Pitchers of the 2013 draft: First-round analysis

(Take a look at my analysis of the pitchers of the 2012 draft class!)

This year, I’ll be reviewing the mechanics (and statistics) of the pitchers picked among the first 30 selections of the draft. 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 down the line.

My approach

I’ll be getting most of the video data from the MLB Draft Tracker as well as other personal sources who have shot video for me, but don’t want to release the full videos publicly.

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 pitchers’ 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?

I’ve given up on training and analyzing hitters to focus on pitching. With all that being said, here’s one excerpt from the 2014 draft class: Michael Conforto’s (Oregon State) swing would be the goal for any hitter I coached.

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Let’s get it going.

1. Mark Appel, Stanford (Houston Astros)

I wrote a fairly lengthy article on Appel when I saw him in 2012 at the University of Washington. I was not impressed.

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 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.

In 2013, he took a huge step forward, as I noted in a THT Live piece.

Mechanically, Appel is what you like to see out of a big guy—he is athletic enough and uses his long levers to his advantage rather than fighting them, gets downhill quickly enough, and has a mostly clean if uninspired arm action. Appel’s biggest issue is his deceleration/recovery phase; he is a classic “glove-blocker” and a guy who finishes out front square to the plate, unlike more athletic pitchers (think: Marcus Stroman). This cuts off his deceleration phase and increases shear stress on the pitching arm due to force being applied in a line perpendicular to the lever, though he hasn’t suffered any injuries as a result of this yet. It’s not a major problem (think J.J. Putz for a really bad example), but it’s something to watch.

I can see why the Astros took Appel—he should move quickly and he’s a low-floor type, plus they did a lot of homework on him in the 2012 draft, I’m sure. His stuff can be overpowering, but his approach to me isn’t inspiring. He hasn’t had the best start to pro ball, posting just 27 strikeouts while walking nine and giving up 30 hits in 33 innings at Quad Cities (full season A ball). You’d think a front-line starter would be able to dominate that level with relative ease, but it is a small sample.

3. Jonathan Gray, Oklahoma (Colorado Rockies)

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Gray is just a better version of Appel. They are big right-handed starters with similar stuff and college stats, but Gray’s aggressiveness is clearly evident. They have similar mechanics. Gray is more upright in the early stages (though he gets good pelvic load and shift in the delivery, just later than Appel—but faster) and Gray has a more athletic arm action.

Gray is a big time glove-blocker and combined with his poor forward rotation, it causes him to have moderate recoil of the pitching arm in the recovery/deceleration phase. I have seen Gray drag his arm and disconnect it from the shoulder on occasion, though he generally does a good job during the pickup phase of the delivery. I’d grade it as a moderate risk for shoulder issues going forward.

His stats have been nothing short of ridiculous so far in pro ball: He punched out 36 guys in 24 innings at Modesto (Class-A Advanced) while walking only six and giving up just 10 (!) hits and three total runs.

For my money, Gray is the best arm in this draft.

4. Kohl Stewart, Texas HS (Minnesota Twins)

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When I saw this kid’s pitching mechanics on a whim, I had no idea who he was. But when I saw the deceleration/recovery phase, I tweeted to Kevin Scobee (noted curmudgeonly Royals fan/blogger) and said: “I bet this guy plays football.”

Turns out Stewart plays a little bit of football after all, considering he was a big-time recruit out of high school and was considered the heir apparent to Johnny Football at Texas A&M if he hadn’t signed his pro baseball contract.

I wrote up a full mechanical analysis on him for a professional team that never got used, so I’ll simply copy/paste that here!

Kohl Stewart is a tall, medium-build righty (6-foot-3 195 p;ounds) with plus velocity (up to 95+ mph in PG events). Primarily a fastball/slider pitcher out of a standard three-quarters delivery arm slot. SL 83-85 mph. Commitment to Texas A&M as a two-sport athlete (football); considered a tough sign.

{exp:list_maker}Stewart has a clean line to the plate and a short arm action that picks up naturally with the elbow depressed below the shoulder line. Stewart’s efficient arm action keeps the forearm close to the body without a loop during arm acceleration, a hallmark of good quarterbacks who are also elite pitchers.
Stewart’s deceleration phase is unique and similar to Trevor Bauer‘s—there is an abrupt “stop” and his arm never reaches across the midline of the body. This is not a problem and actually indicates very good use of the posterior muscles and trunk rotation to aid in deceleration. Stewart releases the ball out front with a late launch, which gives him a better-than-average force application technique through release.
Stewart’s pronation should be better than most due to his experience with throwing a football, where pronation is key to the delivery of a spiral. Unsurprisingly, Stewart’s out pitch is a slider, which has a similar release profile as a spiraled football. {/exp:list_maker}

Injury report

Summary: Stewart’s history as a quarterback may give pause due to trauma-induced issues in his shoulder, but his mechanics are extremely efficient and clean for a prep pitcher.

