June 5, 2013
Scouting the Draft
Pitchers to Know (Part 2)
We conclude our Scouting the Draft positional preview with the second half of our look at some of the top arms in this year’s draft class, including five high school standouts, five collegiate starters, and five college relievers with varying projections at the pro ranks.
Five More High School Arms
Son to legendary collegiate coach Dave Serrano (formerly of UC-Irvine and Cal St. Fullerton; currently of Tennessee), Kyle is an advanced prep arm with a feel for three pitches—each of which could play as plus offerings with further seasoning. Serrano enjoyed a bump in stuff across the board this spring, pushing him up draft boards into first- or second-round consideration, though he has seen some inconsistencies in velocity and execution pop up over the past four or five weeks.
At its best, Serrano’s arsenal is highlighted by a low-90s fastball that creeps up to 94 mph, spotting well to both sides of the plate. His minimalist mechanics help him to place the ball effectively—particularly for a prep arm—and should allow for further growth in his secondaries as he continues to refine his execution. Both his change-up and curve will flash above-average, and he shows such good feel for each at such a young age it’s easy to picture a half grade to full grade bump for both offerings, with an outside chance of one or more developing even further. Serrano is committed to play for his dad at Tennessee and could be an impact arm in the SEC immediately upon arrival, should he forgo his opportunity to start his professional career this summer.
Green is a projectable lefty who has already seen his velocity climb to mid-90s at times this spring, and there is a chance for him to discover even more as he continues to hang bulk on his long, broad frame. The Kentucky commit utilizes a simple step-in to kick off his motion and creates arm speed through good shoulder/hip separation. He gets good extension out of his long legs and arms, helping his fastball to jump on hitters. There is some cleanup to be done in his tempo and balance, each of which can lead to inconsistent strides and release points, and occasional fall-off to his glove side.
While he boasts three pitches with average or better potential, and enough room in his stuff to see each grow into true plus offerings, his control and execution lag behind his pure stuff. Green’s profile as a projectable lefty with a chance to sport plus velocity to go with two quality secondaries should be in high demand later this week, and the Blue Grass standout could come off the board as early as the first round.
Phil Bickford | RHP | Oaks Christian HS (Westlake Village, CA)
Bickford came out, guns blazing this spring, bumping mid-90s and sitting 91 to 94 mph, and finished strong with a 17-strikeout performance this past weekend. The fastball is a true plus-plus offering, boasting velocity and life, and the arm action is so easy it would not be surprising to see him clocking triple digits in the future. The Cal St. Fullerton commit has good arm speed and a short circle, though he delivers his offerings through a low slot and can cut himself off with a short stride and stiff landing. While his mechanics can be cleaned up some with instruction, his current lack of playable secondaries further complicates his projection.
Bickford’s breaking ball of choice is a below-average slider with little tilt and too much swing plane match. While he possesses the arm speed to produce heavy rotation, his slider has inexplicably shown little in the way of bite, leading to some concern that he simply doesn’t have the pitch in his wrist. His off-speed is a rudimentary pitch often with little utility at the high school ranks and, accordingly, Bickford has spent little time showing the pitch off in-game. While the fastball is first round-worthy, the overall profile carries with it significant risk, making him a better fit in the second round. If you squint a little, you can see the makings of a potential future front-end arm, but his motion and arsenal seem to portend a future in the late innings, which could suit him well.
Williams was a steady performer on the scouting circuit last summer, regularly sitting in the upper 80s to low 90s with his heater and showcasing two solid secondaries in his low-80s change and upper-70s curve. This spring, he has seen his velo bump as high as 94 mph, though he has more regularly fluctuated between 88 and 92 mph. Williams does a good job of hitting his three-quarters arm slot with all three offerings, making it difficult to distinguish each out of the hand. Additionally, his pacing adds to his deception, but without interrupting the timing of his mechanics, allowing him to hit his checkpoints regularly, producing solid control and command across his arsenal.
Williams profiles as a durable innings-eater with the upside of a mid-rotation arm boasting three future average or better major-league pitches. He is adequately aggressive on the bump and shows a high level of comfort with his full complement of offerings, giving major-league suitors a lot to like. He fits as a second- to third-round arm and is well-suited to tackle the rigors of professional pitching this summer. He is committed to Oklahoma State.
Matt Krook | LHP | St. Ignatius HS (San Francisco, CA)
Another talented prep lefty, Krook measures in at a projectable 6-foot-4, 195 pounds with a broad upper body and medium-broad hips. His fastball and curve are two potential plus offerings, with the heater routinely sitting in the low 90s with an ability to bump 95 mph. His curve comes with 1-to-7 action and late bite. The Oregon commit lacks a quality third offering, and he will need to work to develop an off-speed weapon if he is to project to a pro rotation.
