June 3, 2014
Scouting the Draft
2014 Draft: Left-Handers to Know
There is also a nice blend of high school and collegiate arms who should make for solid targets in the top three rounds or so, but the strength of the grouping shifts to the college side once we transition outside of the top 100 picks. Overall, it is a banner year for lefties, with drafting teams presented with any number of interesting options throughout the early stages of the draft.
Top Players to Know
Brady Aiken | LHP | Cathedral Catholic (San Diego, CA) | Commit: UCLA
Aiken capped a long summer of showcase and travel ball with USA Baseball’s 18U team, earning the win in the World Cup gold medal game against Japan in a dominant seven-inning, 10-strikeout performance. While winning gold can be considered a career-defining event for some, this game is likely to be just a footnote for the UCLA commit, who has seen a bump in his stuff this spring and now looks like the favorite to go first overall in the 2014 First Year Player Draft.
For Aiken, everything starts with clean mechanics and a quick and easy arm that produces heavy spin on a 1-to-7 low- to mid-70s curve and low- to mid-90s velocity on the fastball. He uses each pitch to set up the other and is comfortable working backward off the breaker. He shows good feel for an above-average changeup, as well, which drops in the low- to mid-80s with tumble. Aiken’s raw stuff is good, but what sets him apart is his feel and command, each of which are advanced for a prep arm. He won’t turn 18 until August, adding to impressiveness of the overall profile. It’s a potential front-end arm with solid size, a solid three-pitch mix, and athletic and easy actions on the bump. He’s one of two elite profiles in the class and he offers good upside with a better than average risk profile for a high school arm.
Rodon turned in the single best performance of any amateur last summer, stymying the Cuban National Team over 6 2/3 innings, striking out 11 and allowing just two hits and no walks. During the start he showed a true “80” slider and a plus to plus-plus fastball with life and command, making him the early favorite for first overall selection in the 2014 draft class. The spring has not gone according to plan, however, with the stuff taking a step back and, perhaps more importantly, his command failing to meet the high standard he set for himself in that final game against Cuba.
Rodon has worked primarily in the 88 to 92 mph range this spring, running his fastball up to the 94/95 mph range, but he has been less than surgical with the pitch. The slider was merely average early in the spring, but has rebounded to the plus range as the ACC conference schedule wrapped, flashing plus-plus at times. The absence of an above-average off-speed pitch was less on an issue when he was sporting two potential plus-plus offerings at the top of the arsenal, but stood out this spring as a potential chink in the armor. Further complicating the profile, Rodon was working heavily through the end of the season as the Wolfpack made a desperate push for postseason play.
It’s easy to picture the Friday night ace shutting down and recharging the batteries this summer and returning as a dominant force in the Arizona Fall League, and that potential should keep him on the lips of scouting directors at the top of the draft come Thursday. He fits well in the top five overall selections, and still offers front-end upside, but the risk profile is more complicated than evaluators could have dreamed of last July, when Rodon looked like a major-league arm offering a night of his services to the Collegiate National Team.
Freeland enjoyed a dominant junior season for the Purple Aces, racking up 128 strikeouts to just 13 walks over 99.2 innings pitched while holding opposition bats to a sub-1.0 WHIP and .214 average. Freeland throws three foundation pitches with multiple looks for each, starting with a lively low-90s fastball that he can sink, run and cut, as well as dial-up to 95 mph. His slider is an easy plus offering with late sweep, working as low as 81 to 83 mph range and as high as the upper-80s in the form of a cutter-like short slider. His low- to mid-80s changeup is a third above-average offering, generally showing late tumble and occasionally coming with cutting action.
There is effort in Freeland’s delivery, and the arm slot is lower than we traditionally see out of major-league starters, but he can fill up the strike zone with all three offerings and shows comfort with each pitch in any count or situation. There were grumblings surrounding the medicals earlier last month, but subsequent reports have many teams comfortable with the health of the arm based on follow-up discussions. There is risk in any non-traditional profile, and particularly when it includes mechanical quirks, but no one can deny Freeland’s ability to drop impact stuff with plus command, all from the left side. He is worthy of top five consideration and it would be a surprise to see him drop lower than the first half of the first round.
