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2016 Draft Preview No. 1: Early Favourites, Pitchin' Edishin

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A trio of pitchers, favoured by the author, for selection in the 2016 draft, assuming the team being covered has any draft picks with which to choose them.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Here we go, everybody. The 2016 draft previews officially kick off here. The background information on notable returning names has been taken care of, and we're ready to jump into the thick of the brand new stuff.

As I've done the past couple years, I'm going to start off with two posts featuring players I'm extremely high on at this early juncture. One for pitchers, one for position players, all completely subject to change as we move into the spring and more information becomes available, not to mention as I have a chance to dig deeper into other players I may have not yet given more than a cursory glance.

I've discussed the generalities of this particular draft class a bit already, both in these electronic pages and on the podcast. I won't delve back into it too very deeply at the moment, but to sum up: this is an extraordinarily deep draft, and the strongest demographics are college pitching and high school hitting. The depth of pitching on the college side is getting the most press so far, and with good cause, but if I'm being honest I have to say I think the overall class is a bit overhyped. The prep positional class, on the other hand, is quite possibly the most exciting crop of talent I've seen in at least three or four years, and is somewhat stealthily my pick for best sector or demographic.

That being said regarding the pitching, perhaps it should come as no surprise that two of my three picks for early favourite status come from the college ranks. It's unusual for me, as I tend to lean toward the high school ranks and the higher ceilings, but of the pitchers I really like at this early date, two who jump off the page the most happen to be college hurlers with what are seen as less-than-elite ceilings. And the sole high school arm who appears here is not, in fact, a top of the draft player, at least not yet, but could end up, in my opinion, as both a monster talent and a monster value down the road.

Enough preamble. Let's jump right in.

Eric Lauer, LHP, Kent State

6'3", 205 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Left

So, what's so great about this guy?

There's probably going to be a lot of talk about Eric Lauer as the draft approaches, and almost all of the talk and analysis you might hear about him is likely going to center around his floor. As in, how high his floor is, and how his level of polish, not to mention his left-handedness, make him one of the safest bets in the 2016 pitching class overall. What Marco Gonzales was to the 2013 draft, or Aaron Nola was to the 2014 class, Eric Lauer will be to 2016.

However, where the perception of Gonzales as a near-finished product, with a middling ceiling but extremely high floor and fairly low risk, was largely deserved, and Nola, while I think a bit underrated by that stereotype, still fit the template, particularly in terms of being near-MLB ready, I think Lauer's status as super-polished and safe significantly underrates his ceiling.

Why do I say that, you ask? Several reasons, actually, and I'll get to them. So quite being so impatient, voice in my head that asks questions while I'm writing.

To begin with, Lauer is an extraordinary athlete; he was an All-American wide receiver in high school, and just watching him move around on the baseball field, one is struck by the smooth, almost liquid nature of his actions. Some players just look like athletes, no matter what they're doing, and Lauer is very much one of those players. That athleticism translates already into outstanding balance and body control in his delivery, and I believe it will translate further down the road into an ability to repeat those mechanics, over and over, leading to well above-average control and command of his repertoire.

Speaking of his repertoire, while there may not be one pitch that jumps off the page immediately with Lauer as being a true out pitch, the depth and variety of arsenal is such that all his pitches are capable of playing up due to the number of factors a hitter is forced to contend with. He works off a fastball that sits in the low 90s, reaching 94 at times, and cuts to the glove side, rather than running to the arm side as is more common. He's capable of working both up and down with the pitch, and hitters don't have great luck squaring it up either way.

It's debatable which of Lauer's offspeed pitches is his strongest, with both the changeup and slider presenting strong cases. Personally, I'm partial to the changeup, but that could also be because I'm partial to changeups in general. