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Short Righthanders with Nontraditional Mechanics
This was originally going to be a Random Draft Thoughts post, but I’ve gone a little off the deep end with discussing one of my favorite 2012 draft prospects that we’ll step back and let the spotlight stay on him for the time being. Minor site announcement will be up in the next few days, so be on the lookout for that. Until then, let’s talk short righties…
Marcus Stroman and Lance McCullers can and should start professionally at the onset of their respective careers. That in and of itself isn’t particularly noteworthy — the pro-Stroman faction is growing with each passing day — so I’m happy to go a step further and state that I think both pitchers will thrive in the rotation as pros. I’ll stay off the soapbox and avoid discussing the unfounded majority views that certain players can’t work as starters because of their height/weight (malarkey!) and/or “reliever arm action” (I’m willing to entertain this thought, but, as I’ve always said, if the pitcher can repeat his delivery consistently, I don’t care how he looks throwing the ball), and I’ll instead choose to focus on the many things each guy does well. I feel like Stroman has been talked to death already (short version: plus fastball, plus slider, above-average change, holds velocity, gets ground balls, destroys righties, struggles against lefties), so lets focus on (the also widely discussed, but whatever) McCullers.
McCullers has a plus fastball that gets high marks for both its easy, late game velocity and much improved command. To wit, the young righthander had a a brief spell of “Mark Appel disease” last summer when he threw far too many hittable strikes, but has recovered to refine his pitch sequencing (I always give credit to young pitchers for this as their right of last refusal on the mound remains the last line of defense before a pitch is thrown…it may not happen a ton, but few things are more amusing when a star high schooler shakes off a sign that has been relayed to the catcher by the manager), establish his fastball in pitchers’ locations earlier in the count, and, most importantly, fine tune his secondary stuff to the point that he’ll now throw either his secondary or tertiary pitches in any count.
Hey, speaking of McCullers’ secondary pitch, his 79-84 spike curve is a true plus offering with outstanding shape and much improved command. I’m always impressed to see any pitcher, let alone a high school guy, throw knuckle curves with any kind of consistency. It took McCullers some adjustment time, but when the light when on with that pitch, his overall game really took off. I’m also completely on board with his mid-80s changeup. One of the downsides of being such a dominant prep pitcher is only really needing to rely on one or two plus offerings. McCullers hasn’t busted out the change in game action as often as some might feel comfortable with before slapping on a future 60 grade, but he’s shown enough in bullpens that I’m happy to go there. It doesn’t hurt that he’s showing it off more and more with each outing, of course. Smart kid.
So we’re left with a young righthander with two clear plus pitches and a third with the potential to be above-average or better in time. I know this isn’t exactly a revolutionary concept here, but, come on, this kid is a starting pitching all the way at this point. Enough people around the game now believe the same thing, so maybe I’m arguing against nobody here. I hope that’s the case because I’d really like to see what McCullers could do as a pro starting pitcher. How early will a team want to pull the trigger on actually drafting McCullers? To answer that, let’s take a look at his peer group. After Lucas Giolito, a pitcher with a few questions to answer himself, which righthanded prep arm has separated himself from the rest of the pack? Without yet giving away my personal preference list, I’d venture Zach Eflin, Walker Weickel, Nick Travieso, Mitchell Traver, Ty Buttrey, Shane Watson, Chase DeJong, Duane Underwood, JO Berrios, and Ty Hensley all warrant some consideration for ranking at such lofty heights. Is there one name that stands out above all the rest? The trio of Florida guys that kick the last group off all probably have the best shot to go second after Giolito (yes, I’m being stubborn on Weickel), but the field is truly wide open. Not sure where any of this leaves us with respect to McCullers, but it does give a nice segue into the aforementioned site announcement at the start of this rant. Stay tuned for that…
Duke SO RHP/SS Marcus Stroman | 13.01 K/9 – 2.80 BB/9 – 2.18 FIP – 64.1 IP
A lazier man than I might make a post-surgery, non-curve throwing Tom Gordon comp here. True, the Tom Gordon comp that has followed Stroman around since his high school days makes a lot of sense in some valid ways (undersized, athletic, dynamite fastball/slider combo), but I think we can do better. Somebody who has seen a lot of Stroman over the years told me recently that he saw a little bit of Kelvim Escobar in Stroman, with the caveat that the young Duke righthander doesn’t have a third pitch anywhere close to either Escobar’s changeup or splitter. Speaking of which, how about that Kelvim Escobar? The Angels and Blue Jays righthander threw both a four-seam and a two-seam fastball, a slider, an occasional curve, and, as mentioned, a change and a splitter. I could be totally out of my mind here, but I can’t think of too many pitchers that threw both a change and a split. A quick check of Fangraphs invaluable leaderboard page shows that of the sixty-five active pitchers listed as having thrown a splitter so far in 2011, only fourteen have also thrown a changeup. Hardly conclusive evidence one way or another, but I found it all very interesting. I could be alone on that, of course.
