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June 13, 2014

Raising Aces

Under the Hood of the 2014 Draft, Part Three

by Doug Thorburn

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We wrap up our mechanical look at the draft's top pitchers this week, and after tracing the BP mock draft for the first two editions, this time we will shine the spotlight on the top selections who were drafted ahead of expectations.

One of the more intriguing subplots on draft day is whether a selected pitcher fits within the organization that drafted him. Most player development goes on behind the scenes, so there isn’t much that we can glean from outside, but I’m always fascinated when a team drafts a pitcher whose profile goes against organizational trends. Will the club actively work to alter the pitcher's delivery to fit a particular mold, or will they stick with the motion that the pitcher utilized as an amateur?

More often than not, teams are able to help their draft picks improve their mechanics while climbing the ladder, but in some cases the organizational approach can be less than ideal for the pitcher in question. Keep that in mind as we dive into the mechanics of the four pitchers on today's docket, each of whom just happens to pitch from the south side of the rubber.

Kyle Freeland, LHP
Went eighth overall to the Rockies

Freeland has been comped to Chris Sale, an ominous name in the world of pitching mechanics, but the similarities have more to do how they look at release point (where Sale is solid) than the vulture-like arm angles that have been known to disconcert on-lookers. Freeland finishes with very strong posture that is tied to a very low-3/4 arm angle, approaching a sidearm slot, but his tendency to stay tall with the lower half simultaneously raises his release point and invokes visual comparisons to Sale at release. The southpaw utilizes a big scapular load, with torque that is driven by equal parts upper-body twist and delayed trunk rotation, though he runs the risk of elbow drag on pitches where he triggers rotation too late in the kinetic sequence.

Freeland defies southpaw convention by setting up on the extreme third-base side of the rubber, and his naturally-closed stride positions him right on the centerline at release point. He converts modest momentum early in the delivery into a more powerful charge by the end of his stride, with steady acceleration throughout the stride phase and a burst of linear energy as he approaches foot strike. He carves an efficient path to the plate that ends with his taking a step toward the target during his follow-through.

Freeland executes a small drop after max lift and a slight front-side imbalance during the stride phase, but neither of the issues is damning, and he typically finishes with a stable spine-angle and strong posture. The lefty's stability can be inconsistent, with shaky balance early in the delivery that ripples through the system to invoke spine-tilt on some of his deliveries, but his physical profile suggests that there is room to add strength and stability to his foundation.

Stability Grade: B-
Power Grade: B

Kodi Medeiros, LHP
Went 12th overall to the Brewers

Medeiros has an excellent blend of stability and power, generating strong momentum in his delivery while maintaining a head position that is steady above his center-of-mass. He directs his energy on an efficient line to the plate, as evidenced by a continued progression of momentum toward the target during his follow-through, and his pattern of lift and stride draws comparisons to Yu Darvish. Medeiros' torque is fueled by delayed trunk rotation that allows the hips to create separation after foot strike, and he does a great job of repeating the timing and sequencing of rotation within his delivery. The only knock on his balance is a slight drop after max lift and a relatively low center of gravity throughout the motion, but his vertical balance is stronger right now than the average big leaguer’s.

The Hawaiian left-hander has near-perfect posture from foot strike through release point, and his low angle of shoulder abduction combines with his upright spine angle to produce a low arm slot that approaches true sidearm. The trajectory of his release point opens Medeiros up to a higher degree of volatility in terms of hitting targets on both sides of the plate, but he has all of the mechanical baselines to portend excellent command, and the vertical action on his breaking ball helps to minimize the variation across the zone.