Teachability: Very high. While Stewart’s command is below-average, his velocity is already very good and no major changes will need to be made going forward.

Elbow grade: Low risk. Stewart’s clean pickup into the arm cocking phase leaves nothing to be worried about. The only issue would be the release of his slider, which could irritate the back of the elbow, but it’s impossible to tell using standard video.

Shoulder grade: Medium-low risk. Stewart’s deceleration phase is excellent and he uses the upper torso very efficiently. However, due to his experience as a football player, he may not necessarily tolerate increased loads of baseball pitching/throwing extremely well.

My opinion hasn’t changed much on Stewart—I like him quite a bit. He had a successful short stint in pro ball, punching out 24 guys and walking four while giving up 13 hits in the GCL and Appy leagues. A true test will come for him in 2014 as he reaches the full-season levels.

7. Trey Ball, Indiana HS (Boston Red Sox)

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Ball works with a 90-94 mph heater that has good downward plane to it, and outstanding tempo and rhythm to the plate which repeats itself very well. He has a long arm action but it catches up well as he flexes the elbow to pick the ball up cleanly, then rolls the elbow in without looping/dragging the pitching arm. I’m extremely impressed with this set of mechanics; they’re a better version of Max Fried‘s from 2012.

He gets a little soft with the lead leg on occasion, allowing it to flex instead of brace/extend through release, but it’s not a huge issue. He clears the glove well and decelerates over a long path, and if he sequences the glove release better (faster), he should see an uptick in velocity.

Overall, I’d be very happy with him from a mechanical point of view.

10. Phillip Bickford, California HS (Toronto Blue Jays, unsigned)

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Bickford has a BIG fastball—I’ve seen it get up to 95 though I hear he’s touched 96. Bickford had huge demands, so he went unsigned in the 2013 draft, opting to go to Cal State Fullerton.

I’m not the biggest fan of Bickford’s mechanics. While he has above-average rhythm and gets outstanding glide toward the plate as a great first move, his trunk tends to collapse ahead of the midline, which causes his forearm to get dragged into layback instead of rolled-in (think Trey Ball). Some of this is due to his pitching arm “floating” into the high-cocked position, but it’s mostly due to the lack of midpoint balance. It’s not hard to see how Bickford generates his big time velocity, though: He sequences all the moving parts well and repeats it just fine. However, the arm drag combined with the semi-inefficient arm action would definitely give me pause when evaluating his mechanics.

15. Braden Shipley, University of Nevada (Arizona Diamondbacks)

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Shipley’s another guy with a big upper-shelf fastball which touches 96, but more importantly rarely gets under 91. Consistency of fastball velocity is a big plus, and though high schoolers can get a pass here, college pitchers are expected to have a predictable velocity range, indicating solid, repeatable mechanics.

I can’t think anyone who has a better set of mechanics from a “force production” mindset in this draft. Shipley gets outstanding glide to the plate and combines it with a fast and long stride that braces hard, allowing optimal force transfer. He extends the lead leg through release, adding velocity and consistency. He has a quick, delayed arm action that is mostly clean and gets up and rolled in on time. While Shipley’s a bit more of a glove-blocker than I’d like (and this could increase stress on his throwing shoulder), it clears reasonably well, though there’s a bit of recoil at the end.

Overall, it’s a fine set of mechanics that should hold up for some time.

18. Chris Anderson, Jacksonville University (Los Angeles Dodgers)

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Anderson’s velocity settles in around 88-92 mph with the potential for more.

His tempo to the plate and use of the back hip are above average and his trunk stays stacked behind the midline to allow for fast linear translation to the plate. While Anderson’s arm action is decent, he moves the glove arm and pitching arm very close together during trunk rotation, which causes the arm to be late entering layback. He drags the arm a bit as a result, which will cost him consistency and health.

Ideal glove movement is “separated” from the pitching arm which provides independent movement across both shoulder blades (scapulae) and passes energy more efficiently to the pitching arm while giving it a cleaner line to the plate. (Example: David Robertson.)

That being said, Anderson really gets after it and braces well with the lead leg. He has an aggressive finish with full rotation, which gives him a good path over which to decelerate the arm.

