2010 Draft Preview part Sieben: The Arms Race, High School Edition

The fact Billy Wagner is actually right-handed may still be the single coolest thing in all of baseball. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

You know, I just can't quite figure out what the deal is with Jason Motte. For a guy who supposedly only throws one pitch at one speed -- fast -- Motte seems to have gone in almost the complete opposite direction. I'm sitting there watching last night's game, and every pitch Motte threw seemed to be some sort of offspeed offering. His first pitch clocked at 94.3, and looked like a typical Jason Motte fastball. The low end of the Jason Motte velocity spectrum, that is. After that, though, things just got weird. 

The rest of the eighth inning, Motte failed to throw a single pitch faster than 93 mph, and the classifications are just all over the place. I couldn't tell what several of his pitches were supposed to be, so I checked the Pitch f/x data, and they don't seem to know either. He threw a pitch at 79 that was called a slider; he threw a pitch at 89 that was classified a slider as well. He threw a pitch at 86 the system read as a changeup, and one at 87.8 it read as a four-seamer. I'm pretty sure he tried to throw a curveball to Chipper Jones, a pitch which, to my knowledge, Jason Motte has never thrown before. 

Then, suddenly, after facing three hitters in the eighth and two in the ninth, the real Jason Motte decided to pop his head back in. In the middle of Brian McCann's at-bat, Motte throws a pair of fastballs at 97 and 96, virtually out of nowhere. Up comes Troy Glaus, and Motte just starts blasting him with heat. Motte threw nine pitches to Glaus; one slider, one thing that looked like either a changeup or a flat sort of two-seamer, and seven fastballs. The slowest fastball he threw registered 95.6. Three were over 97. 

The only thing I can figure is that Motte has been instructed by the powers that be to throw two-seamers, which would account for all the 88-93 mph fastballs we see. Sometimes they sink nicely and look like changeups, but most of the time they just look like slow versions of normal Jason Motte pitches. He still has the slider, which has actually looked fairly decent lately for the most part, and I guess is trying to throw a curveball. I don't know what else you would call that upper-70s thing he bounced to Chipper. 

I have to admit to being intrigued by this new approach. It's clearly a page taken directly from the Duncan Manual of Pitching, as Motte appears to be Sacrificing Velocity for Movement (ch.3, pg. 17-54), but I'm not sure if it's actually making Motte any more effective or not. He doesn't seem to have much control over what his two-seam thingy does, but manages to throw strikes more consistently at higher velocity. I suppose it's all a part of the process of turning Applesauce into a Pitcher instead of a Thrower. At the very least, it's fascinating to watch a pitcher who is so clearly just making it up as he goes along out there on the mound some nights. 

Last week I promised I would get around to starting on the gigantic mound of pitchers we should pay attention to in this draft, and that's just what I'm going to do. This week's installment features three arms, all from the high school ranks. 

We've all heard the tidbit by now, I'm sure, that when the Cards called Shelby Miller's name in the first round last year it marked the first time they had drafted a high-school pitcher with their first pick since the immortal Brian Barber in 1991. So there's no possible way the Cardinals are going to pick another high-school arm in the first round again so soon, right? I understand that line of thinking, but I don't think I particularly agree with it. The Cards' willingness to pick Miller (and pay him), last year said to me they've learned a valuable lesson from a few of their misses in years past (Phil Hughes, Brett Anderson, and Rick Porcello come to mind), and would be willing to go any direction now if they believe in the player enough. So do I expect them to take a high-school arm this year? Not necessarily. Unlike years past, though, it would certainly no longer surprise me if they did. 

Kevin Gausman, RHP, Grandview High School (Colorado)

6'4", 185 lbs

DOB: 6th January, 1991

So, what's so great about this guy? 

Kevin Gausman is one of my very favourite players in this entire draft class. He throws hard, already has a good feel for his secondary offerings, and I really like his mechanics. (Well, I kind of like his mechanics; more on that later.) Honestly, if I'm making up my own personal Big Board of players I would like to see the Cardinals take, Gausman might very well be number one. (I'm not including Bryce Harper, because it just makes me sad to think of the Nationals drafting him.) 

Gausman's stuff is excellent, beginning with two fastballs, a two-seamer he leans on most of the time in the low 90s and a four-seamer he can pump up to 96. His slider is his go-to breaking ball for now, and it's a pretty good one, though it gets slurvy at times. He has a usable changeup as well, somewhat unusual for a high schooler, but I can't honestly say I've seen a clearly identifiable one in what limited video I've seen of him. He's got a great pitcher's frame, with plenty of room to get stronger and fill out. Okay, that's the good stuff. 

Here's the bad stuff: Gausman just hasn't really been the same pitcher this season he was in 2009. There have been reports all spring about inconsistent velocity, command problems, and he seems to be fighting his delivery. In one start at the beginning of April, his velocity reportedly peaked at 92, and he had no feel at all for his slider. After coming into the 2010 season as one of the more highly-touted prep arms in the whole draft, Gausman has definitely taken a hit. 