I think the Brewers made an astute pick when they nabbed Medeiros at no. 12 overall, but the selection raised eyebrows considering that the southpaw's motion goes against the organizational trends displayed by the pitchers in their system. The Brewers have a voracious appetite for over-the-top pitchers who enlist massive spine-tilt in the quest of a high arm slot, and one need look no further than their big-league rotation to see a handful of players who were drafted and developed with such an emphasis. Medeiros is essentially the opposite, with near-zero tilt and a very low slot, and it will be interesting to see if the Brewers attempt to make any alterations to his delivery. Such a dramatic change of approach could be disastrous for Medeiros' development path, so here's hoping that Milwaukee holds course and lets him stick with the delivery that made him worthy of such a high draft pick.

Stability Grade: B+
Power Grade: B

Sean Newcomb, LHP
Went 15th overall to the Angels

From a coaching standpoint, Newcomb has a boring delivery. That might sound like a knock against him, but “boring” mechanics is considered high praise for an amateur player, as it implies that he is already very efficient with his motion and has little need for further tweaking. He is a classic case of a pitcher who emphasizes stability over power, utilizing a pedestrian pace to the plate along with excellent balance and minimal movement all three planes of space. He also finishes with very strong posture that would likely earn a grade of 60-65 on his mechanics report card, and yet Newcomb achieves a relatively high arm slot courtesy of an elevated angle of shoulder abduction, a combination that please coaches and scouts alike.

The lefty strides slightly closed and his energy is directed straight at the plate, though his slow momentum effectively mutes the distance covered by his stride. Putting the stride aside, Newcomb does all of the little things to add distance to his release point, such as a solid glove position that stabilizes over the front foot and flex in the front knee that enables him to track closer to the plate between foot strike and pitch release. His torque is fueled by a big twist with the upper half, an element that overshadows his slight delay of trunk rotation to dominate his style of hip-shoulder separation. The big torque outweighs his slow pace to the plate to give Newcomb an above-average power grade, which combines with his excellent stability to produce solid marks for his delivery overall.

Stability Grade: B+
Power Grade: C+

Brandon Finnegan, LHP
Went 17th overall to the Royals

Listed at 5'11” and 185 pounds, Finnegan exemplifies the common trend for shorter pitchers to have very powerful deliveries. The power-fueled approach is the result of the unnatural selection process of developing pitchers, as the only way for a sub-six-foot hurler to survive in the wild jungle of pitcher prospectdom is to better utilize his body to throw harder and get closer to the plate. However, the sword of the short power pitcher has two edges, as the additional “effort” that is attributed to these high-energy players adds to the doubts surrounding their ability to hold up to a starter's workload, further hastening the path to the 'pen.

Further, Finnegan exemplifies why there is a natural push-pull between power and stability. The inverse relationship tends to fall under categorical extremes when dealing with pitchers on either end of the size spectrum, including the tendency for especially large pitchers to use a low-powered delivery in order to optimize balance and repetition. In Finnegan’s case, he struggles heavily to stabilize his turbo-charged motion, and the imbalance manifests itself in all three planes. He starts with a lean-back toward third base at max leg lift, after which he hunches over with an imbalance to the first-base side while at the same time employing a big drop to his center-of-gravity. He leans back toward second base during his stride with an exaggerated rock-n-roll pattern, the second half of which includes heavy flexion of the spine that has him finish out in front as the back foot prematurely pops off the ground. His imbalance wouldn't be complete without spine-tilt, and the lefty acquiesces with vicious glove-side lean during the later stages of his delivery.

Finnegan has very high elbow angles with a blatant “Inverted W” pattern, which combines with some scapular loading and a generous delay of trunk rotation to elevate his risk of elbow drag. He keeps his momentum charging forward throughout the delivery, but his energy takes an otherwise inefficient path to the target. His closed stride and leftward-leaning set-up put Finnegan in a position that is askew of the plate at the point that he fires rotation, leaving him with little choice but to over-rotate past the point of ideal extension in order to hit targets, especially on the right side of the plate. The combination of heavy momentum and massive torque produces impressive radar gun readings on the scouting report, but his extreme disparity between power and stability could lead to a future in the bullpen.

Stability Grade: D+
Power Grade: A-

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

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