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Mike Leake’s Debut

I hate being that guy who always quotes himself, but, well, allow me to quote myself:

Leake possesses a good fastball (sitting 88-92, peak 94), plus slider, above-average changeup, usable curve, plus command, plus control, plus athleticism, and, perhaps my personal favorite positive, intriguing potential with the bat. Can’t wait to see what he does with the Reds this season.

Ignore all that pitching stuff (6.2 IP 4 H 1 ER 7 BB 5 K with 106 pitches — 57 for strikes — and 6 GO to 6 AO) and focus on the bolded part only. There are embarrassingly few things on this mortal earth that I love more than pitchers capable of handling the bat. Reading this quote made me all kinds of happy:

“I was almost more excited to hit today than pitch,” Leake said.

Again, ignore that totally unimportant pitching part (6.2 IP 4 H 1 ER 7 BB 5 K with 106 pitches — 57 for strikes — and 6 GO to 6 AO) and focus on what really matters. At the plate, Mike Leake went 2-2 with a pair of singles. That’s good for a 1.000 batting average, people! I’ve read that Leake’s hat is heading to the Hall of Fame, but if it were up to me you’d better be sure it would be his batting helmet making its way to Cooperstown instead.

On a slightly more serious note, here’s the current plan outlining what is in store this week. All entries are subject to change, and, as always, requests are always encouraged.

Plan of Attack for Week of April 12, 2010

  • Who Will Be Drafted? Atlantic 10 Edition
  • Positional Rankings (position TBD…college lefties, maybe?)
  • Alternate Reality Mock Draft (expect this on Friday, the only day of the week I actually have planned out already)
  • Mystery Draft 2.0
  • More Data!
  • Responses to all comments that I missed this past week

Draft Prospect Retro – North Carolina’s Daniel Bard

This site has only been around a few months, but my own personal obsession with tracking amateur talent goes back years. Indulge me for a moment as I share an old piece I wrote about the newest member of the Boston Red Sox bullpen, Daniel Bard. This was, I think, the very first “published” thing I ever wrote, so please do keep that in mind as you mentally tear it to shreds. Part of the fun of following amateur players from high school to college (or not) to the pros is seeing them eventually make it as big leaguers, so it seems like as appropriate a time as any to revisit my first brush with Bard now that he is on the cusp of making his debut in the bigs. The original date of publication was March 28, 2006, so don’t hold any of the stupid predictions against me…

Photo Credit: duelingcouches.blogspot.com

Photo Credit: duelingcouches.blogspot.com

North Carolina righthanded starter Daniel Bard is one of the most highly touted pitching prospects at the amateur level. His much hyped game really needs no introduction…and yet, in an attempt to be as thorough as possible here, allow me to rattle off a sampling of his accomplishments and accolades. Bard was a twentieth round pick by the New York Yankees after graduating from Charlotte Christian School. He spurned the Yanks to sign with the University of North Carolina – good thing, too, or else this piece would make a heck of a lot less sense. The decision to head to Chapel Hill paid off for Bard as he went on to win the ACC Freshman of the Year award and a spot on the Freshman All-American team as named by Collegiate Baseball. Bard followed up his strong freshman season with an even stronger sophomore campaign. His sophomore year was followed up by his breakthrough performance pitching for the Wareham Gatemen (love that team name) of the Cape Cod League. Baseball America named him to their College Summer All-America second team and rated him the league’s number two professional prospect (the number one prospect that summer was his UNC teammate, lefthanded starter Andrew Miller). Heading into 2006, Bard was named to just about every preseason All-America and All-ACC team possible – Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, and SEBaseball.com all lauded him as player to watch in 2006. Baseball America finished up the Bard-lovefest by naming him college baseball’s number four junior prospect.

Despite all of the glowing praise, I was skeptical of Bard going into the game I “scouted” for two reasons. First off, Bard has a rather high career BB/IP rate (74 BBs in 184.2 IP) and reports of his shaky control in the scouting community are well documented. The second concern about Bard deals with scouting reports which claim he lacks any kind of solid secondary pitches. Those two concerns led me to mentally prepare for one of those classic dominating pitchers who can get by in the college game by simply blowing away lesser talented competition with a fastball better than any other pitch they’ve seen before. If old baseball clichés are more your thing, try to imagine a player who scouts like to proclaim is more of a thrower than a pitcher – this description is exactly what I was expecting as I settled into my seat behind home plate at Boshamer Stadium. It seems the two concerns over Bard’s game go hand in hand. He doesn’t have the secondary stuff that can be thrown consistently for strikes which hurts his overall performance. Because of this, he tends to get wild at times; check his BB, HBP, and WP numbers as evidence for this. Bard has had trouble controlling his less refined secondary stuff; perhaps, if he sharpened up said secondary stuff and managed to get his slider over for strikes consistently, his control as a whole would improve as well.