Sean Newcomb | LHP | Hartford
Big bodied lefties with four major-league offerings will always be in high demand on draft day—even moreso when two of those four offerings have plus potential. That’s what you get with the Hartford lefty, who can run his fastball up to 97 mph while working comfortably in the 90 to 94 mph range. His slider flashes plus in the low-8os, with good shape and some bite. His curve and changeup will both flash average, with the curve coming with clean 1-to-7 action, capable of changing the hitter’s eye level and serving as an effective change of pace.
Newcomb doesn’t repeat his delivery consistently, and as a result he can struggle at times to command his stuff and show consistent execution, particularly with his secondaries. If it all clicks, there’s front-end upside, but he profiles better as a solid mid-rotation arm capable of eating innings. There’s a lot to work with, and team buying into the ability of its dev staff to tease more consistency out of the mechanics and execution could pop him as early as the top 10 picks.
Brandon Finnegan | LHP | Texas Christian
At 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, Finnegan doesn’t have the typical starter’s body, but the hard-throwing lefty wields some of the best stuff in the draft class and as a result has a chance to stick in a major-league rotation long term. The arsenal starts with a 92 to 95 mph fastball that can reach 97 and comes with solid life. He commands the pitch to both sides of the plate and uses it to set up a plus low-80s slider with sharp break. His changeup is a third big-league offering that plays well off the fastball slider combo and generally sits in the low 80s.
Finnegan missed a start earlier this May with shoulder stiffness, but left evaluators with a strong final pre-draft start, notching a seven-inning, four-hit, 12-strikeout performance in regionals, though evaluators note the stuff was down a bit from earlier in the season. He should get every opportunity to stick as a starter at the next level, though the Friday night ace saw decreased effectiveness in production as he turned over lineups this spring, and there is a real chance that he ultimately finds a home as a late-inning arm along the lines of Colorado Rockies former second rounder Chad Bettis. He fits best in the mid-first round and could be good value if he slips too deep into the back half of the round.
Foster Griffin | LHP | The First Academy (Orlando, FL) | Commit: Mississippi
Griffin saw a jump in his draft stock early this spring when he spiked mid-90s velocity, a jump many evaluators were expecting to come out of the projectable lefty at some point after noting the solid mechanics and projectable frame throughout the summer circuit and fall tournaments. That velo dropped off periodically this spring, and ironically one of his most impressive starts may have come with diminished velocity, at USA Baseball’s National High School Invitational.
Griffin’s fastball sat in the upper 80s, touching 91 mph early in uncomfortable 30-degree temperatures, but his off-speed took center stage in front of dozens of high-level decision makers. Griffin’s changeup easily graded out as plus that day, with arm slot/speed deception and late disappearing action, giving him a second potential plus weapon at the next level, an distinguishing factor evaluators look for in identifying top end amateur acquisitions. His breaker was, and continues to be, inconsistent, but there is enough feel to project at least average down the line. The projectable body and athletic actions make him an excellent breakout candidate, and he should have plenty of suitors in the second half of round one.
Kodi Medeiros | LHP | Waiakea (Hilo, HI) | Commit: Pepperdine
Medeiros became something of an draft darling in the blogosphere last August after pornographic scouting reports filtered out of the Area Code Games regarding the low-slotted lefty’s video game slider and mid-90s velocity. He followed up that performance was an electric showing at the Perfect Game All-America Classic, to the delight of national evaluators who could count on at least one trip to Hawaii the following spring to check in on the Pepperdine commit.
