When I begin the process of compiling my top prospect lists, I try to speak to as many scouts who have had multiple looks at a player as I can. I certainly trust my own eye—I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t—but having a chance to speak to those who work in the industry to offer a sort of “check and balance” system is invaluable to me, and I believe adds some credibility to the lists.
While this system generally works well, it often creates headaches, as here and there I will get widely varying beliefs on a player’s upside. I thought it’d be fun to take a more in-depth look at a group of players who had the widest range of opinions and help show how a prospect’s ceiling and floor can vary so much between two different player evaluators.
First up: New York Yankees right-hander Luis Severino. Of all the pitchers I spoke to scouts about this winter, Severino was the most “controversial,” with several believing he was a future ace and others far less sure about his future role.
After compiling my lists, I spoke to two scouts—one high on Severino, one low—on four key components of judging a pitching prospect. Here’s a detailed look at why one group believes Severino is destined to become a top-of-the-rotation starter, why one group is less sure about his role, and why I agree and disagree with each assessment.
Stuff: Both scouts I spoke with believed that Severino featured a plus-plus fastball, but after that there was a strong difference of opinion as to just how good of an arsenal the right-hander possesses.
High scout: “I think he has the stuff to be a front-line starter. The fastball’s an easy 70 to me; [he’s] up to 99 and there’s life to the pitch, too. The breaking ball isn’t quite there yet, but I certainly think it’s good enough to let him start, and the change is a borderline out pitch, certainly a plus offering anyway. Are there consistency issues? Of course, but 70 [fastball] 60 [change] 50 [slider] is certainly good enough to start.”
Low scout: “I have some concerns [about Severino’s stuff.] The fastball is as good as anyone in their system, if not better, but too often I’ve seen the breaking ball at 45 or worse, and a good but not great change isn’t good enough to me to overcome that.”
I don’t think the high scout is incorrect in his assessment with Severino’s stuff, but I tend to side with the low scout on this one. A 70-grade fastball and a 60-grade change is nice to have, but a starter they do not make. The breaking ball just doesn’t have the depth or break to be a competent pitch at this point, and I’m not sure it ever will be.
Control/Command: Severino walked just 27 hitters in his 113 innings in 2014, and both scouts agreed that his control was good enough to start. They did differ slightly on his command, however.
High scout: “I’d grade the command potential as plus. I’ve seen him throw strikes with all three pitches, which you don’t see from a lot of 20-year-olds. With his ability to repeat his delivery, I don’t think there’ll be any issue with him throwing strikes as a big leaguer.”
Low scout: “There’s a difference between control and command. The control is certainly good, you just need to look at the stats to see that he can throw strikes. Hitting his spots is a completely different thing, and when I saw him last summer he was more “wild in the strike zone” than guy who is nailing his spots with everything he throws.”
Here, I tend to side with the high scout. When you consider Severino can throw all three pitches for strikes and that he’s barely old enough to buy alcohol in this country, you can ignore the fact that he does miss in the strike zone. Pedro Martinez he is not, but I don’t think the command will be the reason why Severino doesn’t end up in a rotation.
Mechanics: This is where things got interesting. Both scouts believed that there are some mechanical deficiencies, but differed as to just how severe those deficiencies were.
High scout: “There are some tweaks that need to be made. I would like to see him use more of his lower half more; it’d take a lot more stress off of his arm. I think it’s important to note that there aren’t any red flags in his arm slot though, and that assuming he’s receptive to coaching there is time to make some refinements. Long term, it could lead to trouble though, so if I’m with the Yankees player-development team I get to work on using the legs and hips more to protect the asset I have.”
Low scout: “You cannot start with the delivery [Severino] has. Not long term, anyway. Asking a kid to throw five to seven innings and 100 pitches every five days with how little he uses his legs is just asking for an injury. The arm action is fine, but he uses his lower half less than any starter I saw in the Sally League this summer, so unless he made some sort of massive changes between then, I think he has a reliever’s delivery.”
I’m definitely siding with the low scout on this one, though I do agree with the high scout that there is time to make mechanical adjustments. There’s just too much strain being put on the arm with Severino’s current delivery, and the long-term ramifications could be severe without drastic changes.
High Scout: “A no. 2 starter ceiling, and potentially a dominant closer floor.”
Low Scout: “I think Severino’s ceiling is a top-of-the-rotation starter who has durability issues, and I think his floor is shutdown reliever.”
As you can see, both scouts do believe that Severino has a high ceiling and, all things considered, a relatively high floor. The difference, of course, is that the low scout is a lot less confident about Severino reaching that ceiling.
And as talented as Severino is, I tend to side with the low scout. Even if the breaking ball gets to an average grade, I just don’t see many starters with that bad of a delivery end up in rotation. At 21 years old there is time for mechanical adjustments to be made, but as is I see a high-leverage reliever who will miss a lot of bats with two swing-and-miss pitches.