I was very much debating with myself this morning whether or not I wanted to write about the Hall of Fame voting. Ben put his thoughts on the process, and the class, and the Hall itself down yesterday; I thought I might offer my own perspective on where things stand and how I feel today. However, while my own opinions are largely in conflict with those of our beloved overlord (and muich, if not most, of the community here, I kind of think), one point on which he and I are completely in agreement is this: the Hall of Fame is pretty busted. And, further, it's kind of hard to gather up the energy to talk about a whole lot, because there are so many qualifiers you have to add before you can even get to what you really want to say that it ends up being flat-out exhausting to try and work up much give a shit on the subject.
I'm still debating whether or not I want to write about the Hall. Maybe sometime in the future, although as I make that statement I feel like it probably won't happen, because writing it in a month or two will feel unimportant and not at all timely to me, even though I might have exactly the frame of mind I'm looking for on a given day. So, we'll see.
But, rather than go down that particular rabbit hole this morning, I thought I would move on to some proper scouting reports to start off the new year right. I've already done the secret origin issues of redrafted players of note, but now we're heading into the brand new content for 2015, with players not previously covered in these electronic pages ready for their spotlight.
Today I'm doing the three pitchers who, at this early moment at least, represent probably my favourite guys in the class this year. Obviously, things will change between now and June, when I have to come up with my final thoughts on various players, but as of right now, the beginning of January in this brand new year, these are the potential draftees I'm most infatuated with. I'll do a set of three on the position side of things next week, as well, just so we've got a good place to start from.
Right off the bat, however, I'm going to screw up my format of three players by honourably mentioning Mike Matuella, a big right-handed pitcher out of Duke University. I love the guy; he's easily in the top three pitchers for me right now, but he is very likely to end up so high on the board that writing him up in this space almost seems like a waste of time. Right now, he's the top-rated pitcher in the entire draft class, and being one of the lowest-risk players in the draft (in my opinion, that is), I have a hard time seeing him fall significantly down the board. The Cardinals have a better draft position this year than they do most of the time when June rolls around, but they still aren't going to be in line to take a guy likely to go top three. Which, you know, I'm not complaining.
Bottom line on Matuella: he's pretty much got it all. I love the arm, I love the repertoire, I like the delivery (though I reserve the right to change my mind as I see more video on him, specifically high-speed), and he seems to have a pretty good grasp already of what to do with all that talent. I'll write him up fully somewhere down the line; I just hate to take up one of my favourites spots, if only in my own mind, with a guy I see almost no chance of my team getting a chance to draft.
That being said, on to the scouting reports!
Tyler Jay, LHP, University of Illinois
6'1", 175 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
The only collegian on my list of three, Jay actually has one of the more unique profiles of any arm I'll probably cover in this year's draft. See, the thing is, Jay is a reliever at Illinois, and if there's one thing I've largely changed my mind on in the course of writing about the draft for several years now, it's the subject of drafting relief arms (by which I mean college relievers/closers), at the top of the draft. I used to really like the idea of taking at least one college closer type in the first couple rounds, but as time has gone on I've begun to feel more and more in the idea of avoiding those arms, because you can almost always find a starter-to-relief conversion project somewhere in either your own minor league system, someone else's bin of freely available talent, or getting by at the back end of college rotation by having a big enough fastball that the lack of pretty much anything else doesn't torpedo the pitcher in question's chances.
Tyler Jay is a reliever at Illinois, and seems very unlikely to see anything but late-inning action this spring for the Fighting Illini. For my money, though, I think he could be an outstanding project to take on as a relief-to-starter conversion in pro ball. And that makes him a very unusual sort of prospect indeed.
Jay's number one quality, and one he possesses in spades, is simple, pure arm speed. In relief, he typically works in the 94-97 range with his fastball, generally sitting right around the 95 mark. It's a pitch with a remarkable amount of 'hop' on it, also, when he elevates it to the top of, or above, the zone. It's good when it's down as well, but the sailing action on the heater when he's working high has the potential to create plenty of empty swings.
That excellent arm speed also shows up in Jay's breaking ball, as he features a power curve with exceptional depth and enough tilt it ranges into slurve territory at times. It's one of the better breaking balls in the draft, as far as I'm concerned, and the ability Jay has shown to spin the ball is a big deal going forward. It's a legitimate out pitch, and he'll throw it to both lefties and right-handed hitters alike, most often trying to bury it way down and in to opposite-handed hitters.
Jay has also shown some real potential with a changeup; he barely ever throws the pitch thanks to his usage, but the change has excellent fade and solid sink when he does go to it. He has a legitimate three-pitch arsenal, even though he rarely trots out his full range of weapons due to being used in short stints. If a team were to try converting him into a starter (which I pretty obviously advocate, I think), he would need to focus on improving his consistency with both his offspeed pitches, but the changeup in particular. It's just not that important a part of his repertoir right now.
The question about any possible move for Jay would like center around his size. He's bigger now than he was coming out of high school, when he was barely recruited and looked like a future low-velo crafty lefthander at best, but even now he's small for a pitcher at just smidge over six feet even and 175. For my money, though, he's an athlete on the mound who generates excellent arm speed and does so without really cheating to try and get there. The timing in his delivery looks surprisingly sound for a college reliever, many of whom feature arm actions that look like something out of Octodad.
