It's a Draft Day Pitching Preview
As you read this you should be sinking back into the most comfortable chair in the room. There should be a cooler with ice cold pops with foam on top within easy reach. Fritos are draft necessities, several bags, various flavors. Your favorite major league team could be just about to generate some fresh, new excitement, and with your notebook in hand, you should be plotting strategy for you dynasty teams. It's draft day, and this draft looks pitching rich. I can't wait to check out the possibilities. So, let's take a look.
Which Pitcher(s) Should You Hope to See Your Team Land?
This is shaping up to be a great draft for pitching junkies. I don't think there are more obvious "aces" than usual, but I do think the overall quality is a little deeper than we typically see - especially among high school arms. Personally, I focus more on the arms coming out of college, but you have to keep an eye on some of these high school kids who are already showing some amazing skill levels.
The reason I spend a higher percentage of my time evaluating college arms is twofold. Because they are older and have often been engaged in pitching within programs that offer top caliber coaching, they tend to be much more refined. The raw skills found in a high school star are transferrable in most cases, but the college arms are closer to being finished products. Motions are smoother, deliveries are more consistent, and their pitch inventory is almost always more diverse. If you have a high-90s fastball and you can consistently throw it for strikes in high school, you will probably be pretty successful. In college, at least in the more developed conferences, you need the whole package.
And, there is another factor that comes into play with high school arms. Last week I discussed the growing incidence of Tommy John surgery, in particular among younger pitchers. It occurs to me that the more power you see in a high school arm, the more mileage there will be on the elbow ligaments. The same holds true for college arms too, but a high school pitcher with pro stuff has probably already stressed his throwing elbow considerably. Is he a near term Tommy John candidate? One of the high school pitchers in this draft - Tyler Kolek - has an arsenal of three plus pitches including a fastball that has been clocked at 102 mph. His mechanics need some refinement, he throws across his body somewhat, and one has to believe that level of power pitching must have taken its toll on his elbow (and shoulder). Is he worth the risk? A major league team is not going to by-pass that upside. From their perspective, we can clean his delivery up, if he needs surgery we can get it out of the way early, and then on with a career.
Then there is the flip side. Take the case of Touki Toussaint. He's another high school kid, but unlike most who have an early round resume, he didn't touch a baseball until he was somewhat older. He's a southpaw, he lacks command, and he is clearly still learning the art of pitching, but he has a curve that brings tears to your eyes (damn, I LOVE the curve ball), his change-up is showing a lot of potential, and he has enough zip to draw attention from scouts. Plus, because he started later, he is a low mileage option for teams interested in drafting a high ceiling project they can build and form within their system. He's one I definitely want to monitor once he turns pro.
Here are a few other high-ceiling arms to watch for on draft night:
• Besides Kolek, there are a couple of other pitchers generally considered to be the cream of this year's crop. Carlos Rodon, a lefty coming out of North Carolina State, and Brady Aiken, a high school left-hander are likely to be among the first names called on draft night, and rightly so. I rank Aiken slightly ahead of Rodon long term, but Rodon is nearly ready now. Aiken gets big plus marks for his build, his clean, fluid delivery, and his feel for pitching. He may be a high school kid, but watching him he already looks like a veteran.
• Now for a couple of slightly less hyped arms to watch for. Some team is going to land a pitcher who could be in the big leagues almost overnight. Aaron Nola comes out of LSU which is a college known for churning out polished pitchers. He has a mid-90s fastball (and climbing), a plus curve and change, and he has command of all three so he doesn't have a lot to learn. My guess is he will be the first from this class to hit the majors if he lands with the right organization.
• Next is one I really want to see more of. Sean Reid-Foley is an intriguing high school right-hander out of Florida with loads of upside. This guy has four - count 'em - four quality pitches he can throw at any time, he misses bats (not really all that surprising for a high school kid who can bring that smorgasbord to the table against opponents who rarely see anything but a decent fastball), and all the parts are already in synch. He's supposedly committed to Florida State, but someone has to talk him into signing on the dotted line.
