After we get past the Magnificent Seven of the SEC, we get to a tier of pitchers with tons of promise but with compelling questions that will need answering at the pro level. Check the whole list here and then swing back below for some actual analysis — an attempt, at least — of some of the standout pitchers who didn’t make the cut in the top tier yet still have big potential pro futures. Let’s first look at some of the talented guys with question marks that kept them just out of that top tier…
Keegan Thompson and Kyle Serrano are both very talented, but how will they bounce back from Tommy John surgeries that cost them (or are in the process of costing them) a full year of development? Wil Crowe, the talented righthander from South Carolina, is in the same boat a little bit further down the list. Kyle Cody’s stuff has always outstripped his results on the field. Is he destined to forever be a consistently inconsistent professional in the mold of fellow Wildcat Alex Meyer or is there something more in his game that can be unlocked with the right coaching? Is the fact that you could say similar things about his teammate Zack Brown a good thing (get them out of Kentucky and watch them flourish) or a not so good thing (these are just the types they recruit and develop)? Shaun Anderson and Dane Dunning have flashed outstanding stuff in their own right, but do they have what it takes to transition back to the rotation after spending so much time pitching out of the bullpen as part of the ridiculously deep Florida staff? You could ask the same question of Ben Bowden of Vanderbilt, though I think his body of work is proof enough that his pitching style and far more explosive fastball in shorter bursts make sticking in the bullpen a very attractive long-term plan. What do we do with Austin Bain and Brigham Hill, a pair of draft-eligible sophomores with less of a track record than many of their 2016 draft class counterparts?
The list just keeps going. Look at the lefthanders alone: John Kilichowski, Daniel Brown, Connor Jones, Scott Moss, Jared Poche’. All of those young pitchers have considerable pro upside, yet the likelihood of more than two landing in the top five rounds next month feels like a long shot. Kilichowski excelled last season with nearly a strikeout per inning thanks to a legit four-pitch mix, above-average command, and impressive size on the mound. He’s only pitched 11.0 innings so far in 2016, so evaluating him will necessitate taking the long view of his development over the past few seasons. Brown doesn’t have the same imposing frame at just 5-10, 180 pounds, but, like Kilichowski, he can miss bats with a solid fastball and three average or better offspeed pitches. It may be a little out there, but a case could be made that the other Connor Jones actually has more long-term upside than the righthanded Virginia ace. This Jones has gotten good yet wild results on the strength of an above-average or better fastball from the left side and a particularly intriguing splitter. Moss is a wild card as another good yet wild performer with the size (6-5, 215) and stuff (90-94 FB, solid breaking ball and low-80s CU) to make a big impact at the end of games as a professional. The further he gets from his own Tommy John surgery, the better he’s been. Then there’s Poche’, the LSU lefty who fits in some with our Logan Shore discussion from yesterday with a K/9 that has gone from 5.11 to 5.94 to 7.52 in his three years as a Tiger. I still think of him more as a really good college pitcher than a premium pro prospect, but that progress is at least somewhat encouraging. At his best, Poche’ is more than capable of offspeeding a lineup to death. There’s some fifth starter/solid matchup reliever upside with him.
There are also a host of fascinating relievers that could go off the board sooner than many currently would guess. Mark Ecker has dominated this year to the tune of 28 K and 3 BB in 25.0 innings of 0.36 ERA ball. With a fastball capable of hitting the upper-90s and a mid-80s changeup with plus upside, he’s an honest big league closer candidate with continued development. His teammate Ryan Hendrix hasn’t been quite as good – more whiffs, more walks, and a lot more runs allowed – but remains a good bet to go high in the draft because of his premium stuff (94-98 FB, 83-86 breaking ball that flashes plus) and correctable flaws. I have no feel at all how the industry will come down on Hayden Stone on draft day, but I’ve personally gone back and forth on him as a pro prospect more times than I can remember. If you want him twenty spots higher on this list, I wouldn’t argue. Working against Stone is a lack of knockout velocity, his relatively small stature, and an injury history that includes last year’s Tommy John procedure. In his favor is a special mid-80s breaking ball – consistently plus, flashing plus-plus – and a very strong track record of success coming out of the Vandy bullpen. It seems like there are handful of college relievers without mid- to upper-90s fastballs that sneak their way to the big leagues quicker than their flame-throwing peers every season, and Stone is as good a bet as any to be one of those guys in 2016.