This year, I’ll be reviewing the mechanics (and statistics) of all of the pitchers in the first round. As we move forward, I’ll pick out some interesting guys in the second and later rounds, so if you have requests, please place them in the comments (or tweet me—@drivelinebases) and I’ll see if I can get to them in next week’s article.
My approach to analyzing the pitchers
I’ll be getting most of the video data from the MLB Draft Tracker, but some pitchers may not have video available or I’ll want to supplement what I can find—in which case, I’ll generally pull up stuff from YouTube. In one or two cases, I may have personal video I’ve shot. Collegiate baseball statistical information will largely come from CollegeSplits, one of the best websites on the Internet with regard to statistical information on amateur players.
While I’ve spoken to a few front office scouts (and in some cases have done contract work for major league teams) about pitchers on this list, I will do my best to turn in my sole opinion of the pitcher’s mechanics, performance, and intangibles. Obviously there will be some bias (I’m only human!), but I’ll be as honest as possible.
Why aren’t you analyzing the hitters?
My area of expertise (if one exists) is in dealing with the kinesiology and biomechanics of delivering a baseball to the plate. While we’ve coached and trained a fair number of pretty good position players at our facility (which I hope you’ll hear called out in future MLB draft conference calls), our reputation on the Internet is dealing with pitching mechanics and training pitchers, so we’ll stick with this. Besides, I can’t imagine going through all the video on the MLB Draft Tracker with hitters as well as position players!
Anyway: On to the list.
4. Kevin Gausman (LSU), RHP – Baltimore Orioles
Gausman “sits into” his approach to the plate very well; this can be seen in this slowed-down clip:
The forward linear movement with his lower body being initiated with the hips/butt is a crucial move if a pitcher wants to develop elite velocity, and despite Gausman’s high leg kick, he’s athletic to the plate with it and clearly does a good job. Gausman has a “plunge” arm action like Tim Lincecum and has a slight postural lean into ball acceleration. I like pitchers who have a higher three-quarters arm slot and use a strong postural lean to the glove side. That will give a better path for deceleration across the body and allow the posterior muscles of the shoulder to accept a lot of the braking forces on the arm.
Gausman’s glove pull doesn’t bother me as it does many pitching analysts; as long as the glove starts in an athletic position, the counter-rotation of the glove pull can actually increase (or support) higher fastball velocities. As you can see in the video, his glove stabilizes out front and then is pulled back.
Gausman’s stuff is very good. I prefer guys who have learned a curve ball or at least supplement a side-to-side breaking ball (slider, cutter) with one, and a look at Gausman’s splits shows you why: He has been more effective against lefties than righties in 2012. A true curve ball will tend to yield lower platoon splits than sliders/cutters, and this can be a huge advantage for him as he transitions into professional baseball, making him hard to plan against with the opposing lineup card.
Conclusion: I like Gausman a lot. He is one of the few college pitchers in this lackluster draft who excited me. Great pick by the Orioles.
5. Kyle Zimmer (USF), RHP – Kansas City Royals
Here’s some video from the side. Credit to Bullpen Banter and Steve Fiorindo (@SocalSteve9):
Zimmer’s arm is crazy fast, and his lower body mechanics are very quick. Zimmer is a hell of an athlete on the mound with outstanding postural control. In the side-to-side clip, Zimmer demonstrates an outstanding mechanical concept of the elite pitchers where rotation and linear movement is married. Here it is:
Watch as Zimmer’s front leg blocks lower body linear momentum and rotation and just how freakishly fast the trunk translates linearly to the plate. If people even notice this in a pitching delivery, they will tend to teach pitchers to “get out front” and “get over the front knee” or whatever. But lost in this is the fact that Zimmer is also rapidly rotating the shoulders by driving the glove shoulder backward and around the body at the same time. I like to see a pitcher finishing with his pitching leg around the body and toward the plate, as this is evidence of violent rotation around the trunk.
