Breaking down the draft’s 1st round: Picks 1-10

Last year after the draft, I wrote a review of the first round picks in last year’s draft. By the way, I’m proud of the fact that I touted Tim Lincecum as my No. 1 pick in the draft last year. This year, with the help of a little more information, I’m back at it.

The format for his year’s review is simple. I will take a look at draft picks 10 at a time. Part one will be picks 1-10, part two will be picks 11-20 and part will be 21-30. Parts four and maybe five will consist of players who fell out of the first round for whatever reason. I already have four or five players that I will certainly include in the later parts, but I would like to encourage my readers to recommend players that you find interesting and would like me to take a look at. Finally, I intend to come up with my own rankings.

My self-imposed ground rules

Last year, I decided that I was going to base my reviews solely on the video provided by the MLB Scouting Bureau. Obviously, working with such limited information and video was quite the challenge so I decided to do a little bit more research this year. However, I have tried to limit myself as much as possible so as to try to come up with an unbiased analysis of these players. What you might find is that I will, in some cases, disagree quite a bit with some of the scouting reports that you may have seen out there. Bear in mind that the main basis for my evaluations will still be the three minutes of video in the Bureau’s scouting reports.

Even though I have willingly tried to ignore players’ stats, I will admit (since I am, at heart, a stathead) that stats will play a role in some evaluations. I will attempt to make stats secondary to hitters’ swing mechanics and pitchers’ overall mechanics. I will also reference other scouting reports to see whether I or not I agree with them. I watched most of ESPN’s first round draft coverage to get a sense of what the general consensus is on many of these players. I have also read a few top 50 draft prospect lists and such. With apologies to some Major League teams with whom I may disagree with in terms of their selection, I promise to be brutally honest.

However, I do know that there’s more to drafting players than just picking the best player available (signability, commitment to school, etc). That said, feel free to tell me whether you agree with me or if I’m way off base. I certainly don’t mind.

Let’s get started, shall we?

1. LHP David Price, Devil Rays

Consensus No. 1 pick. Repeats his motion very well. Excellent arm action: shortish and elbowy. I prefer a quick tempo, and while Price isn’t slow to the plate, he could do a better job of building up more momentum into footplant. I like that he starts drifting just a bit before getting to the top of his knee, which helps carry his body forward. Take a look at this clip:

That’s what we call leading with the butt and hips, and it’s essential in order to create momentum into footplant. The one aspect of Price’s mechanics that impresses me the most, besides his arm action, is shown in the following clip: his excellent, uber-aggressive finish.

That is how you finish a pitch. Look at the position his torso achieves at release, with his upper body leaning well forward and achieving unbelievable extension. I recently wrote an article on minor leaguer Steve Palazzolo where I talked about “finishing pitches” more at length. Because of how far in front he releases, his fastball will looks harder than whatever the radar gun says. He’ll be “sneaky fast,” that’s for sure. Wow, just wow. Also, in terms of arm health, he lands on a firm, but bent, front knee and his aggressive finish allows his arm to decelerate over a longer period of time.

On top of that, throw in his excellent performance in the SEC and a sick slider. I’m starting to think that what I said above about his tempo may be a tad nitpicky. This dude is good, really good. Leave him alone and let him pitch.

2. SS/3B Michael Moustakas, Royals
I’m glad I watched his video over and over because, at first, I wasn’t as impressed as I think I was supposed to be. On his batting practice swings, it looks like he’s making contact too far out in front of his body and not letting the ball get deep in the zone. His hands also seem like they are getting a little out in front of his body, which takes them away from the center of his rotation and hampers a hitter’s power. His front foot also seems to be opening up a tad early, which in turn looks like it makes his hips open up a little early as well. Luckily, I saw a few of his game swings. Here’s one:

I have now come to this conclusion regarding Moustakas: Yes, he’s a little too handsy with his swing. Yes, it looks like he tries to make contact too far out in front and get “extension.” (Bad in terms of power.) As my mentor Jeff Albert has taught me, there are major league hitters (most notably Miguel Cabrera) who are able to hit with “full extension.” I’m not saying Moustakas is the second coming of Cabrera. What I do like is that Moustakas has excellent balance and starts his hands in a comfortable position. He has little “noise” in his swing (few moving parts), his swing is short and he seems to keep his bat in the zone for a long time. More importantly, a simple swing like this is very repeatable.

