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June 3, 2013
Scouting the Draft
Pitchers to Know (Part 1)
Our final entry in the Scouting the Draft positional preview covers some of the top arms to know for this week’s draft. We’ll conclude the 2013 Scouting the Draft series this week with a look at 15 more arms, as well as some odds and ends that I hope you’ll find interesting. On to the reports!
Jonathan Gray was one of the most pleasant surprises of the spring. He was a high follow exiting the summer, so it isn’t a shock to see have him as a potential first-rounder this spring. But his velocity jump over the past nine months, and the jump in his slider from a potential plus to a potential plus-plus offering, has catapulted him to the top of many draft boards and offered scouting directors another legit 1-1 candidate in a draft class somewhat thin at the top.
Statistically, Gray has been a dominant force for Oklahoma this spring, entering regional play with a 1.55 ERA (2.86 FIP per collegesplits.com) while striking out 10.39 batters per nine to just 1.72 walks per nine. His workload has been managed well, keeping reasonable per-game pitch counts and providing for lighter loads following starts in which he ran into more trying innings.
The pure stuff is electric, headlined by a plus-plus fastball that some currently grade as an “80” on the 20-80 scouting scale. He sits 94 to 97 mph, with an ability to dial up to triple digits and delivers the pitch on a tough plane, making it difficult to square. His slider is a second potential plus-plus offering, coming with release and trajectory deception with his fastball, making it difficult for hitters to pick up. He can work it to both sides of the plate to both lefties and righties, and he excels at “back-footing” it to lefties.
The changeup is still a rudimentary offering, but Gray currently finds some success with it off of arm speed deception. It could be an average pitch, maybe a tick better, with more work. His size assuages some concerns about “pop-up velocity” not holding under a pro workload, but even if there is some regression, his stuff should play well against pro bats. Gray is a candidate to go first overall to Houston, and should be gobbled-up in the first five picks regardless.
Appel was a first-round selection last year by the Pittsburgh Pirates but opted to return to Palo Alto to complete his degree at Stanford and to work his way into a higher selection in this year’s draft. His gamble appears to have paid off, as the Cardinal ace put together a season superior to 2012 and has raised his stock in the eyes of most industry evaluators. Appel has taken greater ownership of his high-quality arsenal this year, attacking the zone with more zeal and challenging hitters more often. He dropped his average pitches per batters faced by 0.7 between this year and last and has more consistently worked ahead against batters, allowing his quality secondaries to play up. Like Gray, his workload has been managed well, and he projects to chew through innings in a major-league rotation.
Appel’s heater is a plus to plus-plus offering sitting 93 to 96 and climbing to 97/98 mph on occasion. It’s most effective down in the zone, traveling on a steep plane, and he can turn over the two-seamer to produce arm--side action. His breaking ball is a plus slider that will flash plus-plus but is still inconsistent in execution. It sits mid-80s and comes with tilt and some late bite from the waist down, but flattens out up in the zone. It’s currently more effective as a spot pitch, but as he improves his sequencing and continues to mature, it should be a useful tool to expand the zone against more advanced bats. His changeup gives him a third potential plus or better offering, projecting to a 60 or 65 on the 20-80 scale. Its late fade mirrors Appel’s two-seam action. As a low-80s pitch, it offers good velo delta from the fastball, and Appel does a solid job of matching release points to create trajectory deception. Along with Gray, Appel should get strong consideration by Houston for the top overall selection next week, and it would be surprising to see him fall out of the top five.
Kohl Stewart | RHP | St. Pius X (Houston, TX)
Stewart has emerged as the top prep arm in the draft class, showcasing four future major-league offerings throughout the spring, headlined by a potential plus-plus one-two punch in his fastball and slider. A standout quarterback as well, Stewart has the opportunity to throw the pigskin and the horsehide at Texas A&M, though most believe him to be signable. The beginning of his spring included some missed time and shortened starts, causing some evaluators to question whether there should be long-term concerns as to Stewart’s ability to hold up over a long pro season, but that is the minority view at this point. He is an excellent athlete that should see a jump in stuff as he smoothes out his delivery and focuses on the craft full-time.
