Thoughts on Pitching Draft Choices
I am not a baseball scout, being blind does not give you the ability to see the things you need to witness with your own eyes in evaluating a player and potential upside. That said, if I were a GM, there are certain things that I value in pitchers more than others.
I never look at how quick someone will be in the big leagues, if the better talent and upside is found in a high school arm or in a young junior college freshmen, I believe in going that route. I have also become a huge believer in looking at pitchers in particular who play other sports, guys who are doing things other than baseball year-round.
Command is another important factor to look at and I believe that command is always more important than being able to throw at 100 MPH. Greg Maddux and Nolan Ryan were both very accomplished pitchers, but if I were drafting someone in high school or the college ranks in today’s climate, I’ll take the Maddux type as my first choice. That is not at all a comment against Ryan, who was one of the most durable pitchers baseball ever had, but more Maddux types are likely going to remain durable as opposed to Ryan types who often lose some of their velocity over time due to age and often injury.
After listening to a lot of discussions from various writers who cover amateur prospects and looking at various reports that have been published, here are the top pitchers I would consider taking if I were the GM drafting in just over three minutes from now.
Brady Aiken is the pitcher many think may go with the top pick to Houston. The left hander from Cathedral Catholic in San Diego is viewed according to some as having great command of all his pitches. Reports from writers at Baseball America and ESPN have mentioned that some scouts compare Aiken to Clayton Kershaw. Another aspect of Aiken that will be appreciated is his ability to make adjustments mentally and his intelligence, remind anyone of Greg Maddux?
To me, one of the most interesting pitchers is Touki Toussaint from Coral Springs Christian HS in Miami. The book on this guy is that he has a great secondary pitch already and he is one of the best Athletes in the draft. John Manual of Baseball America has described the Haitian born Toussaint as one who reminded him of Bob Gibson because of his long arms and easy pitching motion. Personally from everything I have read about this kid, I’d consider taking him 1-1 if I were drafting tonight and I think he has more upside than the highly discussed Carlos Rodon from North Carolina State who I have concerns about as being too slider happy. Rodon does not make my list of six pitchers that I am writing about with this blog entry. The drawback on Toussaint is that he still needs to refine his control. If he does though, he could be a goldmine of a find. He also has much less mileage on his arm as he did not discover baseball until his teen age years.
While Aiken could remind some of Kershaw or Maddux and Toussaint reminds some of Gibson, the Nolan Ryan comp in this draft is naturally the 100 MPH fireball express from Shepherd, Texas: Tyler Kolek. Clearly he has the best fastball of the draft and if his command comes anywhere close to the perceived command of Aiken or if he develops the perceived ability to throw a great second pitch like Toussaint, he becomes the top pick when you redraft 2014 ten years from now. The question, does he develop the command and secondary pitches that force hitters to fear yet not sit on his first pitch? Baseball America noted that he is a difficult comp for scouts because of his build, 6-5, 240 pounds. Like a highly thought of power pitcher named Brien Taylor in 1991, Kopek is pitching against smaller schools that don’t have quite the same level of competition compared to the first two guys mentioned here. Taylor did get off to a great start as a pro until he injured his sholder in a bar fight and never recovered. Kolek like Toussaint could be a star if the control becomes more refined.
Three other high school pitching prospects are on my radar and I will be very curious to see how they develop. I like the potential of spencer Adams because of things I have read that speak of pitch ability to throw to both sides of the plate. The kid from White county HS in Georgia was also a great athlete having played a lot of basketball in high school. I mentioned before that I like guys who played other sports, not just baseball and while Adams does not have quite the same upside as Toussaint, both are appealing to me in part because of the lower mileage on the pitching arm. Adams is also from the same region that produced Kevin Brown.
Another athletic lefty I am interested in is Codi Medeiros from Awakea HS in Hilo, Hawaii. This is another pitcher with potential pitch ability and his second sport of choice according to Baseball America before he focused exclusively on baseball was none other than judo. One thing that could help or hinder Medeiros is his unusual almost sidearm delivery.
Finally, a righty who has some concerned about the ability to repeat his delivery but who also has some who believe he could stay in a rotation if things work out is another Texan, Michael Kopech from Mount Pleasant HS. The key with the ladder three, all have questions about their style of motion and or the ability to consistently repeat the delivery to the plate. They could all end up long term in the bullpen, but given the right circumstances and if they develop better than expected, they could all be rotation mainstays. Hawaii though has not been the baseball hotbed when it comes to top talent and in the case of both Adams and Kopech as I noted earlier when discussing Tyler Kolek, the schools they are facing are smaller and thus the competition level is not as great.
So why am I crazier about these pitchers than the top college arms? Upside and more upside. Erick Fedde and Jeff Hoffman both have potential to be great or to never pitch in the big leagues just like these other pitchers, but both already have had Tommy John, Brandon Finnegan has some health concerns, and I’ve already mentioned that I am just not sold on Carlos Rodon who profiles like Andrew Miller, another top college pick out of the Tar Heel state that didn’t work out.
Aaron Nola is the safe college pick and yeah he will probably get to the big leagues, but even highly rated college prospects hit bumps in the road, see Mark Apple. Taking a high school arm, you can get the player into your system three or four years earlier and develop him in a way that promotes your pitching philosophy and habits. Given the fact that most if not all professional teams now use more data to drive their decisions, one could argue that the pitchers are better served by being in pro organizations that can refine their pitching style and mechanics in a way that will lead to potentially greater success based on actual data from their performances, something that is not as readily available at the college level and in some cases, something that may not even be of concern to colleges who are more focused on winning now at the expense of player development. I also would prefer to take a guy with less of a checkered health history if I am drafting a pitcher. If I were focused on position players, I would not worry so much about a Tommy John procedure because if the guy can hit, I’ll find a place to play the kid even if it means a once promising shortstop is now forced to play left field or first base. Such options do not exist for pitchers unless you are drafting them as two-way players who are going to be intentionally converted to another position.
So to review, the six names I’m watching tonight, Aiken and Kolek who both likely go top 3, Toussaint who could be gone before pick 10, and three guys who I think will go between picks 10-30, Medeiros and Adams in one order or another, soon to be followed by Kopecch.