Two other comps that I really, really like for Stroman: Al Alburquerque and Fautino De Los Santos. I know comps can be dangerous, but I’d really like to think the comparisons here are instructive. It comes down to repertoire (plus fastball, plus slider), body type (Alburquerque might actually be smaller than the 5-9, 180 pound Stroman), and arm action/delivery. Stroman’s arm works really well and his delivery is mostly clean, especially when he throws from the stretch. He’s maybe a little stiffer than you’d like to see in his landing leg, but good pro coaching and/or more reps on the mound should fix this and, with luck, could even unlock an extra mile or two to his fastball. As is, Stroman’s fastball (sitting 93-95 MPH at his best) is already a legit weapon. His tight slider (81-85 MPH) is another big league pitch, above-average even on his worst day and a mesmerizing plus-plus offering at his best. What separates his slider from so many others at the amateur level is his outstanding command of the pitch. Stroman is capable of using his breaking ball in a variety of effective ways. He’ll go to the slider as a chase pitch on occasion, but more often throws it knowing he can get swings and misses on pitches around the strike zone, or, at worst, called strikes on either corner of the plate.
Stroman is a high level relief prospect follow who has done nothing but produce on the biggest of stages. His timeline since entering school – excellent freshman season, perfect (literally) summer on the Cape (35 K – 3 BB – 0.00 ERA – 27 IP), another great season as a sophomore, and now a breakout summer pitching for the Collegiate National Team – shows his track record of dominance is on par with any pitcher in the 2012 college class. The present stuff is enough to warrant early round consideration, and the possibility of a third pitch — he’s shown a change, but He is also a tremendous all-around athlete who plays a mean defensive shortstop on days he doesn’t pitch. In what may or may not be considered ironic (Alanis Morissette has me forever confused on the word’s definition; I’m almost positive coincidental would be the better word choice, but it was two syllables too long), I’ve heard a Dee Gordon, Tom’s son, comp on Stroman as a fielder at short. That’s what we call coming full circle.
2011 Quick Draft Thoughts – Duke Blue Devils
1. The more college profiles I do, the less I realize I have to say about the actual college team being profiled. Duke will be competitive, I’m sure, but they won’t be close to a top division club in the perennially strong ACC. That’s about all I can really tell you about how the Blue Devils will do this year and even that “prediction” (if we can call my patented “maybe they’ll be good, maybe they’ll be beat…who knows?” line a prediction) is one made with limited confidence. What I can tell you, I hope, is that Duke has four players who look like better than average bets to get drafted this June. That has to be good for something, right?
