Robert Tyler, RHP, Georgia
Tyler squared off against Wright State and top senior-sign candidate Jesse Scholtens on Friday, though Scholtens’ battery mate—top catching prospect Sean Murphy (Wright St)—was not in the lineup after being hit in the hand with a pitch earlier in the week.
Tyler looks like a big-league pitcher right now, with a lean but fairly muscular 6-foot-4 build, with long arms, broad shoulders, and strength in his hips and lower half. For a point of reference, aspects of Tyler’s frame, delivery, and arsenal have long reminded me of the Mets’ Zack Wheeler. There are some complexities to Tyler’s delivery—and the long, hooked arm in the back can give him difficulty extending on his curveball—but the moving levers give him plus deception, and he’s got a very good natural feel for throwing his fastball for strikes (28:3 strikeout:walk ratio this season). He pitches from a semi-windup, with an especially tall leg lift. Tyler’s front side is high and closed as he drives to the plate, which helps him hide the ball from a strong, quick over-top arm-stroke. He is a pretty good athlete for his size and build, which helps him stay through his pitches as his delivery finishes and alter his tempo from the stretch.
Tyler pounds the zone with a high-velocity fastball, and has done a great job getting ahead in counts so far this season. He came out firing at 94-97 mph on Friday, and sat 92-96 the remainder of his six innings of work. His fastball gets natural downhill plane from his height and high arm-slot, and the way he’s controlled the ball early this season, projecting at least average (if not solid-average) command within the zone isn’t unreasonable. The raw velocity, deception, angle, and control all combine to make this a potentially double-plus fastball; so long as he can dial it up into the mid-or-better 90s, I think his fastball will be a no-doubt swing and miss pitch. He showed some guile along with simply throwing hard last Friday, routinely setting up Wright State hitters with off-speed pitches earlier in counts before blowing his fastballs at 95-97 past them for strike three.
Historically, Tyler’s top secondary pitch has been a hard-bottoming changeup that comes in around 82-86. In terms of movement, his changeup wasn’t as sharp as he showed this night, though I came away enthused at the clear developments Tyler has made with his curveball. He trusted his breaking ball more in this look than in previous viewings, utilizing it earlier in counts and the first time through the lineup. Though it can still flatten out and show rolling, slow spin at times, Tyler threw some breaking balls Friday at 78-82 with close to 50-grade shape and depth—a large step forward from where he’s been with the curveball in the past. The way his arm gets long in his delivery’s takeaway likely won’t allow a truly plus curveball, but the given Tyler’s velocity, control, and changeup, I don’t think he’ll necessarily need a dastardly breaker to have big league success.
Tyler has turned in three very strong starts for the Bulldogs to begin his 2016, and though he was a certainly already a highly-regarded commodity entering the spring, my gut says he’s raised his stock in the early goings of the spring. His delivery and arsenal are unusual for a top college pitching prospect, but it’s his control of plus velocity that is the separator for me. If it all comes together he looks to be power middle-rotation starter with control over a plus fastball/changeup mix and enough breaking ball to round out the arsenal.
Jesse Scholtens, RHP, Wright State:
Opposing Tyler on Friday in Athens was Scholtens. While he’s not among the best players in this year’s draft class, his beard has a compelling argument as to go 1-1. Scholtens went undrafted as a junior—which gives him some extra intrigue as a potential money saver come June. Prior to his junior and senior years at Wright State, Scholtens made stops at Arizona and Diablo Valle (AZ) JC.
Scholtens is “what it looks like” in terms of a durable, pro-style starter’s frame. Standing at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds with broad, square features, he passes the eye test in terms of durability. He throws from a semi-windup, and though he has an active back-leg drive to the plate, there isn’t much effort to his delivery’s finish. It is clean enough that he competently keeps a three-pitch mix around the strike zone.
