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2015 Draft Preview No. 9: The Ceiling Report

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A group of three scouting reports, all on high school pitcher with super-high ceilings. Enjoy!

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

First off, a few bits and bobs about other potential draftees I've covered in these pages before.

Brady Aiken had Tommy John surgery. Aiken, you'll probably recall, was the first overall selection in the draft last year, taken by the Houston Astros, who subsequently went unsigned when the post-draft physical examination revealed a smaller-than-usual ulnar collateral ligament and the Astros tried to change the terms of the deal already agreed to. Aiken balked at the reduced bonus, Houston stood firm, and the deal didn't get done. Along with the deals of Jacob Nix and Mac Marshall as well, whose own contracts with the club were torpedoed by Jeff Luhnow's club suddenly losing the full value of the number one overall pick out of their draft pool. The ensuing ballyhoo was rather ugly, and brought plenty of questions about the way the 'Stros have done business since Luhnow took over.

Now it looks as if the Astros were wise to pass on Aiken, at least from some perspectives. They found what they believed to be an elbow issue, and voila! the pitcher that elbow is connected to is now going under the knife to try and repair the joint. On the other hand, they also missed out on two other very exciting arms, took yet another PR hit, and now that Aiken is having surgery I wonder where his stock will be. After all, if the UCL was smaller than normal, and that ligament is now being replaced, unless there are mechanical concerns about the pitcher, might not his stock actually be somewhat higher now? (For the record, I like Aiken's delivery quite a bit.) On the other hand, we know TJ surgery tends to have a fairly limited lifespan, though oftentimes that data is based on pitcher i don't believe to be mechanically sound and so may not be fully reflective of what we should expect from Aiken. Then again...

And so it goes for Aiken, who represents one of the more confounding situations I can recall in the recent history of the draft. We've seen in recent years that Tommy John surgery is not at all a death knell to a player's chances of getting drafted; pitchers like Lucas Giolito, Erick Fedde, and Jeff Hoffman have proven teams are willing to gamble on talent even when it comes attached to a surgically-repaired elbow. In the case of Aiken, however, I wonder if teams will hesitate when the joint in question is not only surgically repaired, but was also physiologically abnormal to begin with. If the UCL itself was the only thing different, I would think he should still go high in the draft. But I do wonder.

Kolby Allard, the high school lefty I covered way back in early January as one of my favourite pitchers coming in to the 2015 draft, was shut down recently with what is described as a stress fracture in his back. The details seem a bit sketchy, as medical news usually is with 17-year old kids who are not yet in professional baseball, and so I don't honestly know where in his back the reaction is taking place. It's bad news regardless, as lower back problems seem to have a way of becoming chronic, with the alternative being something perhaps more akin to what Michael Wacha is dealing with, which we know brings its own level of concern. The fact it's being described as his back rather than a shoulderblade makes me think it must be more along the lines of a vertebrae issue. Still, it's worrisome.

Dillon Tate has been one of the biggest risers in the draft class this spring, as he has been used exclusively as a starter for UC Santa Barbara and shown a wider repertoire of pitches than he had previously been able to showcase. There are still concerns about the delivery and the size (the delivery concerns I share, the size concerns not so much), but the stuff has been electric enough to open plenty of eyes in 2015. He's now probably a top half of the first round pick, rather than the supplemental round/early second guy he came into the spring as.

In contrast, Iliinois's Tyler Jay, of whose handling I have been critical in the past, has been used as a closer only this spring (with the exception that sole start on the opening weekend I criticised in the linked post), and has seen no similar bump. On the other hand, he's also been one of the most dominant relievers in the nation, with a 10:1 (!) strikeout to walk ratio and an ERA under 1.00. In truth, I don't have a huge problem with him remaining in the bullpen in college; it was the back-and-forth cavalier treatment I objected to. And if him staying in the 'pen means the Cardinals nab him in the second round and then convert him to starter, I will send the Illinois coach a fruit basket for helping keep his draft stock depressed. He remains one of my top five players in the entire draft this year as a guy who should really be in the rotation, and dominating.

Finally, D.J. Stewart, the Florida State outfielder I covered in late January, has been making his case as the best hitter available in the draft this year, and I've fallen more and more in love with him the more I've seen. He's hitting just .277 this spring, but that's largely due to the fact pitchers have simply refused to pitch to him at all for much of the season. He's walking in over 27% of his plate appearances, leading to a .507 on-base percentage, and his ISO is up over .300. Stewart hasn't been completely successful in remaining patient, as his strikeouts are up a bit as well, but overall, he's taken the refusal of pitchers to pitch to him in stride and turned into basically a three true outcomes guy in 2015, hitting home runs and walking at prodigious paces, while also occasionally becoming impatient and frustrated and swinging at pitches out of the zone. For my money, he's the best hitting prospect in the draft this year, and I would go full Kaminsky to see his name called by the Cardinals. He probably won't make it that far, though, considering the numbers he's putting up. I absolutely love this kid, and he's going to be terrorising major league pitchers within three years, mark my words.

