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2015 MLB Draft Reviews – New York Yankees

New York Yankees 2015 MLB Draft Picks

22 – James Kaprielian
48 – Kyle Holder
83 – Drew Finley
89 – Jeff Degano
112 – Jeff Hendrix
220 – Kolton Mahoney
228 – Ryan Krill
307 – Isiah Gilliam
397 – Garrett Mundell
403 – Chance Adams
408 – Brandon Wagner
419 – Kane Sweeney

I really liked what the Yankees did in the first few rounds to restock their minor league pitching. RHP James Kaprielian (22) looked for all the world to be a “quick-moving mid-rotation arm who still might have a bit of upside left in him beyond that” before the draft and nothing in his pro debut suggests otherwise. Slick pick. New York could have done a few different things and come out just as well (Walker Buehler and Jon Harris as comparable college arms, Brady Aiken or Ashe Russell or Beau Burrows or Mike Nikorak as higher boom/bust guys, Nick Plummer or DJ Stewart as patient yet unexciting corner outfielders) and it’s always fun for me to speculate about what package a team with two early picks (16 and 30 in this case) might have preferred in hindsight (Kaprielian and Holder or Kevin Newman and Kyle Funkhouser?), but getting a talent like Kaprielian in the middle of the first is something to be pleased about no matter the what-ifs. Stuck a Michael Wacha comp on him a few months ago that I stand by today…

This all brings me to the guy I think Wacha compares to on some level, UCLA JR RHP James Kaprielian. Draft people like me who sometimes try to get too cute for own good have fought it in the past, but there’s no denying that Kaprielian warrants a first round grade this June. Well-built righthanders with four pitches (ding!) and consistently excellent results in a tough conference profile as big league starting pitchers more often than not. I’m going to just go with an excerpt of some of my notes on Kaprielian because they are among the longest running that I have on any player in this college class…

JR RHP James Kaprielian (2015): 87-92 FB, 94-95 peak; potential plus 79-84 CB, commands it well; potential plus 80-85 CU with serious sink; above-average 79-85 SL; good athlete; excellent overall command; 2014 Summer: 88-92 FB, 93 peak; above-average to plus or better 75-79 CB with plus command, still gets it up to 85 depending on situation; average or better upside with 79-82 SL; FAVORITE; average or better upside with mid-80s CU with splitter action; UPDATE: 83-85 SL, flashes above-average; average 78-80 CB with above-average to plus upside; good athlete; commands both breaking balls well; 2015: 89-94 FB; above-average 78-81 CB flashes plus; above-average 83-85 SL; above-average mid-80s CU, flashes better; 6-4, 200 pounds (2013: 12.39 K/9 | 5.09 BB/9 | 2.20 FIP | 40.2 IP) (2014: 9.17 K/9 – 2.97 BB/9 – 106 IP – 2.29 ERA)

The UPDATE and 2015 sections give the most pertinent information (88-94 FB, 95 peak; above-average 78-81 CB, flashes plus; average 83-85 SL, flashes above-average; above-average mid-80s CU with drop, flashes plus; good athleticism; commands both breaking balls ably; plus overall command), but I like including the whole thing (or as much as can be published) to highlight the growth he’s made. Kaprielian is damn good and smart team picking in the latter half of the first round will get a quick-moving mid-rotation arm who still might have a bit of upside left in him beyond that.

Fun with small samples featuring RHP Drew Finley (83). Finley’s pre-draft blurb on this very site mentioned a fastball ranging from 85-90 (early in the scouting season) to 88-92 later (94 peak) with “plus sink” that he commands quite well. It also mentioned that he throws “nothing straight” with a delivery that provides both “good deception” and “good extension.” Knowing that and only that, would you have had Finley pegged as being one of this draft class’s pitchers most prone to fly ball outs? I, for one, would done no such thing. In 32 innings (just 32 innings, mind you), Finley only got 33.7% of his batted ball outs on the ground. Finley is a good prospect, by the way. Really like that fastball (velocity + movement + command = winning pitch), really like his curve, and really like the delivery. He’s a little older than his peers and he likely won’t ever top the output of Rancho Bernardo High’s most famous baseball alum (Cole Hamels!), but I like him as a potential mid-rotation workhorse.

You an see where I ranked LHP Jeff Degano (89) right there in the parentheses. The Yankees took him with the 57th pick. After thinking it over the summer, my own pre-draft rankings be damned, I think they got a steal. He’s older (23 in a few weeks) and raw (Canadian and injured), but the flashes of brilliance are enough to sell you on his upside. I known for a fact that New York is thrilled about landing him where they did. I’ve even heard it floated that some within their developmental staff would like to see him move to relief because they think he could be their homegrown version of Andrew Miller. That’s pretty damn intriguing, but, as always, I’d give the big young lefty a chance to keep starting as long as he can do it. With a mechanical tweak or two, some honest innings under his belt, and more work on the changeup (a pitch I believe in for him), I think there’s sneaky top of the rotation (more two than one) or shutdown closer upside here. That’s not upside that is thrown around lightly here.

