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Dylan Cease has first round stuff, but the injury concerns are a major red flag. I’m not a scouting director nor do I want to play one on the internet, but, if you’ll indulge me just one time, I will admit that, job on the line, I would not have the guts to take a top 30ish pick on a pitcher with a partially torn UCL who hasn’t pitched since March. It’s easy to say “wow, he’ll be a great value pick and we can get a first round talent at a reduced price in terms of picks and cash once he starts slipping,” but actually pulling the trigger is a different thing altogether. You only get so many early round selections as a decision-maker in this game, so you’d better be damn sure you’ll hit on those top choices. We’ll have to assume that whatever team selects Cease early has done extensive homework on his condition, but any arm that has already undergone an injury like his is at a higher risk for more trouble going forward.
His plus fastball (easy heat at 90-95, 97 peak), plus breaking ball (Frankie Piliere compares it to AJ Burnett’s while others have deemed it a huge work in progress; I’m with Piliere here), underrated changeup, plus command, athleticism, and freaky strength (pound-for-pound he might be the strongest pitcher in this year’s class) all give him considerable upside, but none of that is of practical use if he’s not healthy. Best case scenario can go either one of two ways: 1) the Platelet-Rich Therapy is effective (like Zach Greinke’s, as cited in the article linked above) and he’s back throwing gas in no time, or 2) surgery is required, but recovery goes well and he returns as good as new (more or less) by mid-season next year. The second scenario isn’t ideal for any high pick, but it’s all about the long view with draft prospects. Worst case scenario is…well, you know. I don’t want to make more of a “small tear of the UCL” than deserved, but every human responds differently to injury and, despite medical breakthroughs so amazing they border on inconceivable, there are no guarantees. This is not a great comp in terms of stuff, but more of a future potential impact/body type/athleticism/injury history point of reference: Cease reminds me a little bit of Rich Harden.
Luis Ortiz has first round stuff, but the injury concerns are a major red flag. I’m not a scouting director nor do I…yeah, you get the point. I lumped the two pitchers together for a reason, after all. Ortiz offers similar stuff to Cease, but with a quality slider instead of a curve as his primary breaking ball. The body has a little more bulk than Cease, and it’s not necessarily good weight, but everybody I’ve talked to has been very complimentary about how hard Ortiz has worked to improve his physique over the past calendar year. I think Grant Holmes is probably the closest physical comp to him in this class, but that’s where the comparison would end for me. I don’t have a good comp for Ortiz so I won’t force one — first time for everything, I guess — but I will say that stuff-wise the aforementioned Cease/Harden comparison makes less sense than an Ortiz/Harden (both slider reliant) comp. Not so much in body type/athleticism, of course.
Unlike Cease, Ortiz is back and throwing. He’s not yet where he was pre-injury, but it’s a process. As for the injury itself, published reports have it as a “forearm strain.” Anecdotally, it seems that forearm strain is code for something else altogether, but speculating beyond that won’t get us anywhere. It is obviously encouraging that he’s back, and we can choose to spin his early struggles due to rust rather than any lingering discomfort. I sincerely hope that’s the case, but I still think it is fair to have Ortiz as a big injury red flag until we see more.
Bryce Montes de Oca is a different animal altogether. Montes de Oca has already had Tommy John surgery, so the road map to his recovery — more accurately continued recovery as he’s already back and throwing well for Lawrence HS — is far more clearly defined. The injury still puts him in the high-risk, red flag category going forward, but he’ll have a few more appearances to show scouts he’s back at or near 100% before the draft. The stuff is pretty much what you’d expect from a young, raw 6-8, 265 pound power pitching mountain of a man: plus fastball (88-94 with serious sink, 96-97 peak), mid-70s curve with promise, and a hard mid-80s change that needs work. The upside is tantalizing, though it is worth noting that (anecdotal observation alert!) young pitchers built like Montes de Oca often take longer to develop if they can develop the kind of body control and ability to harness their stuff at all. I’m as guilty as oohhing and aahhing at guys built like Montes de Oca as much as anybody, so realizing the challenges bigger pitchers face from an athletic standpoint should help temper expectations back down to more reasonable levels. He’s still a premium amateur talent.
Three high upside high school righthanded pitchers who flash above-average big league starter stuff. Three worrisome recent injuries. Three major draft wild cards. June 5-6-7 can’t come soon enough.