Anyhow, that's enough updates for now. I'm trying to do more of this follow-up business throughout the spring this year; unfortunately, it's space- as well as time-intensive, but I think it's worth doing all the same. But we've got another batch of scouting reports on the docket today, so let's move on to those, shall we? Today I bring you a selection of high school pitchers, three of them to be exact, all of whom I picked as having extraordinarily high ceilings. Which isn't necessarily to say they have the highest ceilings of any players in the draft; rather, I needed a way to group some pitchers together and settled on this. (This particularly applies to the first guy I'm writing up today, as I actually didn't have enough guys I felt good about writing up who fit into his demographic to fill out a set of three.) So, you know. Hooray for contrived guidelines!

Justin Hooper, LHP, De La Salle HS (California)

6'7", 230 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Left

So, what's so great about this guy?

Remember Chris Sale? Of course you do. Actually, you don't even have to remember Chris Sale, draft prospect; just think of Chris Sale, current major league superstar pitcher for the White Sox. Tall, lanky lefty with really, really scary mechanics who throws extremely hard and has one of the nastiest sliders you're ever going to see. Got it?

Okay, now make that guy a high schooler, and you've pretty much got Justin Hooper.

Actually, it isn't a one-to-one comparison, as Hooper even at eighteen years old is substantially heavier than Sale, who goes 6'6" and 180 (!). He also doesn't have the wipeout slider of Sale consistently yet, as he is still very much in the experimenting phase of his pitching career.

What the two do have in common is mid- to high-90s heat from low arm slots, both of which come attached to extremely stressful and risky deliveries. Where Sale has polished his fastball-slider combo to a razor sheen, though, and just recently started to work a changeup into the mix, Hooper throws four pitches, including both a curveball I personally think he should scrap and a slider that will flash 65 potential but is far from a finished product. There are times the curve can look good, with both power and depth, but his arm slot seems to fight the pitch and too often it comes out as a flipped-up spinner, high and wide of the plate and without anything resembling real curveball shape. The slider, on the other hand, while also not consistent at this point, can be a wicked pitch at times, back-footing righthanded hitters and generating some truly helpless-looking swings. I have yet to see Hooper throw the slider for a strike, but the movement and velocity on the pitch could make it almost unhittable with further development.

Somewhat strangely, Hooper's changeup may be his most consistent offspeed offering at the moment, though it lacks the upside of his slider. It's a fairly straight pitch, but he throws it with nice arm speed, and that's enough to make it effective. Combined with the 93-97 mph velocity and sailing movement of his heater, the speed differential and deception of his changeup are more than enough to disrupt hitters' timing, even if the pitch doesn't have the kind of tumble that generates lots of empty swings.

The biggest knock on Hooper has to be the delivery. His arm is incredibly late coming through, which probably helps bump his velocity, but adds stress and makes me extremely wary of his health over the long term. I can't say I would steer clear of him, as the ceiling he possesses is just unbelievable, but there's no way I would want to bet on him delivering 180-200 innings year after year. Still, there's a very real chance he could turn into an ace-level pitcher when on the mound, and that's a very, very difficult thing to pass up.

via PerfectGameBaseball:

Chandler Day, RHP, Watkins HS (Ohio)

6'4", 160 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Chandler Day is one of those pitchers who makes it easy to look at the present stuff, and then the possible future improvement and projection, and dream on just what kind of pitcher he could end up being. He's tall and thin, and while he doesn't have the kind of broad shoulders and hips that suggest he'll ever be anything but relatively thin, it's still a frame that could handle 30 more pounds and the accompanying strength gains that would come along with it.

Even without the projection argument, though, Day is a guy I'm very high on coming into the draft. He throws a heavy sinking fastball in the 90-92 range, topping out a tick or two higher. The velocity, though, is really secondary to the steep plane and wicked movement he generates on the pitch. The fastball shows tremendous tailing action in to same-handed hitters; scouting lingo would suggest it be classified as, "a real bat-breaker". The combination of heavy life and a steep angle makes it extraordinarily tough to lift the ball against Day and results in tons of weak groundball contact when he's going well.

