Last week, we took a look at a trio, a triad, a triumvirate of college pitchers, all of the right-handed variety. Some laughs were shared, some videos were watched, and we all came out of it a little older, and a little wiser. It was a Very Special Episode kind of warm and fuzzy day, really.
This week, we return to the well of college-aged pitching, but this time we carry the bucket in our collective left hand. This is the mirror image of last week's post; sort of a wrong-side-of-the-tracks retelling of that story we all know so very well, starring customers of the Leftorium as we educate ourselves on the players who will be receiving brand new professional contracts from some lucky team this coming summer.
Let's dive right in, shall we?
Kevin Ziomek, LHP, Vanderbilt
6'3", 200 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Kevin Ziomek is one of the biggest helium guys in the draft this year, a player whose stock has exploded over the past calendar year to push him into mid-first round consideration, if not even higher. His coming-out party was really in the Cape Cod League last year, and while the Cardinals are certainly more notably slanted toward taking hitters who find success on the Cape, rather than pitchers, it does at least suggest they've gotten a very, very good look at the guy.
Ziomek has also had a huge spring so far, including a one-hitter back in early March that featured 15 strikeouts and was as dominant a performance as you'll ever see by a pitcher in a metal-bat scenario. He's gotten knocked around a little more as of late, though perception of his ability is still at an all-time high.
Repertoire-wise, Ziomek puts me in mind of another former star left-hander from Vanderbilt, Jeremy Sowers. Ziomek has a bit more on his fastball than Sowers ever did, working comfortably in the low 90s and topping out at about 93, whereas Sowers was more of an 89-91 guy, but both featured outstanding offspeed stuff thrown from a funky, low arm slot hitters seem to have a tough time picking up. Ziomek's best offering is a nasty curve with a big, sweeping break he can throw in any count and locate anywhere he needs to. His changup is an above-average pitch as well, and he'll cut his fastball to get inside on right-handed hitters. He patterns his pitches remarkably well, consistently keeping hitters off balance and guessing.
I'm a big fan of Ziomek, although I do have my doubts about his mechanics. I haven't seen high-speed video of his delivery, so I won't make any definitive statements about it, but there are a few still photos I've seen that make me worry. Even so, this is a pitcher I would love to see the Redbirds grab on draft day, adding a left-handed complement to the most impressive stable of young pitching in all of baseball.
Sean Manaea, LHP, Indiana State
6'5", 235 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
In some ways, Sean Manaea is a bit of the inverse of Kevin Ziomek, in that his stock, riding high coming into the spring, has definitely taken some hits as inconsistency and immaturity have been the words most commonly associate with his scouting reports so far.
Manaea was, like Ziomek, a Cape Cod phenomenon last summer, putting up some of the best numbers for any pitcher in the history of the league, and in the wake of that brilliance his name crept up into the conversation for the first overall pick. This spring, though, the velocity has been up and down, his secondary pitches have not been as consistently sharp, and the scouting community seems divided on whether this is just a bump in the road for a talented young hurler or something legitimately concerning. Personally, I still believe he'll ultimately come off the board well ahead of where the Cards are picking, but the possibility is certainly there that he could fall down into the latter half of the first round if he continues to roller coaster his way through the rest of the 2013 season.
At his best, Manaea has truly remarkable stuff, particularly for a left-hander. His fastball runs in the 93-95 range, and he boasts a pair of secondary pitches that could both end up plus offerings down the road. For my money, I like his changeup a shade better than the slider, as it has hard movement down and to the first base side, but the breaking ball has shown at times to be a swing-and-miss pitch as well. When everything is working for Manaea, there aren't many pitchers capable of looking better. Why that isn't happening more often at the moment is really the big question mark.
If Manaea can stabilize his performance over the next couple months, he'll jump right back up to the top of the first round. His arm, his talent, is just too special for teams not to fall all over themselves trying to grab him. Until or unless that happens, though, there have to be questions about what exactly is going on with him, and those doubts could easily push his value down as teams shy away from taking a risk on such an enigmatic commodity.
One other thing, on a mechanical note: I don't know much about the kid's arm action, as I haven't seen too much slow-mo on him. But I love his follow-through. I love how far he gets out in front of the mound, and I wish every pitcher would finish the way he does. Take that for whatever it's worth (probably nothing); I just thought it should be noted.
Marco Gonzales, LHP, Gonzaga University
6'1", 190 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Two words: Change. Up.
Marco Gonzales probably has the best changeup of any pitcher in the draft this year, and it's one of the best pitches period. He sells the pitch beautifully, with identical arm speed to his fastball, and the ball just...doesn't get there. I'm a sucker for a changeup, and watching Gonzales throw his is a thing of beauty.
The rest of his repertoire is solid, but not anything that's going to exactly blow the doors off. He works his fastball in the upper 80s to low 90s, topping out around 92 on a good day, and he throws two versions of a breaking ball, both of which grade out in the average-ish range. It wouldn't surprise me to see him scrap his curveball in pro ball, as the slider seems to be a tad bit tighter to me in very limited viewing. Or, perhaps he could tighten it further into a cutter and stay with a four-pitch mixture. Either way, he has a wide enough base of pitches to have plenty of options going forward. His delivery is remarkably simple, and he has a reputation for working quickly. Not that either one is necessarily a positive, but I'm not immune to the siren's song of a guy who just looks confident out there on the mound.
Gonzales is actually pretty well thought of as a two-way player, though his future is undoubtedly on the mound. His athleticism would make him an excellent fit for middle infield duty were he to throw with his other hand, and his hitting skills are well-developed as well. As it is, though, he just doesn't have the kind of power to play most of the positions lefties are capable of, and his arm is just too good for him to end up anywhere but toeing the rubber anyway. Still, the athleticism is a strong positive in my book.
Overall, Gonzales' ceiling may not be the highest, but he still offers an intriguing combination of stuff and athletic ability that should get him called in the first 40 or so picks in June.. His performance will make a big difference in exactly where he lands, and so far he hasn't had the greatest spring. Of the three pitchers covered here today, Gonzales is easily the most likely to be available when the Cards go on the clock; it's a shame he's probably easily my least favourite of the bunch. That said, this is still a pitcher I'm sure the organisation would be glad to bring in to the fold.
The Baron's Playlist for the 3rd of April, 2013