I don't have a particularly long intro for you today. Well, actually, that's not entirely true; I actually do have a long intro -- in my head, at least -- but I'm in a bit of a hurry to try and get this thing written. Ergo, my completely apropos of nothing story I was planning to lead off with today will just have to wait for some other time.
Anyhow, it's the thirteenth edition of the 2014 draft preview series, and in keeping with that bad-luck number, I'm going with a bunch of bad-luck people, if ever there has been. Lefties. Ugh. The worst. Three pitchers, all of whom throw with their wrong hand, all of whom have sadly been failed by the nuns charged with beating the evil out of them. There's a reason they're called sinister, folks, and it ain't because we all love Latin so much. Also not because we love shitty Ethan Hawke movies so much, hereafter known as Ethan Hawke movies. (That's probably not fair; I actually like quite a few Ethan Hawke films, but I thought it was a funny line.) Anyhow, left-handed people are the devil, is what I'm getting at. They also just happen to be really valuable in baseball, so while I wouldn't ever advocate turning my back on one, drafting them might not be such a bad idea.
Oh, and these guys are all high-schoolers, too. This draft really is completely crazy in terms of high school pitching depth. I don't know if I can ever remember seeing the like before.
Brady Aiken, LHP, Cathedral Catholic High School (California)
DOB: 16th August, 1996
6'4", 210 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
When scouts and coaches and front-office types talk about 'projectability', what they're really hoping for is something along the lines of Brady Aiken.
Not only because he's exactly the sort of physical specimen you typically hear that word projectable thrown around in regards to, either; in fact, that's not even the main reason I'm touting his projectability. No, I mean more the results. When scouts see a skinny kid throwing mid-80s his sophomore year of high school, what they're hoping he turns into is, in fact, Brady Aiken.
This time last year, Brady Aiken was a mid- to late-first round kind of kid. He was tall, lanky, loose in build, and he threw pretty hard for a skinny sixteen year old. He also showed a lot of maturity and pitchability (a word I feel is only slightly less overused than projectability, by the way), for a guy that young. Upper 80s fastball that occasionally pushed into the lower 90s when he was airing it out for a showcase, a not-bad (read: extant), changeup that he understood both the theory and practice of, and the ability to spin a breaking ball, at least on occasion. He was capital P Projectable.
Fast forward to now, and Brady Aiken is, quite possibly, the hottest stock in the market at this moment. He has flown up draft boards this spring, thanks to a body that is tall and loose still, but has matured appreciably in the past year, and a fastball that has matured so much it's now considering several term life insurance options and looking to roll over a 401K into a nice Roth IRA on the advice of its financial planner.
Aiken's velocity has taken a huge step forward this spring, and his fastball now sits in the 92-94 range pretty consistently, with a solid downward plane and some armside run on the pitch when he's going well. He's been all the way up to 97 in short stints (again, showcases and the like), and it isn't entirely fantastical to think he might end up closer to 95 as an average when it's all said and done, as he still has room for added weight and strength. Me, I'm not projecting he'll throw any harder, but let's face it: he really doesn't have to.
His complementary pitches haven't taken quite the big leap forward his heater has, but his feel for offspeed stuff is still ahead of most of his contemporaries. His curveball is big and slow and loopy, but still plenty good to get out high school hitters. I'm not a huge fan of his breaking ball, honestly; compared to someone like Henry Owens, another tall, lanky lefty I was gunning for the Cardinals to draft a couple years ago instead of Kolten Wong, Aiken's curve doesn't have any real snap or power to it. It's a rainbow, or a dead fish, or pick your cliche. The pitch is going to need plenty of work in pro ball, is what I'm trying to say. As much as I prefer the curve to sliders as a general rule, I might think in this case about changing him over to a slider; I don't know why, exactly, but I feel like he might have better luck with it.