His potential for two plus offerings and a tendency to sling the ball leads some evaluators to project Krook to relief work, though he should get the opportunity to start early on in his pro career. He could come off the board as early as Day 1, provided he is signable away from the Ducks. If he makes it to Eugene, he could be an immediate contributor starting next spring.
Gonzalez entered the spring as a potential early round candidate and has slowly built a case for first-round selection. His fastball is a low-90s offering that can reach 95 mph, coming with life and heavy action. He uses the pitch well to set up a hard mid-80s slider that can tighten to cutter action in the upper-80s on occasion. His off-speed stuff is a work in progress, and will require developmental attention at the next level.
Those who view Gonzalez as a first-round arm see simple mechanics and future above-average command of a plus fastball and plus slider, giving him a shot at mid-rotation production. He isn’t burly, but possesses enough physicality that drafting orgs should expect a big drop-off in stuff as he transitions to throwing on five days’ rest. Provided his changeup proves an average major league offering (which it should), he should have no difficulty turning over a pro lineup. While not flashy, “Chi Chi” is a good fit in the second half of Day 1 as one of the safer college arms in the class.
Alex Balog | RHP | University of San Francisco
After breaking out this past fall, Balog overcame a bumpy start to the season to re-establish himself as a candidate for Day 1 selection in the draft. At a lean 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, Balog utilizes a four-pitch mix with at least three of those offerings projecting to average or better major league offerings. Balog sports a deliberate delivery, sometimes losing his timing and producing a disconnect between his upper and lower halves, reducing his core torque and resulting in light velocity and softer breaking balls. While this was more prevalent early in the season, he ran into these same issues as the regular season wrapped and USF worked through conference tournament play.
When on, the arsenal is sound—headlined by a 91 to 95 mph fastball that Balog works well down in the zone. His best secondary pitch is a 75 to 78 mph curve that flashes hard downer action and works well to keep batters honest, north to south. He also throws an 82 to 84 mph slider that works west to east with little tilt and often spends too much time on the bat plane. His changeup is his least-used pitch, but has a little more promise than his slider due to his ability to match fastball plane and arm speed. It loses utility when he throws it too firmly (83 to 86 mph) but produces some fade and drop in the 81 to 84 mph range when he turns it over properly. Balog is a solid athlete with good physicality on the mound. Teams not frightened off by his inconsistent spring could target him on the second half of Day 1.
Tom Windle | LHP | University of Minnesota
Windle put together a strong performance on the Cape last summer and entered the spring with a place of prominence on the follow lists of area scouts with Minnesota coverage. A durable lefty with a chance for two plus pitches, the largest concerns surrounding the Cape Cod standout revolve around a stiff delivery shy on athleticism and fluidity, which produces sporadic lapses in control and command, as well as an abrupt stop to Windle’s arm action.
His fastball is a low-90s offering that has reached as high as 95 mph late in starts, and he pairs it with a low- to mid-80s slider that, when on, comes on a tough angle with late action and tilt. His changeup vacillates between well below average and solid average, in large part because of his abrupt arm action and choppy finish. Proponents view it as a third average or better pitch, while detractors see it as further evidence that the lefty is destined for the pen. He should garner attention on Day 1 and otherwise would fit well early on in Day 2.
Like Windle, Blair enjoyed a strong showing on the Cape (including his selection for participation in the All-Star Game) and entered the spring as a high follow for mid-Atlantic evaluators. Blair has an intimidating presence on the mound, backing his towering frame with an aggressive approach. Like many pitchers with big bodies, he struggles at times to get his body working in concert with itself, leading to release issues and negatively impacting both his control and his execution of his two breaking balls.
The arsenal is impressive, beginning with an 89 to 94 mph fastball with boring action and a plus changeup in the low-80s that mirrors his fastball trajectory and arm-side fade. As noted above, both breaking balls are inconsistent and below average at this point, though he has a chance to grow the slider into a useful pro pitch if he can more consistently get on top of the ball and find a workable release. There is a lot to work with here, and his solid showing in front of lots of decision-makers last summer should help his cause. While Blair was dinged with a positive test for Adderall during Major League Baseball’s pre-draft screening, the indiscretion is roundly being viewed as a one-time blip and should not affect his stock on draft day. He fits in the top 50 picks or so and should be off the board before the end of the second round.
Kevin Ziomek | LHP | Vanderbilt University
Ziomek is a deception lefty who has flashed above-average velocity in the past, but more regularly sits in the upper-80s to lower-90s. He’s aggressive with the pitch and utilizes a cross-fire delivery and long levers to deliver the ball on a tough angle with some plane, making it a difficult offering to square. His slider is a hard sweeper that slips in and out of the hit zone quickly and produces lots of soft contact, particularly when the Vandy lefty works low. He’ll mix in a solid average changeup and a “show me” curveball to keep hitters on their toes, and the former has a chance to grow into an above-average offering due to arm speed deception and (like his fastball) a tough angle of delivery.