I love the arm speed, and I like the delivery a lot. I don't care that he's short; if anything, I think the athleticism more than makes up for a lack of size. If it were up to me, I would love to grab him in the supplemental or early second round, when teams are still looking at him as a reliever and then try him out as a starter. If things went to plan, you could end up with a lefty throwing 92-94 mph gas backed up by not one but two plus secondary pitches, all from a simple, relatively low-stress delivery I think bodes well for his future durability.
Jay was outstanding last year playing for Team USA, and I'm hoping to get to an Illinois game or two this spring in hopes of seeing him pitch in person, perhaps grabbing some video footage if possible. This isn't ordinarily a draft demographic you'll see me plumbing too deeply, but I consider Jay a fairly unique case.
Kolby Allard, LHP, San Clemente High School (California)
6'0", 170 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
If Tyler Jay is an example of one of the most unusual draft demographics out there, Allard is anything but, with stereotypical future ace stuff and only his height (or lack thereof), acting to somewhat depress his draft stock.
Kolby Allard might just have the best breaking ball of any pitcher in the draft this year, with a ridiculous overhand curve that can be positively...Ankielian at times. Hitters are completely helpless against the breaker, and don't have a whole lot else going for them against his other ptiches as well. The fastball works from 91-94, topping out at 95 or a tick above, and he does a remarkable job working up and out of the zone as well, using the high fastball both to generate chase swings and set up the waterfall curveball.
Allard's changeup isn't up to the standards of his other two pitches yet, but unlike Tyler Jay, it's less of an issue for Kolby, as he just happens to be one of the youngest draft-eligible high schoolers this year, rather than a college junior who's been working as a two-pitch closer for quite a while. There just aren't the same level of questions about adjustments when you've been planned out and conditioning as a starting pitcher all along.
The coming out party for Allard as a prospect was the Perfect Game All-American game last August, when he dominated in the most ridiculous fashion imaginable, striking out the side in his inning of work and making three of the best high school hitters in the nation look pretty much lost at the plate. The one and only real question about Allard is going to be his size; much like Rob Kaminsky who the Cardinals drafted two years ago, Allard is a smaller-framed individual who might scrape six feet on his best day. In fact, I think Kaminsky is a fairly good comp for Allard overall, really, at least at draft time; they're not particularly dissimilar pitchers, all things considered. I actually do like Allard's delivery a fair bit better than Kamisky's, also, for whatever that's worth. His (Allard's) arm is a little later than I would absolutely prefer, but it's really not too bad at all. The smallish stature may depress his stock some, but unless something goes badly wrong for Kolby Allard, I don't see him going any lower than the teens come 2015's first round.
Kyle Molnar, RHP, Aliso Niguel High School (California)
6'3", 200 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
And now we come to the pitcher who, as of right now, might very well be my favourite in the entire draft class. While he's easily the biggest pitcher on the list, and the only right-hander, to boot, you would be wrong in your idea if you pictured him as a huge, hulking power pitcher. Rather, Molnar excites me due to the movement he features on all his pitches, his high level of both polish and baseball IQ at such a young age, and an arm action that I absolutely love.
Where your typical 6'3" high school right-hander is probably all about his fastball, which he routinely attempts to simply throw past hitters, often with great success due to level of competition, Molnar features a three-pitch mix that already shows signs of being plus across the board and reminds me (in a very good way), of Jack Flaherty (the high school RHP the Cards took with their second overall pick last June), who a legitimate four-pitch arsenal already and plus-plus athleticism.
Molnar's toolkit begins with a wicked sinking fastball in the low-90s he locates exceptionally well for a pitcher of his youth and with which he consistently pounds the bottom of the strike zone. His best secondary pitch is his changeup, a pitch he sells well with arm speed and features excellent speed differential and solid, if not yet always consistent, fade and sink. His curveball isn't yet at the level of consistency of his other two pitches, but it shows flashes of being a plus pitch down the road, when Molnar has had time to get a bit more technical with it. All of his pitches play up because he's so polished already, both in terms of his physical command and mental understanding of the finer points of pitching. I love his delivery, as well; it's remarkably simple but likely contributes to the level of command he has over his full complement of offerings at a point when most high school pitching prospects are just glad if they can get every third breaking ball over the plate at all. He's even played around with throwing a cutter, though I have yet to see any evidence the pitch has progressed beyond the tinkering stage.
I see an extremely bright future for Molnar. He's already very polished for his age, and his wide base of tools should make him much more effective than just the quality of raw stuff might suggest. Which isn't to say he's more polish that talent; only that Kyle Molnar pitches in no way like a player of his extreme youth.
Of these three here today, Allard might very well end up off the board before the Cards pick, if he goes out and has another strong spring. As much as I like Tyler Jay (and I like him a lot), there are enough reasons to be skeptical that I would prefer to see him taken in the supplemental or second round, rather than with the Cards' first pick of 2015. Molnar, though, at least how things stand now, fits perfectly into the range the Cardinals will be picking, or maybe even a little further back depending on how the rest of the list shakes out.
And there you have it, folks. The first properly numbered draft preview of the year, all ready to forge ahead and wait at the finish line to let us all know how things worked out. Like I said, I'll be back next week with the positional player side of this equation. Until then, take care.