I heard someone on ESPN’s coverage mention that Moustakas will eventually develop “light tower” power. I don’t think his swing is built for that at this point. I see a line drive hitter with decent power. His turn through the ball doesn’t suggest that we’ll be seeing 450 foot bombs coming out of his bat on a consistent basis. Here’s a comparison between Moustakas and a player with one of my favorite and best power swings from last year’s draft, Hank Conger.

In frames six through eight, you can see how Conger is better at “staying connected” with his swing, as his back hip and hands come almost simultaneously. Moustakas looks a little pushy with the hands. The hips bring the hands, not the other way around.

In conclusion, Moustakas has a simple, short, repeatable swing. He’ll hit for power, but not the power that some are projecting for him.

3. 3B Josh Vitters, Cubs

Roughly speaking, Vitters is a right-handed Moustakas. Vitters has what some consider to be an anomaly, a “pretty” right-handed swing. It’s very short, very simple, and certainly looks the part. However, Vitters seems to get “extended” maybe even farther in front than Moustakas, and does not let the ball travel deep into the zone. (Side note: I have a little theory that the reason that most of the longest home runs are hit to the pull-side power alley and center field is because, generally, these pitches get deeper in the zone and hitters hit them closer to their center of rotation… I may be wrong, but hey, it’s a thought.)

Anyway, unlike Moustakas, Vitters has an aggressive trigger with his left knee and hip that I believe lets him rotate his hips faster (and thus achieve better bat speed) than Moustakas. Moustakas probably has the simpler, “quieter” swing, but I would probably pick Vitters over him based on power potential.

4. LHP Daniel Moskos, Pirates

Uninspiring pick here at No. 4. So much so that I don’t really feel like making a video clip of his motion. On the positive side, I like that he’s aggressive (I like max effort guys), and his arm action is pretty good. With a high 3/4 slot, he throws the ball downhill very well and his velocity is excellent. The problem is that his lower body action and slowish momentum (tempo) don’t really help him to throw hard, so he’s more of an “arm-thrower.” Couple that with an abrupt-ish finish and it makes me question how long he’ll last. With plenty of better talent available, I don’t get this pick here. I want upside at No. 4 I guess. Rush him and rush him quickly because a guy like this probably doesn’t have as many bullets left as someone with better mechanics.

5. C Matthew Wieters, Orioles

In his draft video, out of about 20 pitches, Wieters takes about five swings. So maybe he has excellent plate discipline, which would be nice. It would’ve been nice for someone to maybe edit the videos better (now I’m getting picky). The one thing that was evident in his video is that he’s “leaking.” In other words, when he plants his front foot, he doesn’t stop his body from going forward. Once the front foot lands and the hitter sets himself up in the “launch position,” it is imperative to set a firm axis of rotation so that the hitter can turn his body powerfully around that fixed axis.

I’ve seen Wieters before since he’s a local boy, so I’ll cut him a slight break here since I’ve seen better swings than what he shows on this video. He has a huge arm and I believe that he’ll be able to stay behind the plate. Assuming he can fix his swing problem, switch-hitting catchers with power and a big arm don’t grow on trees. That’s part of the package, and it’s difficult to ignore it. I’m not as sure about his swing as much as I was last year, but because so much of the analysis is based on this year’s video, I’d have to say that this is a bit of an overdraft here.

6. LHP Ross Detwiler, Nationals

Slow tempo, sits over the rubber too long. Doesn’t really keep his momentum going into footplant. He looks like a “tall and fall” guy. Ordinarily, I don’t like pitchers that are that slow. However, Detwiler wins me over a bit with his outstanding arm action and by how exceptionally well he keeps his lead arm and glove firm (at about the time he releases) and out in front to help him drive forward towards the plate. Here’s a clip:

Note his loose, elbowy arm action and then his position at release. The glove is well out in front as he brings his chest into the glove. He certainly does not pull his arm out of the way, so I imagine that “flying open” isn’t really a problem for him. I imagine that he has, or will have, excellent command of his pitches. That said, at release, his right leg is almost completely stiff and it makes me question his arm health in the future. The stiff front leg also doesn’t allow him to get as far out in front as Price does. Detwiler was called the No. 2 college lefty in the draft, but he is clearly behind Price.

This quote bothers me:

“There is some concern about his narrow frame and how it will hold up”

When I was 16 or 17, I played with this guy. One summer, he’s a trim, athletic pitcher. A couple of years go by and he’s a fat guy that had trouble moving because of this arcane idea that weight and durability go together. I’ve never understood that. Pitching is a dynamic, athletic activity. I always liked to feel as athletic and fit on the mound as I could. Detwiler’s frame is not what scares me in terms of his durability. His mechanics do.

