Hey, everybody. So, anything new around here? No? Yeah, me neither. Just same old, same old.
So what do you say we talk about some draft prospects? After all, I promised I would start on these early this year, and damn it, I'm delivering.
I'm doing something a little different today. Normally, I group three players by the type of player they are, or the position they play, or that sort of thing. Right-handed pitchers, left-handed pitchers, up-the-middle types, power hitters, etc. Today, though, and next week (well, probably), I'm just going to give you my six favourite prospects in this year's draft. Three pitchers, three positional players. And yes, the one about position players will almost surely be called Favourite Positions, just because I'm still fourteen years old, apparently.
But wait!, you say, isn't it way, way too early to have favourite players already? To which I say, hey, come on man, seriously, quit breaking my balls here. I'm just trying to write a baseball column, okay? Er, ahem, I mean, to which I say, Never! It's never too early to put your neck right out there for the world to devour, even when it is, in fact, way way way too early. Ergo, I reserve the right to change my mind (somewhat), about the players here. But as of this morning, the eighth of January in the year of our lord two thousand and fourteen, after Snowmaggedon has finally passed, these are the guys I like the most.
And awaaayyy we go.
Sean Newcomb, LHP, Hartford University
6'5", 240 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Well, he's big. He's strong. He throws hard. Those are all good things, right? Sure they are. Especially that last one. The first two, eh. Big and strong doesn't mean much for pitchers; at least not as much as a lot of people seem to believe. But throwing hard? Now that's what should get your attention.
Newcomb has a big fastball, especially for a lefthander, sitting comfortably at 91-95, with the top end of his range at 97. He commands the pitch well also, putting it where he wants most of the time and simply overmatching even good college hitters with his heat. So, yeah, pretty good.
With a fastball like Newcomb's, you're looking at a pretty substantial head start. So far, he has to fully capitalise on that head start, as the rest of his repertoire just isn't at the same level yet. His best secondary offering is a slider that, at times, is really nasty and sharp, and, at times, is really nasty and deep, but is almost never both of those things at the same time. The pitch has a tendency to get fast and cuttery, or slow and slurvy, depending on the day or even the inning in question. Personally, I prefer it when it's fast and cuttery, but given my druthers I would prefer to see him just improve the consistency on the pitch and have it be slidery and dominanty. But, if it's one or the other, I think the pitch is better when he throws it a little harder, especially bearing in on the hands of righthanded hitters.
The changeup is there, but it's not there yet, if you know what I mean. The speed separation is usually good, and Newcomb does a reasonable job maintaining arm speed on the pitch, but it's a little flat, and if anything, a bit too firm. In other words, the change still needs a fair bit of work, I think, before it, or Newcomb, is ready for primetime.
So all that stuff is good about Newcomb. Some of it is very good. But you want to know what's great about this guy. After all, it's the question I've started every one of these scouting reports off with for god only knows how many years now. And I'll tell you, what's great about Newcomb is his delivery. It's fantastic. Watch the super slo-mo, watch when his foot comes down, watch where his arm is. There are no weird off positions, no picking the ball up with the elbow nonsense, no inverted consonants of any sort. His mechanics are, in my ever-so-humble opinion, great.
Want a comp? Easy. Sean Newcomb = Jon Lester. Both are big-bodied, physical pitchers, not just tall but broad as well, with relatively deliberate deliveries and plus velocity. Perhaps it's just the uniform that's fooling me, but damned if Newcomb doesn't look eerily like Lester in the video.
The only problem with Newcomb is his draft stock. It's quite high already, and I could see it going much, much higher this spring. He's still refining his game, learning to harness his physical gifts, and I think we could see a big jump in performance from him in his junior season. There's a very, very good chance Sean Newcomb is going to be well and truly picked by the time the Cardinals go on the board in the first round. It doesn't mean I can't put him on my list of absolute favourites in the class, though, does it?
Kodi Medeiros, LHP, Waiakea High School (Hawaii)
6'0", 185 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Okay, so after I finish raving about Sean Newcomb, I now have to tell you he actually isn't my very favourite pitcher in the 2014 draft class. In fact, he's not even my favourite lefty in the 2014 draft class. That rather dubious honour goes to one Kodi Medeiros, the shorter, more Hawaiian Madison Bumgarner I'll be crossing my fingers to see the Cardinals pick in June.
The arm slot is unorthodox, to be sure, as Mediros works from a low three-quarter angle that will certainly have more than one evaluator projecting him for future LOOGY duty. To which I say: hogwash! Poppycock, even! This is a supremely talented pitcher, one I honestly believe has as high a ceiling as any pitcher who will be drafted come June. Perhaps higher.
