Ahhh, actual content. Get your work week off started off right by perusing the first third of the 2009 Rule 4 Draft’s finest draft-eligible college righthanded pitchers. Make sure to check back throughout the week as we count down to the number one spot. I won’t reveal too much information about our number one college righty, except to say that he could potentially be referred to as S. Strasburg. No, wait – too obvious. Let’s just call him Stephen S. Yeah, that’s much better. College righthanders 15 through 11 right after this stunning picture our 11th ranked righty…
15. Jeffrey Inman (Stanford)
Inman’s collegiate performance has been more good than great so far, but his pro-caliber stuff has stayed steady through his first two seasons on The Farm. The combination of a fastball sitting in the low-90s, a potential plus curve, and a usable third pitch (changeup) make him a potential first round pick this June. Inman also benefits from having a relatively fresh arm for a three year college player, having pitched only occasionally as a high schooler. Of course, there is a downside. Inman’s three-pitch mix is still potentially pro-caliber, but lacking at present. The fastball sits in the low-90s on Inman’s best days only, the curve is a potential plus pitch but at this point it’s just that (potential only), and his change is usable is, again, just that – usable. Three average (or maybe two slightly above average and one average) pitches do not an elite prospect make. Couple that with his aforementioned good and not great college numbers (107 K’s in 145.1 IP), and Inman’s prospect standing takes a hit.
Also working against our fifteenth ranked college righty is the dreary track record of his brethren – we’re talking top Stanford righthanded pitching prospects from the past decade (give or take). I try not to put too much weight on trends like this, but at a certain point you do begin to wonder. At one time or another the following pitchers were considered premium talents — Erik Davis, Nolan Gallagher, Greg Reynolds, Jeremy Guthrie, Justin Wayne, Jeff Austin, Chad Hutchinson, Kyle Peterson — yet outside of Guthrie (a complicated case) and Reynolds (the jury is still out, but not a promising start), you’re looking at bust after bust after bust. Upon further review, Erik Davis also belongs in the “just still out” category (his pro numbers so far have been excellent, though he was switched to the bullpen and was old for his league), but he’s another interesting case because he was a prep product with tons of potential who never really put it all together as a Cardinal – he could be considered a potential success who succeeded as a pro in spite of pitching for Stanford. The same is true for Nolan Gallagher to a slightly lesser extent, but the point still stands darn it! I realize the original argument has been bent and twisted to fit the conclusion, but…yeah, I don’t know how to finish this thought. On the whole I still believe that Stanford righthanders have had less than expected professional success and, if I were a pro team about to invest a high pick and a good chunk of change, I’d investigate on why this has been the case before popping Inman early.
14. David Hale (Princeton)
I wonder if Hale and Inman have ever met because I’d bet good money that I don’t have they’d get along swimmingly. The two seem like kindred spirits in many ways. Hear me out. Hale (6-2, 195) and Inman (6-2, 195) have similar frames, similarly good but not great college numbers (Hale’s K/9 is around 7.5, Inman’s is about 6.6), both are currently attending prestigious academic universities (US News ranks Princeton second overall nationally and Stanford is tied for fourth…about 50 spots from my alma mater, give or take), and both were/are pretty good position players at one point (Inman was a fine prep shortstop, Hale is a good college centerfielder) in their careers.