RHP Kolton Mahoney (220) could currently be what Drew Finley will be in a few years. There’s less upside (as one would expect) and a higher probability of pitching in relief, but the talent is significant. Brilliant pick and sign at this point in the draft. I also really, really like RHP Garrett Mundell (397). Guys like Mundell, a senior-sign, should not be available outside of the top ten money-saving rounds let alone free to take all the way down in round twenty-three. It’s far too easy an obvious a comp to make, but there’s some shades of former Bulldog Doug Fister in Mundell’s game…

7.40 K/9 – 2.59 BB/9 – 93.2 IP
8.36 K/9 – 3.64 BB/9 – 116.1 IP

7.43 K/9 – 4.70 BB/9 – 45 IP
7.82 K/9 – 3.10 BB/9 – 61 IP

Top set is Fister’s final two seasons at Fresno State, bottom set is Mundell’s final two seasons at Fresno State. Both are big, long-limbed pitchers (as if he “hands ball to catcher” is in my Mundell notes) who rely on keeping the ball down and getting outs on the ground. Even if you put the odds low (25%) that Mundell does anything approaching Fister’s big league work (overrated by advanced metrics in my view, but that’s besides the point), isn’t that somebody worth taking a shot on as a money-saver in rounds nine or ten? Getting Mundell this late is a coup for the Yankee front office.

I’m always stunned when a fairly straight-forward looking prospect (to me) becomes a very divisive one to others, so seeing SS Kyle Holder (48) get roasted as a major reach who can’t play after his disappointing pro debut fascinated me. This is a more complex issue than I have time to cover in my self-restricted state (time to worry more about the 2016 draft and leave 2015 behind), so I’ll do my best to be brief (note: this is not a personal writing strength). Off the bat, I’ll acknowledge that my pre-draft take on him could have been off the mark and those who have seen him more recently are on top of things in a way I am not. I could be wrong about Holder. I’ve been wrong before, I’ll be wrong a lot in the future. That said, I do have some conviction in my pro-Holder opinion that I’m far from ready to back away from.

Holder had a bad debut from a performance perspective. There’s no hiding from that. Typically in these instances, I’d assume that those critical of him would be the type that saw how badly he struggled and opted to pile on from there. In this specific case, however, I noticed very early on that people — smart people! — were underwhelmed at Holder’s game. So how does a guy go from a first round pick of the New York Yankees to (as some have claimed) overmatched org guy who only gets talked about because of his status as a first rounder? Are there legitimate concerns or is something else going on?

We’ll hit the latter point first. I maintain that the Yankees (and myself and many other teams and many other publications) didn’t completely whiff on Holder. Again, it’s certainly possible that he doesn’t have the kind of career many envisioned but that’s true of literally every player drafted each June.

I also think that part of the change in perception about Holder is who is now doing the evaluating. There’s plenty of crossover between amateur scouting and pro scouting — not enough, but still lots — yet I think the higher standard that comes with being a professional colors the evaluation of recent draftees in what is often too unfavorable a light. There’s some “THIS is pro ball and not some piddly little amateur conference now, kid” attitude among some evaluators who take odd pleasure in tearing down the draft’s best players as they enter pro ball. More kindly, I think there’s an attempt at over-correcting the occasionally too optimistic forecasts pushed by amateur scouts — a big part of the job is salesmanship, after all — to provide a necessary counterpoint and give the bosses a fuller picture of the player as they head into the offseason.

As for the former point, yes, there are legitimate concerns about how Holder’s game will translate to pro ball. The biggest concern pre-draft that persists today is his power. We talk a lot about how not every player needs to be a double-digit home run guy to be a successful big league player, but it’s undeniably important that the mere possibility of putting one over the seats every so often changes how a batter is pitched. Power is king, but the threat of power can be almost as important for certain players. Holder will need to show he has at least a little in-game pop before pitchers will realize they need to change how they attack him. Holder’s chance at being a non-zero offensively hinges on his ability to keep getting on base at a solid clip and stealing some bags along the way. There’s often an inverse relationship between a player like Holder’s on-base ability and the amount the opposing pitcher has to worry about the threat of power. I can’t say with absolute certainty that he’ll hit enough to start at shortstop, but, even in the face of his early struggles, I lean toward thinking he’ll make it work. This was the pre-draft take…

San Diego JR SS Kyle Holder is a special talent with the glove. He’s a fantastic athlete with everything you’d want to see out of big league defender: his range, hands, feet, instincts, arm, and touch are all exemplary. There might not be a lot of power to come, but he’s a smart, balanced hitter who works deep counts and battles in every at bat. With a very real clear strength and no obvious weaknesses, the well-rounded Holder could be a dark horse first day candidate. If you shoot for the moon with an all-upside first pick, then going for what could be a quick-moving rock solid big league shortstop with your second pick makes a lot of sense. The comps I have on Holder are among my favorite for any player in this year’s class: Mike Bordick, Walt Weiss, and Orlando Cabrera. I don’t know why, but that strikes me as a fun group of possible outcomes. Bordick and Weiss both feel fair in a plus glove, good command of the strike zone, enough power to keep pitchers’ honest kind of way.

