Biggest draft story line of late is probably the fall of Carlos Rodon, right? There’s really no sugar-coating it at this point, he simply has not looked good this year. Fastball not as fast, command way down, slider still awesome (but he uses it a ton, which may or may not be worrisome going forward), and, most frustratingly of all, no real positive gains made in areas that I was concerned about going into the year (he’s not a great athlete, his body is what it is, and his change is still not where you want it to be). When your strengths are not quite as strong and your weaknesses show little to no improvement, things aren’t going so great. Before you could say that his fastball/slider combo was so dominant that he’d be a damn good MLB starter regardless of those negatives — some are more dogmatic about the need for three average or better pitches to be a starter (I once was, to be honest), but reading about how Doc Gooden was messed with by trying too hard to bring along a third pitch after his huge early success with the Mets has me thinking that an above-average to plus FB and a SL that has elicited comparisons to a guy named Carlton would suffice three times through a lineup quite nicely — but now that his FB command has wavered and the overall velocity is down across the board, well, you have to wonder. He’s still a big-time talent and a likely top five lock, but I’d definitely bet the field over him if we’re talking strictly 1-1.
Jeff Hoffman’s good yet not great results still don’t consistently match his awesome stuff, but then he goes out and throws like he did against Rice last week and you’re in love all over again. He’s still my number one college arm in the draft, and I think we’re now late enough in the season where I don’t think that’s going to change. Tyler Beede’s results have never been the question; for him, it’s always been about improving his control and sharpening his command. Both areas have been much better this year, but not quite 1-1 better. Still a top ten lock for me, though I can see him being squeezed out of the top five by the growing number of HS arms rising to the top. I’ll have something on HS pitching on Friday.
After those three, all sure to be gone in the first handful of picks, the rest of the college pitching landscape is wide open. Aaron Nola seems to have taken control of the race for fourth place, but he has serious competition right behind him in the way of a trio of lefthanders Brandon Finnegan, Kyle Freeland, and Sean Newcomb. Chris Ellis, Luke Weaver, and Erick Fedde still lurk as good bets to be off the board early, and you can’t rule out the return of the first round reliever if a team falls hard for Nick Burdi. Zech Lemond and Matt Imhof could be next in line. If you’re counting at home, that’s ten college pitchers that I’d currently say are deserving of a first round grade — still debating on those last three names mentioned — compared to the thirteen that went off the board in last year’s first 39 picks (number drops to seven if we only count “true” first round picks and not the sandwich round). That last parenthetical has me thinking — never a good thing if you don’t like rambling tangents — about how tough it is to find any deeper meaning in draft trends. I think there’s some value to looking at historical patterns, but the fact that a) drafting is as much art as it is science, b) not all draft classes are created equal, and c) any evaluation of said trends has to incorporate a beginning and ending that, if we’re being totally honest, holds no meaning beyond whatever the author is hoping to convey. I could say there were ONLY seven first round college pitchers last year and make a point using that information. Or I could say there was an IMPRESSIVE thirteen first round college pitchers selected last year and make a point that way. To take it a step further, what do we do with this information: in 2013, six of the first seven picks of the second round were pitchers from either four-year universities or junior colleges. You’re not impressed if I told you there were seven first round college arms in last year’s draft, but if I said that 19 of the first 46 players were college pitchers (over 40%!), then you’re suddenly very intrigued (or not, your call). Arbitrary endpoints are fun.
So, yeah, Hoffman/Rodon/Beede are still a cut above the rest in terms of draft stock. After that, I have no clue what pro teams will do, but I’ll tell you I like some combination of Nola, Finnegan, Freeland, and Feede. Ellis, Weaver, and Lemond are in the next group. Then, chaos. If I had to pick one name not mentioned in the first round mix as much as deserved — and I could be totally off on this as I’m not nearly as plugged into who is getting hyped up as I once was — is Austin Robichaux. He’s got one of the best combinations of present stuff (mid-90s peak FB, CB flashes plus, average CU), track record (steady but real improvement since first day on campus), and projection (no two paths are alike, but his is a frame that seems capable of putting on some good weigh going forward).