*2014 Draft Preview, Spinal Tap Edition: More High School Pitching Part Two (Even Morer)

Andy Lyons

Even more pitching, if you can believe it.

The baseball season has begun officially, finally. No more Australian bullshit (no offense, Australians), no more Dodgers playing half a dozen games before the rest of baseball does just because. Real baseball, real season, real schedule. Well, almost real schedule; there is always that off day immediately after the first game of the season that really bugs me, but still, close to a real schedule. The 2014 baseball season is here.

But not today! See, today is Wednesday, which means you're in Baronland (which is a surprisingly brutal dictatorship, considering how I usually come across), which means we only care about the future. Specifically, the far-off future where we all have flying cars and android sex slaves (android as in androids, not android as in a Google mobile operating system, which I have a feeling would just cause my android sex slave to get really poor battery life and be oddly difficult to update), and our baseball team is populated by players whose names you first heard years ago on Viva El Birdos during a weirdly rambling and occasionally near-nonsensical draft preview written by what might very well have been a true ghost in the machine, possibly in rhyme.

Yes, I mean I'm previewing the draft. Man, can't you guys read? I mean, that paragraph couldn't have been more direct. Ugh. Philistines.

So anyhow, last week I previewed three high school pitchers from the almost absurdly deep pool of them we'll see come June. This week I have three more, again all right-handed.

Before we get into the meat of the post, though, I have two bits of housekeeping. One, I'm going to be on the radio tomorrow morning, talking about the brand new Redbird season. The station is WGEM 1440 in Quincy, Illinois; it's the local ESPN affiliate up there, and I've been on the morning show probably a dozen times over the past few years. I almost never remember to mention it, but lo and behold, this time I did. They stream live on their website; there also used to be an audio archives section, but I don't see that feature anymore, so they may very well have gotten rid of it. Anyway, I'll be on at or about 8:00 am Central; if you want to hear me make a fool of myself on sports talk radio, give it a listen.

Second, I wanted to lay out a bit of a schedule for the next few editions of the draft preview, just so you all know what's coming up. Next week I'm going to do the high school version of the all-bat demographic post, followed on the 16th of April by a persons of interest post with five names to possibly know of players who aren't as highly thought of as most of the early-round talent I tend to focus on here but who I think are worth profiling anyway. The week of the 23rd I haven't decided yet what to do; I usually shy away from writing too much about the players at the very top of the draft, because I tend to try and focus on guys the team we care about might actually have an opportunity to select. This year, though, because I managed to get an early start and have been mostly dedicated to this niche, I have the time I may try to write up the guys we'll see go in the first five or ten picks, just for the sake of completeness, as well as having a point of comparison for what kind of talents you can expect when you pick, say, fourth overall instead of in the bottom half of the first round every year. I'm not sure yet, but I'm thinking I may go that route this year. If anyone has a strong preference, feel free to express it. I would also like to post an update one of these weeks soon about players who may have taken a big step forward (or backward), this spring, maybe featuring some college statlines if they're particularly notable. Again, let me know if that's the sort of thing you would be interested in.

Without further ado, let's be off to learn about three more players, yes?

Cobi Johnson, RHP, J.W. Mitchell High School (Florida)

6'4", 170 lbs

DOB: 6th November, 1995

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

If you've been reading my work on these draft previews for very long, you probably know that I like comparables. A lot, in fact. There are plenty of scouts or pundits out there who dislike throwing comps on a player, as they think it tends to muddy the waters, rather than simply describing what a player is on his own. Me, I can't do that. I have to comp players, simply because it functions as a sort of mental shorthand for me. I tend to think very metaphorically (and write that way, as well); something is always like something else in my mind.

And, sometimes, those comps are easy to come by, as is the case with our first pitcher of the day today. Cobi Johnson, to my eye, has a whole lot of Adam Wainwright in him, in all the best ways.

Johnson is tall, lean, and projects for a little more velocity down the road, though like Wainwright, I don't necessarily see him turning into a mid- to high-90s guy no matter how much he fills out. He throws from a very high overhand arm slot, which allows him to get excellent angle on a fastball that currently sits around 90 or so, topping out around 93. When he gets the fastball down, it moves nicely, with a little sink and tail that I think bodes well for his future groundball rates, but when the pitch is up it tends to flatten out. He's a bit of a short strider, also, which calls to mind both Waino and Michael Wacha, pitchers who sacrifice extension out in front of the plate to instead utilise their height to create that downward plane.

Where Johnson most reminds me of Wainwright, though, is in his advanced feel for some very good offspeed offerings, unusual for a pitcher this young. He possesses one of the best curveballs of any prep pitcher in the draft this year, a huge bender that he throws in the upper 70s and can actually get over for strikes a decent portion of the time. As rare as it is to see a breaking ball as good as his at such a young age, it's even more unusual to see a kid who actually has some ability to command it.

He also throws a very good changeup, a low-80s offering with really nice movement that he does not, as of yet, have great command of. The pitch has the movement and speed differential to be a plus, but the ability to throw it for a strike, to put it where he wants, isn't quite there yet. Not that that is or should be a concern just yet, of course; there's more than enough time for Johnson to refine his change into a weapon as he moves into his pro career. The fact he already possesses three pitches that are clearly defined and better than usable is pretty remarkable.

I'm a big fan of Johnson's delivery, as well. His timing is very good, and while I usually prefer guys to get as far out in front of the rubber as possible, I think he uses his lower body well enough that I can live with the shorter stride for the other benefits he derives.

Bottom line, I'm very much on Cobi Johnson's bandwagon. I'm not sure I ever see 97 mph heat in his future, but what I do see is a young man with a chance to develop into a complete pitcher, with a multitude of weapons he can deploy against hitters. I like him. A lot.