The two best of the four are JR LHP Eric Pfisterer and JR OF Will Piwnica-Worms. Every year there are a number of pitchability lefthanders with three solid pitches and good command who get lost in the mid-round shuffle. Pfisterer, a big recruit two years ago who has lived up to the billing so far, could be part of that mix this year. Steven Proscia’s former high school teammate throws a high-80s/low-90s fastball (peaking at 92 MPH), good changeup, and decent low-70s curveball. Not sure if it is fair to call Piwnica-Worms a sleeper or not, but his combination of solid all around tools and quietly productive 2010 season (.323/.402/.530 – 21 BB/24 K – 217 AB) make him a potential top ten round player in my eyes. I once thought of players like Piwnica-Worms (tweeners who might not hit enough for a corner, but don’t quite have the glove for everyday play in center) as ideal fourth outfielder candidates, but the renewed vigor teams are emphasizing defensive skills makes me wonder. If Piwnica-Worms can play plus defense in a corner — and I’m not saying I know he can or can’t, I don’t know either way — then isn’t it possible a team might consider it worthwhile to play him out there every day?
2. The second quick thought almost always winds up being about a non-2011 draft prospect. Might as well continue the trend. It pains me to make the comparison because a) it’s been done before and b) it’s too easy from a race/build standpoint, but the idea of current Duke RHP/SS Marcus Stroman (2012) playing the role of late career Tom Gordon going forward makes a heck of a lot of sense any way you look at it. The Stroman/Gordon comparison has been bandied about since the former’s prep days, so I took it upon myself to find somebody willing to give me a different comp. I wanted something different not for the sake of being different for difference’s sake — I love conformity far too much to ever go that route — but because at some point down the line I just got plain bored of hearing the same comp over and over again. Finally, after bothering way too many people, I heard a comp that makes some sense: current Astros reliever Brandon Lyon. Lyon’s a little bit bigger with a bit more mustard on his breaking ball, but it’s a decent starting point, especially for somebody who hasn’t seen Stroman throw.
I’d love to see Stroman continue to progress this year and next, especially as he tries to polish up a third pitch. If he can do that, then he can go into pro ball with the upside of early career Tom Gordon, i.e. a potential above-average professional starting pitcher. I should make clear I haven’t heard any updates on Stroman since last spring. He could be throwing a dynamite changeup, cutter, splitter, or slow curve for all I know, but, as of this moment, all I know is that he’s predominantly a two-pitch guy. I also love him as a middle infield prospect, by the way.
3. Of the teams profiled so far (Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech), I’d rank the current crop of draftable lefthanded pitchers, in order, as Jed Bradley (GT), Austin Stadler (WF), Eric Pfisterer, and Mark Adzick (WF). I’d rank the outfielders, in order, Steven Brooks (WF), Will Piwnica-Worms, and Brian Litwin. My goal is to keep a running list of certain positions of interest, so consider this last thought more for my own edification than anything else. Kind of a ripoff, come to think of it. I’ll make it up in the big finish…
Early 2011 Draft Guesses
The aforementioned Eric Pfisterer and Will Piwnica-Worms should be on many a draft board this spring. I worry each player could get pegged as “great college performer, limited pro upside” types, but big junior years from a scouting perspective (an extra mile or two on Pfisterer’s fastball, some time shaved of the 60 for Piwnica-Worms, for example) could change it. The other two Duke prospects with a chance to get popped are JR RHP Ben Grisz and JR OF Brian Litwin. Grisz offers a similar repertoire to Pfisterer, but delivers his upper-80s fastball and good lower-80s slider from the right side. I like what I was recently told about Litwin, a player who is, and I’m quoting but really paraphrasing, “strong enough to hit for big power numbers without selling out like a typical slugger, but insistent on taking big hacks every time up all the same.” Litwin’s tools are as good or better than Piwnica-Worms’s across the board, with the great big exception being his hit tool. From a skills standpoint, he also currently falls way behind his buddy in the outfield in the plate discipline department. Few doubt Litwin’s ability, but a below-average present hit tool and a really poor approach to hitting both need to turn around quickly in 2011. As it stands, I think they go off the board in that order: Pfisterer, Piwnica-Worms, Grisz, and Litwin, but you can really flip a coin between the first two. Also can’t completely rule out the potential emergence of JR RHP David Putnam (three decent or better pitches, including a good upper-70s CB) and underrated two-way player SR RHP/INF Dennis O’Grady, a really interesting senior sign possibility who has consistently gotten results at the college level.