There's a curveball with plus potential here as well, and a changeup that acts rather splittery at times, with more drop than fade. I like both pitches quite a bit, and could see a future in which Day turns the change into a full-on forkball and attacks the league like a late-2000s era Danny Haren.

I'm also a fan of Day's delivery; the timing is good, although I would like to see him with a bit more of a leg kick from the stretch, as he tends to be later throwing with just a slide step as he does right now. Still, compared to a guy like Justin Hooper, watching Chandler Day throw is a pure joy, and once he fills out I could see him gaining a touch of velocity and utilising that strength for durability as a big league number two, possibly even better.

There's a bit of Rick Porcello to Chandler Day for me; the repertoire is similar, particularly the bowling-ball sinker. I'm hopeful Day can develop a little more strikeout potential to his stuff than Porcello, though, who for all his qualities has still never really come up with a true putaway pitch, depending on high groundball rates as his primary run-prevention weapon. I could see Day falling in that same line, but his curve has greater potential as a swing-and-miss pitch than that of Porcello, I believe. The blue-sky projection for Day in my head would have him adding 30 pounds, bumping up his velocity to 93-95, and adding that forkball to go along with the big overhand curveball and putting up some very Dan Haren-like numbers for awhile.

via The Prospect Pipeline:

Beau Burrows, RHP, Weatherford HS (Texas)

6'1", 200 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

He may not have the big, strapping frame of a Tyler Kolek, the country-strong Texas fireballer who went second overall last year, but what Beau Burrows does have is elite velocity and a hammer curve to go along with it.

Burrows also has one of the uglier arm actions you're going to see in this year's draft, which is sad, because the stuff is absolutely legit. He works consistently at 94 with his fastball, and has been clocked as high as 97 at showcase events. His command of the pitch is fairly advanced for his age as well, as he mostly locates the heater where he wants within the strike zone. It flattens out a bit when it's up, but when he stays on top of the pitch and drives it down in the zone, it can be as tough to hit as any fastball in the draft.

The curve, on the other hand, is much further back in terms of command. Burrows doesn't yet have the ability to throw it for strikes, or to vary how hard and how much break he wants on it, but it's still effective enough for now because the pitch has tremendous power and depth to it. He'll bounce it in the dirt as often as not, whether that's what he's going for or not, but I have yet to see a hitter, even the really high-end ones on the showcase circuit, get a good swing at the thing. The changeup shows promise, but it's a high school changeup all the same. I can't knock him for that, though; changeups for high school power pitchers are just something you have to chalk up to hoping it comes along in the development process. If it does, you could have a monster on your hands with Burrows being able to change speeds off a fastball that can frankly be overwhelming at times. If it doesn't, or the feel for pitching never really develops beyond where it is now, Shelby Miller doesn't seem like a bad comp, as a pitcher who leans heavily on a very good power fastball and one complementary pitch that doesn't always get the results it seems like it should.

Burrows isn't big at 6'1", and he's already pretty well filled out, so there isn't a ton of physical projection you can look for here. That, combined with the ugly arm action, might very well push him to the bullpen down the road, though a team would have to be crazy to select an arm this promising as high in the draft as you would likely have to and immediately limit his ceiling by moving him to relief work. In that way, he reminds me a bit of Touki Toussaint from last year's draft, who also featured one of the most dynamic one-two punches in the entire draft but a scary arm action that I believe would make him a better fit in a major league bullpen than trying to shoulder a starter's workload. Unfortunately, the realities of the game dictate you would have to see Burrows (and Toussaint, for that matter), fail multiple times and probably go through injury troubles before moving to relief, simply because the upside as a starter is too enticing. When you have an arm as exciting as that of Beau Burrows, it's difficult not to want to maximise all you could potentially get out of him.

via FanGraphs:

It's probably pretty obvious, but for my money the catch of this group is Chandler Day. He's actually the least highly thought-of pitcher of the three, but I think he's the one who will ultimately have the best career. Burrows is limited by a lack of feel for pitching (though that could certainly come with time), and a risky arm action, and Hooper I just don't see staying healthy over the long haul, though the results when he's on the mound could be extraordinary. Day, while lacking the same kind of current pyrotechnic stuff, has a better delivery, a wider base of quality offerings, and the potential for a little more juice in his repertoire as he grows up and fills out. He's also the most polished of the three already, and while that's not always a big deal for me, particularly in high schooolers, as I think they have plenty of time to develop the feel and polish before they get anywhere near the big leagues, the aptitude Day shows for pitching is something I definitely do value in this case.

If you celebrate Easter, I hope you have a good one. And I know you celebrate Opening Day, so I'll wish you a wonderful one of those as well. Take care, and I'll see you again soon.