The defense is going to play. I’m personally certain of that, though I’ve read many who have claimed his glove as being overhyped. That, far more so than those concerned about his bat, feels like the kind of amateur/pro scout pettiness that I described above. To paraphrase what I’ve heard: Yeah, he’s a good defender…for a college guy. In the pros he’s just one of many decent gloves. I stand by his defense at shortstop 100%. That tool alone is enough to make him a potential big league player. If the threat of power is enough for him, then the Mike Bordick/Walt Weiss comps will begin to look pretty good. We’ll see.

OF Jeff Hendrix (112). like Holder, had the kind of pro debut you spend all winter trying to forget. On the plus side, he swiped 17 of 18 bases. On the less plus side, well, there’s pretty much everything else. There’s no reason to overreact to a bad few months, though it should go without saying that an impressive debut beats a debut like this any day. Still, I remain a Hendrix fan and think he has as bright future in pro ball as I did many months ago…

Oregon State JR OF Jeff Hendrix is a fine looking prospect who hasn’t gotten much (any?) national attention just yet. If you’re starting to pick up on a trend with the Pac-12 this year, then you’re smarter than you look. On paper, Hendrix sounds damn good: above-average to plus raw power, average to above-average speed, and great athleticism. He’s made steady improvements on the field with little sign of slowing down. It’s rare that an honest to goodness potential top five round gets overshadowed like this – perhaps it has something to do with being teammates with the extremely impressive freshman KJ Harrison – but he’ll get his due before too long.

2B Brandon Wagner held his own in his debut, splitting time between 2B and 3B while getting acclimated to the rigors of the pro game. The Jersey native has presumably been followed by the Yankees for years even after winding up in Texas at Howard College. Nice get in the sixth. 1B Isiah Gilliam (307) had an even better debut season while splitting his time in between the outfield corners. I think he should settle in as a good enough glove in left field to allow his potentially above-average all-around offensive game to get him in the lineup. Getting him signed as a twentieth round pick should get raises for all the individuals who helped convince the higher-ups that he was signable. I’ll do my part to keep expectations in check by referring to him as 29th Round Pick 1B Kane Sweeney (419), but it’s hard not to be a little excited about a .320/.437/.562 debut run. There are strikes against him (age, too many whiffs, 1B only), but I like him enough that an aggressive double-jump in 2016 feels like a fair sink-or-swim assignment.

OF Jhalen Jackson has some swing-and-miss (not good) and some interesting tools to work with (good!). There are miles between where OF Terrance Robertson could wind up and where he is now, but as an overslot high school pick he’s worth knowing. OF Trey Amburgey had an outstanding debut that puts him on the map for me now when I didn’t know a ton about him a few months ago. OF Zach Zehner, the most recognizable name out of this particular subsection of new Yankee outfielders, has a weird amount of fans (at least among people I know) despite never quite solving the riddle that is the strike zone. He has power, speed, arm strength, and size, but he lacks time (24 next August) and the aforementioned plate discipline (18 BB/52 K as a senior). If nothing else, I like how New York diversified their assets here: they went Division II, high school, junior college, and Division I with these respective four outfield picks.

3B Donny Sands was not a name I was familiar with before the draft and for that I’m pretty downtrodden about. I know I’m a one-man show here, but I can’t help but kick myself over whiffing on him. It’s very early yet obviously, but his pro debut is quite encouraging. Perhaps I should temper some of that enthusiasm by pointing out that he’s one of the older players I’ve noticed in his class (19 this past May). Bryan Hoch had a cool story about Sands on MLB.com that included this bit…

The way the game worked, as the 19-year-old recalled Tuesday, was that his mother would set a clock for five minutes and begin tossing the beans. Sands would have to hit each one without missing any for the session to end; if he whiffed, the clock restarted at zero. The idea was his mother’s, cribbed from her experiences living in Mexico.

The beans in question were pinto beans. That’s phenomenal. New favorite prospect.