Extra-nice thing about Johnson: he pitched in the Perfect Game All-American Classic last summer, meaning there's actually footage of him to be found from behind the pitcher, where you can get a better point of reference for how his stuff looks compared to how we see most pitchers most of the time. There are a couple of very nice curves in here, a few high fastballs that high school hitters couldn't quite catch up to, and one really wicked changeup at about the 1:25 mark to strike out Alex Jackson, the top catching prospect in the draft this year.

Joe Gatto, RHP, St. Augustine Prep (New Jersey)

6'5", 210 lbs

DOB: 14th June, 1995

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Joe Gatto is a big, imposing physical presence on the mound, cut very much from power pitcher cloth. He isn't just tall; he's big across the shoulders and back, with a ton of filling out still to do in spite of already weighing 40 pounds more than Cobi Johnson at just an inch taller. In other words, Joe Gatto is a big dude, and he's going to be an even bigger dude in a few years.

Gatto pitches like a big dude, too. He works from a high arm slot and throws hard, a four-seam fastball that has plenty of life and above-average velocity at around 91 mph on average. He's topped out as high as 96, and should settle into the 92-94 range eventually, I think. He's a bit of an elbow-lifter in his delivery, which I'm not a huge fan of, but his mechanics aren't a huge red flag for me. He's aggressive with his lower body, which should keep him from having to rely on pure arm strength as much to generate velocity.

Gatto's second pitch is a curveball that occasionally shows power and some real depth, but is also just as likely to hang up in the zone, asking to be clubbed. I do think the arm slot is ideal for a curve, rather than converting to a slider; it's just a pitch which is still very much in development. When he does get on top and drive the pitch downward, it can generate plenty of swings and misses, and it comes in harder than Johnson's curve, more a low-80s hammer than the big bending curve Cobi throws.

The changeup for Gatto...basically doesn't exist. His command is also below-average at this point, and even his ability to simply find the strike zone comes and goes. Where Johnson is advanced and impressively polished, Gatto is still very raw and trying to find his way to consistency. There's plenty of arm strength, though, and a frame that speaks of power and stamina down the road to support it.

How well he develops a third pitch of some sort and where his command goes from here will go a long way in determining what his future role is. If he can come up with a changeup or cutter or a split-finger pitch or something to complement his fastball/curve combo, he should stay in a rotation. If he can't, though, he still has the above-average heater and potential breaking pitch to relieve in pro ball. I think there's a good chance Gatto ends up in college, as he's committed to North Carolina, usually a pretty strong commitment. If he does, in fact, go play for the Tarheels, I think he could be a potential top-10 pick come 2017.

Dylan Cease, RHP, Milton High School (Georgia)

6'2", 175 lbs

DOB: 28th December, 1995

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Dylan Cease is, by far, the hardest of the three pitchers here for me to get a handle on.

On the plus side, Cease has one of the fastest arms in the entire draft this year, throwing harder consistently than pretty much any other high schooler other than (possibly), Tyler Kolek. That's not even a sure thing, honestly, as Cease can crank it up to 97 without a whole lot of trouble, though in longer stints starting he usually pitches more around 93. Still, you see a kid who can whip the ball up there in that kind of hurry, at this age and rail thin, you take notice.

It's pretty much pure arm speed for Cease, too; I actually like some of the things about his delivery, as he never gets his elbow up excessively high or that sort of thing, but as far as using his body to help generate momentum and power, I think he's really  not doing himself any favours. Frankly, it's just a weird looking delivery, as he has a very high leg kick, but is also pretty passive with his lower body overall. His arm action is good, and his arm tends to get there pretty much right on time, but I've also seen him struggle to get his arm out from behind his body and stay back, never getting out over his front leg. I feel like he has excellent timing, but maybe not great balance in his delivery. I do think it's the sort of thing that could be cleaned up with professional coaching; if I were in a position to try and work with him, I would just try to get him to be more athletic with his lower body, try to drive more power and momentum with his legs and let his arm work, rather than being so passive.

On the minus side, Cease doesn't really have a second pitch at this point, as well as very spotty control. His curveball calls to mind one word: lollipop, and not in a good way. It's too slow, thrown without nearly enough conviction, and Cease tends to get under the pitch quite a lot, just casting an eephus-y looking dead fish toward the plate as often as a real breaking ball. I do wonder if his slightly slingy arm action would be better suited to a slider, honestly, even as much as I prefer a curve in general. There's very little sign of a changeup, which is perhaps unsurprising, considering he has yet to come up with much of a second offering, much less a third.

Dylan Cease is, at this point, very much a project. He has crazy arm speed, as well as a fastball that moves a ton, but not a great idea where the ball is going much of the time, and not much in the way of complementary stuff. Even so, I'm a huge fan of this kid. He has one of the most special arms you're going to see in the draft this year, and I think with some work on cleaning up his mechanics there's a ceiling here not many can match. He's almost purely an arm strength project, but when a guy can throw this kind of gas naturally, it's the kind of project I would love to see my team take on.

That's another set in the books, folks; another week of scouting reports, bringing us that much closer to the draft. I hope you guys and gals get something out of these; I know they aren't the best discussion fodder a lot of the time, but I like doing them an awful lot.

If you were asking me which of the three I like the most here today, I would probably go with Cobi Johnson, just because I like the delivery and the advanced feel for a wider base of pitches than the others. Cease would be a close second, and in certain ways would be my favourite, though I think there's far more that could potentially go wrong for him than Johnson. Gatto I like, though he's definitely a little lower on my own personal draft board than the other two.

I'll see you guys again next week. Until then, enjoy all this real baseball we've got going on now; spring training is nice and all, but there's really nothing in the world that compares to the real thing.

Goodbye, everybody. Take care.

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