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August 17, 2012
Draft Day Deliveries, Part Three
Back in June, I broke down the top pitchers selected in the Amateur Player Draft, including the 11 hurlers who were chosen among the first 22 picks. The revised signing deadline has hastened the process of becoming a pro, with many of this year's picks getting a head start on spinning yarn in the pros. The high school pitchers who were taken at the tail-end of the first round are earning a taste of the rookie leagues, while their collegiate counterparts begin the climb from a higher rung on the developmental ladder.
We left off at pick number 22, Marcus Stroman, after which teams avoided pitchers for the next seven selections. The Yankees and Red Sox snagged moundsmen with the final two picks of the round—a logical strategy, considering the dilapidated state of pitching in the AL East—kicking off a string of four pitchers in a row. Picks numbered in the thirties may not have the reputation of those chosen earlier on draft day, but the supplemental round featured some pitchers with stunning mechanics that challenged anyone at the top of the draft.
Thirtieth pick, Yankees: Ty Hensley, RHP, High School (OK)
The Yankees may have been surprised to see Hensley's name still on the board when their first pick came around at number 30, and MLB Network's Jonathan Mayo correctly predicted their selection during the telecast. Hensley is old for a high schooler, having turned 19 on July 30th, and an athlete's age relative to competition is an important factor when evaluating statistical context. There is reason to be wary of a big kid with an advantageous birth date, particularly on the mound, as an oversized player who was the star of his little league or travel-ball team is more likely to be overworked during these crucial stages of development. Hensley signed for a cool $1.2 million. and his six-inning introduction to the Gulf Coast League has featured plenty of true outcomes.
The most glaring aspect of Hensley's mechanical profile is a vicious head-jerk late in the delivery, with exaggerated spine-tilt as the throwing arm accelerates into release point. The strategy creates an artificially-raised arm-slot, and though he might reap some benefits with respect to downhill plane, it comes at the cost of release distance while creating an obstacle to pitch command. He demonstrates strong torque that relies heavily on hip rotation to generate arm speed, though the flailing nature of his arms during the rotational phases could perpetuate the “violent” label.
The right-hander has an odd pattern to his stride, with an inverted gear-change that features excellent momentum early in the delivery that slows after maximum leg lift. He leads with the hip and charges toward the target as he lifts the leg, such that it should be a relatively straight-forward adjustment to encourage more acceleration, but his current strategy acts to limit Hensley's release distance. His long levers and early burst mark the foundation of a long stride, giving the Yankees’ coaches a fine template from which to coax more efficiency. Hensley has a ton of potential, especially if he can iron out the head movement and take greater advantage of momentum, a combination that could extend his release point more than a foot closer to the plate.
Johnson was the first left-hander selected after Andrew Heaney at number nine, with seven right-handed pitchers and twenty-two picks overall made between the two southpaws. The Red Sox have spent a ton of money on a rotation that has fallen apart at the seams, thanks to frequently disabled millionaires Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey plus the statistically-challenged Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. The BoSox spent a relatively modest sum of $1.5 million on Johnson, a total that was 25 percent higher than what the rival Yankees paid previous selection Ty Hensley. The college product has pitched five and one-third shutout innings in the New York-Penn League thus far, allowing just three baserunners and recording four strikeouts.
Johnson has strong momentum behind his delivery, a rare trait to find in a left-hander, though he follows southpaw convention by directing his energy along a closed stride. The lefty displayed some spine-tilt on the pitch above, though his posture was stronger in the scouting video from mlb.com. Johnson has a high leg kick, but he lacks balance when executing the lift phase of his delivery.
Johnson is light on torque with minimal upper-body load, which is odd for a pitcher who uses a corkscrew twist as he gets into max leg lift. Such pitchers typically keep the shoulder-axis closed until after foot strike, allowing the hips to open up and maximizing separation, but Johnson appeared to open up the shoulders early before triggering trunk rotation. This is an area that the Sox will want to emphasize during Johnson's development, as there could be more in the tank that can be tapped with minimal adjustments to his timing and positioning, combined with a conditioning program to support the delivery.