Aiken's changeup is another story. It's not a plus-plus weapon in the Michael Wacha mold, by any means, but it's still a pitch one can point to as a legitimate above-average offering in his toolkit. He sells the pitch well with good arm speed, and while it doesn't have a ton of fade or tumble, he does keep it down in the zone where a changeup really needs to be. Plenty of grounders and weak popups in his future so long as he locates it.
Mechanically, I think Aiken is actually fairly sound, though there's something about his delivery I just flat-out don't like, in a purely subjective way. In fact, that's kind of where I am with Aiken overall; there is absolutely nothing I can find about this guy that doesn't scream top prospect, even acknowledging I don't think his breaking ball is very good yet, and yet my feelings about him are actually very lukewarm.
Brady Aiken has size, he has velocity, he has presently existent offspeed pitches, and he has what looks to me like a fairly sound delivery. He has everything he needs to be a top ten or even top five draft pick in June, and he almost surely will be. And I'm not at all a fan, for some reason. And I have no idea why.
I also have no idea why I enjoy listening to Japanese play-by-play so much, either. But I totally do.
Mac Marshall, LHP, Parkview High School (Georgia)
DOB: 27th January, 1996
6'2", 180 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
First off, Mac Marshall bats right-handed, in spite of throwing with his left hand. That right there is enough to make him a remarkably rare bird, and pretty much a lock for future stardom. After all, Ricky threw left and batted right, and Ricky is the greatest of all time. So, he's got that going for him.
Actually, to be quite honest with you, this is another pitcher I'm similarly lukewarm on, much like Brady Aiken. And for similarly nebulous reasons.
Marshall doesn't have big-time velocity the way Aiken does, but he's not a soft-tosser, either. He works primarily right around 90 mph with his fastball, a tick or two higher when he pushes it, and the pitch actually shows nice cutting action at times. Where Aiken uses his height to create that plane and forces the fastball to the bottom of the zone, though, Marshall tends to work up, making him more of a flyball pitcher. Not that that's a bad thing, necessarily; my preference is generally for a pitcher who rolls up the groundball numbers, but weak flyballs are a perfectly valid way to generate outs. Marshall's ability to cut his heater allows him to get inside on right-handed hitters, which, combined with a really excellent changeup, should keep him from being too vulnerable to opposite handed damage.
Speaking of the changeup, Marshall's is very, very good. It isn't the most consistent offering in the world yet; there are days he struggles to locate the pitch and ends up telegraphing it, but when he maintains his arm speed the pitch offers both deception and nice sink. It's an easy plus pitch when it's on; the only real work he needs to do on the changeup is making it more consistent.
The breaking ball, on the other hand, is very weak right now. He throws a curve, but it's rarely anything more than a big, slow eephus-y sort of offering, the movement on the pitch more a function of being thrown very slowly than an ability to generate great spin. He's thrown a slider at times as well, and I think that's a bit more promising pitch for him, particularly playing off the cutting action of his fastball. Even so, it's still a pitch that is far from being a real weapon. He's cut very much from the Jason Vargas mold, though I think Marshall will ultimately have more velocity, and thus perhaps higher strikeout numbers, which is certainly a plus.
If Marshall can develop a breaking ball down the road, he could certainly take a big leap forward. Even as it stands, though, I think his ability to work inside to opposite-handed hitters and then go away from them with a very good straight change should make him an excellent starting candidate long term. Given the way he seems to work up in the zone (and often up out of it), i would think a team with a ballpark conducive to flyball pitchers -- Oakland comes to mind, as they've seemingly been cultivating that demographic specifically of late -- would be especially interested in his profile. He's not my favourite pitcher in the draft, by any means, but there's plenty to be excited about -- or at least intrigued by -- Mac Marshall.
Alex Verdugo, LHP/OF, Sahuaro High School (Arizona)
DOB: 15th May, 1996
6'1", 190 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Alex Verdugo is a legitimate two-way talent. He has solid speed, he can hit, he has pop. He has all the ingredients of a really, really good college outfielder. He also has all the ingredients of a really, really good professional pitcher, and I think that's where he's going to end up when all is said and done on draft day.