Not the worst set of mechanics, but not great.

19. Marco Gonazles, Gonzaga (St. Louis Cardinals)

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Gonzales throws fairly firm for a prototypical lefty (up to 91 mph), which is to say he throws without a lot of intent. His velocity wavers from 84-90 mph but can settle in around the high 80s most times. He’s very upright throughout the delivery, not getting great pelvic load to the plate. His fastball plays up because he has a wipeout change-up; his bullpen catcher is an acquaintance of mine and he says it looks like a right-handed pitcher’s curveball. In other words, Gonzales is like a lot of lefties who pitch backwards without a plus fastball.

He has a short arm action that looks like he’s throwing darts, but it syncs up well. However, he also massively collapses on the lead leg; elite throwers brace or extend the lead leg to add velocity and consistency to their pitches.

Gonzales clearly leans on his off-speed stuff to get guys out, and his method of attacking hitters reminds me a lot of Wade LeBlanc. As a scout once told me about an unrelated player: “If his one plus tool doesn’t play up, then he’s got nothing to fall back on.”

Gonzales throws like a soft-tossing lefty, and though his mechanics shouldn’t give him any extra arm stress, I can’t find a lot to like in them.

20. Jonathon Crawford, Florida (Detroit Tigers)

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A lot jumps out at you when you watch Crawford pitch. First is his ridiculous(ly inconsistent) velocity, occasionally topping 96 but finding the high 80s at times too. Not too normal from a college pitcher who is supposed to be fairly advanced. Crawford has an extremely short stride and gets nearly no linear momentum built to the plate, remaining very upright. He elevates the pitching elbow despite a wrap in the arm action and drags the arm into acceleration.

He has a major glove block and his pitching arm casts wide of his body, placing a ton of extra stress on his pitching elbow. The recoil in his pitching arm is plainly evident.

Definitely not a set of mechanics I’d like my first rounder to display.

22. Hunter Harvey, North Carolina HS (Baltimore Orioles)

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Harvey’s mechanics were some of the toughest to grade in this class, because it’s an exercise in dueling outcomes.

{exp:list_maker}His tempo starts off fast with a quick step to the side and a big leg kick, but then he stalls out and turns into an “up, down, out” kind of guy.
His pitching arm slots well with elbow flexion and looks connected, but he starts to drag the arm into acceleration.
You think he is dragging the arm into acceleration, then he flexes the trunk and it rolls in well and tracks over a long distance with a clean line to the plate.
His shoulders have great forward rotation, but he manages to cut off his deceleration path and has a big recoil as a result. {/exp:list_maker}

He does a lot right but he also does a lot wrong, which I guess you can say for most high school pitchers. While nothing is completely glaring here and his faults are mitigated by the fact he does so much right, it’s really hard to get a read on Harvey’s mechanics. I’d submit a medium-low grade but also say that there’s a ton of potential here that could easily develop into a top-tier set of mechanics. He may just get that shot with Rick Peterson working in the Baltimore organization.

23. Alex Gonzalez, Oral Roberts (Texas Rangers)

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Gonzalez starts his descent to the plate with a wide leg swing away from his body, though it braces very solidly and gives him a stable platform to rotate against. He lifts the elbow slightly but it times up well and he does an average job of rotating the shoulders well enough to give his pitching arm a decent line to the plate. Though he exhibits a big gloveside flyout, it doesn’t cause him to pull his head off line or cast his pitching arm away from his body. In fact, it allows him to decelerate over a solid distance.

Everything Gonzalez seems to do is average (for a big leaguer), which goes right along with his velocity—89-93 mph, right about big league average for right-handed starters. He throws strikes and has a usable breaking ball and change-up.

28. Rob Kaminsky, New Jersey HS (St. Louis Cardinals)

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Kaminsky’s big tall-and-fall delivery seems like a death knell, but he bends the back leg and gets decent drive out of the terrible start. However, he uses the “plunge” arm action like Tim Lincecum without the pelvic loading, which all but guarantees his arm will be late as the torso picks up the arm to start the acceleration phase. The bad news doesn’t end there: Kaminsky’s big time glove block cuts off deceleration and he exhibits sharp recoil across his body as he finishes “square” to the target like so many other tall-and-fall pitchers.

Unsurprisingly, Kaminsky’s velocity is inconsistent. He flashes 92-93 but is more likely to sit 87-90. Like most lefties who lack leverage, he relies on a big curveball,which is a solidly plus pitch for him.