Scholtens’ overall mix of stuff grades out right around average, if not just a hair below. On Friday, his fastball started at 90-94 mph with average arm-side life, though he settled in right at 90-92 as the outing progressed. He relies heavily on a firm 82-86 mph slider that shows like a 50-grade pitch at its best, and likely falls somewhere between 45 and 50 on a start-to-start basis. If he can keep it around the zone like he did on Friday, it could play up a tick despite fairly short tilt. Scholtens rounds out his three-pitch mix with a changeup at 82-84. Though he doesn’t have the same control of his change as he does his slider, and it too falls right in between the 45 and 50 grade range depending on its execution. It straightened out at times, but Scholtens’ change flashes separation off the fastball and turnover action away from lefties when the pitch is at its best.
For a point of comparison, Scholtens’ toolset and profile reminded me loosely of Phillies’ RHP prospect Alec Asher. His best-case ceiling seems to be that of a second-division backend starter, and his floor is an organizational-type starter at the Double-A or Triple-A level. His realistic future could fall somewhere in between—an up-and-down arm that might ultimately fit best as a long-man or spot-starter in the big leagues. Scholtens’ size and three fringe-average pitches he lands for strikes make him one of the more intriguing senior sign candidates in the class.
Zach Jackson, RHP, Arkansas:
One of the better-known relief prospects in this year’s draft class, Jackson had a busy week for Arkansas, throwing on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of last week. Jackson has been a key cog in the Razorbacks’ bullpen since arriving as a freshman, and spent last summer with Team USA.
Jackson has a classic power pitching frame, standing 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, with long limbs and wide, muscular physical features. He checks the late-inning ceiling boxes on the scout card, with a fastball that can get up to the 96-97 mph range, at best, and a mid-80s slider. Jackson has had no difficulty missing bats throughout his college career, as he holds a career 11.5 K/9 at Arkansas (including this season).
When I saw him last week, Jackson’s fastball was operating closer to 92-95 mph, with more routine touches of 95-96 during his Friday outing closing out a game against Eastern Illinois. His fastball has explosive late burst and significant downhill angle, especially when he’s dialing it up into the mid 90s. His delivery is problematic in terms of consistency and command, but the moving parts that affect his release point also give him tons of deception. It appears as though Jackson is unwinding down the mound through his release, and if (“if” being the operative word here) he’s on time with his landing and extension, the combination of velocity, angle, and deception makes his fastball very hard to square up when he’s working in the zone. Similarly, Jackson’s slider has a lot of variance in terms of its pitch-to-pitch execution. It is a solid-average or genuinely plus pitch with power and sharp glove-side action at best, but Jackson’s mechanical issues give him real issue commanding the slider or getting consistent action on the pitch.
No one questions Jackson’s size, raw stuff, or ability to miss bats. There are, however, significant questions about his durability and consistency against pro-caliber hitters due to a high-stress delivery that impacts his control. Jackson works from a semi-windup, taking an extra-tall leg lift and breaking his hands unusually far behind the center of his torso. His arm stabs badly behind his body on the back side of his arm action, and Jackson drives to the plate with a pronounced shoulder-tilt. He lands open, as his delivery finishes and his back leg swings around very hard, often causing him to pull his head and body away from his throwing arm down the first base side of the mound. There are clearly control and consistency issues, but further still, when I watch him I feel like he’s a heartbeat away from significant arm injury—especially considering how hard he’s throwing his fastball.
Jackson has no-doubt plus raw stuff, but the inability to harness it for well-located strikes makes think a time at the pro level where he won’t just be able to out-stuff the competition likely. He’ll have to make adjustments to how he’s commanding the ball and extending in the front of his delivery to throw quality strikes. Despite the plus fastball and slider mix, I can’t project this guy as a true high-leverage reliever at the big league level due to a lack of control. Jackson is firmly on the scouting radar as a potential early pick, though there will be a wide variance of opinions team-to-team depending on the degree each scouting department feels they can adjust his mechanics.
Notes recorded above were based off video observations, as well as in-person views both during and prior to the 2016 season.
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