• A couple of others to include on your cheat sheet: Tyler Beede comes back for another crack at the first round after opting to go on to Vanderbilt after the Blue Jays picked him in the first round in 2011. Brandon Finnegan has lots of talent but he also has a balky shoulder. The TCU lefty is on the small side but should be of interest to lots of teams. I am curious to see where he slides in given the shoulder problems. And, Jeff Hoffman. Coming off a big college season at East Carolina, he has all the goodies - body build, four quality pitches, a free and easy motion, projectability - everything you like to see. However, he has also already had Tommy John surgery. Will teams be frightened away by that or will they look at it as having reset the clock on his elbow?
• Last but not least, the case of Nick Burdi from the University of Louisville. He has a high-90s fastball and a slider that sits at about 90 mph. He was taken in the 24th round in the 2011 draft by Minnesota but opted for college, and he is a relief pitcher. In this age of specialization, will many teams consider investing in a relief pitcher early in the draft? The Nationals recently picked up Drew Storen after a dazzling season at Stanford as their closer.
Some Notable Rotation Ramblings:
• Now for some tidbits on the top pitcher taken in the draft the past five years. Three have pitched in the majors (Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole, Kevin Gausman), and two have already had Tommy John surgery (Strasburg and Jameson Taillon). Interestingly, only Taillon was taken out of high school.
• One of my Frustration Rotation pitchers continues to impress and I find myself crossing my fingers it will last. Phil Hughes is staying on top of the ball much better, generating more movement, and he is consistently throwing quality strikes, especially early in the count. I like it!
• The Padres may have dodged a serious bullet with Andrew Cashner. With his past history of injuries, it's easy to assume the worst when he goes down, but he has bounced back and may be ready to step back into their rotation as early as this weekend. His fantasy owners can take a breath.
• I took the opportunity to watch the Pirates' Charlie Morton again the other night, and he looked pretty good, again. He even recorded nine strikeouts over five innings. Ahhh, but there's the rub - five innings. He hasn't completed six innings in any of his last three starts. Trust your stuff, Charlie.
• After tracking Jeff Samardzija as he tried to nail down his first win of the season, it occurred to me that Mark Buehrle (10-1, 2.10, 1.19) is pretty close to the same level of amazing so far in 2014. Buehrle has long been a favorite and while I really don't think he can keep this up, Cy Young will come knocking if he does.
• As a card-carrying member of the fan club and an owner in a couple of leagues, I was quite relieved to hear the elbow problems experienced by Yordano Ventura are not considered serious (they are on the lateral as opposed to medial position on his elbow). I do hate that they use the word "yet" more often than I would like.
• The Orioles are now close to welcoming back Johan Santana from an extended rehab of shoulder woes. I won't say he'll be the old Santana but I won't say he won't either. Look up "wily veteran" in your encyclopedia and you might find his picture. I'm anxious to see what he has left.
This may be the calm before another storm, but things seemed to have settled just a bit in the closer shuffles. You have to wonder if the Pirates are considering moving their other closer, Mark Melancon, into the role. Nothing against Jason Grilli, but that would allow the Pirates to more efficiently control his workload. ... It's unusual for closers to get drafted in the early rounds as closers, but Huston Street came out of college as a reliever and was drafted in the first round in 2004. It's worked out well in his case. ... It seems the Indians have settled on Cody Allen for the time being. He was probably the best choice all along but they held auditions to be sure. John Axford could still wiggle back into the picture but it will likely require a long stretch of success. ... Yes, David Robertson has been a little shaky of late, and while the Yankees aren't likely looking at alternatives yet, they do have Dellin Betances wowing people in a set-up role. Betances has the tools to close so Robertson owners might want to monitor developments. ... I haven't mentioned Koji Uehara in a long time. Not to worry, he's been untouchable (11-for-11 in save opportunities), but the Red Sox just haven't been generous with save chances. ... Joe Nathan will be in the Hall-of-Fame one day, but the Tigers have to hope he's not ready to hang up the spikes and move in right away. He has been scorched often of late. His job is probably not in jeopardy yet, but Joba Chamberlain might be a good handcuff just in case. ... Tommy Hunter will be back from the disabled list soon but Zach Britton should remain the Orioles' closer.