I’m not a big fan of what’s going on here.

29. Ryne Stanek, Arkansas (Tampa Bay Rays)

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Stanek was one of the major reasons I wanted to write this article. He once was considered a possible first overall selection, but Stanek’s stock fell as his velocity dropped, his strikeouts dwindled, and his walks shot up. Unwilling to pass on the potential, the Rays nabbed him in the back end of the first round.

It’s not hard to see why Stanek’s velocity was all over the place (along with his command): He remains mostly upright while getting little contribution from his 6-foot-4 frame downhill. He has a long, stiff arm action in the back that does not roll in whatsoever, leading Stanek to massively drag the arm into acceleration:

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After release, he actually is able to get over the front side and decelerate reasonably well, but the damage has long been done here.

I understand Tampa’s unwillingness to pass on this kind of talent and upside, but these are the worst mechanics in the first round by far. One scout compartd him to Daniel Bard, and I can see that: huge fastball, big frames, poor tempo and glide to the plate, and questionable arm actions. (Bard elevates the elbow and has big time overload into external rotation while Stanek has massive drag, leading to health and consistency issues.

Overall thoughts on the 2013 draft

The draft wasn’t as stocked with pitchers as the 2011 draft, but neither was it as shallow as it was in 2012. Many of the pitchers in this draft have big time upside and potential, while others are at-risk for a big flameout (Stanek, specifically).

As usual, only time will tell.

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Comments

  1. Michael Morrissey said...

    Hi Kyle, what an education and I love your knowledge. As a PT and a dad who coaches his son in Pitching (my son just turned 12).Can you explane to me2 terms that I never heard before in pitching terms. Glove blocker and arm lag and what to look for. They seam to be keys in robing velocity and consistency.

    Thanks, Michael

  2. Ari Berkowitz said...

    Being a Mets fan I’m obviously slightly biased, but in any case, I think Andrew Church and Casey Meisner would both be interesting to look at.  Given their relative youth and inexperience along with some projectability.

  3. Kyle Boddy said...

    Michael:

    Glove block is an overexaggerated “firm front side” that is commonly taught, often out of the Tom House camps. It kills rotation if done literally.

    Arm drag is when the elbow doesn’t raise up into arm acceleration properly and a lot of stress is placed on the front of the shoulder (and thusly, elbow).

    Evan:

    That’s a pretty subjective call, but I really like David Robertson, Tim Lincecum, and Aroldis Chapman.

  4. Coop! said...

    Sounds like this for a ranking?

    1. Gray
    2. Stewart
    3. Ball
    4. Shipley
    5. Appel
    6. Harvey
    7. Gonzalez
    8. Bickford
    9. Anderson
    10. Gonzales
    11. Kaminsky
    12. Crawford
    13. Stanek

  5. reillocity said...

    I wonder how major league organizations weigh the pros and cons of glove-blocking and lesser rotation in the finish of the delivery. To what extent does that raise the risk of injury to the arm? And is finishing in a less rotated, square position that enables the pitcher to field their position better a large enough reward to offset that risk?

    If you continue these, it might be interesting to pick a few basic delivery parameters and grade each pitcher on them on a simple numerical scale – this would stand to help the reader understand your language and follow along better prospectively.

  6. Kyle Boddy said...

    Coop:

    I don’t like doing strict numbering since it implies a large degree of precision that just isn’t there. Gray/Stewart/Ball are in the top tier, though, and I’d draw the line there.

    Reillocity:

    I’d imagine it depends dramatically depending on the organization and whether or not they have a good combined system to weigh subjective vs. objective information.

    “To what extent” is an interesting and very difficult to answer question, since injuries are quite obviously multivariate. The fielding stuff is significantly overrated, just do a spray chart analysis to see % of opportunities the pitcher gets to field balls.

    The numerical scale is tough to use because it lends an air of objectivity, and while my observations are based on research I’ve read as well as research I’ve done, it doesn’t compare to what I do in my lab (EMG sensors to measure %MVIC/muscle activity, multiple high-speed cameras analyzing the delivery with precise kinematic values, etc).

  7. Bahram Shirazi said...

    Couple of reactions for you:

    - your twitter feed is excellent and highlights lots of great stuff

    - your write up of pitchers has little commentary on the experience and age of players, Appel has had 4 years at Stanford (he should be ready to go) and Kaminksy is 19 years old with just high school behind him

    - your write ups would be more interesting if the average dad could understand some of the technical stuff you write about.  In other words a little more explanation would be much appreciated

    - please keep posting great stuff

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