Thirty-second pick, Twins: Jose Berrios, RHP, High School (Puerto Rico)
There was some interesting footage of Berrios on MLB Network, including clips of his rubber-band workouts that the commentators deemed “crazy” despite the growing popularity of such tactics for modern pitchers. The young right-hander is not lacking in intensity, with an intimidating glare on the mound coupled with an apparent laser-like focus in his conditioning routine. He looks nothing like the typical Twins prospect, from his high-energy mechanics to his proclivity for strikeouts. Berrios has already tasted two minor-league levels this season and dominated both the Gulf Coast and the Appy Leagues, registering 32 punch-outs and yielding just 12 baserunners over his first 20 innings of pro ball.
He may not have cracked the first round, but in my opinion, Berrios has better pitching mechanics than any player selected ahead of him. The kid has outstanding balance and nearly ideal posture, traits that are made all the more impressive by the rocket levels of kinetic energy that he generates with relative ease. All of his momentum flows on a straight line toward the target, such that the right-hander takes another step toward the plate during his follow-through. Berrios is a picture of mechanical efficiency, with advanced command of an ultra-aggressive motion, along with the functional strength and mechanical efficiency to repeat the motion. The momentum alone is worthy of the spotlight, and the side-view offered by the following clip helps to isolate the Berrios attack.
One has to hope that the height listings on Berrios' profile did not harm his draft stock too much, as his release-point extension is superior to pitchers half-a-foot taller than he. The aggressive momentum and whirlwind trunk rotation may invoke sensations of violence, but the underpinnings of Berrios' delivery are as safe as they are efficient, and he lacks the injury precursors that are commonly indicative of risk. The new Twin has all of the ingredients for success at the highest level, and the grades on his mechanics report card would likely surpass those of first-round favorite Kyle Zimmer.
Thirty-third pick, Padres: Zach Eflin, RHP, High School (FL)
The Padres selected pitchers with each of their first two picks on day one of the draft, with Eflin joining fellow high school product Max Fried, who was taken with the seventh overall pick. The right-handed Eflin is a natural complement to Fried, with their opposing arms coming from the same 6'4” frame, though his bio indicates that Eflin carries an extra 30 pounds. His first seven innings in the Arizona rookie league have been less than dominant, which of course means absolutely nothing with respect to his long-term ceiling.
Eflin has a distinct drop-and-drive delivery, though he does generate some decent momentum that helps to partially offset the blatant imbalance that comes attached to the technique. Eflin is a classic example of a pitcher who demonstrates great posture when throwing at low intensity during warm-ups, but whose stability falls out of whack when he amps up the delivery all the way. He triggered violent head movement with late spine-tilt on some of the pitches on the mlb.com scouting report, though there was enough variance to suggest that Eflin has his good days and his bad days, and a professional training staff might be able to help him find balance and consistency.
With long legs and an initial burst toward the plate, Eflin should have no trouble gaining a deep release point, but he has a habit of slowing things down mid-way through the motion. His momentum appears to have three gears, with a great move into maximum leg lift before he suddenly applies the brakes, effectively slowing his energy into foot strike. The front foot hits the ground prematurely, just as Eflin shifts another gear with a late burst toward the plate. I encourage the readers to take another look at the GIF and notice the speeds at which he travels across the screen.
Thirty-seventh pick, Red Sox: Pat Light, RHP, Monmouth University
The Sox kept going the college route with their second pick in a span of eight, drafting 6'-6” right-hander Pat Light and sending him to the New York-Penn league, where he joined southpaw first-rounder Brian Johnson. Originally drafted by the Twins in the 28th round of the 2009 draft, Light has impressed with a K:BB ratio of 16:4 and a 2.25 ERA in the first 16 innings of his professional career.
The mlb.com draft report for Light is astounding, with an almost robotic series of pitches that feature incredible timing and an uncanny ability to repeat the delivery. There is a succession of four pitches in the scouting video that are mechanical clones of one another, which is a skill that escapes plenty of pitchers at the highest level. It is often assumed that taller pitchers have a tougher time coordinating their long limbs to deliver a baseball, but Light is a great example of a big pitcher with impeccable command of his appendages. He has the makings of an awesome stride, with tree limbs for legs and a late charge to the plate, while his modest early momentum leaves the door open for improvement.
With above-average balance and excellent posture, Light features a mature combination of mechanical benefits that are rare for an amateur. The right-hander also generates phenomenal torque with a heavy upper-body load, twisting in preparation for trunk rotation. He uncoils with excellent timing and sequencing, bringing the ball from a low three-quarters arm slot with an extended release point that he finds with remarkable consistency.