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May 17, 2013

Dissecting the Draft

Profiling Prep Arms

by Nick J. Faleris

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Thus far in our series, we have focused on the first selection in this year’s shadow draft, which will include a selection for each of the Red Sox’ first 15 draft picks (for a refresher on the series, review the earlier Dissecting the Draft pieces). In our last installment, we set our preference list for Tier One, which consists of the talents we rate higher than the typical talent we’d expect to have available to us at our draft slot (seventh overall).

Tier One
1. Jonathan Gray, RHP, Oklahoma University | Scouting Report
2. Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford University | Scouting Report
3. Clint Frazier, OF, Loganville HS (Loganville, GA) | Scouting Report

The next three entries into the series, including this piece, will focus on Tier Two, starting with the high school pitchers (Kohl Stewart and Trey Ball). Next, we’ll step through the up-the-middle players (J.P. Crawford, Reese McGuire, and Jon Denney), followed by the corner players (Kris Bryant and Dominic Smith) and, finally, the college arms (Ryne Stanek, Sean Manaea, and Braden Shipley). As a recap, here are our Tier Two targets in alphabetical order:

Tier Two
1. Trey Ball, LHP/OF, New Castle HS (New Castle, IN) | Scouting Report
2. Kris Bryant, OF/3B, University of San Diego

3. JP Crawford, SS, Lakewood HS (Lakewood, CA)

4. Jon Denney, C, Yukon HS (Yukon, OK)

5. Sean Manaea, LHP, Indiana St. Univ.

6. Reese McGuire, C, Kentwood HS (Covington, WA)

7. Braden Shipley, RHP, University of Nevada

8. Dominic Smith, 1B/OF, Serra HS (Los Angeles, CA)

9. Ryne Stanek, RHP, University of Arkansas

10. Kohl Stewart, RHP, St. Pius X (Houston, TX) | Scouting Report

Tier Three, formerly consisting of Ryan Boldt (OF, Red Wing HS (Red Wing, MN)), is now vacant, with news that Boldt is likely to be on crutches until at least late June. He will be discussed later in this series as a potential target for our later picks, but at this point does not make sense as a candidate for top 10 overall selection, even as part of a larger strategy.

Clearing the Deck
The first question to ask when considering a high school pitcher at our slot is whether there is any reason to avoid this player type altogether. This is a much more complicated question than we will cover here, though we will address this in detail once we have passed draft day and can open up the series some more. While the following table requires further context, a deeper pool of players, and a more nuanced breakdown in player types in order to serve as firm evidence to support a draft strategy, we are simply looking for comfort that there isn’t something inherently flawed in high school pitcher profiles that should preclude their inclusion in our second tier for a top ten overall selection.

The table takes the top 50 pitchers from 2012 by WARP and breaks them down into their classification of origin (high school, college, or international) and the investment required to obtain that player. “Elite” indicates (1) a first-round selection or seven-figure bonus in the draft, or (2) a $750,000 or greater signing bonus for an international talent. “Good” is (1) a non-elite talent selected in the draft in the top four rounds or otherwise signed for greater than $300,000 but less than seven figures, or (2) an international talent signed for greater than $100,000 but less than $750,000. “Fair” is any player acquired outside of the criteria set for “Elite” and “Good” prospects.

Top 50 Pitchers by WARP (2012)

Player

Classification

Profile at Time of Acquisition

Elite

Good

Fair

High School

11

4

5

College

11

4

8

International

4

1

2

Again, this table is not meant as hard support for any actions relating to talent acquisition, other than to illustrate that based solely on a current snapshot of the most recent top-performing pitchers in baseball, seven-figure or first-round high schoolers do not appear to be an underrepresented class. This does not tell us the odds of the drafted pitcher succeeding—we’d need to delve more deeply into the total number of high schoolers selected, as well as other aspects of their profile, in order to construct a full risk assessment. But at this very basest of levels, we see an absence of evidence the elite high school ranks is to be avoided if you are looking for future productive major-league arms.

As a note, the above table includes starters and relievers alike. Remember, the point of the draft is not to fill a particular hole in a major-league roster. Rather, we are looking for future major-league value. Accordingly, we don’t particularly care whether our future top-50 arm comes in the form of a Cole Hamels, Aroldis Chapman, Mike Leake, or Craig Kimbrel, just as Manny Machado’s shift to third base for Baltimore, or Nick Castellanos’ shift to the outfield for Detroit, does not negate the quality of the decision-making leading to their acquisition.

History With High School Arms
If we do not have reason to avoid high school arms as a general matter, the next step is to re-examine our own history with evaluating and acquiring high school arms in order to determine (1) if shortcomings in our evaluations make us less likely to successfully identify future major-league talent out of this player type, and (2) whether we have been more successful obtaining this player type in different parts of the draft. The first table below is the current breakdown by level of the 14 high school arms selected in the first five years of our shadow draft project.

