Good morning, all. Yes, it's Wednesday again, and yes, that means it's time again, that time when your ol' pal the Baron pops up out of nowhere like some wordy, moody version of Whack-a-Mole to throw another batch of draft-related scouting reports at you.
I'm in a terrible hurry today, as I scramble to try and get this done in some sort of semblance of on-time-ness (I have David Bowie's "Modern Love" running through my head as I type that, as I generally do whenever I think the words 'on time'), so I hope you'll forgive the truncated intro; the next words I type are literally going to be on-topic, and the beginning of the draft preview proper. Crazy, I know.
Today we're talking about relievers. More specifically, we're talking about pitchers relieving in college. Even more specifically, we're talking about college closers, and all the weirdness that draft demographic entails. Time was, I was somewhat of a fan of the idea of drafting at least one college closer somewhere in the first five to seven rounds of any draft, thinking in my way I liked having one near-finished product in a given class, one guy who was pretty much readymade to join your team and contribute, even if his was never the very highest of ceilings.
Over time, though, watching how these guys have tended to develop -- or not -- I've become much more circumspect when it comes to the collegiate relief demographic. Guys like this are much riskier than one would hope, considering how short the distance is between pre- and post-draft occupation, and how modest the ultimate expectation for upside tends to be. In other words, when you're placing a bet, you either want the chance for a huge payoff for your risk, or else a smaller risk to be taken if the payout isn't that big. I'm not entirely sure drafting a college closer satisfies either of those desires.
Then again, that also doesn't mean drafting a college closer is a bad idea, necessarily; there are still plenty of Huston Streets, Drew Storens, and Rex Brotherses out there, and finding those guys still has value. It's maybe not quite as safe or as risky a bet as one might prefer, I suppose, but when it comes to the college closer, I'm not prepared to walk away from one entirely. All three of these guys are pitchers I like, for one reason or another. Some more than others.
Brandon Finnegan, LHP, Texas Christian University
5'10", 185 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
And so, after all that talk about college closers, and why I think there's some value in these players, the first pitcher I pick to cover today is, in fact, not a closer, or even a reliever, for his college team. I'm slippery like that, you know. (Actually, I had a different pitcher in the queue for a scouting report today, but changed my mind at the last minute and deleted that section. I'm going to put the other guy in a "persons of interest" post later, because I'm not so sure about him in general. So, a hastily cobbled together solution was born!)
See, the thing is this: Brandon Finnegan, as of right now, is actually working as a starter for TCU, and primarily pitched in that role last year as well. He was primarily a reliever his freshman season, then transitioned to the starting rotation last year, but has worked mostly relief pitching for Team USA and in the Cape Cod League. For my money, he's a reliever in pro ball, even though some consider him a starting prospect, and so I feel like I want to group him with relief prospects. Feel free to disagree if you like.
The good things about Finnegan are pretty apparent, even with limited viewing: he throws very hard, particularly for a lefty, with velocity that sits comfortably in the 93-96 range, and will touch 98 or even 99 a handful of time per start. It's one of those fastballs that seems to have even more oomph than the raw miles per hour reading, as well; hitters just rarely seem to get a good swing at Finnegan's fastball, especially when he's elevating the pitch. There's a bit of a Billy Wagner thing going on there, honestly, when you watch him throw a high heater; the pitch sails and moves like crazy when it's up at the letters, but not nearly so much when it's down.
Finnegan backs up the fastball with an occasionally strong, though rarely consistent, curveball, and a changeup that I've seen reports call future average but I have yet to see as anything but a mercy killing just waiting to happen. Matt Garrioch over at Minor League Ball really likes Finnegan's package of pitches, and thinks he could be a future number two starter; I see a pitcher with one real pitch right now and the possibility he could turn one of his others into a second meaningful offering. For me, he's relieving or he's nothing. The thing is, though, he could be one hell of a reliever, I think.
The limited repertoire isn't the only reason I've got Finnegan relieving in pro ball. His command is marginal most days, with "effectively wild" being the tag best applied, I think. He struggles to repeat a fairly complicated delivery, and coupled with lots of natural movement on his pitches (fastball especially), that delivery (which also features a very late arm that likely accounts for plenty of that velocity but makes him a bigger risk in my ever so humble opinion), is the biggest stumbling block for him, I think, in developing a more starter-like rounded-out repertoire.
If you think Finnegan really possesses three pitches of the useful variety, and believe he could develop something approaching good command in pro ball, I could easily see projecting him into the middle or even upper half of a major league rotation someday. The raw stuff is certainly good enough. If, on the other hand, you see a guy with a complicated deliver, below-average control, well-below average command, and only one great pitch, you probably view him as a reliever. I'm in the second camp. Which isn't to say I don't like him; I actually like Finnegan a lot. I just think it's important to recognise where his strength lies.
The problem with Finnegan, honestly, is that I have a feeling some team who does believe he's a starter long term will pop him early in the first round, and he'll never fall to a place I would feel comfortable taking his skillset. But hey, I do think he could end up a dynamite reliever someday. That Billy Wagner thing I threw out earlier wasn't just an offhand remark.
Nick Burdi, RHP, Louisville
6'3", 220 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Nick Burdi throws hard. That's pretty much the long and short of it. In a draft with plenty of power arms, Burdi's stands out as the biggest of them all, with multiple triple-digit radar gun readings in the offing most nights he takes the mound, and a top reported velocity of 103, though that number should be taken with all the appropriate grains of sodium chloride.
