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Alexander: UCR pitcher Lillie’s switch may have created a draft

By in Press Enterprise on May 17, 2017

By Jim Alexander

RIVERSIDE — The guys with the radar guns settle in behind home plate on nights when Ryan Lillie pitches for UC Riverside. They’ll be there Friday night when he takes the mound for the Highlanders against visiting UC Irvine.

The scouts’ presence has increased in significance, as Lillie — once a catcher at Vista Murrieta High, then a closer at UCR and now its Friday night starter — contemplates how the major league draft may change his life in another month.

“It’s hard not to see them up there when you’re throwing,” he said. “But that’s just a plus. They don’t dictate how I throw the baseball up there. I do.

“ … There’s no pressure. I like to show off, is all it is. ‘Hey, they’re here. Show ‘em what you’ve got.’ ”

What he’s got — a mid-90s fastball and an effective slider — could even make him UCR’s highest draft choice in a decade. The 21-year-old junior is projected to go in the first five rounds of the June 12-14 draft, and Highlanders coach Troy Percival thinks he could go as high as the second round. He is No. 156 on Baseball America’s list of the top 200 draft prospects released earlier in May.

It is a profound transition, given that Lillie arrived at UCR having pitched occasionally in travel ball but hardly at all at Vista Murrieta. He’d enjoyed displaying his throwing skills as a catcher, and hitting .194 as a freshman may have helped convince him his talents were better suited to the mound.

“The second I started seeing I was throwing harder, and getting swings and misses and making guys look stupid, I was like, ‘Wow, I’m actually good at this. I can try this out,’ ” he said.

He was at the perfect place to make that transition. Percival was […]    

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