Through five games, the Wichita State baseball team has scored 63 runs and made clear strides offensively from last season.
But coach Gene Stephenson will get a better gauge of how significant those strides are this weekend when Florida Gulf Coast comes to Eck Stadium.
The Eagles (6-2) are receiving votes in the Baseball America rankings and possess one of the top pitching prospects in the country in left-hander Chris Sale.
"They have a lot of guys who can hit, run and play defense — they are a very solid team," Stephenson said. "They're going to bring a great challenge to our guys."
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Sale, a 6-foot-6 junior from Lakeland, Fla., is projected by many to be a top-five pick in June's major-league draft and was originally drafted in the 21st round out of high school by the Colorado Rockies.
Last summer, Sale was voted most outstanding pitcher in the Cape Cod League, where he led the league in strikeouts and innings.
"This kid is definitely legit," Shocker pitching coach Brent Kemnitz said. "He has such an easy delivery and he can get it up there in the low 90s."
It's not as if Sale is invincible, though, as the Shockers defeated him and the Eagles last season 6-0. Charlie Lowell went five innings and struck out nine for WSU, while Sale gave up five runs — three earned — in six innings.
Sale isn't the only pro prospect on Gulf Coast's roster. First baseman Zach Maxfield has driven in 14 runs already this season, which follows a 2009 season in which he led the Eagles in most offensive categories. Infielder Mikal Alvarez reached base in 49 of his 52 games last season and also is considered a mid-round prospect in this year's draft.
"We're looking forward to the challenge," Stephenson said. "I know we are going to have to be on top of our games if we are going to beat these guys. If we aren't, then I don't think we can beat them."