This week we’re going to take a look at a few of the top amateur arms coming out of New Jersey this draft season. Not too long ago, the Garden State produced a first round pick named Mike Trout. While none of the fruit is nearly as ripe this season, there are several juicy options for teams to feast on this spring. Chris Oakley, Jesse Roth, and Rob Kaminsky are are all New Jerseyans, and they all have a chance to make a mark on the game. Here’s a video of each of them throwing at this past August’s East Coast Pro Showcase:
Chris Oakley is a giant. He’s 6’8” and knows how to use his body. The delivery is effortless, and Oakley’s long levers allow him to generate plus velocity with his fastball. He sat in the low 90s and touched 95 at East Coast Pro, and his relatively high arm angle allowed him to generate good plane on the ball. Oakley will also show a very promising curveball that sits in the mid-to-upper 70s with excellent depth. The pitch has plus potential, and it should improve the more he throws it. He’s shown a change-up, but the offering isn’t nearly as advanced as his others. Oakley notes that the biggest adjustment he needs to make is “establishing more consistency with [his] two off-speed pitches.”
This spring, Oakley will take the mound for St. Augustine Prep in Egg Harbor, NJ. Next spring, he could take his talents to Chapel Hill, where he has a commitment to North Carolina. “UNC was the first school I visited, and it immediately reminded me of my high school setting," he said. "I fell in love with the campus and everything it had to offer baseball-wise and academically. And from the day I visited there, I knew I wanted to go to school there.”
He has some athleticism and shows good feel for pitching, but Oakley will need to refine his skills to maximize his potential. More innings will mean more opportunity to sharpen his repertoire and more consistently attack hitters with his weapons. His game isn’t perfect, but Oakley is a potential first-round pick this June.
Jesse Roth is loaded with potential. This summer, Roth showed off a very quick arm and strong athleticism. His four-seam fastball sits in the upper 80s and tops out at 91. Roth has a two-seamer that plays well off the four-seamer, and he can get strong run on the pitch. His circle change sits in the low 80s with excellent fade, and it could be a plus pitch down the line. Roth also has an 11-to-5 curveball that has some depth and could be a useful offering if he can tighten and command it. There’s room to fill on his 6’3”, 185-lb. frame, and that, along with the liveliness of his arm, suggests that there might be more velocity in the tank. The delivery is smooth, but Roth will need to get better at repeating his delivery to maximize his command, which is already at least average.
It’s easy to like Roth as a projectable arm that could become something special over the next couple years. When he was a sophomore, Roth committed to Virginia, the top team in the nation at the time. UVA boasted a powerful rotation that included southpaw Danny Hultzen. Roth could be an early-round draft pick in June, but three years of refinement in college ball could also take him a long way.
Roth sneaks across the Hudson to go to school, attending Horace Mann High School. To date, only one player has ever been drafted out of Horace Mann. That player was taken by the Red Sox in the 14th round of the 2005 draft but opted for Vanderbilt. In 2008, Pedro Alvarez was the second player off the board. Even after having a player like Alvarez come through the program, Horace Mann’s baseball team was struggling before Roth arrived. Since his arrival, the team has improved its win total every year, and Roth has high hopes for the club this spring.
Roth’s excellent academic record and commitment to UVA has some scouts worried about his signability. “I’ve talked to… probably 15 clubs… people are trying to get a sense of how signable I am,” he said. In the world of draft spending caps, players like Roth could slip through the cracks as signability concerns scare teams away. Roth will be a relatively high draft pick no matter what happens, but this spring will be critical to how high teams are willing to risk drafting him.
Rob Kaminsky might have the best pitchability of any player in next year’s draft class. He entered high school as an athletic centerfielder with a good arm, and his team’s needs made him a starting pitcher. “Freshman year came and I was becoming a starter, and that’s when I really started going to pitching lessons and whatnot and maturing as a pitcher. Sophomore year I had command issues—I probably led the county in walks and strikeouts to be honest. And then last year everything clicked… This year I’m hoping to just improve on my command and throw more strikes and get in pitchers’ counts.”
Kaminsky lit the showcase scene on fire this summer, racking up strikeouts with an advanced repertoire from the left side. His fastball sits in the low 90s and can reach 94, but the exciting part is his curveball, which has legitimate plus-plus potential. He throws the hammer in the upper 70s and low 80s and generates excellent bite with 11-to-5 action. The pitch was unhittable this summer, and Kaminsky also has some feel for a change-up.
When asked about the development of the curveball, Kaminsky said, “I can throw it in any count, and I have pretty good control of it. It’s got late bite.” This year the southpaw will be “more focused on [his] change-up”, and that could determine just how high he’s picked come draft day.
Scouts aren’t sure how much projection there is with Kaminsky. He might be a nearly finished product, but the present package (with refinement) should be enough for him to make it.
Like Oakley, Kaminsky has committed to UNC. “[It’s] somewhere that I’ll fit in quick[ly], and they offered me as a two-way guy as well, so I’ll be playing the outfield there hopefully.” Given their talents, there’s a strong possibility that neither pitcher ends up at Chapel Hill, but the possibility of a rotation that includes both of those arms should have the rest of the ACC very afraid.
New Jersey is loaded this year. Oakley, Roth, and Kaminsky could all be off the board very early in June’s draft. This year should be one of the stronger harvest seasons in recent years in the Garden State.