Medeiros generally sits in the 88 to 92 mph range with a darting fastball and is capable of dialing up to the 94/95 mph range in short stints. His slider is a true plus offering in the 79 to 82 mph range, and could grade out as plus-plus were he better able to command it. His change is a third potential average or better offering once he improves the consistency of execution and command, and its hard late fade and tumble mirrors his fastball action.
The command profile is below average in the zone, and there is some concern pro bats will not struggle to the same extent in laying off the out-of-zone offerings. The low slot also concerns some evaluators, but everything he throws dances, quelling fears he’ll have pitch plane issues with opposite-side bats. There is mid-rotation upside and a safety net as a late-inning arm. He could get popped as early as the mid-first round and provides excellent value anywhere after pick 20 or so.
Justus Sheffield | LHP | Tullahoma (Tullahoma, TN)) | Commit: Vanderbilt
Sheffield boasts four potential average or better offerings from the left side and the potential for above-average command thanks to a solid delivery and velocity and spin generated from a quick arm rather than excess effort. His fastball works in the low 90s and has bumped 95 mph in the past without sacrificing control. He’ll throw a solid 1-to-7 curve in the low- to mid-70s and a low-80s change with armside fade, each of which project to above-average. His slider makes fourth MLB average offering, though he can get to the side of the ball causing it to flatten out and hug the hitter’s swing plane.
Sheffield has the typical signability questions that follow Vanderbilt commits, but most seem to think he’ll be willing to start his pro career if he’s drafted early enough. There is first round buzz surrounding the compact lefty, and the skill set is easily worthy of top 50 overall selection.
Alex Verdugo | LHP/OF | Sahuaro (Tucson, AZ) | Commit: Arizona State
Verdugo didn’t enjoy the sharpest of springs, and his frustration showed, but the work he put in from June through October of last year as well as the raw stuff on display the last couple of months could be enough to garner early round attention. A good athlete with two-way potential, Verdugo is a top three round talent as both an outfielder and a pitcher, though the risk that generally surrounds high school hit tools has most risk-averse evaluators more comfortable drafting and developing him on the bump.
The Arizona State commit utilizes a compact and athletic delivery to produce good action on an upper-80s to low-90s fastball that plays up thanks to good extension and solid deception. His curve and change are both potential average or better offerings, he is comfortable working each to both sides of the plate. The body is well put together, and while he lacks ideal height he does a good job of creating angles that are difficult for hitters to work with. He could go as high as the supplemental first round or slip to the second or third round depending on how scouts view his signability.
Jacob Lindgren | LHP | Mississippi State
Lindgren is a reliever all the way, which is fine when you do it as well as he. His spring has been nothing shy of dominant, as the undersized lefty fell just shy of averaging two strikeouts per inning pitched, finishing with 100 strikeouts in just 55 innings pitched. His below-average control led to a less dominant 4:1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, but the occasional walk is less impactful when opposition bats are whiffing at such a prodigious rate while batting .124.
Lindgren’s fastball is a mid-90s offering with arm-side action, and the slider is a plus to plus-plus offering depending on his feel for placing it on a given day. He could be a high-leverage lefty arm out of the pen and in short order, though his lack of command could prevent him from ultimately holding down a role as closer at the major league level. He’ll make an enticing target for teams with extra picks in the top 50 overall, and profiles well as a second rounder.
Mac Marshall | LHP | Parkview (Lilburn, GA) | Commit: Louisiana State
Marshall completed one of his best starts of the spring during USA Baseball's National High School Invitational, where he showed advanced feel for his changeup and curveball, each of which could grade out as plus when all is said and done. He can manipulate the shape of his 73 to 79 mph curve without sacrificing command, and his upper-70s changeup is among the best in class with hard late fade and deception. The fastball is average, sitting in the upper 80s to low 90s, but it plays up thanks his command profile and the quality of his secondaries.