Shadow System Snapshot: Level and Investment

Developmental Progress

Profile at Time of Acquisition

Elite

Good

Fair

Single-A and Below

5

5

0

Double-A and Up

1

3

0

MLB

0

0

0

The four arms currently at Double-A or above are Zack Wheeler (Triple-A), Matt Wisler (Double-A), Brody Colvin (Double-A), and Ian Krol (Double-A). Wisler was selected in 2011, and the other three were selected in the 2009 draft. Of the remaining nine high school arms in our system, eight were selected in the last two drafts and remain at the very early stages of their respective pro careers. The lone 2008 high school pitcher selected is Tim Melville, who is currently in prospect purgatory, straddling the line between non-prospect and potential contributor. The lone high school arm selected in 2010 was Karsten Whitson, who neglected to sign.

Shadow System Snapshot: Progression by Investment

Years in System

(Draft Year)

Number of Players (Levels Progressed)

Elite

Good

<1 (2012)

2 (0)

1 (1)

1-2 (2011)

2 (1)

3 (4)

2-3 (2010)

N/A

N/A

3-4 (2009)

1 (4)

3 (7)

4+ (2008)

1 (0)

N/A

Total Average

Levels Per Year

0.83

1.00

Again, we could write a full piece or two regarding this table and the issues central and tangential to return on investment in high school arms. The quick story, however, is all we need for now. That story tells us that, as an overall investment, our high school arms are progressing at just under the rate of a level per year. Looking at elite investments in particular, we have Wheeler as a success thus far, Melville as a failure, and four arms too early in their development to have leanings one way or another.

Based on a quick and dirty examination of the origins of last year’s top arms, and the return on investment we have seen in our own selection of high school arms, the conclusion can be drawn that there is not strong evidence we should avoid a high school arm with our first-round pick.

Ripple Risk?
When we examined the Tier One candidates, we first took a look at ripple risks, which essentially boiled down to the effect drafting a particular Tier One talent would have on our selections later in the draft. Since these are talents we would generally expect to be available in our slot, our expectation is that the player’s talent indicates they should sign for at, or around, slot.

We do, of course, need to keep in mind that both players have leverage in the form of quality college scholarships—in Kohl Stewart’s case, the opportunity to play baseball and football at Texas A&M; in Trey Ball’s case, the opportunity to play both as an outfielder and a pitcher at the University of Texas. Considering the $3 million-plus we are able to give at our seventh overall slot, and a few hundred thousand more we could free up with limited strategic action in the later single-digit rounds, we do not consider signability, or ripple risk, to be a significant factor in our decision-making.

Ball vs. Stewart: Ranking Out
Links to the full player scouting reports are included in the first section above. Here is the Adjusted Overall Future Potential for each player as set forth in those reports (MLB ETA in parenthesis):

1. Kohl Stewart – 54/64 (2017)
2. Trey Ball – 56/62 (2017)


Both are potential front-end arms, with Stewart showing higher upside but a broader risk delta. The biggest knocks on Stewart are less-than-ideal mechanics and concerns as to his ability to hold up under a heavy pro workload. The comparative knocks on Ball are the lack of a true future plus-plus offering, a delivery in need of some refinement, and some velocity fluctuations this spring.

Both players are excellent athletes, a factor included in the positive adjustments to their OFP, and in each case speaks to the likelihood that they will be able to make mechanical adjustments by implementing pro instruction. Stewart has missed some starts this spring, as well as had starts shortened, which raises some questions as to how his body will hold up when asked to throw every five days. Ball has similarly seen some dips in stuff and consistency late this spring, but he has more projection to his frame, giving some comfort that added strength will be able to help counteract the effects of a more physically demanding workload at the pro ranks. Finally, Ball gets an Adjusted OFP bump for his left-handedness.

As was the case with Gray and Appel, we are near a coin flip when it comes to ranking the two side by side. And as was the case with Gray and Appel, the inclination here is to opt for the louder stuff and higher ceiling. The durability concerns are not insignificant as they relate to Stewart, but the chance for a legit ace is too good to pass up. Should he eventually be relegated to a relief role, his fastball/slider combo could make him one of the best in the game. If the heavier workload causes a backup in stuff, he has enough already in the tank to still profile as a mid-rotation guy.

Ball’s profile is enticing, and should Stewart come off the board along with our three Tier One candidates prior to our selection at seventh overall, we would be happy to have Ball available as our pick. As a two-way player, Ball has a fallback option of playing the outfield.

Looking Ahead
The foundation for Tier Two is set now, with Stewart our current top target, followed by Ball as an arm. Our next piece will examine the corner players, including Kris Bryant and Dominic Smith. We will also discuss Trey Ball as a right fielder, though he stands a good chance to stick in center field should his drafting organization opt to run him out as a position player. The discussion should be fun, with Smith and Bryant representing the top hit and power tools in the draft, respectively, and Ball checking in as perhaps the most dynamic draft-eligible position player at the high school ranks.

Nick J. Faleris is a practicing structured finance attorney and Sports Industry team member in the Milwaukee office of Foley & Lardner LLP. The views he expresses in Baseball Prospectus are his own, and not necessarily those of the law firm.

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

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