Ziomek started stronger than he finished the regular season, but has shown enough between this season and a strong showing last summer on the Cape to come off the board in the first two rounds. While some evaluators view the lefty as a future LOOGY, he has enough heat to be popped before he falls to an org holding that viewpoint.
Five College Relievers
Lorenzen came out of high school as a five-tool center fielder looking to establish himself as a first-round talent by 2013, and a solid effort this spring has helped to increase his stock as an everyday player in spite of checkered on-field production through his first two years at Fullerton, as well as with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. If he doesn’t get popped early as a position player, he is likely to be scooped up by an org that prefers his arm on the mound, where he has demonstrated a feel for two above-average or better offerings in a mid-90s fastball and hard, biting power curve.
Through 22 relief appearances and 22.2 innings this spring, Lorenzen held opponents to a .217 batting average while keeping everything in the park and notching 20 strikeouts. He pounded the zone with his fastball and produced empty swings and soft contact by burying the breaker in two-strike counts. He’ll need to tighten his command of his curve against pro batters, who will need to see Lorenzen drop the pitch in for a strike and will be less likely to get caught fishing. Though he lacks the track record of some of the other top relief arms in the draft class, he possesses some of the best raw stuff and could be a top 75-ish pick in that capacity.
Jimmie Sherfy | RHP | University of Oregon
Undersized righty relievers don’t generally produce much heat in the scouting world, but Sherfy’s plus fastball/slider combo have made him one of the top relievers in the college game, and an excellent candidate for late-inning work at the pro ranks. Sherfy’s fastball is a mid-90s offering with arm-side life, and he works it to all four quadrants. The slider is generally 82 to 84 mph, and Sherfy matches release point and trajectory with the fastball, making it a tough pitch to pick up.
While he shies away from the pitch in-game, Sherfy has also flashed an above-average changeup with late tumble and fade—a pitch he may lean upon more often at the next level. There’s some deception in the delivery, quality of stuff, and a feel for the craft demonstrated by solid sequencing and execution already. It isn’t your traditional power reliever body, but the stuff should be loud enough to entice selection in the first three rounds.
Knebel is perhaps the top pure reliever in the draft class, possessing the potential for two knockout pitches in his fastball and power curve. The heater ranges anywhere from the low- to upper-90s (split between his higher velocity four-seamer and low-90s two-seamer), and he works his height to his advantage, producing solid plane on the pitch. The curve is inconsistent, but at its best comes with low-80s velocity and hard bite and two-plane action.
Knebel does a solid job of attacking the zone, but isn’t always surgical with in-zone placement. While he repeats his mechanics fairly well, there is some herk and jerk to them, which could be one of the hurdles standing the way of his ability to refine his command over the past two seasons. The raw goods are here for late-Day 1 selection, but he fits better in the second or third round. With some clean-up, he could move relatively quickly once in a pro system.
Colby Suggs | RHP | University of Arkansas
Suggs shows loud stuff and erratic command due to a high-effort delivery, profiling as a pro reliever with late-inning upside. The fastball is a mid-90s offering that can climb to 97 mph, and he creates good plane in spite of his height. While he doesn’t command the pitch particularly well, he’s generally around the zone. The curve is a low-80s power breaker with hard downer action. He can come around the pitch and will suffer through bouts of inability to control the offering, which will at times limit him to one weapon.
While there is closer upside here, questions about control and command could force Suggs to slip to the third round or later, where he could provide good value for his draft organization. He has the mental makeup to close, and with minimal improvements in his ability to attack the zone more consistently with both offerings, he could move quickly.
Dan Slania | RHP | University of Notre Dame
Slania served as a closer for the Fighting Irish this spring, showing an ability to work down in the zone while mixing in four offerings with pro potential. His fastball is routinely in the low-90s, touching 94-95 mph with regularity. He prefers to work in and out with the heater, elevating it late in counts when he’s working ahead. His best secondary is a slider that can play a tick above average when it’s on, generally sitting in the 81 to 83 mph range. He’ll drop in a “show me” curve with 12-to-6 action that is below-average now but has the makings of a third average offering. His changeup is his least utilized weapon and, like his curve, is currently below average with a chance to grow into a workable weapon with further attention.
Slania’s durable build and four-pitch mix could entice a team to target him as a starter, and regardless of the ultimate intentions of his drafting organization, he is likely to begin his pro career in a rotation if for no other reason than to afford him the opportunity to stack up some innings and put work in on all of his offerings. He fits as a third or fourth rounder and could be a nice get in that range—particularly if he makes a successful conversion to the rotation long term.
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.