7. 1B Matt LaPorta, Brewers

I’ve really liked LaPorta for awhile now, but when I watched this year’s video, it made me question whether I was missing something that I hadn’t previously studied. Maybe he just took a horrible batting practice that day, but I certainly remember his swing being better than what he showed on the video. His draft video shows an excellent game swing (in which he hits a bomb) from behind home plate. I don’t like that he finishes lower than his bat plane suggests (think Nomar Garciaparra as a comp in terms of his finish).

Just like most, I tend to like power swings above “line drive” swings. LaPorta’s rotation into the ball is excellent, he generally lets the ball get deep, and his swing has better power potential than either Moustakas’ or Vitters’. Here’s a side shot of one of LaPorta’s game swings:

LaPorta clearly doesn’t “get” this one, as he hit the top half of the ball, but this swing is an excellent example of why it’s important to evaluate the process over the result (which I think it was ground out to short). Look how LaPorta carries his body forward (with his hips and butt) aggressively into footplant (much like a pitcher building momentum into footplant); when his left heel finally plants, his hips and arms turn together, “connected,” quickly and powerfully.

Notice how aggressive his hip turn is into his firm front leg. Even though he pulls this pitch a bit, he still manages to stay behind the ball and let it get deep. Moustakas and Vitters may be better prospects because they are better athletes and play more premium defensive positions than LaPorta. However, even with the low, somewhat awkward finish (which I don’t like), LaPorta’s swing (in terms of power potential) is better than both of their swings. I probably like LaPorta more than most out there. Many have beat the Brewers down because they already have a great hitter at first base. Good pick? Yes. This high? I don’t know, especially because of the Brewers’ situation. Nonetheless, this dude will hit and hit a lot. They’ll find him a position.

8. RHP Rockies-Casey Weathers, Rockies

Excellent tempo, aggressive lower body, excellent front side mechanics. Reminds me of Troy Percival with his lower body action and leg lift.

There’s a big reason that I like pitchers that “drift through the balance point” and Weathers is an excellent example. By drifting forward while lifting his knee, Weathers is able to be quick to the plate and keep his momentum going forward into footplant. Weathers also has excellent front side mechanics. The final few frames really show how well he firms up his glove and keeps it out in front. Weathers also has that excellent upper body tilt that Price demonstrates. Both Vanderbilt pitchers seem to do these things well. Kudos to their pitching coach if it is his doing.

What don’t I like? Well, his arm action is long, loopy, and just not very good. After release, he has a pretty violent “recoil” that would worry me as well with regards to potential shoulder troubles. I understand that lefties are always at a premium, but if you’re going to go after a college closer why would you pick Moskos over Weathers?

One more thing from Minorleaguebaseball.com’s report on Weathers:

“His plane to the plate isn’t great because he tends to drop and drive too frequently.”

Whatever. His “drop and drive” is what allows him to throw hard. Leave him alone.

9. RHP Jarrod Parker, Diamondbacks

I really like this kid. Best arm action yet. Excellent tempo. Good lower body action as he (again) keeps his momentum going forward without hesitation at the top of his knee lift. Nice and long stride into a powerful, aggressive and long finish. Did I mention how much I like this kid? The one knock on him that I found was that he was a little inconsistent from pitch to pitch with mechanics, although this may be a little nitpicky.

Oh, and can we go ahead and put to rest the notion that being “undersized” is that big a deal? I get it as to why you want the taller pitcher. However, when you have Parker’s stuff and his arm action, size isn’t a big deal.

I could see this kid easily being a top three pick on my board.

10. LHP Madison Bumgarner, Giants
Oh my goodness, I really like this kid too. Good arm action, very good tempo. Don’t be fooled. He looks really smooth, but this kid is aggressive, which I really like. I may disagree with other scouts about changing his arm slot. I say leave his arm slot where it is. As you can probably tell, I like athletic pitchers, and he certainly fits the mold.

He again drifts and leads with his hips into a nice long stride, but his finish is a little on the abrupt side. A couple of things that I would do with Bumgarner: Teach him how to finish his pitches better (upper body lean, long arm deceleration a la Price) and scrap the curve and go with a slurve/slider-type pitch that starts on the same plane as his fastball. He could also speed his body up just a tad. Here’s a short clip of Bumgarner’s athletic move forward:

I really like this pick at No. 10. As of right now, Price and Parker are Nos. 1 and #2, and Bumgarner is probably my No. 3.

Part two (picks 11-20), coming soon. Also, I’d like to again ask my readers to submit the names of players that I should review for parts four and five of this series.

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