The 2016 draft was pitcher-heavy at the top, with six of the first nine players off the board coming from the mound (and seven of the first 12). It was an especially rich class of high school arms, and the intrigue was thick among the 2016 arms, from a teenager who hit 102 mph on the radar gun to prep lefties with big-league-ready mechanics and top-10 picks who are on the road to recovery from major surgery. Let’s jump in to the first three taken and break down some of the arms to which MLB franchises are pinning their hopes and dreams.
Note: All of the clips in this article are from the draft videos at MLB.com.
No. 3, Atlanta Braves – Ian Anderson, RHP, HS (NY), 6’3” 170 lb
Right off the bat, Anderson appears to have a lot more in the tank, but he also has a lot of development in front of him in order to hit ceiling. The height-weight combination gives a glimpse of the physical development that likely lies ahead for the lanky right-hander. The Braves may have unearthed a gem, but first they will need to polish the surface.
Anderson’s balance is decent into max leg lift, but that’s the last point in the delivery in which his head remains stable over the center of mass. Coming out of max lift, he has a pronounced “stay back” approach that shifts his weight back toward second base while the rest of his body strides forward, hurting his balance in the Z-plane while also muting his overall momentum. He also leans slightly to the first base side during the stride phase of his delivery, and the glove-side imbalance intensifies from foot strike through release point, culminating in average-at-best posture with considerable spine-tilt. He is reported to have decent command, but the lack of stability opens up the vault of downside regarding command and control. On the flip side, the average stability also provides some projection in the sense that he has room to improve, a double-edged sword that could very well lengthen his development path to reach ceiling.
The power grade is harmed by the lack of momentum that stems from his “stay back” approach, but Anderson has very strong torque that invokes both the upper- and lower-halves of his frame to increase hip-shoulder separation. The upper-body portion is most evident, with a scapular load that adds to the separation created by the upper half, and he incorporates a decent delay of trunk rotation to allow the hips to open as well. However, the combination also puts Anderson at risk of elbow drag, as the late trigger makes it difficult for the throwing arm to catch up to the rest of the links in the kinetic chain. The mix of high power, relatively-low stability and potential for elbow drag is risky, and the Braves will likely need to be careful in Anderson’s development in order to extract maximum value and avoid over-stressing the system.
Far be it for me to doubt an Atlanta selection, as they tend to have a strong track record of drafting and development, but I was somewhat shocked to see Anderson’s name called as the first arm off the board on Thursday.
No. 4, Colorado Rockies – Riley Pint, RHP, HS ( KS), 6’4” 210 lb
No high school right-hander has ever gone 1-1 in the draft, but Pint offers the high-end stuff to have earned consideration for the top spot this year. There is no questioning the raw velocity, which includes a fastball that has lit up radar guns at 102 mph, but pitchers with such incredible arm speeds often struggle to harness the power and Pint is no exception. Pint has some big positives in his delivery, but the right-hander’s motion also contains some inefficiencies and peculiarities that might lengthen his path of development.
Pint’s X-plane (side-to-side) balance is strong, but his stability suffers in the other two planes. He has some hunch over the front side that starts early and continues through the stride phase of his delivery, but the hunch appears to be inconsistent and he rights the ship in time for release point with very strong posture. In the Y-plane, he has some drop-and-drive that features a back-side collapse, lowering his center of gravity after max leg lift. However, the degree of drop has been inconsistent in the footage that I have seen, and there are some deliveries where the back-side collapse was not as stark. His balance can also struggle in the Z-plane, as his drop includes a bend of the back knee and a lean-back toward second base during the stride phase of his motion. All of these elements will add a hurdle in Pint’s attempts to harness pitch command as a pro, but his overall stability still borders on plus when at peak, particularly when considering his age.
His power is another story, and Pint exemplifies the common trade-off between power and stability as he struggles to repeat the high-octane delivery. He has a good burst of momentum, utilizing the “drive” portion of his drop-and-drive technique to extend his stride and release the ball closer to the plate. He also has big torque that is mostly driven by timing, as the upper-body portion of his hip-shoulder separation is merely average yet he achieves great torque thanks to powerful hip rotation and a good delay to his trigger after foot strike. Much of his velocity appears to come from raw arm strength, however, with whip-like arm action and incredible arm speed. Pint carries a very low arm slot, the product of solid posture combined with a low angle of shoulder abduction, and the low slot might turn off some teams. It also leaves Pint more vulnerable to wayward offerings, given that mistimed pitches will tend to miss targets inside or outside rather than high or low.
No. 6, Oakland Athletics – A.J. Puk, LHP, Florida, 6’7” 230 lb
Widely considered the top collegiate arm in the draft class, Puk has the elite stuff to ascend to the headof the class, but a lack of consistency has plagued the left-hander for much of his college career. His combination of size, velocity and left-handedness stand tall among the pitchers eligible for the 2016 draft, but the sketchy track record puts a wrinkle in his ability to climb quickly through the system, an aspect that is not only desirable but is often expected of high-end college arms.
Puk’s stability is excellent into foot strike, with solid balance in all three planes during the lift and stride portions of the delivery. However, things start to fall apart a bit after foot strike. The head has a tendency to bail out once rotation kicks into gear, veering to the glove-side and invoking spine-tilt that harms his posture at release, though the degree of spine-tilt tends to be inconsistent. He also invokes heavy flexion of the spine, with a forceful head-butting move that could be an asset if controlled, but his lack of consistency indicates that Puk still has items remaining on his developmental agenda. He has a bit of rock-n-roll in his delivery, and though this is not a problem in isolation, there are some deliveries where he exaggerates the rock-roll and loses a touch of Z-plane balance as his head drifts behind the center-of-mass. Puk has some flail near release point, with a very soft glove-side that hampers his release-point consistency as well as his depth of release, as he utilizes a “Sea Captain’s wheel” approach in which the glove side circles down near the ground as the throwing arm comes through into release point. By the time he reaches release point, Puk’s balance is often compromised in all three planes.
Puk has great momentum, as he gets it going towards the target immediately upon first movement, an advantage that he gains whether pitching from the windup or the stretch. He has a steady increase of momentum during the lift and stride sections of the motion, rather than exhibiting a blatant gear change that is centered around max leg lift, resulting in a powerful charge into foot strike. His torque varies a bit due to inconsistent timing, as he has a tendency for an early trigger (“opens up front shoulder”) which can compromise his pitch-speed at times. The torque is excellent when he lines up the gears, and his natural strength can produce top-end arm-speed even when his alignment is off.
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