.
Jack didn't disappoint as he comfortably pumped fastballs at 94/95 mph and even touched 96 with late arm side run. He left a couple 78 mph curveballs up and out of the strike zone but also generated several ugly and/or checked swings. He didn't use his 82/83 mph change-up frequently so it was difficult to get a good feel for it.
Armstrong has a fluid delivery with a high leg kick while he strides to the plate. He's slow to the plate with runners on base which led to a couple easy stolen bases by Cal Towey (Baylor), Adam Brett Walker (Jacksonville), and Zach Vincej (Pepperdine). Armstrong's catcher, Bennett Pickar (Oral Roberts) struggles with his footwork blocking balls in the dirt but has good catch and release skills and routinely pops 1.9-1.95 seconds on throws to 2nd so I attributed those stolen bases more to Armstrong's slow delivery than Pickar's ability behind the plate.
Jack was pulled after only four innings but struck out three and didn't allow a walk but hit a batter. Throughout the night, Hyannis had a difficult time getting the fat part of the bat on Armstrong's pitches and managed only two hard-hit balls. Most importantly, he generated a lot of weak contact and easy ground balls.
It's safe to say Jack Armstrong, Jr.'s 2011 debut was a success. Hopefully he'll be able to build on this start and remain healthy the rest of the summer because that will be fun to watch. Stay tuned.