Stewart usually kicks off the early innings with a fastball that will sit 92 to 95 mph, touching 96, before settling in at around 89 to 92 in the later innings. The expectation is that as he continues to mature physically, he’ll maintain his velocity deep into starts, and we could even see another bump in his arm strength. He shows good command of the pitch for a prep arm and should be able to wield it as a fringe plus-plus weapon long-term. His best secondary, and potentially his best overall pitch, is a mid-80s slider, which he throws on a fastball trajectory with tilt and hard bite. It’s a swing-and-miss pitch that could grade out at plus-plus once he refines his command to both sides.
Stewart mixes in an 11-to-5 curveball, which has a distinct shape from his slider—impressive, as most prep arms struggle to master two breakers with truly separate identities. His changeup is rudimentary, but he shows enough early-stage feel for it to project as average. Stewart is a candidate to come off the board in the top five selections and fits well anywhere in the top half of the first round. If teams have signability concerns, he could be a target for an above-allotment bonus in the sandwich round or the second round by a team able to free up some cash.
Braden Shipley | RHP | University of Nevada
Shipley is a converted shortstop who stepped into Nevada’s rotation last spring, adapting well and carrying his momentum over into a stellar showing in the Alaska League as the closer for the Anchorage Bucs last summer. Shipley’s stock saw a further jump this spring as he was able to maintain his plus velocity (touching 97 over the summer and sitting 91 to 95 mph for much of the spring) into the later innings of his starts, while showing big growth in his low-80s changeup, which grades out as a future 65 or 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Shipley also throws an upper-70s curve that is best when it creeps over 80 mph and comes with a little less depth but sharper bite.
The Nevada ace has not maintained his stuff for the entirety of the spring, seeing a dip over the past four weeks in particular, but that should not dramatically affect his draft day value. Drafting organizations know they are getting a relative newcomer to the pitching profession, which carries with it the drawback of a little more work to be done up front with regards to mechanics as well as the art of pacing throughout a start and a season. There are also benefits to a limited track record on the mound, including a relatively fresh arm to go with very good athleticism. Shipley naturally draws comps to last year’s infielder-turned-Friday night ace—Kyle Zimmer (Royals)—and like Zimmer could spend some extended time in Class A ball in order to ease him into the life of a full-time pitcher. He projects as a mid-rotation arm provided he proves capable of tackling the challenges of maintaining his stuff over a long pro season with just five days between starts. He has the mindset and killer fastball/changeup combo to thrive in late-inning work, were he to struggle to adapt as a pro starter.
Trey Ball | RHP | New Castle (New Castle, IN)
Ball is the top two-way talent in the draft, projecting as an early-round selection as both a pitcher and as an outfielder. The Texas commit enjoyed more success this spring on the bump, and is more likely to start his pro career in that capacity due to evaluators’ greater level of confidence in his future as a potential mid-rotation to front-end arm. Much of Ball’s value is derived from his highly projectable 6-foot-5, 185-pound frame, which is complete with a high waist, broad shoulders, and medium-broad hips. He is an excellent athlete who demonstrates great body control, smooth mechanics, and good feel.
Ball’s fastball, at its best, is already an above-average pitch, sitting in the low-90s early on in starts and climbing to 96 mph for some over the past few months. The projection in his frame, combined with his good extension to the plate, should help the pitch to grow into a true plus offering in the future, and he already commands it fairly well. His best secondary is a solid changeup that flashes plus and should play at that level once he refines the offering. Ball throws the pitch with a high level of comfort and creates arm speed and arm-slot deception, giving amateur hitters little chance to defend themselves. It sits 78 to 82 mph, offering a good velo delta from the heater. His curve will flash plus and comes 1-to-7 with solid snap. He has some difficulty commanding the pitch right now, and his control also lags behind that of his fastball and off-speed stuff. Ball could get attention as early as the top five picks and fits as a top half of the first-round selection.
High School Hurlers
The big knock on Kaminsky is his sub-6-foot stature, which limits the plane on his fastball and his physical projection. The stuff, however, is first rate, starting with perhaps the best breaking ball at the prep ranks—a hard downer that sits 79 to 82 mph, which he can bury as a chase pitch or drop in the zone. His fastball is a solid, average offering in the upper-80s to low-90s, climbing up to the mid-90s on occasion.
The UNC commit also shows some feel for a 77 to 79 mph changeup with some tumble. Were Kaminsky a couple inches taller, he’d get a lot of heat as a potential top-10 arm. As it stands, he still fits well in the first round and, provided he’s signable away from UNC, should be a safe bet to be off the board on Day 1.