The point is this: Nick Burdi is a power arm among power arms, and he's going to ride that fastball all the way to the big leagues, I believe. This is the platonic ideal of a college closer; a near-finished product who should shoot through the minor leagues by dint of really not needing much work, who is pretty much already exactly what he's going to be.
Beyond the fastball, Burdi throws a slider that some nights has nasty bite on it, moving almost straight down like a split-finger pitch, but also flattens out quite often and really serves only as a respite for hitters tired of seeing 100+ coming at them. He's got a changeup, too, in the sense that he is aware of what a changeup is, and once upon a time someone showed him how to throw it, but let's face it: a guy with Nick Burdi's profile is not going to make his living with a third pitch.
Mechanically, Burdi is really bad. Really, really bad. He's got Stephen Strasburg's arm action, coupled with a habit of landing wide open with his plant foot that I think leads to much worse command than he could have. Personally, I wouldn't touch the arm action; this is a guy who is never going to start, and while changing his delivery could very well help keep him healthier, I want him doing exactly what he's doing right now, so long as he's only doing it for one inning a night. Better to burn out than fade away, and all that. On the other hand, I would try to change the way he uses his lower body in his delivery; I think if you could get him to land more on-line and moving straight toward home his command would improve markedly. It's much more common to see a pitcher land closed rather than wide open, but the control/command issues are similar; improving Burdi's feet would do wonders for him, I think.
I like Nick Burdi. His fastball doesn't move quite as much as Brandon Finnegan's, but the velocity is even better, and I think Burdi's slider is better than either of the lefty's secondary offerings right now. Selecting Burdi in, say, the supplemental phase of the draft might not be my favourite move, considering some of the talent I expect to still be hanging around at that point, but I could certainly live with the selection. The combination of extreme heat and a slider that, at times, has shown plus or even better potential makes Nick Burdi the pitcher Most Likely to be Compared to Craig Kimbrel at some point between now and draft day, even if it's a completely unfair comparison. That's the level of stuff we're talking about.
He's got that Jonathan Papelbon level of intensity on the mound, too. You know, glaring at hitters and screaming and things like that. I have to admit, I kind of like that.
David Berg, RHP, UCLA
6'0", 180 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Remember on Sesame Street, when Maria or somebody would come on and ask you to pick out one thing from a group of four that didn't really belong? One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just isn't the same. I think that's how it went.. David Berg is the one of these things not like the others.
Brandon Finnegan and Nick Burdi are pure power arms, guys with high-end expectations who will hear their names called early on come draft day, will receive big bonus checks commensurate with those high selection positions, and will receive glowing reports on their stuff from the guys in the MLB Network studios that gets the fans of the teams selecting all hot and bothered. David Berg will not be selected in the first round, or the first day, even. I have no idea when David Berg will be selected, honestly. His ceiling is a setup reliever, he doesn't throw hard, and the fans of the team selecting him will struggle, mightily, to remember his name two days after the draft.
David Berg is one of my favourite pitchers in the draft this year.
I'm not usually one who goes into too very much detail about makeup and intangibles and things like that in these draft reports; I do my own scouting on these guys, but I'm in no position to make a call on those sorts of things. Also, hey, I like tangibles. What can I say? Give me measurables any day of the week.
With all that being said, David Berg is a guy I just like. I watch him pitch, and I feel he's going to be successful. I don't know why, but I do. And, honestly, I have a fairly good track record on guys like that, so take it for whatever it's worth. Then again, I had the same feeling about Kevin Gunderson years ago, and there's a reason you're probably getting ready to Google that name right now. So whatever it's worth probably isn't much. But, hey, these are my draft previews, so you get my opinion. And I like David Berg. A lot.
As for the stuff, he's a sidearmer. Not quite a submariner; he doesn't scrape the ground, Chad Bradford-style, but it's a low arm slot all the same. He works in the mid-80s, average velocity for a sidearmer, but the sinking movement on his fastball is a sight to behold. Cla Meredith comes to mind when he first came into the league, but I think Berg might have an even better command over the pitch and what he wants it to do. He never throws a pitch above the knees, and hitters from both sides of the plate are completely helpless to do anything but beat the ball into the ground. His slider is solid, too, with that frisbee action you see in guys who drop down. Not quite Byung-Hun Kim movement, but quite good all the same.
Berg was a walk on at UCLA and ended up appearing in 50 games for the Bruins in their College World Series of 2012 as a freshman, putting up a 1.46 ERA and allowing just 42 hits in 74 innings. He was even better last year in his sophomore campaign, taking over closing duties and recording 24 saves while striking out 78 batters in 78 innings, walking only 11, and finishing the year with an ERA of 0.92. Amateur numbers may not mean a whole lot, but those are tough to ignore all the same.
Also, he shares a name with a notorious cult leader, so I figure that has to count for something, right?
This is a guy I believe in, plain and simple. I watch him pitch, and I think of seeing Dan Quisenberry late in his career when I was young, falling in love with that bizarre delivery, and only realising bit by bit he was an amazing pitcher, too. I think David Berg is going to make some GM and some scouting director both look very, very smart for popping him in the middle rounds and signing him for some modest number that would barely even register to the agents of either of the other two guys I've got here today. Sometimes, it's tough to put why you like a player into a scouting report. This is absolutely one of those times. But I hope I got a little of it through.
That's it for me today, folks. Take care, and I'll see you all again next Wednesday.