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Draft Prospect Retro – North Carolina’s Daniel Bard

This site has only been around a few months, but my own personal obsession with tracking amateur talent goes back years. Indulge me for a moment as I share an old piece I wrote about the newest member of the Boston Red Sox bullpen, Daniel Bard. This was, I think, the very first “published” thing I ever wrote, so please do keep that in mind as you mentally tear it to shreds. Part of the fun of following amateur players from high school to college (or not) to the pros is seeing them eventually make it as big leaguers, so it seems like as appropriate a time as any to revisit my first brush with Bard now that he is on the cusp of making his debut in the bigs. The original date of publication was March 28, 2006, so don’t hold any of the stupid predictions against me…

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North Carolina righthanded starter Daniel Bard is one of the most highly touted pitching prospects at the amateur level. His much hyped game really needs no introduction…and yet, in an attempt to be as thorough as possible here, allow me to rattle off a sampling of his accomplishments and accolades. Bard was a twentieth round pick by the New York Yankees after graduating from Charlotte Christian School. He spurned the Yanks to sign with the University of North Carolina – good thing, too, or else this piece would make a heck of a lot less sense. The decision to head to Chapel Hill paid off for Bard as he went on to win the ACC Freshman of the Year award and a spot on the Freshman All-American team as named by Collegiate Baseball. Bard followed up his strong freshman season with an even stronger sophomore campaign. His sophomore year was followed up by his breakthrough performance pitching for the Wareham Gatemen (love that team name) of the Cape Cod League. Baseball America named him to their College Summer All-America second team and rated him the league’s number two professional prospect (the number one prospect that summer was his UNC teammate, lefthanded starter Andrew Miller). Heading into 2006, Bard was named to just about every preseason All-America and All-ACC team possible – Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, and all lauded him as player to watch in 2006. Baseball America finished up the Bard-lovefest by naming him college baseball’s number four junior prospect.

Despite all of the glowing praise, I was skeptical of Bard going into the game I “scouted” for two reasons. First off, Bard has a rather high career BB/IP rate (74 BBs in 184.2 IP) and reports of his shaky control in the scouting community are well documented. The second concern about Bard deals with scouting reports which claim he lacks any kind of solid secondary pitches. Those two concerns led me to mentally prepare for one of those classic dominating pitchers who can get by in the college game by simply blowing away lesser talented competition with a fastball better than any other pitch they’ve seen before. If old baseball clichés are more your thing, try to imagine a player who scouts like to proclaim is more of a thrower than a pitcher – this description is exactly what I was expecting as I settled into my seat behind home plate at Boshamer Stadium. It seems the two concerns over Bard’s game go hand in hand. He doesn’t have the secondary stuff that can be thrown consistently for strikes which hurts his overall performance. Because of this, he tends to get wild at times; check his BB, HBP, and WP numbers as evidence for this. Bard has had trouble controlling his less refined secondary stuff; perhaps, if he sharpened up said secondary stuff and managed to get his slider over for strikes consistently, his control as a whole would improve as well.

Bard’s lack of control and relatively weak secondary stuff will have significant implications on his success in the major leagues unless addressed. If Bard has shown iffy control at the college level (where it is not at all uncommon to see players overanxious and willing to go after that first ball fastball, especially when facing a pitcher capable of throwing a 95 MPH heater), one can only imagine the potential difficulties he’ll face when going against pros. Advanced professional hitters eat up any pitcher who relies solely on his fastball in an attempt to blow people away. Bard has been able to get by with just that four-seam fastball of his thus far, so the pressure to develop better breaking stuff when facing inferior collegiate competition isn’t there. If a guy can simply throw a fastball by a hitter, then he can undoubtedly get himself into the bad habit of simply trying to do so every time. Why mess around with setting up hitters and developing quality breaking stuff when it just hasn’t been necessary for him to do to this point? I’m sure Bard realizes (along with the UNC coaching staff, hopefully) if he wants to reach the bigs some day, these are the flaws in his game he will need to iron out as a pro.

More on Bard’s draft stock, his start against Purdue, and a brief afterword that ties it all together after the jump… (more…)