We covered 1 and 2 on this list the other day, so why not check in with 3 and 4 today? I still want to explore the idea of high school pitching wild cards, something I was hoping to do in a quick piece covering a bunch of names. Once I started going on Grant Holmes and Touki Toussaint, however, I couldn’t stop until I emptied as much as I could from the notebook. Here we go…
RHP Grant Holmes (Conway HS, South Carolina)
What makes him a wild card: he’s currently listed at 6-1, 210 pounds and will have to overcome the dreaded short/stocky righthanded pitcher stigma
Let’s get right to it with Holmes, an outstanding young pitcher with present stuff (easy plus fastball velocity and sink, above-average breaking ball that flashes plus, above-average hard changeup that flashes plus, good yet inconsistent command that takes him from a really good prospect to a great one when working) rivaled by very few in his class. Comps aren’t for everybody, but I find general body type and stuff comparisons useful for developing a frame of reference for players that many reading might never see until they hit the big leagues. Baseball America has used both Chad Billingsley and Eric Gagne as comps for Holmes in the past, but I personally enjoy the Bartolo Colon comparison (forget who mentioned this one, but as a fan of Colon’s, both the young version and the jolly older iteration) most of all. I’ve also heard “husky Sonny Gray,” Yovani Gallardo, and, an excellent blast from the past, former Astros righthander Wade Miller. Alright, I won’t lie: “husky Sonny Gray” isn’t something I’ve heard but one that I’ve come up with. You could think of those names as Holmes’ comp continuum if so inclined: floor (Miller/Gagne), happy medium (Gallardo/Billingsley), and ceiling (thicker Gray). A name that also keeps coming back to me is Wil Crowe, currently a freshman at South Carolina. Crowe, who really should see a doctor about those two lost inches from his pre-draft listed height, has a similar body type, assortment of pitches (though Holmes’ fastball-breaking ball-changeup are all an easy half-grade or more higher than Crowe’s, no disrespect for Gamecock intended), and command. I’m not sure how Crowe fits in to a discussion on Holmes — really, Holmes should be brought up when talking Crowe, noting that he could be a lesser version of the 2014 draft star with continued growth at USC — but I like giving a quality college guy a mention whenever possible so we’ll let it stand.
I think there’s some merit to the popular Dylan Bundy comparison, especially as it pertains to his draft stock. Bundy may not have been the first short prep righthander to go high in the draft, but he has gone his part and more to break through the glass ceiling for the demographic. Bundy’s tremendous early success as a professional – injury notwithstanding – ought to allay some concerns about Holmes’ pro future. I’m not saying that’s logical necessarily, as one man’s accomplishments have no bearing on another’s future, but front offices like having a recent example to cite when justifying a pricey early round selection to the big bosses. That pesky little “injury notwithstanding” note that I slipped in there could give some teams pause; much like how teams could foolishly believe Bundy’s success will help Holmes, there could be some fear that the O’s young hurler’s injury will doom Holmes’ right arm before long. I haven’t heard or read any reasonable person claim Bundy’s injuries have had anything to do with not being 6-3, 220 pounds, so hopefully that’s not the case. Just throwing it out there. I’d be surprised if Holmes matches Bundy’s draft standing (4th overall), but that’s more because of the strength at the top of this year’s draft than a knock on Holmes. That being said, Bundy was still the superior draft prospect; again, not a knock on Holmes, just highlighting how darn impressive Bundy was as an amateur.
Also, and this is similar to what you’ll read below about Toussaint, it should be noted that there have been positive reports about Holmes’ dedication to getting his body in shape over the past few months. Young guys can right present wrongs, and development is as important, if not more so, than straight talent acquisition.
RHP Touki Toussaint (Coral Springs Christian HS, Florida)
What makes him a wild card: his command can charitably be called “inconsistent,” though recent reports have him heading in the right direction.
I’ve long believed that consistent command begins with consistent mechanics which is aided by repetition and athleticism. Nobody will deny Toussaint’s considerable athletic gifts, so the prospect of improved command comes down to the fairly simple fix of going out and getting innings in. Overly simplistic? Probably. A viable enough potential solution that I’d be willing to use an early first round pick on a pitcher with his kind of stuff? Without a doubt. I’m bullish on Toussaint.
I’m not envious of the big league front office that has to make a decision between a raw yet intriguing prospect like Toussaint and a polished strike-thrower like LSU’s Aaron Nola. The presence of those two players in the same draft pool is why I find the MLB Draft the most fascinating major draft to follow. The two young men will likely grade out as very similar prospects (say, 5th-25th ranked) on many draft boards, but the only real similarity between the two carbon-based lifeforms (well, I guess that’s a second similarity) share is handedness. You could not dream up two better highly ranked opposites. You have the young HS power arm with the flashy stuff who lacks the present ability to properly harness it versus the wily college star with stuff that doesn’t excite but the command of a seasoned big league veteran. That’s as interesting a story line in this year’s draft as you’ll find, and I can’t wait to track each young player’s respective professional career. However, I want to be careful to not pigeonhole either player into a needlessly constricting archetype. Narratives are great fun, but let’s be as accurate as we can. Toussaint’s command, while admittedly a work in progress, is far from a lost cause, and the strides he’s shown to this point — remember how limited his experience on the diamond is — are very encouraging. Nola is the guy with the plus-plus command, but that’s sometimes said in almost a pejorative manner: he’s not a junkballer relying on guile and precision, but rather a pitcher with really good — not great, but still really good — stuff that does play up because of pinpoint command. Draft weekend couldn’t come soon enough, I love this stuff.
I’m fairly sure I’m on record as calling Toussaint’s curve one of the best prep breaking balls I have ever personally seen. That pitch alone is a separator between him and many of his peers. His fastball is another easy plus pitch thanks to serious movement (it’s a tough one to elevate) and mid-90s heat. Throw in the “other stuff” (cut-SL, split-CU, truer cutter, harder splitter) that appears and reappears depending on the outing, add the aforementioned athleticism, and you’ve got yourself an elite skill set to work with. I’ve taken to calling him the HS version of Tyler Beede, a fairly obvious comparison due to each pitcher’s ongoing issues with throwing quality strikes, but I think an amalgamation of Lucas Sims, CJ Edwards, and, my personal favorite (and a guy Toussaint could look to as a developmental role model), Robert Stephenson gives some idea about what kind of player we’re talking about.
Brady Aiken, Jeff Hoffman (if healthy), Carlos Rodon, and Tyler Kolek make up my current top tier of pitching talent. Not too far behind them are Holmes, Beede, and Toussaint, currently in that order but very much subject to change. I’d be comfortable running with those seven players as my top seven overall players on the board, though there is room for a certain high school bat (or two…) to break through yet.