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June 6, 2014

Raising Aces

Under the Hood of the 2014 Draft, Part Two

by Doug Thorburn

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The first round of the 2014 draft was saturated with arms, as teams popped pitchers with 13 of the top 19 picks. It may have been the result of an arm-heavy draft class, or perhaps teams are stockpiling moundsmen in the wake of the UCL epidemic of 2014; either way, the plethora of pitcher names called on day one of the draft was anticipated by the BP Prospect Staff in their “whom would you draft” mock that was conducted throughout the month of May. The exercise produced a match with reality at the top of the draft, nailing the identity and order of the first three players (and pitchers) picked: Brady Aiken, Tyler Kolek, and Carlos Rodon. I tackled that big three last week in Part One of the “Under the Hood” series, along with Jeff Hoffman, whose recent trip under the knife did little to drop his stock, as the Blue Jays snapped him up ninth overall.

This week, we delve into the next batch of pitchers selected in BP’s mock series. There are more deviations from the actual draft order as we move down the list, which is to be expected, but the staff was able to identify 11 of the first 12 pitchers to fly off the board. The lone exception was right-hander Grant Holmes, who went fifth among pitchers in the mock yet slipped to 13th among arms in the real deal yesterday, and who leads off today's breakdown of drafted talent.

Grant Holmes, RHP (Chosen 22nd overall by the Dodgers)
Holmes uses very little of his lower body in the delivery, but his upper half simply explodes after foot strike. He has a very fast arm, including a demonstrable recoil in his follow-through that raises questions about his ability to decelerate his throwing arm efficiently after it reaches its release point. The torque is not as big as the arm speed, an area where Holmes has room to improve his efficiency by utilizing more of his body as opposed to being overly reliant on his throwing arm to generate pitch velocity.

The right-hander uses a slide step from the stretch, which further saps the functional utility from his lower half and lengthens his distance from the plate at release point. The delivery appears to be “easy” at first glance, but his pace to the plate suddenly shifts into high gear just before foot strike, precipitating his whirlwind of rotation once the upper half fires. Holmes strides into a closed position despite a straight stride angle, because he starts on the extreme third-base side of the rubber and stays on that outer edge on his line to the plate. The front foot finishes far to the third-base side of the center-line, and he’s forced to over-rotate the shoulder axis in order to hit targets on the left side of the plate.

Holmes’ arm slot is a touch higher than three-quarters, with an angle that stems from solid-average posture at release point as well as a slightly elevated angle of shoulder abduction. His power grade is deceptive, in the sense that he’s a power pitcher in terms of stuff but one whose mechanical underpinnings feature relatively modest momentum and torque. His arm speed is greater than his mechanics would suggest, which suggests that he has room to improve his efficiency, simultaneously raising his ceiling and lengthening his developmental to-do list.

Stability Grade: B
Power Grade: B-

Touki Toussaint, RHP (Chosen 16th overall by the Diamondbacks)
Toussaint possesses a blend of power and stability that is rarely found in a high school arm. He has strong momentum that features a good first move, leading with the hip, and a smooth acceleration that continues throughout his stride for a quick pace to the plate. His lower half is the power behind his delivery, driving the momentum as well as his hip-shoulder separation, which involves very little load of the upper body. Instead, Toussaint sticks with a heavy delay of trunk rotation that allows the hips to increase his torque.

Touki has a bit of a tuck into max leg lift, but it's nothing egregious, and he otherwise maintains his balance point throughout the delivery. The right-hander finishes with solid-plus posture at release point when at peak, but his arm slot can be inconsistent because of variance in spine-tilt and a tendency to get on top of his breaking stuff. There is a noticeable gear change in his motion, with a slight stall that is centered at maximum lift, but each of his gears is a plus attribute. His leg action has a bit of funk with a landing leg that flops into foot strike, including some inconsistency in his landing position, but he generally directs his stride on the centerline.

Toussaint lands with some flex in the front knee, but he straightens the front leg as he approaches release point. The method acts to raise his release point, yet it also prevents him from tracking toward the plate after foot strike, counteracting the extra height with a more shallow release. He tucks his glove into his torso during the rotational phases, and though the strategy may not be ideal for achieving maximum extension, Toussaint does a good job of keeping his glove out in front of the body to preserve his line to the plate. The stiff front leg is not a huge concern, and pitchers whose deliveries have had the same feature, such as Jon Gray, have been able to make quick adjustments that better utilize the lower half near the end of the delivery. He has a few inconsistencies to iron out of his motion, but with minimal improvements, Toussaint could earn B+ grades in both stability and power.

Stability Grade: B
Power Grade: B

Tyler Beede, RHP (Chosen 14th overall by the Giants)
Beede has a dancing delivery that features a rhythmic pace to the plate, including a rise into max leg lift followed by some drop-and-drive into his stride phase. He moves quickly from the get-go with a motion that is repeatable when he carries the right beat, but he has been known to fall out of tune with his mechanics. Finding consistency will be at the top of his developmental agenda with the Giants. His lateral balance is strong in the x-plane that runs from first to third base, but he is weak in the z-plane due to some lean-back toward second base during his stride, as well as excessive flexion that can leave Beede out in front at release.

The right-hander finishes with fringe-average posture, but he can improve in the future if he can stabilize his spine-angle through a focused conditioning regimen and improvements to functional strength. He has plenty of flex in the front knee and keeps the glove out in front after tucking into his torso, elements that add a bit of extension to his release point. He has big torque that is hip-heavy, with a slightly open stride and a strong delay of rotation, in addition to some upper-body twist and scapular loading to further build into his hip-shoulder separation.

With such a naturally quick pace to the plate, Beede wisely avoids the slide step when pitching from the stretch and sticks with an unaltered leg lift that helps him maintain a consistent timing pattern. Some clubs might attempt to coax a slide step out of him, but the Giants have shown the ability to work with several different types of pitcher signature—from Tim Lincecum to Matt Cain to Madison Bumgarner—which bodes well for Beede's development as he climbs the organizational ladder.

Stability Grade: B-

Power Grade: B

Aaron Nola, RHP (Chosen seventh overall by the Phillies)
Nola works at a steady pace, showing a slower first gear that leads with the hip before shifting to a quicker gear after max lift, resulting in an overall speed down the hill that is average to a tick above. He has a long reach, extending the throwing arm back while the glove side points forward with equal-and-opposite arm angles. He also marshals some twist of the upper body and includes some delay of trunk rotation to maximize his torque, utilizing a near-50/50 contribution of hips and shoulders, but the overall power package is solid yet underwhelming for a pitcher who was chosen in the top 10.

Nola has strong balance throughout the delivery, stabilizing his head position in all three planes even as he ramps up the momentum. The balance profile culminates in plus posture at release point, and Nola finishes with a low arm slot that dips below three-quarters and approaches sidearm. He lands with little flex in the front knee and continues to straighten the front leg into release, adding some height but subtracting from his depth at release point.

The overall mechanical package resembles Jake Peavy’s, from the arm extension as he breaks the hands to the stiff front leg and the low arm slot. Another component of the Peavy comp is that Nola generates explosive arm speed once he triggers trunk rotation, following a pronounced delay after foot strike, and he flirts with elbow drag on those pitches where his timing is off-track and the throwing arm fires too late in the kinetic chain.

Stability Grade: B
Power Grade: C+

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

Related Content:  Pitching,  Draft,  Prospects,  Scouting,  Mechanics

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