Medeiros works in the low 90s consistently with his fastball, and the pitch shows remarkable life as well. When it's down, it sinks. When it's up, it sails. He's been clocked up to 95, though 90-93 is a much more comfortable velocity range for the lefty. He features a wicked breaking ball as his second pitch, of the sidewinding curve variety, and he can make lefthanded hitters look completely hopeless with it. He throws a changeup, and it actually shows excellent depth and movement already, but at the moment Medeiros tends to slow his arm quite a bit when he throws it. That's not a problem against high school hitters, most of whom have never seen anything resembling a really good changeup to this point in their lives, but telegraphing a changeup in professional baseball is a good way to put your team in a hole. Still, the pitch shows plenty of promise, and with work I think it could end up a plus offering down the road.
So with stuff like that, why am I bothering to write about Medeiros at all? Hell, if his stuff is that good, there's zero chance he's around when the Cardinals make their pick, right?
And here we come to the rub. Kodi Medeiros has three things working against him, things that will depress his draft stock, and should keep him in a range where El Birdos might have a shot to select him. One, he's a high school pitcher, which tends to be viewed as a risky demographic, even if it probably isn't. Two, his delivery is, as I said before, unorthodox. Bumgarner is the pitcher who comes to mind immediately; he's also the only starting pitcher who comes to mind with a similar arm slot to Medeiros. And three, look at the second line of the bolded part up above, right below 'Kodi Medeiros, LHP, etc.' See that number six? And how there's a zero next to it? Kodi Medeiros is small. He's six foot even in baseball terms, which probably puts him closer to 5'10" in real life. I myself have absolutely no qualms about his size, but plenty of teams are going to look askance at him over what seems to be a less than ideal pitcher's frame.
As for the delivery, I really like it. Again, look at the arm in slow motion, watch how good his timing is. Sure, you don't see many arm actions quite like his, but then again, maybe that's a problem with everybody else, rather than a problem with this guy.
Medeiros has remarkable stuff, tremendous movement on his pitches. He needs refinement still, as his command comes and goes, and as I said earlier, he tends to telegraph his offspeed stuff to a certain degree. Nonetheless, I see more I like from this kid than pretty much anyone else I've looked at so far for the 2014 draft. If you're asking the player I would most love to hear the Cardinals call out on draft day this year, the answer is probably Kodi Medeiros.
Cameron Varga, RHP, Cincinnati Christian Academy (Ohio)
6'3", 200 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
A two-way prospect out of high school, Varga is a premium athlete, which I always like in a pitcher, but the stuff is good enough I don't see any team seriously considering him as anything but a pitcher at this point. Still, the Cardinals have shown an affinity in recent years for converted shortstops, so there's that to at least tuck away in the back of your mind for a future date.
Varga features a two-pitch mix of a fastball in the low 90s, ranging up to about 95, and a hard curve that might be his best offering, at least on days he's really in command of it. He throws from a high arm slot that helps give his pitches plane, as well as making the curve look like it's dropping in from the sky. He's shown some ability with a changeup, though the pitch is very much a typical high school pitcher's change of pace, in that it's at least as theoretical as it is actual. Personally, given his angle of attack, I would consider seeing if he can throw a split-finger pitch, though maybe that's just because I really like watching pitchers with splitters in general.
Right now, Varga is very much a pure power pitcher, as much thrower as anything, and the fact he's divided his attention between shortstop and pitching is a big part of that. Given the chance to focus on pitching only, and with professional coaching, I think this is a guy who could take off in a big way. He's got the raw arm tools to work with, certainly, to go along with a natural athleticism you can't teach a player to have. If I had to put him somewhere in a ranking of the three pitchers I've covered today, he would probably finish a close third. But compared to the field? This is a player I really, really like.
One thing I will say: I haven't been able to see any high-speed footage of his delivery as of yet, so I hesitate to say much about what I think of his delivery. To the naked eye, it looks like his arm might be a little late, but that's the sort of thing that's just too hard to see for sure without some technological assistance. I do like most of what I can see in mechanics, though.
Down the road, I think Cameron Varga is a very good pitcher, one who throws a ton of strikes. I don't know why I feel that, exactly, but watching him pitch, I can't help but think this is a guy who is going to post some very low walk totals in the future. And with his stuff, that could be a recipe for something very special.
So there you have it, folks. My three favourite pitchers in the 2014 draft, all lined up for you to peruse. Two high schoolers, one collegian. Two lefties, one righty. All three enormously talented, and all three very exciting. I'd be thrilled with any of the three come draft day for the Redbirds. Then again, the Cardinals did pick my favourite pitcher in last year's draft, so maybe I'm asking for too much to hope it could happen two years in a row.
If I was handicapping things, I would say there's very little chance Newcomb falls far enough for the Redbirds to nab him, but I think both the other two should still be on the board, barring an absolute monster spring out of one of them.
So that's my piece for this week, everybody. I hope to see you all again soon. Take care of yourselves.
Oh, and just as a blast from the past, how about a playlist? Okay, so it's just one song; Three Finger Cowboy's "A Foot of Snow", but it seems apropos for the conditions here in my neck of the woods.