2011 Draft Preview the Ocho: Closing Time

ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 17: Lance Berkman #12 of the of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a walk-off single against the Philadelphia Phillies Busch Stadium on May 17, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)


You know, with a little luck, Jaime Garcia could be 9-0 right now with an ERA just over one and a half, running away with the Cy Young award. Well, okay, maybe not running away with it, exactly; there's this dude in Florida, name o' Johnson, who's pretty good too. (Although -- and I was mildly shocked to see this -- Jaime's numbers actually contain less luck than Josh Johnson's to this point in the season.) Sadly, he's just 5-0 with an ERA just over one and a half, and not getting nearly the press Ubaldo Jimenez did last year.

Still, seeing the Cards bounce back from a nasty series in Cincy with a sweep of the terrifying Phillies (even if it was only two games), was suitably heartwarming. Jake Westbrook was much better than he has been, Jaime was the man once again, and the offense was juuuust good enough to beat two of the better pitchers in the National League by a combined score of 4-2. Three cheers for Pythagorean-Reality agreement!

Speaking of Pythagorean records, even with a couple non-differential padding close wins under their collective belt, the Cardinals are still underperforming theirs by two games. Just in case you were wondering, the Reds are exactly even with theirs at 24-17.

Scouting reports follow the jump.

Today we have for you a fine selection of three college closers. Now, I wouldn't say picking a reliever early in the draft is necessarily my favourite strategy, but I also wouldn't deny there's some value in it. These guys usually move quickly and can help bolster a major league bullpen in fairly short order for a minimal investment. The Cards are picking a little early to take a closer in the first round, but if history tells us anything with regards to the Cardinals' recent drafts, it's that there will be at least one college reliever selected sometime in the first five rounds. Whether that's a true relief prospect like Chris Perez or a conversion candidate like Joe Kelly or Jordan Swagerty is anyone's guess.

Tony Zych, RHP, Louisville

6'3", 188 lbs

Throws: Right

Bats: Right

Player Page

So, what's so great about this guy?

Well, first off, his name just lends itself to a truly outstanding closer nickname. How would you like to face the man they've christened Tony Zilch, because that's what you're going to get off of him? Down on Cherokee Street they call him El Zilcho and have tall glass candles with his face on them.

Second -- and somehow much less importantly, at least to me -- Tony Zych has everything you like to see from a closing candidate. He throws hard, sitting comfortably in the 96 mph range and topping out about 98, and has a nasty breaking ball, a hard slider in the upper 80s he just demolishes right-handed hitters with. He's got a long, rangy build that could handle more weight and a pretty good closer glare already going.

There's also some funk to his delivery, which is both a blessing and a curse. He works from a lower arm slot, a little like Adam Ottavino, and his mechanics are jerky and abrupt. (Actually, the more I look at it, his delivery kinda puts me in mind of our recently returned all-destroying prodigal son...) It adds to the deception on his pitches, but has also hurt his stock some because scouts place the injury risk red flag on him.

Zych's command isn't the best, as his slider in particular wanders. He's been somewhat vulnerable to lefties at times, but refining his command should help that, I would think.

Also of note, at least from a Cards-centric point of view, is Zych's record of success in wood bat leagues. He was named both Outstanding Relief Pitcher and Outstanding Pro Prospect in the Cape Cod League last year after striking out 29 hitters in 20 innings of work. The Cardinals love wood bat success, and Zych has that in spades.

El Zilcho is fairly close to a finished product already. He has one plus-plus pitch, another pitch that can above-average but needs work to be more consistent, and solid enough command to contribute almost immediately. He wouldn't be my first choice just on philosophy alone, but that doesn't mean he isn't a solid prospect.

 

Colton Murray, RHP, Kansas

6'0", 193 lbs

Throws: Right

Bats: Right

Player Page

So, what's so great about this guy?

Colton Murray may have the single best breaking ball in the entire draft class, a devastating slider he throws in the mid-80s. The pitch has unusual depth, and hitters are helpless to make contact with it. There are a few pitchers vying for the title of Best Breaking Ball in any given year, and this is no exception, but Murray's is certainly a legitimate contender.

Murray's fastball isn't bad, either, with 92-94 mph velocity and good movement down in the zone. He also throws an occasional changeup, and it's really not a bad pitch. He hasn't thrown it nearly enough to be confident going to the change in big situations. Still, with just a modicum of polish, Murray could have a third pitch to help him combat lefthanders in the future. He attacks hitters relentlessly, wasting neither time nor pitches.

With the potential for three usable pitches, you might think Murray would make a good starting candidate, but his modest stature and higher-effort mechanics have caused most to view him strictly as a reliever in the long run. Then again, Murray's profile, that of a smallish pitcher with effort in his delivery, three possibly usable pitches -- including a plus-plus breaking ball -- and a strike-throwing, bulldog approach sounds an awful lot like Jordan Swagerty, doesn't it?  If there's a player on this list who could be seen as a possible starter by some enterprising team, my money would be on Murray being the guy.

Marcus Stroman, RHP, Duke

5'9", 185 lbs

Throws: Right

Bats: Right

Player Page

So, what's so great about this guy?

Marcus Stroman is a little like a more extreme version of Colton Murray. He's even smaller, listed somewhat generously at 5'9", but has even better stuff, with a fastball that sits at 94 and has peaked as high as 97 last year on the Cape and a slider that can be positively deadly when it's on. He's a remarkable athlete as well, and has played in the field even in college when not pitching. In that way he's a little like the Cards' current left-handed relief prospect, Sam Freeman, another hyperathletic two-way player from a non-powerhouse school who has become a short reliever.

There is some thought Stroman's slider would be better as a curveball. He takes too much off the pitch at times and telegraphs it, though even when he does the movement on the pitch is still impressive. In the low-80s the breaking ball gets slurvy easily and Stroman often struggles to command it. He needs more work than either of the other two pitchers on this list on the finer points of the game, as he has less pure pitching experience and is only 20 years old, being a draft-eligible sophomore.  He has no third pitch to speak of, and his command is well behind his stuff at this point.

Even optimistic observers would question whether Stroman could ever handle a starter's workload with his size and repertoire, so he would most likely be a pure relief option. He did make a handful of starts his freshman season, but his long-term future is in the late innings. In order to make it in pro ball he'll need to refine his command and either learn to throw his slider harder, with fastball arm speed, or change the grip and move to a curveball. With his youth and the electric in his arm, some team will bet on Stroman putting it all together sometime in the early rounds of the draft.

 

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