Bard’s lack of control and relatively weak secondary stuff will have significant implications on his success in the major leagues unless addressed. If Bard has shown iffy control at the college level (where it is not at all uncommon to see players overanxious and willing to go after that first ball fastball, especially when facing a pitcher capable of throwing a 95 MPH heater), one can only imagine the potential difficulties he’ll face when going against pros. Advanced professional hitters eat up any pitcher who relies solely on his fastball in an attempt to blow people away. Bard has been able to get by with just that four-seam fastball of his thus far, so the pressure to develop better breaking stuff when facing inferior collegiate competition isn’t there. If a guy can simply throw a fastball by a hitter, then he can undoubtedly get himself into the bad habit of simply trying to do so every time. Why mess around with setting up hitters and developing quality breaking stuff when it just hasn’t been necessary for him to do to this point? I’m sure Bard realizes (along with the UNC coaching staff, hopefully) if he wants to reach the bigs some day, these are the flaws in his game he will need to iron out as a pro.

More on Bard’s draft stock, his start against Purdue, and a brief afterword that ties it all together after the jump… (more…)

College Righthanded Starting Pitching Prospects – Comparing 2008 to 2009

If semi-incoherent ramblings about a very specific and unimportant topic with no readily apparent conclusion or point is what gets you going, be prepared to start your week off with something special. If not, congratulations – you’re normal. I’ve got a hunch that anybody out there willing to read some dummy’s baseball draft website probably isn’t “normal” anyway (and I say that with nothing but love), so why not just give in and see where our aimless thoughts will lead us today…

The top 15 righthanded starting pitching prospects as listed on this site, in descending order:

Jeff Inman, David Hale, Jake Cowan, Sean Black, Sam Dyson
Alex Wilson, Kyle Heckathorn, Mike Nesseth, Kendal Volz, Mike Leake
Aaron Crow, Tanner Scheppers, Kyle Gibson, Alex White
Stephen Strasburg

An updated list might look a little something like this:

Strasburg
Gibson/White/Crow
Leake/Scheppers
Dyson/Wilson/Berry
Volz
Nesseth/Heckathorn/Black/Cowan/Hale
Inman

The tiers align with the first round board tiers from last week, with the exception of Dyson rising up to join Wilson and Berry. Volz and Inman are especially difficult players to place, so they got their own private tiers – it’s the perfect solution for a lazy writer like me, really. Nesseth, Heckathorn, Black, Cowan, and Hale are all players that are personal favorites from my initial top 15, but have such mixed opinions that I’m lost on where to slot them in. I guess what I think is most important to take away from the bottom three tiers is that Volz is a clear step above the Nesseth/Heckathorn/Black/Cowan/Hale group (in the eyes of scouts) and Inman has dropped enough that he is clearly below the group (in my eyes). Further complicating the matter is Nesseth’s switch back to the Nebraska bullpen, but I’ll leave him in with this group for now because I still think his stuff works as a starter professionally.

Players considered for the list, but left off for now include Blake Smith (Cal), Scott Bittle (Mississippi), Jorge Reyes (Oregon State), AJ Griffin (San Diego), and Brad Stillings (Kent State). Smith’s status as a two-way player vexes me, Bittle’s stuff may actually work better as a starter/swingman in the long run, and Griffin is a gigantic personal favorite that will see his stock fly up my own personal rankings when I do my next revisions.

Notable players still missing from the list are the righty college relievers – Ben Tootle (Jacksonville State), Jason Stoffel (Arizona), Brad Boxberger (Southern Cal), and Brian Pearl (Washington) all profile best as relievers. Perhaps I can be convinced otherwise (Boxberger and Pearl might have stuff that would translate; Tootle and Stoffel are much better fits in the pen), but for now all four would strictly be drafted as relievers if I was running the show.

*****

For my money, the 2009 college righthanded pitching class absolutely trounces the 2008 class in terms of both quality and depth. However, the comparison between the two years is a tricky one to make because, and I really believe it’s as simple as this, the 2008 pitching class was an extremely weird one. The proponderence of college relievers made it an unusual draft at the time, but it’s gotten even weirder as we begin to see the long-term plans some of the big league teams have for their drafted relievers. Andrew Cashner, Joshua Fields, Ryan Perry, and Carlos Gutierrez were all college closers drafted in the first round. Of the four, it appears that only Fields and Perry are totally locked into their roles as professional relievers; Cashner and Gutierrez both may have the stuff to work better as pro starters. How do we then judge this class of pitching prospects? Are all four labeled as relievers? Does their eventual professional position carry more weight than their college position? How do we reconcile the fact that we don’t actually know the eventual landing spot of players like Cashner, Gutierrez, or Brad Holt? They may be given every shot imaginable to start, yet may work best as relievers in the long run. To simplify my life, I’m only going to evaluate players that were clearly scouted and drafted as starting pitchers.

The 2008 class was also a weird one because of the huge numbers of very talented players who slid down the board into the mid-rounds. These players were all almost cut from the exact same cloth – gigantic frames, big fastballs, questionable control and collegiate performance, and an inability to stay healthy. For this reason, it is my belief that this comparison would have been more enlightening if done with a pre-draft ranking of the available talent. Players like Chris Carpenter, Scott Green, Brett Hunter, Erik Davis, and Luke Burnett, to name a few, may have ranked higher on such a list. Kyle Heckathorn and Mike Nesseth, be forewarned.

