Presenting our third installment of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft Audit (see part one here and part two here), cleaning up the first round as we look at the deliveries of the top pitchers from day one of the draft. For those who like a refresher course on what these terms mean, please review this pair of articles to better understand the rubric.
No. 22, Detroit Tigers – Beau Burrows, RHP, Weatherford HS (Texas)
The stability is a major work in progress, with Burrows losing balance in all three planes through the course of the motion and finishing with egregious spine tilt in the attempt to manipulate a taller release point. He leans back toward second base during his stride, hunches over at maximum leg lift, and drops his center of gravity after max lift—and this all occurs before the spine-tilt kicks into gear. The posture is particularly gruesome, with his spine curving like a question mark until the torso gets parallel to the ground. Instability is a common ailment among young power arms and the root cause often stems from a lack of functional strength, but the indicators from Burrows' delivery suggest that his issues stem from more blatant techniques. The D+ grade might be generous, considering the three-plane volatility and the degree of tilt near release point.
The power is plus, providing another potential roadblock to stability as Burrows attempts to harness the forceful delivery. The momentum starts off every well, leading with the hip to get his energy going with the lower half, but he slows rather than accelerates on his way out of max lift. The torque is very impressive at peak, with a pronounced delay of trunk rotation that allows the hips to fire and create separation. The technique is dependent on proper timing to generate top velocity as well as to hit targets, and one grade will likely impact the other in this regard.
No. 24, Los Angeles Dodgers – Walker Buehler, RHP, Vanderbilt
Buehler's balance of power and stability lies on a very different part of the spectrum than the younger Burrows, with excellent balance as the head maintains a stoic position above the center of mass. The vertical balance is nearly perfect, with minimal drop after max lift, and his X-plane balance is solid up through foot strike. He invokes some spine-tilt near release point, culminating in posture that earns a grade that's average to a tick above, with a tendency to get on top of the curve. There's a touch of rock n' roll to slightly disrupt his Z-plane, though he flashes B+ stability when everything stays in line into release point.
The power is lacking a bit in comparison, with modest momentum that is muted by a slight tendency to stay back with his weight shifted. The torque suffers from hips and shoulders that fire closely together, and it's common for Buehler to open up early with the front shoulder, a.k.a. to fire early with trunk rotation. The net result is a C-grade for power that flashes a C+ at peak. He has the nuts and bolts for a very efficient delivery.
No. 27, Colorado Rockies – Mike Nikorak, RHP, Stroudsburg HS (Pennsylvania)
Nikorak's stability is a mixed bag of extremes, as he starts the motion with very strong balance into foot strike yet his head bails out with blatant spine-tilt into release point. The early-phase stability ups the ante on his ability to straighten out the spine-tilt while on his developmental track, and the kid from a cold-weather high school will be given ample time to right the ship before he hits the majors. The stability grade falls into the C range overall, but the upside far exceeds the present-day score.
The power grade reflects ideal separation, but a faulty trigger leads to frequent misfires. The momentum is strong on both sides of max leg lift, including a late burst that helps to extend his stride, but his torque has been inconsistent in the games that I have seen. The hips and shoulders fire relatively close together, minimizing separation and occasionally compromising torque. The developmental to-do list is long in Nikorak's case, and the learning curve will extend to late in his pro career as the right-hander learns to pitch at altitude.
Power: B –
No. 28, Atlanta Braves – Michael Soroka, RHP, Bishop Carroll HS (Alberta)
Soroka serves as a good example of the difference between X-plane and Z-plane stability. His side-to-side balance is solid (X-plane running first to third), but the right-hander collapses the right leg and leans back toward second base (Z-plane) during the stride phase of his delivery, such that his head trails his center of mass. He also suffers from instability in the vertical Y-plane, dropping his center of gravity after max leg lift. The stability peaks at a B-, but as is typical with high-school arms, consistency appears to be an issue.
The power is average at best, starting with a gradual pace to the plate when pitching from the windup that creates a natural timing disparity when pitching from the stretch. His hip-heavy torque is dependent on timing to achieve maximum separation, as Soroka also has a very closed stride, and the combination of mechanical inefficiencies in the youngster's delivery effectively lengthen his ladder of development.
No. 29, Toronto Blue Jays – Jon Harris, RHP, Missouri State
We're starting to see a theme here. Harris is yet another hurler who maintains stability well through the lift and stride phases of the pitching motion, only to sell out with his head to the glove side after the front foot comes back into contact with the ground. The difference here is that Harris' spine-tilt appears to be at least somewhat associated with the ferocity of high-speed rotation in addition to any foundational weaknesses, increasing both his upside and his likelihood of reaching that goal. He starts the motion hunched over the front side and will start veering in the direction of first base even before hitting foot strike, with some pitches displaying more intent than others (he tends to tilt more on the curve).
Though inconsistent, Harris' torque is probably the most alluring attribute in his closet, with a contribution of delayed trunk rotation and extra twist with the upper half that work in concert to produce his hip-shoulder separation, fueling lightning-quick arm speed. The right-hander has late power, slowly accelerating into foot strike before exploding with rotational force as he uncoils the spring of torque.
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