RHP Chance Adams (403) was the highest drafted reliever by the Yankees, so it’s no shock he’s the best of the bunch. Armed with a low-90s fastball and above-average command, he’s got the chance to pitch late in games as he keeps improving. It stands to reason he feels right at home in the pro game considering he’s basically coming from what amounts to college ball’s closest 2015 facimile: including Adams, the Dallas Baptist staff included five pitchers (Brandon Koch, Cory Taylor, Joseph Shaw, Drew Smith) that went in the first dozen rounds. Not bad.

With a solid one-two fastball (88-92) and slider punch, LHP James Reeves is a fine looking middle relief prospect. His last year of college (10.89 K/9 and 2.65 BB/9 in 95 IP) and his first year in the pros (9.23 K/9 and 4.10 BB/9) both look good from here. The signing of LHP Josh Rogers is an impressive bit of investigative work by the New York scouting staff.

rSO LHP Josh Rogers gets swallowed up by the FUNKHOUSER hype, a perfectly understandable yet unfortunate matter of fact that happens when you share a the top of a rotation with a potential top ten pick and one of the nation’s top freshmen (LHP/1B Brendan McKay). Rogers, a Tommy John surgery survivor, has decent velocity for a lefty (85-90, has been up to 92-93 in the past) and a workable breaking ball. He’s always gotten results when called upon (8.13 K/9 and 2.08 BB/9 last year, 7.65 K/9 and 2.18 BB/9 this year), so, if signable (non-stars with two remaining years of eligibility don’t always jump at the first pro offer they get) there’s really no reason why he shouldn’t be drafted and tried as a pro starter this summer.

Interesting to note that the Yankees chose him to pitch a few late-season innings in Low-A. Little moves like that don’t necessarily mean much more than that’s how the ebbs and flows of the minor league season work (31st round pick RHP Hobie Harris also got some Charleston innings, for example), but they can sometimes clue us outsiders into the what insiders think of the players we spend so much time thinking about ourselves.

RHP Will Carter is more of a ground ball guy than a strikeout specialist. His sinker has some serious juice (87-94, up to 95), but it’s tough to get ahead as a minor league reliever without that put-away pitch in your back pocket. RHP Bret Marks has a fastball (88-92) with similar sink (plus an average or better slider and interesting split-change) with a better history of missing bats. RHP Brody Koerner takes the ground ball thing to the next level (78.8 GB%) with a very slider heavy approach. The fact that the Yankees had an area scout stick with Koerner and a progressive enough front office willing to overlook some ugly run prevention (7.55 ERA in 62 IP at Clemson this year) to see the raw talent the young right possesses. The peripherals remained good (9.15 K/9 and 3.19 BB/9), so, at the risk of speculating irresponsibly, it would seem to me, based on the pro data we have, that much of Koerner’s 2015 problems at Clemson were related to him pissing off the BABIP deities. For that reason and much more, I like Koerner a whole lot. The Yankees drafted Carter, Marks, and Koerner in that order; I happen to like them in the opposite direction.

RHP Josh Roeder has an absolutely electric slider that seriously ranks as one of the best in the class. Paired with good heat (88-92, 94 peak), good command, and a good track record at Nebraska, and you’ve got yourself a pretty good relief prospect. I swear I’m not intentionally trying to be this positive (it’s the YANKEES, after all), but grabbing guys like Roeder and Koerner when the Yankees did is really good work.

RHP Mark Seyler has a good arm (88-92) and a solid track record. RHP Cody Carroll can crank it up to 95 at times (sits low-90s). It’s an odd universe where RHP Paddy O’Brien gets selected by New York and not Boston. RHP Icezack Flemming should become friends with Christian Turnipseed if he’s not already. RHP David Sosebee spots his upper-80s fastball seemingly wherever he likes. I saw RHP Chad Martin at Delaware where he looked like a decent mid-round minor league reliever. RHP Christian Morris has the stuff to start (FB/CB/CU) but not the command.

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2015 GB% Mid-May Update

In what will probably the last one of these we do before draft day, here are some notable pitching prospects GB% through the most recent weekend of the college season.

Walker Buehler: 63.7%
Nathan Kirby: 64.0%
Kyle Funkhouser: 55.4%
Dillon Tate: 68.4%
Carson Fulmer: 46.1%
Phil Bickford: 53.2%
Kyle Twomey: 58.0%

I dropped Lemoine and Young out of laziness, but I can go back and do the math on either if anybody is curious. I didn’t include Matuella since he hasn’t thrown a pitch since the last update. In a shocking upset, his GB% (55.8) remains unchanged since then. Amazing how that worked out.