In the full video, you can see this is clearly the case. The myth that “falling off the mound” is an issue couldn’t be more ridiculous; go watch the pitching mechanics of the elite throwers and see what really happens in the delivery (I briefly touched on this in a previous THT article: Fastball mechanics: The hardest and softest throwers).
Zimmer has great stats, and though there are rumblings about scrapping his curve ball and replacing it with a slider, I strongly suggest the Royals pitching coaches don’t do this. A curve ball has a completely different purpose than a slider, and if anything, he could be taught both. His splits are not crazy, and much of this probably has to do with the fact that he has a top-down breaking ball without much lateral movement. If he needs a pitch to strike out same-handed hitters, he can learn a cutter on top of his curve ball.
Pitching coaches across the country are dying for pitchers to learn sliders/cutters to really put pressure on same-handed hitters while curve balls are being abandoned. There’s just no good reason for this, and I hope Zimmer keeps his average curve ball and develops a fourth pitch (if necessary).
Conclusion: Love Kyle Zimmer, and I love this pick. One of the last remaining college arms I like in this draft.
7. Max Fried (Harvard-Westlake HS), LHP – San Diego Padres
Credit to video goes to Bullpen Banter and Steve Fiorindo (@SocalSteve9)
Fried is an unusual lefty in that he throws much like a righty, which is a compliment. Many left-handed pitchers “push” the ball to the target and rely on deception to get guys out, but Fried isn’t that kind of pitcher. Like Zimmer and Gausman, he sits into his delivery well and has a quick transition from lower body block to upper body rotation/linear translation and marries the two well. He has a decent deceleration path despite his longer-than-average stride (a known problem with guys who stride farther than what is biomechanically desirable).
Fried is considered a “safe” pick despite being a high school pitcher, and while I don’t put any stock in high school stats, he’s certainly got the pitches to make it happen. His change-up is already pretty good, but he can get around his curve ball a bit too much, turning it into a slurve that right-handers will feast on if it’s thrown too much. Still, he’s got the tools to get both lefties and righties out, and he should progress at a reasonably quick rate in San Diego’s system.
Conclusion: Solid pick, but the field is thinning out due to the nature of this draft. Fried is one of the highest-rated high school pitchers on my board.
8. Mark Appel (Stanford), RHP – Pittsburgh Pirates
I wrote a detailed analysis of Appel’s stuff in an earlier THT article when I saw him pitch against the University of Washington in April 2012. Here’s what I had to say about him then:
I went to the game in Seattle with Jason Churchill, executive editor for Prospect Insider and contributor to ESPN’s coverage of young baseball prospects. He wrote up Appel on his blog and wasn’t too enthused with him, and I came away with similar thoughts. Appel couldn’t command his fastball in the first inning at 95 mph, so he dialed it down to 92-94 and relied heavily on his two-seam fastball against the power-heavy (and defensively light) lineup that Coach Meggs sent out there.
Though Appel shut out the Huskies after Jacob Lamb tagged him in the first for a two-run double, he only struck out three hitters, and he was unable to throw his slider for strikes early in the count. Appel relied on his two-seam fastball and change-up (81-83) to get induce weak contact in a relatively big ballpark, and though it worked, Appel is supposed to be a premier power pitcher with strikeout stuff, not a contact/finesse guy like his opponent, Aaron West.
Appel has a relatively easy motion and not a lot of violence, and it lends itself to a pretty repeatable delivery. He’s a good athlete and fields his position well.
However, I kept thinking to myself, “If you have a 96-98 mph heater but can’t reliably command it, do you really have it at all?” It’s to his credit that he has the intelligence and humbleness to understand when he can’t throw his best bolt where he needs it, but that’s a trait you want to see from the fringe guys who have to maximize their stuff, not necessarily big-time prospects.
I still feel the same way about him, and I wasn’t surprised at all to see him fall to the Pirates. Appel simply doesn’t have the nuts to pitch as a No. 1 or No. 2. What I look for in a front-line starter is a guy who is clearly interested in getting hitters at the next level out. I always felt that Appel was happy to get Pac-12 hitters out, and his strikeout rates reflect that.
