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June 15, 2012

Raising Aces

Draft Day Deliveries, Part Two

by Doug Thorburn

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After a pitcher-heavy run to round out the top 10 picks of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, MLB clubs took a rest, with just two of the next 10 selections hailing from the mound. The roller-coaster ride continued with four consecutive arms chosen from picks 19 through 22, followed by a seven-pick drought before wrapping up with a pair of pitchers to close out the first round. Today's edition will cover the six-pack of pitchers who were taken in the middle of the round, a stretch that includes all right-handed hurlers, though today's group does involve a healthy mix of prep pitchers and college-trained arms.

***

14th pick, Reds: Nick Travieso, RHP, High School (FLA)
6'-2”, 215 lb, 18 years old
Click here for mlb.com draft report

For the third time in four years, the Reds used their top selection on a right-handed pitcher. Travieso marked the second straight hurler that Cincinnati dipped into the high school ranks to draft in the first round, following last year's selection of Robert Stephenson. The MLB Network footage was less fruitful than the mlb.com draft report, though the draft-day coverage did at least provide a glimpse of Travieso's goofy impression of Happy Gilmore.

Travieso's balance is solid into max leg lift, but he has issues with maintaining that balance across the other links in the kinetic chain. His head dives to the glove side even before he reaches foot strike, with an exaggerated lean by the time the pitch is released. His spine-tilt carries all of the usual caveats, acting as a barrier to pitch repetition and release distance while elevating the risk of injury. Travieso has a small collapse of the backside as he initiates the second gear of his forward momentum, creating an imbalance that perpetuates through release point. The mlb.com footage includes a side-view that better demonstrates Travieso's impressive momentum. He generates power from the start of the delivery through release point, though his momentum finishes with an imbalance that causes him to fall off to the glove-side.

A big upper-body twist combines with a strong delay of trunk rotation to create excellent torque when all of the gears are clicking, with heavy contributions from hips and shoulders alike. Travieso has high elbows as he approaches foot strike in addition to a scapular load that he uses to increase hip-shoulder separation, thus opening the floodgates of potential injury risk. None of the injury precursors is considered extreme, but the Reds will want to emphasize a proper conditioning regimen in order to safely support Travieso's delivery.

***

16th pick, Nats: Lucas Giolito, RHP, High School (CA)
6'-6”, 230 lb, 17 years old
Click here for mlb.com draft report

Giolito was the biggest wild card in the draft, with early-season hype that he could become the first high school right-hander ever to be selected with the number-one overall pick, followed by a strained UCL that brought whispers of Tommy John and magnified his draft risk. The Nats were unfazed, drafting yet another high-ceiling player to join recent first-rounders Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Anthony Rendon. The teammate of number-seven pick Max Fried, Giolito brings the best combination of age, size, and stuff of any pitcher in the draft.

Giolito follows the same early pattern as Fried, using a very deliberate approach as he reaches maximum lift. Giolito keeps the delivery slow and steady until just before foot strike, though he finishes with a burst of momentum just before the front foot touches down, prior to kicking in the rotational elements of his delivery. The pace is slower than that of his high school teammate, but the similarities suggest that both players have been influenced by a particular coaching method that discourages early momentum. The late burst provides a boost, but it falls short of the level of mechanical efficiency that Giolito needs to meet his elite potential.

He creates exceptional hip-shoulder separation that is aided by a scapular load and a late delay of trunk rotation, approaching triple-digit heat while running the risk of elbow drag, which could be related to the injury problems that he has recently experienced. Giolito also features an extremely high angle of shoulder abduction at release point, establishing an arm slot near 11:00 despite very little spine-tilt. He finishes with all of his energy going in a straight line toward the target, to the extent that he literally sticks his neck out to complete the pitch sequence. There is a lot to like about Giolito's mechanics, though he has his work cut out for him if he hopes to reach his lofty ceiling.

***

19th pick, Cardinals: Michael Wacha, RHP, Texas A&M (Junior)
6'-6”, 195 lb, 20 years old
Click here for mlb.com draft report

St. Louis kicked off the mid-round pitcher run with Texas A&M junior Michael Wacha, a player who had been mocked up and down the draft boards of various experts, most of whom agreed on his talent but struggled to find an ideal landing spot for the right-hander. Wacha matches Giolito for the highest listed height among first-rounders, but the college product has a listed weight that falls 35 pounds short of his high school counterpart, a trait that builds into Wacha's perceived upside.

Wacha's delivery is far from orthodox, yet his mechanics are surprisingly similar to that of the first hurler off the board, LSU right-hander Kevin Gausman. Though less extreme than Gausman's motion, Wacha's delivery features similarly sharp angles and long levers, with a high leg kick followed by a collapse of the back leg that knocks his balance off-kilter into foot strike. Wacha is another drop-and-drive candidate who lowers his center of gravity after maximum lift, with ripple effects on his balance throughout the delivery. He has a big upper-body twist with late trunk rotation, allowing him to dial up impressive torque.

Wacha has decent momentum that he initiates toward the catcher, though his modest second gear reveals that there is more in the tank, with the potential for a plus burst down the road. His entire delivery is very quick, from the timing elements to the physical motion, including an aggressive spine-tilt that takes place as he approaches pitch release. The poor posture allows Wacha to find a high arm slot despite a low degree of shoulder abduction, though the costs typically outweigh the benefits with the over-the-top strategy. The ability for Wacha to reach his performance ceiling could very well depend on the instruction that he receives while climbing the minor-league ladder, specifically regarding the elements of posture and momentum, as a conventional emphasis on downhill plane and minimal effort could sidetrack his development.