Which brings me to what I said earlier about his mechanics. I've seen video of him from both 2009 and 2010, and it looks as if he's made some adjustments to his delivery which are not helping him at all. Compare the following two videos, the first from last August and the second from January: 

 

 

Look how much quicker and more fluid his delivery is in the first video. His hands stay high throughout his leg kick, and he smoothly accelerates through balance and into release. Now in the second video, from this year, he brings his hands down, then raises them with his leg and seems to have slowed the whole delivery down considerably. A slower tempo is by no means a bad thing necessarily, of course (look at Dan Haren, right up until his leg starts down), but in this case I think someone, either a coach or parent or someone, has tried to get Gausman to slow down deliberately, probably in hopes of improving his control. Unfortunately, his whole delivery looks much more mechanical and stiff now, and he doesn't look nearly as fluid delivering the ball. I still like his arm action, and think getting him into a system where athleticism and momentum in the delivery are stressed could do wonders for him. 

In a strange way, Gausman pitching poorly this spring has made it much more likely he'll get to the where the Cardinals are drafting, making his struggles oddly appealing to me. 

Stetson Allie, RHP, St. Edwards High School (Ohio)

6'4", 225 lbs

DOB: 13th March, 1991

So, what's so great about this guy? 

Stetson Allie has the one of the best arms in the 2010 draft, high school or college. He's capable of throwing his fastball up to 98 mph, and has at least one and possibly two plus offspeed pitches as well. So why, you ask, do I think he has even the slimmest of chances of getting to the Cardinals at 25? 

That's a good question, and I'm glad you asked. The reason, my dear friends, is that Allie is nowhere near as consistent as even his fellow high school pitchers. His control comes and goes not only game to game, but occasionally inning to inning. He throws as hard as anyone in the draft, and has the makings of plus complimentary pitches, but has fallen clearly behind other prep arms such as Jamieson Tallion, Karsten Whitson, and A.J. Cole. 

Still, the repertoire is impressive, as Allie features a fastball he pumps consistently in the mid-90s and occasionally a little higher, a nasty slider, and a changeup that's unusually good for a high schooler. I've seen parts of two games he pitched in, and while I saw little command of the slider, it did have good movement, and I did think his changeup was a solid pitch. He slowed his arm to throw it, but it had nice sinking action and clearly overmatched high school hitters. 

Despite the quality of his stuff, there's already been talk of Allie's future ultimately being in a major league bullpen, largely because of his lack of consistency and his demeanor, which is much like the Jason Motte of old: come in, throw as hard as possible for as long as possible, go sit down. No planning necessary. 

I think Allie is a very interesting case study, as his stuff is top-shelf but the overall view of him as a pitcher is much more mixed. I have to believe some team out there will buy into his ability to tone down his approach and make it as a starter; if so, he should go early on. 

 

Dylan Covey, RHP, Marantha High School (California)

6'2", 200 lbs

DOB: 19th July, 1991

So, what's so great about this guy? 

Covey is a little bit different breed from the other two pitchers I've covered today. He's a big, physical guy on the mound, and has plenty of stuff, but isn't really in the fireballing mold. He's been clocked as high as the mid-90s at times, but sits more comfortably in the 91-93 range. What really jumps out at you about Covey's stuff is the quality of his breaking ball. He throws a true hammer curve in the upper 70s that may be the best breaker of any high school pitcher in the draft. He's shown a change, but hasn't needed it very often in high school. 

Covey is also much more polished at this point than either Allie or Gausman, as he features strong command of both his fastball and curve and good mound presence. His fastball has nice sink on it as well, enabling him to generate plenty of groundball outs as well as empty swings. He's a big, strong kid who maintains his stuff deep into games better than most pitchers his age. Put it all together and you have a very enticing package for a high school arm. 

Of the three pitchers here, I think Covey has the least chance of falling to 25. I think Gausman's rough spring will push him down into the Cardinals' draft range, and the talk of Allie being too intent on throwing the ball past the hitter, through the catcher, and through the backstop as well make him a wild card that could easily drop lower than his talent would seem to dictate. Covey, on the other hand, is the sort of guy who could actually go higher than where he rates on pure talent, because his maturity is well known and his performance has been consistent. He's much closer to a finished product than most in his age group, and I think he could actually be this year's Matt Hobgood, who went early in the first round last year to the Baltimore Orioles. Hobgood went fourth overall on the basis of a mature, strong body, a well-developed feel for pitching, and a willingness to sign for around slot money. Covey has the first two down; I don't have a clue about the third. 

The Baron's Playlist for the 28th of April, 2010 -- Couples Skate

"For Agent 13" - The Besnard Lakes

"Motel Room in My Bed" - X

"Think Long" - Mates of State

"I'm Confused" - Handsome Furs

"Bull in the Heather" - Sonic Youth

"I Am a Gun" - Parker and Lily

"Thrown Down" - Fleetwood Mac

"That Old Black Magic" - Louis Prima and Keely Smith

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