One of the interesting things about this list is the actual makeup of the players chosen. If you recall, I chose the names for this list by simply going down the rankings of my top college pitchers from before the season. The order then was Brady Aiken, Kirby, Matuella, Buehler, Tate, Fulmer, Jay, Funkhouser, Bickford, Lemoine, and Twomey. Tyler Ferguson was next, but his unpredictable usage made him too difficult to track. I haven’t gone back and updated my college rankings yet — that’ll come after I finish up the HS prospects, possibly as soon as mid-way through next week — but I think the original list has held up fairly well. I know there are questions about many of the top guys, but I’m still a pretty firm believer in Buehler (top ten or so), Kirby (mid-first), and Twomey (late-first/supplemental) despite some of the concerns. Everybody loves Tate (and rightfully so), I’m higher on Fulmer than most (but not all), and Funkhouser, despite my trying to talk myself into him a few weeks ago, remains a guy I’m lower on than most.

While I can defend the names on the initial list, there are a few omissions that I really would like to have back. In fact, I might go through and grab some data on these players later and update this one last time before June. I’m particularly curious to see the numbers of James Kaprielian, Cody Ponce, and Thomas Eshelman. If I had to choose just one name to have back, however, it would without a doubt be Jon Harris. I liked Harris plenty before the season…

Harris throws four pitches for strikes (88-93 FB, 95 peak; above-average upper-70s CB; plus mid-80s SL; sinking CU) with the frame to add a bit more velocity as he fills out. He’s also pulled off the trick of being a reliable starter at Missouri State since day one while also getting slowly but surely more effective along the way.

…but still feel like having him as low as I did (27th) on the aforementioned college pitching list didn’t do my appreciation for him justice. It’s a pre-season miss that will be rectified in the updated rankings.

I admittedly haven’t given this a ton of thought just yet, but I think Harris would crack my top five college pitchers with relative ease right now. My current working order would go Jay (top overall pitcher), Tate, Buehler, Harris, and Fulmer.

Pac-12 2015 MLB Draft All-Prospect Team – PITCHERS

First Team

UCLA JR RHP James Kaprielian
USC JR LHP Kyle Twomey
Arizona State JR LHP Brett Lilek
Oregon rSO LHP Cole Irvin
UCLA JR RHP Cody Poteet

Second Team

Stanford JR RHP Marc Brakeman
Arizona State JR LHP Ryan Kellogg
Arizona State JR RHP Ryan Burr
Oregon JR LHP Garrett Cleavinger
Oregon State JR RHP Andrew Moore

I’m oddly fascinated at the idea of a pitcher with a “four-pitch mix” because I feel like that phrase almost exclusively is thrown around at the amateur level. Maybe you’ll hear it at times for minor leaguers, but depth of repertoire is not something discussed much in the big leagues. Obviously this is because we’ve got a self-selecting sample and pitchers without the requisite three or four pitches needed to run through lineups multiple times have already been converted to relief, but I still think there’s perhaps something to the way evaluators overrate prospects with a ton of decent pitches (who must be starters then!) and underrate young arms with two knockout pitches (relief all the way!) without factoring in that pitchers can in fact develop additional effective pitches along the way. I’m not saying a young guy who can’t throw a curve will one day wake up finding one in his wrist, but there have been enough recent examples of pitchers tinkering around the edges with grips that help previously unusable pitches (changeups, cutters, occasionally sliders) suddenly work to help get advanced hitters out. Even my old notes on Michael Wacha, a player that I think compares in certain respect to the guy we’re eventually going to talk about, make mention of this phenomena…

Texas A&M JR RHP Michael Wacha: big velocity jump during college tenure – once peaked only as high as 92, but now regularly sits 90-95 FB, hitting 96-97; like many young arms, can get himself in trouble when he overthrows fastball and it begins to straighten out; somewhat similar to Kyle Zimmer in the way he relied on excellent fastball command before seeing a velocity spike; holds velocity well, very rarely dipping below 90; have heard he’ll throw his legitimate plus to plus-plus CU with two distinct grips: one at 82-85 with the circle change grip, the other more of an upper-70s straight change; either way, the CU should be a weapon from day one on; occasional 81-85 SL with cutter action; also will go with a very rare upper-70s CB that could be the breaking pitch he’ll be asked to run with as a pro; neither breaking ball is pro-ready, but both have flashed enough that it is easy to imagine a pro staff believing it can coach him up; natural comparison is Ryan Madson, especially if Wacha never develops a consistent third pitch and is used out of the bullpen; as a starter, I think there are some similarities in terms of stuff when you compare him to Braves prospect Julio Teheran; 6-6, 200 pounds

Wacha wasn’t quite a two-pitch guy in college, but he was close. The idea that a player capable of hitting the mid-90s with an easy plus change, clean mechanics, and a prototypical starter’s frame would be relegated to the bullpen because of an iffy present third pitch was silly at the time and downright preposterous in hindsight. Thankfully, it also represents a learning experience and the chance to reevaluate what elements are most crucial when projecting pitchers into the future. Going back to the idea that amateurs need three or four pitches to start spurred me to look up what big league arms actually throw four quality pitches. The only three starting pitchers I found with positive pitch values (per Fangraphs) for each of the four pitches in the classic “four-pitch mix” (FB/CU/CB/SL) last season were Felix Hernandez, Anibal Sanchez, and Tanner Roark. If you expand it to include relievers, then Danny Farquhar, Tom Wilhelmsen, and Zach Duke join the fun. If you let David Price’s cutter in stand in for a slider, then you can add him to the starter party. Many players were close (Clayton Kershaw, Julio Teheran, Matt Garza, and Scott Kazmir to name a few) and the whole thing is about as unscientific as you can get, but I found it interesting and a fine use of five spare minutes.