***

20th pick, Giants: Chris Stratton, RHP, Mississippi State (Junior)
6'-3”, 190 lb, 21 years old
Click here for mlb.com draft report

The last time that the Giants selected an MSU player in the first round was Will Clark, with the number-two overall pick back in 1985, so you could say that Chris Stratton has some big shoes to fill. Stratton is an intriguing case, having come into the season as a reliever before cracking the rotation, eventually emerging as the Friday starter for MSU. The mystery deepens when attempting to evaluate his mechanics, as there exists remarkably little footage of the right-hander. The mlb.com draft report is just another poorly-zoomed series of photos, and his image is conspicuously missing from the most trustworthy of photo sites, while the only thing on YouTube is a high school outing from 2009. The only source from which to study Stratton's mechanics is a three-pitch set of in-game clips that were presented on the MLB Network draft coverage, so I implore those readers who have saved the draft on DVR to scan ahead to pick number 20 in order to fully appreciate this delivery.

Simply put, I am a big fan of Stratton's motion, despite the scant information from which to draw conclusions. The MLB Network footage suggests that his mechanics are plus across the board, including early initiation of solid momentum and the ingredients of a repeatable time signature. His mechanical sequencing is fluid and quick, leaving very little opportunity for the motion to fall off track. The delivery is simple but efficient, with strong balance and firm posture that form the foundation of a pitcher who is poised to rise quickly through the system.

Stratton is another pitcher with a higher-than-average angle of shoulder abduction, creating a tall arm slot in conjunction with strong stability of posture. He has some late spine-tilt, but nothing that is cause for concern. Stratton is the type of pitcher that makes every coach smile, from the conventionally-minded to those who are more savvy about biometrics. Stratton has all of the indicators for future success, from mechanics to size and stuff, and though no particular element is going to raise eyebrows, Giants fans should be enticed by the combination of plus grades in his mechanical profile.

***

21st pic, Braves: Lucas Sims, RHP, High School (GA)
6'-1”, 200 lb, 18 years old
Click here for mlb.com draft report

It felt like old times when the Braves selected a Georgia high school player in the first round, harkening back to the drafts of a decade past. The last time they popped a local prep in the opening round was with Jayson Heyward in 2007, but from 2000-2002 they took a total of four Georgia high-schoolers with their five first-round picks. With such an incredible track record of drafting and developing local talent, it is often imprudent to question the Braves when they select a player from their own backyard, yet I was left scratching my head upon further review of the Sims selection.

Sims leans back toward second base as he lifts his leg and nearly stops at the top of his delivery, followed by a weird hitch in his balance as he pops into position for maximum torque. The delivery looks funky into foot strike, but Sims absolutely explodes after the front foot hits the ground. He literally rears back and fires, loading his bullets with an upper-body twist while leaning away from the target, though he appears to be imbalanced as the spine goes from hyperextension into flexion. Sims demonstrates a change of posture near release point, though the spine-tilt is not nearly as severe as one might expect given the other problems with dynamic balance. The right-hander fails to exhibit arm angles that are opposite and equal as he reaches foot strike, instead tucking the glove-side arm while the throwing arm extends behind him. 

In what is quickly becoming an overarching theme in this draft, Sims demonstrates surprising rotational speeds with a whip-like arm action after foot strike. He is similar to Andrew Heaney in the sense that his hip-shoulder separation is not particularly impressive, with hips that fire very late in the kinetic sequence, as Sims relies on excessive hip rotation to generate his arm speed. The late, high-octane rotation puts him at risk for elbow drag, and a corresponding scapular load underscores the injury risks that are associated with such a delivery. Sims has a number of favorable traits in his motion, but just as many red flags that could be addressed in his development.

***

22nd pick, Blue Jays: Marcus Stroman, RHP, Duke University (Junior)
5'-9”, 185 lb, 21 years old
Click here for mlb.com draft report

The luster has worn off a bit from the quick-climbing closer strategy that had become popular in recent drafts, but the one bullpen arm that was deemed worthy of the first-round risk was that of Duke's Marcus Stroman. His short stature and high-energy delivery will likely confine Stroman to the bullpen throughout his career path, though an open-minded organization such as Toronto might find a more creative way to maximize his skill set.

Truth be told, Stroman has the markings of an intimidating closer right now. He brings plenty of momentum to the table, launching from the rubber with a big leg kick, more than compensating for his modest height to release the ball relatively close to the plate. Stroman creates tremendous torque with equal parts hip rotation and upper-body load, and all of his kinetic energy flows in sequence toward the target. Yet another pitcher with exceptional rotational velocity, he throws smoke in addition to a vicious hook, cementing the profile of a shutdown reliever.

Stroman is another drop-and-drive pitcher, starting tall at maximum leg lift before lowering his center of gravity, causing the head to lag behind the body. His balance is otherwise steady, and he finishes the motion with stable posture and momentum that stays on line to the catcher's glove, further increasing his release distance to overcome the height disadvantage. Stroman has a deeper release point than other pitchers who stand a half-a-foot taller than he, and a naturally-elevated angle of shoulder abduction combines with his awesome posture to produce a taller release point than many hurlers who have never endured such height-related scrutiny.

Doug Thorburn is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Doug's other articles. You can contact Doug by clicking here

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