Conclusion: I strongly prefer Zimmer and Gausman to Appel when it comes to college arms, but it’s hard to pass up a pitcher like this when he falls to No. 8. Signing him should be fun, though if the Pirates simply get compensation in 2013, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world— assuming Neal Huntington and staff have a long enough leash to allow this to happen.
9. Andrew Heaney (OSU), LHP – Miami Marlins
My first reaction is: “I can’t believe this guy strikes out as many guys as he does.” Heaney’s lower body is slow, and this is a prototypical left-handed pitcher whose velocity is a good bet to decline quickly. Heaney’s throwing shoulder shows excessive horizontal abduction at the time of foot strike and he drags it forward and across his body during arm acceleration. That’s a big biomechanical red flag (and a common one) in guys with a low three-quarter arm slot.
Though Heaney’s got good college stats in a slightly harder-than-average conference, his good stuff is likely to fall off as he adjusts to pro ball. His fastball tops out at 94 and commonly sits 89-91, and his curve ball is inconsistent.
Conclusion: I’m not a big fan of this pick. I just don’t understand drafting a guy who is a likely No. 3 with little intent in his delivery and a record of walking platoon-advantaged hitters.
14. Nick Travieso (Archbishop McCarthy HS), RHP – Cincinnati Reds
Now this is how it’s done, boys and girls. Travieso does an awesome job of keeping his posture closed throughout delivery and is able to combine the biomechanical safety of a long-arm glove separation with a strong intent to throw hard; a rare trait in prep pitchers. Watch how well he delays trunk rotation and linear transfer before and after lower body block:
The only issue I have with Travieso is the fact that he has an abnormally long stride, which does affect his deceleration path. There’s a bit of recoil there because he’s a bit too linear through ball release and follow-through.
Conclusion: Great pick; love the intent of Travieso. Watch for injuries/discomfort to the back of the pitching arm shoulder and possible elbow issues, though.
16. Lucas Giolito (Harvard-Westlake HS), RHP – Washington Nationals
While I know many people are super interested in my opinions of Lucas Giolito given his elbow sprain and draft status, I’ve done some specific contract work for a major league team on Giolito that prevents me from going into significant detail on my thoughts on him. However, I’ve been told I can summarize my thoughts.
Conclusion: Giolito’s stuff is undeniably awesome, but he has some mechanical issues that make me seriously wonder how long he’ll hold up without specific changes. He exhibits big postural disconnection in the pitching arm to the trunk and drags the arm severely. Though his problems are currently in the elbow, my concern is primarily with the anterior shoulder.
19. Michael Wacha (Texas A&M), RHP – St. Louis Cardinals
Wacha doesn’t impress me much; he’s a high three-quarters guy with just okay velocity. His fastball sits 90-92 and hitters get a good look at it given his arm slot and rear arm action. Scouting reports say he’s got a slider, but I’ve seen only curve balls out of him, and a decent one at that. He’ll have a tough time commanding a left-right breaking ball out of that arm slot, so if coaches are trying to scrap his curve ball in favor of a slider/cutter, good luck with that. (Terrible idea, as I’ve said before.)
However, I do like how Wacha uses the upper body and thoracic spine when he applies downwards leverage across his left shoulder. There’s some additional velocity to be found in his delivery with some training and hard long toss, but whether he adds it is anyone’s guess.
Wacha’s another guy with reverse platoon splits, which is generally a good sign heading into pro ball. However, a troubling sign is that he lacks confidence in his breaking ball to right-handed hitters, probably because he’s reportedly having trouble with a side-to-side breaking pitch. He’ll either have to fix that at the next level or scrap it entirely in favor of a consistent curve ball (my suggestion).
Conclusion: Somewhat of a pitchability righty. Wacha doesn’t impress me much, not that there’s a whole lot left in the college ranks here. Room for improvement, though.
20. Chris Stratton (Mississippi State), RHP – San Francisco Giants
(This is video footage from Chris in HS.)
