September 2, 2014
The situation: Right in the middle of the AL playoff race, the Royals find themselves looking for another left-handed arm out the bullpen. Insert 2014 first round pick Brandon Finnegan.
Background: Finnegan was taken 17th overall out of Texas Christian University this June, and will be the first player from this year's draft to debut in the majors. In 2014, Finnegan was named First-Team All Big 12, and Baseball America's Third Team All-American. He went 9-3 with a 2.04 ERA and 134 Ks.
He made his MiLB debut on July 10th with High-A Wilmington, where he threw two hitless innings at Potomac. Collectively across two MiLB levels, Finnegan has thrown in 13 games totaling 27 IP, with 26 Ks and 1.33 ERA.
Scouting report: Finnegan has a short, stocky frame. He is listed at 5-foot-11, 185, which is probably accurate. Scouts believe he will be a reliever long term because his body might not be able to withstand the longevity of a starter's workload.
Despite his stature, Finnegan gets on top from a high 3/4 arm slot and creates more downhill plane on his fastball than most would expect. He has smooth, fluid hips, and his hips and shoulders explode toward home and rotate on time at foot strike. His arm action is a tad on the long side but he has unique arm speed and repeats his arm slot well. His delivery has effort but his ability to repeat it allows him to cruise through starts and hold velocity.
Finnegan's fastball has natural lefty tail and sits in velocity range of 91-94 mph, bumping 95 when needed, and will touch 96. He loves to start the pitch at the right-handed hitters' hips and let it run back to the inside corner. He shows an impressive command profile and uses the fastball effectively to all four quadrants of the strike zone.
The effectiveness of his plus fastball allows Finnegan's changeup to play to its fullest potential. It comes from the same arm speed and arm slot and works consistently in the 83-86 mph velocity range. It generates a sinking action and also has vertical drop. He has shown the ability to throw the pitch for a strike and also a chase pitch away to righties. His changeup will flash plus but ultimately it has solid-average utility.
Lastly, Finnegan features a wipeout slider that had scouts raving in my viewings of him. It works in the 84-87 mph velocity range and features hard, snapping bite with some tilt. Finnegan trusts his slider more than his changeup and will throw for a strike in any count. His plus command of his slider and the hard movement makes the projection of the pitch as plus.
Immediate Big League future: Finnegan should get tested right away. I wouldn't be surprised if Finnegan has immediate success in the month of September while he's letting it rip out of the bullpen. If he were to succeed right away and help the Royals win the AL Central, don't be surprised if he finds himself on the playoff roster as well. —CJ Wittmann
Fantasy Impact: That didn’t take long. I placed Finnegan in my Top 50 for dynasty league prospects last month, in part because of my belief that the 2014 draftee would be up and contributing in the relative short term. While the Royals held up their part of the bargain by bringing Finnegan up, the reality is his short-term fantasy value is effectively nil, as he’ll be throwing out of the bullpen.
Considered a potential top-10 pick this year based on talent alone, Finnegan was generally predicted to go toward the middle of the first round, and he did. The mitigating factors were an early May shoulder injury (from which he returned quite nicely) and concerns that, because of his sleight build, he would be limited to the bullpen. The Royals aren't conceding the latter yet, but they will use him in relief this month to ease their bullpen's workload and get Finnegan major-league experience.
He's best ignored in redraft leagues unless there’s value in holds/relief performance, but he'll be a neat little stash for those in keeper leagues where he wasn’t in the draft pool yet. He might start next year in the minors, depending on how the Royals' rotation shakes out (Shields, Chen could be gone), but he should see time in the majors as a starter at some point. As a major league starting pitcher, something in the range of 2014 Marcus Stroman can be expected in terms of rate stats and ERA. Finnegan’s slider isn’t quite the weapon that Stroman’s is, but he boasts an electric fastball from the left side and a developing changeup. It’s unlikely we’ll see the third offering in a relief role, but its presence will be crucial to his ability to start, and thus his long-term value. The lack of clarity regarding the 2015 rotation in Kansas City makes bidding on Finnegan now a bit of a risk, and I’d limit any bids to $5. If he does get a spot early on—a la Yordano Ventura—he’ll drastically outperform that investment, but if he’s relegated to the minors, it won’t kill you. —Craig Goldstein
Craig Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @cdgoldstein