Clarkin is a projectable lefty committed to hometown University of San Diego, boasting room for growth in an already formidable three-pitch mix. Clarkin’s fastball is a low-90s offering that climbs as high as 93/94 mph, and he throws it with confidence to both sides of the plate and up in the zone. While he flashed an upper-70s slider last summer, his focus this spring has been more on his 1-to-7 curve, which has sharp action and projects to a plus pitch down the line.
Clarkin will also mix in a solid changeup that flashes late fade and could be a third above-average offering with further refinement. About midway through the spring, Clarkin saw some inconsistencies in his stuff crop up—primarily rippling out from some hiccups in his delivery—but has since righted the ship. He could fit as a Day 1 arm and seems a good bet to be off the board by the end of the second round at the latest.
Hunter Harvey | RHP | Bandys HS (Catawba, NC)
There was lots of early buzz on Harvey this spring, when he reportedly hit several 96s and 97s in an early-season start after sitting primarily 88 to 92 mph last summer. That velocity, however, has not been the standard during his high school season, as he has once again worked more regularly in the 88 to 92 mph range. He has a fairly simple delivery and keeps a solid plane on his fastball, though inconsistencies in his landing will periodically lead to release issues and failed execution on his pitches.
His breaker is a mid-70s curve with hard downer action, but he doesn’t consistently control the offering yet, and it’s probably just a solid-average weapon at the next level. His best secondary is an above-average changeup that he throws 81-82 mph with solid arm speed and some deception. He projects as an early-round selection and could come off the board earlier than expected if a team thinks they can work out a below-allotment deal (Harvey is not committed to a college).
Connor Jones | LHP | Great Bridge HS (Chesapeake, VA)
Highlighted earlier this year in the Scouting the Draft series, Jones has long been tagged as an arm to watch for this June’s draft, and he has not disappointed this spring. The UVA commit (already featuring the signature “crouched” Wahoo mechanics) has shown steady improvement in his game across the board, bumping his fastball velocity a tick to 89-91 mph, touching as high as 94, while producing good life. His best secondary is a low-80s change that he throws with deception and late drop, leading lots of empty swings and soft contact.
He has also found more consistency in his breaking ball and, while still a touch slurvy, has tightened up over the past eight months. One of the most consistent performers on the scouting circuit, Jones should be an easy Day 1 target off the strength of his track record and spring, but signability concerns will likely mean if he’s popped early it will be to team with multiple picks and some money to play with.
Devin Williams | RHP | Hazelwood West HS (Hazelwood, MO)
A projectable arm long noted by area scouts with Missouri coverage, Williams had a coming-out party of sorts last October at the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Florida (hosted by Perfect Game USA). The Missouri commit wowed evaluators by pumping 90-92 mph fastballs and touching 94 in the first inning, while dropping in a quality low-80s changeup and promising upper-70s slurve that is at its best when he tightens it to an 80 to 82 breaker with shorter, harder bite.
He has a projectable build, easy arm action, and a high waist, offering a lot to dream on considering the already impressive nature of his current stuff. Williams will need time to smooth his motion and work on repeatability of mechanics and execution of his pitches, and the associated risks make him a better fit in the supplemental-first or second round than as an org’s top overall selection. Still, a team sold on his projection could pull Williams off the board as early as the teens next Thursday, and it’s unlikely he lasts longer than the top 75 picks or so.
Stanek entered the spring as a candidate to come off the board first overall to the Astros, but he struggled through a sluggish first month before steadying himself as he worked his way through the SEC schedule. While he is capable of reaching 97/98 mph on the gun, he has more routinely worked in the 91 to 95 mph range over the past two months. His command and control have been spotty throughout the spring, particularly with regards to his fastball and slider, and he has regularly worked behind in the count, limiting the utility of his arsenal.
Last spring, there was an argument for Stanek’s slider as his best future pitch, showing wipeout action and good velocity. He still throws the pitch in the 83 to 86 mph range, but it too often backs up on him, and he has tended to get a softer saucering action on the ball rather than the hard sweep we saw last spring. He’ll also throw an upper-70s to low-80s curve that ranges from 11-to-5 to 10-to-4 action, and bleeds into the slider in the 82 to 84 mph range. Stanek’s change is a potential average or better offering, but he hasn’t had the opportunity to use it much this spring, and he’ll need to focus on further developing his feel at the next level in order to make the most out of the offering. At his best, Stanek looks like a front-end arm with multiple swing-and-miss weapons, but evaluators have not seen much of that Stanek this spring. His track record and upside could get him off the board in the second half of the top ten picks, but he’s a better fit in the teens. Should he struggle at the pro ranks, Stanek could quickly be converted into a two-pitch power arm in the pen.