Marshall has reached as high as the mid-90s with his heater in the past, though evaluators haven’t seen much of that this spring, giving some hope that he’ll see at least a slight uptick in velocity as the body continues to mature. The LSU commit is a good athlete that repeats his delivery well and self corrects in-start when he does slip out of his mechanics. He profiles as a potential mid-rotation arm and has the tools to adapt quickly to the pro game. He represents good value beginning in the second round and could get popped in the top 50 picks.
Cody Reed | LHP | Ardmore (Ardmore, AL)) | Commit: Vanderbilt
Reed had an interesting spring, showing a big jump in velocity from a mid- to upper-80s arm last summer to a 92 to 95 mph arm with solid life. His slider will flash bite and he shows some feel for spinning it, though he’ll need to improve the consistency of his release. The off-speed lags, but he is not shy about showing it, and most feel it will be an average pitch in time, flashing some soft fade.
The other side of the coin is the body, which has quickly added weight to the point that there is concern as to his ability to keep a handle on it moving forward. The stuff is intriguing, with the typical qualifiers that accompany rapid physical changes and increases in velocity. He could go as high as the top 75 picks overall and could make an interesting target in the third round, though teams may ultimately opt to see how he handles life in a college program before investing seven figures.
Carson Sands | LHP | N. Florida Christian (Tallahassee, FL)) | Commit: Florida State
In contrast to Reed, Sands saw a more traditional uptick in stuff this spring, moving from and 88 to 91 mph arm to a 90 to 93 mph arm capable of nudging 94 with regularity. Sands comes by his velocity honestly, showing good control of his mechanics and feel for the pitch to all four quadrants. His curve is a second potential plus offering, though it may lack the requisite snap for that distinction in spite of solid depth. He works his changeup well at the bottom of the zone, and is comfortable enough with the offering to make it a staple in his sequencing.
Entering this spring Sands was viewed as a potential difficult sign considering his FSU commitment and third to fifth round profile. While there are still some questions as to signability, it looks like he may have elevated his stock to the point where he will easily earn a solid seven figure bonus, which is generally enough to convince most high profile prep arms to begin their pro careers. There have been some rumors Sands could go as hig has the supplemental-first round on a pre-draft deal, and the profile fits well in the second or third.
Matt Imhof | LHP| Cal Poly
Imhof didn’t stand out to evaluators last summer due to his then-present stuff, but rather for his size and some additional physical projection. The lefty has taken a step forward this spring as far as consistency is concerned, wielding his 88 to 92 mph fastball to either side of the plate and creating a tough downhill angle thanks to long arms and a high-three-quarters slot. The secondaries, an inconsistent curve and seldom relied upon change-up, will flash potential but he isn’t particular comfortable with either offering and will likely need to place developmental focus on each if he’s to remain in a big league rotation.
It’s a big body that creates tough angles for hitters, and there are raw materials to shape into a durable innings-eater in time. The risk profile pushes his value range down into the third, but a solid spring performance has him positioned to go as early as the early second round.
Fry doesn’t wow with stuff, but his fastball is heavy and his spring was highly productive in a solid Pac 12 conference, holding hitters to a .198 average and a sub-1.0 WHIP. His heater is an upper-80s sinker that plays to both same side and oppo side bats, inducing soft contact down in the zone. The breaker is a low-80s slider that grades out as average and will do better missing barrels than bats at the next level.
Fry has a sturdy build and maintains his stuff fairly well deep into starts, but lacks height and a true third offering (he’ll mix in both a changeup and a curve) casting doubts as to whether he profiles better in the back of a rotation or as a sinker-slider lefty specialist. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012, so there is a chance he’ll see a slight uptick in stuff and execution as he gets another year between himself and the procedure. He fits as a third or fourth round target provided he is signable in that range.
Andrew Suarez | LHP | Miami
Suarez lacks ideal height and has a labrum surgery already under his belt, making a strong case for shifting him to the pen rather than testing the body with an arduous pro starter’s workload. His solid spring and four pitch mix, however, could keep him in the mix as a starter to start his pro career, if only to help get him innings and continue to build his arm strength.
