Nathan Kirby – 66.3%
Michael Matuella – 55.8%
Walker Buehler – 62.7%
Dillon Tate – 67.8%
Carson Fulmer – 45.7%
Kyle Funkhouser – 60.4%
Phillip Bickford – 53.3%
Jake Lemoine – 58.5%
Kyle Twomey – 61.3%
Alex Young – 60.4%
First, a quick thanks for all those that stumble across this site for whatever reason and click around a bit to see what we’ve been working on. An even bigger thanks to those of you who knowingly come back time after time. I never had expectations in terms of traffic, but it’s still pretty cool to see things trending upwards the way they have over the past few months. Yesterday was a non-June record high for the site, which is both exciting and more than a little funny since it happened on one of the very few weekdays I didn’t publish a post (did my TAXES and went to the DENTIST instead because I’m an ADULT now) since the start of December. This has easily been the most fun I’ve had covering a draft and we’re only getting started.
I’ve been sky high on Kirby in the past, so seeing some of the reports of him having less than stellar stuff in recent starts is a definite bummer. I’m still choosing to believe that he’s being knocked a tad unfairly by experts who put more stock (rightly or wrongly, it’s up to you to decide) in the one outing or so that they see firsthand than the information they gather along the way from individuals who see a player far more often, but it’s a situation well worth monitoring going forward.
Like many experts have already alluded to — or, in one case, reported and then quickly deleted for reasons unknown — concerns within baseball about Matuella’s recovery from Tommy John surgery are far less than whatever is going on with Brady Aiken’s left elbow. That said, since rumblings of complications have not yet manifested themselves in concrete news items, I’d still rank the more talented Aiken ahead of Matuella as of this second. There’s been so much interesting stuff written about the Tommy John procedure (much of it concluding with an attitude of “hey, let’s all pump the breaks on assuming it’s an easy in/out recovery and appreciate how rare it is for even the best athletes to overcome tearing a ligament in the most important part of their body”) over the past few months that I’m now wary of putting either prospect in the top ten conversation. Based on what we think we know at this point — a dangerous game to be sure, but it’s all we’ve got right now — any team drafting Aiken, and to a lesser extent Matuella, has to be prepared for the possibility that they’ll wind up getting nothing out of the pick. I think both players are talented enough, hard working enough, and young enough to recover and eventually pitch in the big leagues, but I’m no doctor…and even if I was, I wouldn’t know anything from the outside looking in at this point. Confusing stuff, really. This may just confuse things further (I’ve waffled a bit since then), but I wrote this to a friend (tried to edit out as much of the local spin as possible) the day after Aiken announced he had the surgery. Much of it presupposes that Aiken’s injury is more standard than what the rumors of late have indicated. I can only hope that this is the case for all involved. Here’s what I wrote last month…
Brady Aiken very stealthily went under the knife last night to repair his busted elbow. Everybody knew he wasn’t right, and in a weird way I’m glad that this was the cause for his average stuff of late. The success rate for Tommy John surgery isn’t what it used to be — it went from a scary thing to a seemingly normal thing and now it’s back to being kind of scary again — but it’s still a reliable enough procedure that I think I’d take it (with appropriate recovery time) over some of the other rumored possibilities (back, shoulder, hip). What does it all mean for the top of the draft?
I’d personally still consider taking Aiken with a top ten pick, but only if everybody in the organization was on the same page about his recovery and development. If it was up to me, I’d plan on him not pitching in a real game until the end of June 2016 (when Rookie ball starts) at the earliest. That’s admittedly a tough pill to swallow since teams picking in the top ten need RESULTS NOW out of their picks to an extent (you don’t have to give in to public pressure and much of the public doesn’t really follow the draft so much anyway, but some teams value this more than others), so I’d understand the trepidation felt by those against the pick. I’d be adamant about holding him out until I was sure he was right. The research on “rushing” guys back is pretty illuminating and a sobering reminder that any arm surgery is a big deal. If you really want to consider the long view, then fourteen months should be the prescribed minimum for this kind of thing per the numbers. Of course, everybody is built differently and standardizing recovery times and rehabilitation has it’s own downsides.
As to that last point, Lucas Giolito is the easiest point of reference from recent history. He was back from TJ in a crazy ten months: surgery on 8/31/12 and back in game action 7/3/13. The ongoing recovery of Jeff Hoffman should also be considered. I think there’s a non-zero chance that those players could both be freaks (in a great way), so it’s hard to use them as measuring sticks. Aiken strikes me as another freaky athlete with the chance to get back on the mound quicker than most, but that’s without knowing the extent of the injury. As far as the draft goes, it’s far from a sure thing teams picking in the back half of the top ten/early teens will even get a chance at Aiken. An injured Hoffman went ninth in the very same draft that a healthy Aiken went first. If Hoffman could go ninth in a better draft (an arguable point, but I freely admit that I hold the minority view that this year’s top half of the first round is every bit as good as last year’s…though with every passing injury this becomes a more difficult position to maintain), then why couldn’t the more talented Aiken do the same or better this year?
My number one hope above all else right now is for whatever team that drafts Aiken does so with a plan in place for his recovery. More to the point, I hope they take the long view with him and don’t give in to rushing his recovery in any way. He’s so damn talented (and young for his class) that the lost developmental time is hardly a killer in the long run. After getting his feet wet in Rookie ball next summer, he could be on a path that would include combined A ball in 2017, AA in 2018, and a shot at the big leagues at some point in 2019. That’s probably too slow a timeline for most fans and/or bosses with jobs on the line (he’d still just be 23 that August), so I could see wanting to pass on him. You could conceivably move that up a bit (skip Low-A, go A+/AA in 2017, AA/AAA in 2018 before potentially getting an audition for the ’19 rotation that September), but, advanced or not (and he is quite advanced, make no mistake), that’s a really aggressive path for a “high school” arm like Aiken. And, of course, this all assumes no setbacks, on the field or otherwise.
As mentioned previously, I think there is enough high-end pitching talent in this class that passing on an injured pitcher like Aiken or Matuella (who has looked really good and healthy of late), talented as they may be, would be justified. I’d lean towards taking the risk right now, but that’s easy to say in March…and when all that is at stake is your internet reputation and not your livelihood.
See the bolded part in that last paragraph? See how quickly things can change when following the draft? Damn. I’ve just depressed myself unintentionally from the past. Let’s get positive…
Buehler and Tate: both as advertised all year long. Strong argument to be made that they are the 1-2 in terms of college pitching in this class, though the order would be flipped (Tate then Buehler). Funkhouser and Twomey have also come on strong of late. I think the former might just pitch his way into top ten lock status soon (I’m still more in like with him than in love with him, but I’m a bit behind on his recent performances so we’ll see) while the latter could still sneak himself into the back of the first round.