Gonzales lacks the big fastball usually coveted by front-office decision-makers tabbing first-round targets, but the Gonzaga ace more than makes up for merely average velo by wielding the pitch with above-average command and advanced feel. He moves the heater around the quadrants and works particularly well down in the zone and inside to righties, setting up his bread and butter—a true plus-plus change-up with hard, late tumble.
Gonzales also boasts a solid-average curve, which flashes a tick above when everything is clicking, and will mix in an occasional cut fastball to righties. An advanced feel lefty with three major-league-caliber offerings—including perhaps the best secondary offering in the draft class—Gonzales is an easy Day 1 talent who should find himself selected in the second half of the first round, and no later than the sandwich round.
Crawford labored through early-season struggles on the bump, proving to be more hittable than his plus arsenal should allow, before settling into a solid, but short of eye-popping, conclusion to his regular season. Crawford’s fastball is a 55 to 60 offering on the 20-80 scale, showing good velocity in the 92 to 95 range, and solid life. His breaking ball is a hard slider that has flashed plus to plus-plus in the past but joined his fastball as a 55 or 60 offering this spring, sitting 81 to 84 and showing inconsistent bite.
Much of Crawford’s command and execution issues stem from a high-effort delivery that he struggles to repeat. He fails to hit a consistent release point, making it difficult to find consistent execution of his breaker, and too often forcing the heater off-target. Crawford’s changeup lags well behind his fastball and slider, but proponents believe he can develop it into an adequate third pitch at the next level. The raw stuff is first-round quality, but a fair number of organizations view Crawford as a future reliever with an inconsistent track record at Florida. He could come off the board in the back half of the first round, or some time early on Day 1, depending on how the board plays.
Bobby Wahl | RHP | Ole Miss
Like Crawford, Wahl draws mixed opinions as to his future role at the major-league level. When Wahl’s stuff is at its best, he has more than enough weapons to turn over a major-league lineup, and his durable frame should allow him to pack on the innings. However, he has not been as crisp this spring as evaluators had hoped, and lingering concerns about some arm tenderness last summer further cloud the situation.
When right, Wahl sits 91-94 mph with his fastball, climbing as high as 96/97, while showing an ability to work up and down, in and out. His slider has been a plus offering in the past, sitting mid-80s with hard, late bite, and his change has flashed above average with arm speed diction and a solid 9 to 12 mph velo delta off the fastball. Blister issues at the beginning of the spring, and some rough outings at the end of the SEC schedule, may have dropped the draft day stock of the Ole Miss righty to the point where he fits best somewhere between the sandwich round and the second round. If his inconsistencies this spring prove largely tied to his blister issues, he could prove a steal in that range. If there are longer-term concerns as to the quality of his stuff, he could profile as a back-of-the-bullpen power arm with closer upside.
Sean Manaea | LHP | Indiana St. Univ.
The darling of the Cape last spring, many projected Manaea as a surefire top-ten selection in this year’s draft, with a good chance of coming off the board first overall to Houston. Those with a book on Manaea were a little more dubious; prior to last summer, the lefty had failed to show an above-average breaking ball or changeup to go with his increasing velocity and projectable frame. Manaea’s stuff took a step back this fall, and again this spring, with his struggles compounded by injury issues with his ankle, hip, and shoulder.
On the Cape, Manaea regularly sat in the 92 to 95 range with his fastball, moving it around the zone and avoiding loud contact. This spring he was more routinely in the low-90s, before injuries dropped his velocity down to the mid- to upper 80s at the end of the year. Neither his slider nor his changeup have impressed this spring, though some evaluators still like the split-change as a future above-average offering. There is still projection left in Manaea’s frame, and in his stuff, but for a player expecting to receive top-five money just three months ago, signability could be a concern the farther he drops on draft boards. He could be a candidate for selection in the sandwich round or second round for a team with extra money to play with, or he might return to Indiana State for his senior year in hopes of re-capturing the stuff he showed last summer.
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.