This whole discussion goes back to a “four-pitch mix,” which admittedly is a bit of a strawman of a premise in the first place. I don’t know of anybody who says you NEED four pitches to make it as a starting pitcher in the big leagues. Three pitches is the most common baseline and a quick spin around Fangraphs Pitch Type leaderboard validates this idea. The only two pitchers you could even make a flimsy argument for being two-pitch starters (out of the 88 player sample of 2014 qualified pitchers) are Bartolo Colon (11.8% SL, 5.6% CU) and Lance Lynn (10.2% SL, 8.4% CB, 2.4% CU). Those two might be closest, but neither is what I’d expect anybody to call a two-pitch pitcher. Lynn, who is literally (!) a four-pitch pitcher, being included in this conversation at all is somehow both absurd (he throws four pitches!) and justified (showing a pitch and throwing a pitch aren’t the same, right?), but the whole thing is still a stretch. The three pitch minimum lives on.

That was a lot of words when I could have simply said that even though years of being in and around the game have conditioned me to want to see three usable big league pitches on any amateur (college, especially) before feeling confident enough to project him as a big league starter pitcher, I’ve come around to the idea that young guys with two above-average or better pitches can be just as likely to develop a usable third pitch as a more advanced at present peer. Even shorter still: give me the pitcher with two nasty pitches over the one with four average pitches, assuming all else (delivery, athleticism, command, control, etc.) is equal.

This all brings me to the guy I think Wacha compares to on some level, UCLA JR RHP James Kaprielian. Draft people like me who sometimes try to get too cute for own good have fought it in the past, but there’s no denying that Kaprielian warrants a first round grade this June. Well-built righthanders with four pitches (ding!) and consistently excellent results in a tough conference profile as big league starting pitchers more often than not. I’m going to just go with an excerpt of some of my notes on Kaprielian because they are among the longest running that I have on any player in this college class…

JR RHP James Kaprielian (2015): 87-92 FB, 94-95 peak; potential plus 79-84 CB, commands it well; potential plus 80-85 CU with serious sink; above-average 79-85 SL; good athlete; excellent overall command; 2014 Summer: 88-92 FB, 93 peak; above-average to plus or better 75-79 CB with plus command, still gets it up to 85 depending on situation; average or better upside with 79-82 SL; FAVORITE; average or better upside with mid-80s CU with splitter action; UPDATE: 83-85 SL, flashes above-average; average 78-80 CB with above-average to plus upside; good athlete; commands both breaking balls well; 2015: 89-94 FB; above-average 78-81 CB flashes plus; above-average 83-85 SL; above-average mid-80s CU, flashes better; 6-4, 200 pounds (2013: 12.39 K/9 | 5.09 BB/9 | 2.20 FIP | 40.2 IP) (2014: 9.17 K/9 – 2.97 BB/9 – 106 IP – 2.29 ERA)

The UPDATE and 2015 sections give the most pertinent information (88-94 FB, 95 peak; above-average 78-81 CB, flashes plus; average 83-85 SL, flashes above-average; above-average mid-80s CU with drop, flashes plus; good athleticism; commands both breaking balls ably; plus overall command), but I like including the whole thing (or as much as can be published) to highlight the growth he’s made. Kaprielian is damn good and smart team picking in the latter half of the first round will get a quick-moving mid-rotation arm who still might have a bit of upside left in him beyond that.

On the other end of the spectrum (kind of) is USC JR LHP Kyle Twomey. Twomey has long been a favorite thanks to a fastball/changeup combination (just two pitches, gasp!) good enough to get big league swings and misses within the year. His fastball doesn’t have premium velocity (87-92, 94 peak), but the heaps of movement he gets on it make it a consistent above-average to plus offering. His change does a lot of the same things from the same arm speed, making the 78-82 MPH pitch above-average with plus upside. Those two pitches and room to grow on a 6-3, 170 pound frame make him a very appealing prospect. There are some issues that will need ironing out at the pro level – deciding on whether to further refine his cutter/slider hybrid or tightening up his soft curve, plus improving his overall control and offspeed command – but the pieces are there for him to make it as a big league starting pitcher.