Hale has one of the better fastballs in the college ranks (sitting 92-95) and his overall athleticism, makeup, and, surprise surprise, baseball IQ all earn him high marks. There is a certain rawness to his game that is simultaneously enticing and terrifying. This rawness stems from the less than wonderful Ivy League lineups he faces during conference play and the not quite year round commitment to the sport that many northern schools, especially the Ivies, have the time, space, and resources to allow. In this way he is more like Seton Hall righty Sean Black than Stanford ace Jeff Inman, in that both Hale and Black have a certain mystical aura surrounding the difficult positions they find themselves often playing in. Maybe it’s just me, but players from the northeast are just so delightfully shrouded in mystery come draft time that I can’t resist. Maybe it’s the increased opportunity to stand out above a crowd of nobodies (Ryan Westmoreland is my example of this from the 2008 class), maybe it’s the actual logistics about scouts not being able to gain enough info to dissect a guy’s weaknesses apart, maybe it’s the marketing allure of being the best in an lightly scouted area (wow, he’s the number one player in the state…who cares that it’s Delaware, he’s number one!) rather than merely one of the best in a baseball hotbed, or maybe it’s the forgiving nature we as a society have for our fellow man (poor fella isn’t lucky enough to play in a warm, sunny place – let’s bump him up a round or two). Whatever it is, I love it. The myth of the great amateur ballplayer from the northeast will outlive us all. Anyway, if all goes according to plan Hale will be the highest ranked Princeton pitcher selected since Ross Ohlendorf went in the fourth round in 2004.
13. Jake Cowan (San Jacinto JC – Texas)
Cowan was originally a part of the 2007 Virginia Cavaliers recruiting class, a class made up of top recruit and current Virginia starter Phil Gosselin and former first rounder and current Cincinnati prospect Deven Mesoraco. I don’t have anything original to say about Cowan, so I’ll be super annoying and repeat what I wrote Cowan combines a plus 95 MPH fastball with two above-average secondary offerings. A fastball like that coupled with strong secondary stuff makes Cowan stand out above his junior college peers. There are players below that have great fastballs, there are players below that have decent secondary offerings, but no player below combines the two quite like Cowan. To use a scouting cliché sure to be repeated ad nauseam around these parts in the coming months (or, knowing Kendal Volz is around the corner, coming days), Cowan is as much a pitcher as he is a thrower and that’s a very good thing going forward.
12. Sean Black (Seton Hall)
At his best, Black is a one-time highly touted strapping righthanded pitcher from the northeast with plenty of untapped potential and two plus pitches, a fastball capable of hitting 93 MPH and a sharp mid-70s curveball that cuts through the strike zone with uncanny precision. At his worst, Black is a high-80s fastball guy with a slow, sweeping curve complimented only by a subpar changeup. He strikes me as the kind of player that one scout will see on the right Friday afternoon and all those happy high school memories will flood back at once. It only takes one team to pick you and I think Black could put himself in a position to be loved. Yes, I know that sounds weird. No, it’s not quite weird enough to delete.
Funny (or not) footnote about Black’s prospect status coming out of high school. One of the oft-cited game reports from his prep days was his dominant performance against New Jersey’s top 2006 high school bat. Black got the best of Bishop Eustace’s Billy Rowell that spring, but what was once a nice little accomplishment isn’t quite the same feather in his cap three years later.
11. Sam Dyson (South Carolina – Draft-Eligible Sophomore)
With professional sports teams across the globe hemorrhaging dollars, there is greater interest in saving a buck (yet still fielding a profitable team) these days than in years past. In these troubled economic times, the application of basic Moneyball theory is more important than ever in the game of baseball. What do we want? Undervalued assets based on inherent market inefficiencies. When do we want them? Now!
There are certain traits that can make a draft prospect undervalued in any given year, but no flaw is as timeless as “coming back from major injury.” Sam Dyson is now two years removed from major shoulder surgery and showing little signs of wear and tear, but he’ll carry the scarlet (scarred?) L (labrum) as long as he walks the Earth. On the field, Dyson’s fastball legitimately sits in the mid-90s (rarely does it come in much lower than 92-93 MPH) and touches 97. For now, the pitch is too straight and too often left up in the zone. His command and control are both spotty at times, problems that may or may not be lingering rust from the labrum operation.
Dyson is the kind of player that will take some work. I wouldn’t necessarily call him a high risk/high reward player because his floor (between his fastball’s pure speed and an above-average curve, he should help as a key relief contributor if he stays healthy) seems pretty valuable even if he doesn’t put it all together. A team with strong background in developing pitching coupled with a strong medical staff would be wise to give Dyson a look before the end of round two if they’d like to add him to the fold.