At present, his fastball can hit the mid-90s, but more regularly registers 90 to 92 mph readings. He will show two distinct breaking balls in his slider and curve, as well as an average changeup with same-side fade. His fastball-slider combo could play up in relief, which may ultimately be his best fit. He could come off the board as early as the third round and profiles better as a fourth rounder.
Brown draws surface level comps to 2013 Fullerton first rounder Michael Lorenzen, another athletic southern Californian two-way talent with upside in the field and on the mound. Like Brown can’t quite match Lorenzen’s power stuff on the mound, but his heavy low-90s fastball and above-average sliders can each miss bats, and he may show more feel for his off-speed than did Lorenzen at the same stage. Another feather in his cap is the fact that scouts have had a chance to see him extensively as a starter this spring, leaving less to the imagination when it comes to projecting how his stuff will play the second or third time through an order.
Again like Lorenzen, the command profile is below average at present, but
Brown has good athleticism that will help him to refine his mechanics and get the most out of his raw stuff. He profiles as a third to fifth rounder as an outfielder and as a pitcher, and should come off the board in that range.
Austin Gomber | LHP | Florida Atlantic
Gomber offers a durable workhorse build and an average fastball, above-average changeup, and fringy breaking ball to go with solid-average command. His stuff plays up thanks to his ability to create tough angles with his long left arm, and he does a good job of changing speeds to keep hitters from sitting on his upper-80s to low-90s heater. The arm action is fairly free and easy, and he could see a bump in stuff as he’s exposed to pro instruction and is able to more consistently execute.
It isn’t a flashy profile, but there is plenty of value in a back-end lefty capable of filling up the strike zone. The fallback is a middle-inning southpaw, which makes it a high floor/limited ceiling proposition. He fits well in the third to fifth round and could come off the board as early as the mid- to late-third.
Justin Steele | LHP | George County (Lucedale, MS)) | Commit: Southern Mississippi
Steele had evaluators flocking to the Magnolia State when word got out the projectable lefty was hitting the mid-90s with his fastball earlier this spring. He’s not yet physical enough to maintain that velocity deep into starts, and some question whether he won’t ultimately profile best as a power reliever given his size. Most, however, point to a frame that should add strength and an easy motion that bodes well for future advancement of his offerings and command.
His breaking ball is a second potential above-average offering to go with the fastball, which could be a consistent plus offering as he gets stronger. There’s feel for a changeup, but the command and consistency is below average at present. He’s a Southern Miss commit who will be draft-eligible again as a sophomore if he elects to take his game to campus this summer, rather than the complexes.
David Peterson | LHP | Regis Jesuit (Aurora, CO)) | Commit: Oregon
Peterson showed well as a projectable lefty at the Area Code Games last summer, and has seen his game take a step forward already this spring, though his progress was interrupted by a broken leg about midway through. Prior to injury, his fastball had climbed to the low 90s with life, and his feel for the changeup had progressed to the point where the pitch would flash plus with fade. His slider remains a work in progress, but could be an average or better offering as he matures and gains better control over his body, mechanics, and release.
Peterson is an upside play that fits well the fourth or fifth round, though it may take top three round money to buy him out of his commitment to Oregon. As a good sized lefty with projection in the body and the stuff, Peterson is one of the more intriguing prospects in the class, and could emerge as a first round arm after three more years of development in Oregon.
Jalen Beeks (LHP, Arkansas)
Cameron Bishop (LHP/OF, Olinda (Brea, CA)) | Commit: UC Irvine
Sam Clay (LHP, Georgia Tech)
Chris Diaz (LHP, Miami)
Sam Howard (LHP, Georgia Southern)
Dillon Peters (LHP, Texas)
Eric Skoglund (LHP, Central Florida)
Nick Wells | (LHP, Battlefield (Haymarket, VA)) | Commit: Charleston
Ben Wetzler (LHP, Oregon State)
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.