I was all about UCLA rSO LHP Hunter Virant heading into the season as a prospect with no college track record storming up boards and claiming his spot in the first round. I think on the original iteration of this list he was in the top five. Whoops. His situation in school isn’t exactly the same as Matt Purke’s, but there are enough depressing similarities to the two that I think citing their stories might give the push to recommend pro ball to any young arm. That’s not to say that anything specifically done to Virant while at UCLA has damaged his pro prospects; pitchers get hurt no matter the time and place. Heck, if anything you could argue that Virant is better off with (presumably) three years of coursework towards a degree at a fine university than he would have been taking bonus money out of high school and flaming out of pro ball by now. Other HS arms I loved once upon a time that have fallen into hard times collegiately include the Stanford duo of JR RHP Freddy Avis and JR RHP Daniel Starwalt. I still have hope for all these players, but every day that passes without them pitching effectively on the mound (or pitching at all, really) makes it a little tougher to justify the faith.

In happier news, Oregon rSO LHP Cole Irvin’s return from injury (Tommy John) has gone fairly well to date. I’d say he’s done enough to show he should be in the top five round mix this June, especially when his pre-injury talent level, athleticism, control, and plus-plus pickoff move are all taken into account.

Somebody at Perfect Game (I believe) compared Arizona State JR LHP Brett Lilek to a lefty Phil Bickford. I can buy it to some degree as their stuff (and frame and command) isn’t too far off, but Lilek has never shown the same ability to miss bats as Bickford, admittedly at a different level, right now. He’s still a lefthander with size (6-4, 200), velocity (90-94, 95 peak), and three offspeed pitches each with a varying degree of promise (I’d rank them slider, curve, change). Yes, I fully understand the irony of pumping up Lilek, a potential four-pitch pitcher (though more likely three-pitch) with a prospect status built more on the strength of a high likelihood of at least some success (league average starter?) rather than sheer upside, right after my weird little tangent about no longer wanting to overrate prospects just like him. Maybe every prospect should be evaluated on their own merits or something? Lilek’s teammate JR LHP Ryan Kellogg is a similar prospect (size, command, smarts) but has neither the same fastball (87-92) nor the same quality of offspeed stuff. That’s not meant to diminish his ability as he still has a chance (just slightly less so than Lilek for me) to make it as a back-end big league starter.

I swear I’m not making this up, but my notes on UCLA JR RHP Cody Poteet include this exact phrase: “legit four-pitch mix.” I mean, it is true after all. What Poteet lacks in physicality he more than makes up for with the depth of his stuff. I like more than love him as a prospect, but his slider has the makings of a really good pro pitch. USC JR RHP/C Kyle Davis and Oregon State JR RHP Andrew Moore (easy plus command and control guy) give the class two additional short righthanders with well-rounded stuff and strong track records.

Stanford JR RHP Marc Brakeman is more of a two-pitch prospect (like Twomey) that I’ve referenced above. Armed with a nice albeit inconsistent heater (88-94, 95 peak – though I’ve seen him sit more on the low end of that range at times) and an outstanding low-80s changeup, Brakeman could move up boards quickly once he gets healthy again. I’ve been the low man on him in the past, but that’s more due to an intuition thing than anything I can reasonably express.

Arizona State JR RHP Ryan Burr and Oregon JR LHP Garrett Cleavinger stand together as the two best 2015 relief prospects likely to come out of the conference. Burr has gotten some recent love as a possible starter at the next level, but I don’t really see it. Been there, done that. He has the stuff (90-96 FB, above-average low-80s SL, ability to mix in raw yet intriguing mid-80s CU and upper-70s CB) to pull it off, but the delivery, control (though improved), and command all scream reliever to me. I haven’t heard anybody mention Cleavinger as a potential pro starter. Keeping him in the pen also makes sense to me because, though he has the pitches (90-96 FB, above-average breaking ball, average CU) to face a lineup multiple times through, he has the arm action and stamina (stuff plays way up in short bursts) to thrive in the relief role in the pros. There has been some market correction on how teams value college relievers in recent drafts, but I still expect to see Burr go higher than he’ll wind up on my personal board this June. He’s really good, so it isn’t as though that will be a horrible mistake…but assuming Cleavinger (and other “second tier” college relievers) wind up going multiple rounds lower, that’s the value play I’d lean towards.