So what's to like? Well, let's begin with that athleticism that makes him such an attractive two-way player. I value athletic ability in a pitcher in a big, big way, and Verdugo has it in spades. He's a legitimate centerfielder, though he isn't a Joe Kelly-level burner, to be fair. Body control is one of those things you just can't entirely teach to a guy, but you can look for it, and I think Verdugo absolutely has it.
The repertoire looks like this: a fastball that sits in the 89-92 range, and he's bumped it up to 95 at times, though not especially often, complemented by a hard two-plane curve and a changeup that shows plenty of promise. There could be a bit more velocity in his game, considering he's never focused full-time on pitching; it's another of the reasons I tend to like two-way players. His fastball moves a ton, more than either of the other two pitchers I've covered here today, and he tends to generate plenty of grounders to go along with a large number of empty swings.
Personally, I think Verdugo ends up sitting in the 91-93 range, and the movement on the pitch makes it an easy 60 grade, maybe a touch better than that.
As good as his fastball looks at times, Verdugo's best pitch might be his curveball, which fits more in the 1-to-7 category than the big overhand curve of the other two guys here. He doesn't always throw it with perfect conviction, but when he finishes it off, hitters are usually pretty much helpless as it comes in with high 70s velocity and exceptionally tight rotation. It could be called slurvy and criticised for tilting too much; I say leave it alone and enjoy the breeze from all those swings and misses.
The changeup is, for now, a distant third pitch, but Verdugo has shown an ability to create movement on the pitch of the tumbling, split-finger like variety. A touch more fade might be better, but so long as he can sell the pitch and get it to drop, the pitch could end up a third above-average offering for him.
Mechanically, I'm a big fan of how Verdugo goes about his business. I think his timing is good, he uses his lower body pretty well, and I love how well he finishes his pitches, low and well out in front of the rubber. There are no guarantees, of course, but if I had to lay my own money down, Verdugo would be a guy I would bet on in terms of having a chance to stay healthy. The athleticism feeds in here, as well; if he focuses on pitching full-time, I think Verdugo's balance and body control should allow him to repeat that delivery consistently, which should lead to plenty of strikes filling up the zone.
The downside with Verdugo is that, at this point, he's a fair bit more raw than many of his peers, including the other two pitchers covered here today. Splitting time between hitting and pitching tends to retard the development on the pitching side of things more, I believe, and Verdugo is no exception there. He's not as much of a project as a guy like, say, Tyrell Jenkins was at the time he was drafted, but that's very much the sort of situation a team drafting Verdugo would be looking at. Still, I have to admit, Verdugo has, the more I've dug in, become one of my very favourite players in this draft, to the point I might actually like him better than a couple of the players I wrote up as my 2014 cheeseballs, way back at the beginning of this series. Considering how much I liked Rob Kaminsky last year and Kodi Medeiros this year, I'm thinking I might be a little too into somewhat undersized high school lefthanders.
So, here's the thing: I have a comp for him. I think it's a pretty good one, too. But, I have to say, I really, really don't want to say it. High school lefty, plays outfield and pitches, exceptional athlete, moving fastball with plus velocity for a left-hander, potentially elite two-plane curveball....any idea who I'm thinking of yet? Oh, sure, I could just come right out and say it, but not only is it probably not fair, it's absolutely terrifying to me personally.
No, I won't say it. You can say it in the comments if you like, but I'm not going to make the comparison I absolutely feel is accurate for Alex Verdugo. But, you know, if you do know who I'm talking about, well, then you get why I might be a wee bit excited, right?
Alright, that's thirteen down, however many left to go. Next week I'm going a persons of interest post (I think I may have said I was going to do that this week, but I decided to go this route instead), and then maybe some sort of update post on players who have moved up or down substantially this spring, We'll see. Anyhow, have a really lovely day, and I'll see you all again sometime soon.