Since I couldn’t find any video of Stratton pitching in college, I had to use some high school video of him pitching. He starts off as a tall and fall righty but finishes super aggressively with good lean over the glove-arm side.
Though Stratton was mostly used out of relief before 2012, he’s thrived when taking the ball in the first inning. His fastball has true plus velocity and he pairs it with an average curveball. (By the way, I love how most of these pitchers have curveballs and not sliders.)
Conclusion: Stratton would probably be considered a higher pick if he had been a starter for longer than a year, but his stuff is solid and he’s a respectable college pitcher. I like him better than Wacha. However, Stratton’s age does play against him, as he’s nearly a full year older than most college juniors in the first round due to an August birthday.
21. Lucas Sims (Brookwood HS), RHP – Atlanta Braves
The Braves surprised no one by taking a Georgia prep player. Sims has serious arm drag as he accelerates the ball forward, and he pulls off with the lead shoulder and head at the end of the late-cocking phase and throughout arm acceleration. He effectively “pitches uphill” and I have some serious doubts about the longevity of his arm. Though scouting reports have him as high as 97-98 mph, he sits 93-94 mph and loses velocity throughout starts, which doesn’t surprise me at all.
I understand the upside of a guy like Sims, but my initial reaction is not good when it comes to his so-called “clean” arm action that other people see. I’d be worried about the health of his elbow and the anterior shoulder, as well as rapidly declining velocity.
Conclusion: Great stuff, but arm-dominant delivery that exposes the lead pitching shoulder and elbow. Don’t like it from a longevity standpoint.
22. Marcus Stroman (Duke), RHP – Blue Jays
Stroman has great rhythm and an aggressive lower body; there’s a lot to love here. He gets the most out of his “undersized” body while other bigger/taller pitchers get away with being less efficient. Stroman’s fastball has great life in the zone and hard arm-side run and flashes decent sink at times. He has a wipeout slider but knows how to get lefties out as well.
Stroman has one of the best strikeout rates among draft-eligible college starters, so why are people talking about moving him to relief as a closer? Stroman worked out of the rotation throughout his junior year at Duke and maintained his fastball velocity deep into games, sitting 93-94 and touching 96 at times. It’s a size issue again, as people think Stroman’s height will stop him from being a prototypical starter. This advice makes no sense, and I hope he gets his shot to stay in the rotation as a professional pitcher.
Conclusion: Great value here, as I really like Stroman above Heaney, Stratton, and a few of the high school pitchers. Size issues aside (they mean nothing), he should slot well into a pro rotation if he’s given the chance.
30. Ty Hensley (Edmond Santa Fe HS), RHP – New York Yankees
Hensley’s got a slow lower body and is a tall and fall righty, which is not my favorite type of pitcher. However, he has crazy fast shoulder rotation combined with an aggressive spinal tilt to attain his high arm slot, and this produces some seriously solid fastball velocity. As you’d expect from a prep pitcher with a tall and fall delivery, Hensley’s velocity is very inconsistent, sometimes sitting 89-90 and sometimes getting into the mid-90s. If Hensley could be more aggressive with the lower body and maintain the postural violence of the upper body, you’d not only see more consistent velocity, but significantly increased heat on his fastball.
Conclusion: Really like this pick here. With the right coaching and training, Hensley could be touching the upper 90s.
A summary of the first round
I really like Gausman and Zimmer with secondary props to Stroman, but the rest of the college pitchers don’t do much for me. Giolito is a huge red flag with his existing injury and his current mechanics, as is Sims.
The biggest question for me is why Marcus Stroman was able to fall so far and why everyone is trying to shoehorn him into a closer role just because he’s undersized. Doesn’t make much sense to me; I’d like him to get a shot at the rotation with the plan of moving him to the bullpen if that doesn’t work. But at least give the man a shot!
Disagree with these selections? Want to see some notable guys later in the rounds? Comment on this article below and find me on Twitter – @drivelinebases!