2008 Top 15 College Righthanded Pitchers (7 college relievers, denoted with *)

Aaron Crow, Andrew Cashner*, Joshua Fields*, Ryan Perry*, Carlos Gutierrez*, Shooter Hunt, Brad Holt, Lance Lynn, Bryan Price*, Tanner Scheppers, Tyson Ross, Josh Lindblom*, Cody Adams, Aaron Shafer, Cody Satterwhite*

To this point, Cashner, Lindblom, and Price have all been tried as starters; Gutierrez and Satterwhite have so far only pitched out of the pen. I should also note that I was inconsistent in the way I included unsigned players (by memory, I think I only left out Scott Bittle), but I felt that excluding Crow and Scheppers would only create an unfair representation of the 2008 draft’s true talent level.

2008 Top 15 College Righthanded Starting Pitchers

Aaron Crow, Shooter Hunt, Brad Holt, Lance Lynn, Tanner Scheppers, Tyson Ross, Cody Adams, Aaron Shafer, Stephen Fife, Bobby Lanigan, Drew Liebel, Chris Carpenter, Aaron Pribanic, Scott Green, Vance Worley

Of that group, Holt, Fife, and Green may be future relievers, but all three were drafted as starters. College relievers excluded from this list, in addition to the names in the previous group, were Bryan Shaw, Zach Stewart, and Craig Kimbrel.

After all that, we’re left with comparing the following two pools of players. In one corner, we have the 2008′s:

Aaron Crow
Shooter Hunt
Brad Holt
Lance Lynn
Tanner Scheppers
Tyson Ross
Cody Adams
Aaron Shafer
Stephen Fife
Bobby Lanigan
Drew Liebel
Chris Carpenter
Aaron Pribanic
Scott Green
Vance Worley

Their challenger, the 2009′s (don’t read too much into the exact order, I just threw it together quickly):
Stephen Strasburg
Kyle Gibson
Alex White
Aaron Crow
Mike Leake
Tanner Scheppers
Sam Dyson
Alex Wilson
Ryan Berry
Kendal Volz
Mike Nesseth
Kyle Heckathorn
Sean Black
Jake Cowan
David Hale

Crow was king in 2008, but will slot in anywhere between second and fourth this year. Hunt is a quality arm and was a real steal to go as late as he did, but he isn’t in the same prospect class as Gibson, White, Leake, or a healthy Scheppers. I like Dyson, tentatively slotted 7th on the 2009 list, better than I do any of the 2008′s save Crow. If I had to do an overall ranking

Strasburg/Gibson/White/Crow/Leake/Scheppers/Dyson/Hunt/Wilson/Berry/Holt/Volz…and then things get especially murky. From that point on, however, the list would be more about trying to figure out where exactly to squeeze in the 09′s (namely Heckathorn, Hale, and Nesseth) than finding spots for the 08′s (as much as I like guys like Ross and Worley, I’m not sure I could put them over a Black or a Cowan with confidence). There are plenty of slightly later round picks from 2008 (Ethan Hollingsworth, Dan Hudson, Colby Shreve, DJ Mitchell, Michael Stutes) that would also muddle up the picture of what my pre-draft top 15 would look like, but I’ll stubbornly stick with judging the top ranked players from past years based on draft order for now. A comparison between the 2009′s and 2010′s will be better next season because I can compare and contrast my own pre-draft rankings, lists that hopefully give a better idea of talent-level than draft order (which is often skewed by signability and simple team preference).

If you were to include the college relievers from the 2008 class, the overall talent gap would close. Lindblom and Cashner were both players viewed as strong candidates to be switched to the rotation, so if we pretended they were drafted as such, they would compare favorably with Dyson and Wilson as starting pitching prospects. Come to think of it, I wonder if there is a comp to be made between Lindblom and Dyson. That might be worth looking into…but now I’m merely thinking out loud, a sure sign it’s time to wrap this up.

In conclusion…wait, I have no real conclusion. Hmm. In conclusion, 2009 looks like a better year for top end college righthanded starting pitching, but when the 09′s are headed up by Stephen Strasburg and three other potential top ten picks, that’s hardly much of a conclusion at all. I’m willing to concede that the depth between the two classes is pretty close in talent-level, but I’d still give the edge to 2009…though there is still plenty of time left between now and June to sort out who constitutes the “depth” of which we speak of in the 2009 Draft. My real conclusion is actually 100% unrelated to college righthanded pitching prospects. I thought of a pretty good comp for a potential top ten pick the other day, but I’m not all the way there with it just yet, if you know what I mean. It’s not quite a fully developed idea, but I’ll just throw it out there here so I can have it on the record…Grant Green (Southern Cal, SS) and Jason Donald (Arizona, Phillies, SS/3B/2B). Am I crazy in thinking they have similar enough profiles to compare the two?

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