I’ve said many times I don’t believe in sleepers. I find the whole concept a tad demeaning to all involved. To call somebody a sleeper insults the player, the audience, and the profession (or, if you’d prefer, industry). If you’re any good, somebody somewhere knows who you are, so you’re not a sleeper by my own personal, admittedly crazy narrow, definition. Still, insults might be too strong a word because I don’t take any of this stuff that seriously – I do this entirely for fun, I acknowledge that my influence is nonexistent, I don’t buy into scouting as some sacred insider only thing that only real baseball men can participate in, I actively root for all prospects (even the ones I “miss” on) to do well and make millions and live out all their dreams, etc. – but few things bug me more when reading draft or prospect stuff than really famous players being called “sleepers.” I realize the interest in the MLB Draft isn’t on par with the NFL or NBA counterparts, but when actual paid professional draft writers start with the assumption that their audience only knows players expected to go in the top five picks and then pat themselves on the back years later when their draft “sleeper” (picked, like, fourteenth overall) winds up a great player, a little part of me dies inside. Another example of this is the way that most publications write up at least thirty prospects per organization, but then the one that limits it to ten has the gall to name an additional prospect from each system a “sleeper” and crow when that player — nominally the eleventh ranked player in the system — has a good year. Come on.

I guess instead of sleepers I can just call them players I think I’ll wind up having ranked higher than where they’ll be drafted. Even then, if I like a guy more than most right now and wind up “right” about him as pro teams get wise to his ability/upside, then judging by that standard doesn’t seem particularly fair. Calling them guys I like more than the consensus isn’t very meaningful when most draft rankings only go about fifty deep (if that) up until the week leading up until the draft.

This tangent doesn’t really apply here since many of my potential sleepers (there’s that word again) haven’t quite lived up to expectations so far this year, but there are a few guys that will be drafted fairly late that I like quite bit. I like Arizona State SR RHP Darrin Gillies as a sinker/slider guy with size, Washington SR RHP Brandon Choate for similar reasons (90-94 FB, 96 peak; SL flashes plus; lots of ground balls), Oregon JR RHP Conor Harber (who might be too good to be a sleeper…I have no idea anymore) for his untapped upside, athleticism, and fresh arm, and, in the most decidedly non-sleeper of them all, UCLA SR RHP David Berg, who is just plain fun to watch carve up good hitters in high pressure situations with mid-80s fastballs and impeccable control. If I updated this list today rather than just reusing my existing preseason list with Virant dropped a dozen spots from his original lofty perch, all four guys would be higher than they are below. Harber would be much higher. I also try to tack on a few speculative picks at the end of these rankings when I can (the bottom quarter of many of these lists are mostly a combination of players with clearly defined potential big league roles — like a future lefty specialist or something — or players I don’t know much about with about much of a track record but with substantial upside), so don’t sleep on UCLA rSO RHP Tucker Forbes.

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Pitching

  1. UCLA JR RHP James Kaprielian
  2. USC JR LHP Kyle Twomey
  3. Arizona State JR LHP Brett Lilek
  4. Oregon rSO LHP Cole Irvin
  5. UCLA JR RHP Cody Poteet
  6. Stanford JR RHP Marc Brakeman
  7. Arizona State JR LHP Ryan Kellogg
  8. Arizona State JR RHP Ryan Burr
  9. Oregon JR LHP Garrett Cleavinger
  10. Oregon State JR RHP Andrew Moore
  11. Arizona rJR RHP Matthew Troupe
  12. UCLA rSO LHP Hunter Virant
  13. USC JR RHP/C Kyle Davis
  14. Oregon JR RHP/OF Conor Harber
  15. Arizona State SR RHP Darin Gillies
  16. Stanford JR RHP Freddy Avis
  17. Stanford JR RHP Daniel Starwalt
  18. Arizona JR RHP Nathan Bannister
  19. Washington SR RHP Brandon Choate
  20. Washington State rSR RHP Scott Simon
  21. California JR RHP Ryan Mason
  22. UCLA rSO RHP Nick Kern
  23. Arizona State JR RHP/OF David Graybill
  24. California rSR RHP Dylan Nelson
  25. Arizona JR LHP Cody Moffett
  26. Washington JR RHP Troy Rallings
  27. UCLA SR RHP David Berg
  28. UCLA SR LHP Grant Watson
  29. UCLA rSO RHP Tucker Forbes
  30. Washington rSR RHP Josh Fredendall
  31. Stanford JR LHP Logan James
  32. USC JR LHP Marc Huberman
  33. Stanford SR RHP David Schmidt
  34. Washington JR RHP Alex Nesbitt
  35. Utah JR RHP Dalton Carroll
  36. Utah JR RHP Bret Helton
  37. Washington State SR RHP Sam Triece
  38. Arizona State JR RHP/2B Jordan Aboites
  39. Arizona SR LHP Tyler Crawford
  40. Arizona JR RHP Tyger Talley
  41. USC JR LHP Tyler Gilbert
  42. Washington State SR RHP Sean Hartnett
  43. USC JR RHP Brooks Kriske
  44. USC JR RHP Brent Wheatley
  45. Washington SR RHP Tyler Davis
  46. Stanford SR LHP Jonathan Hochstatter
  47. Washington JR RHP Ryan Schmitten
  48. Washington State JR LHP Matt Bower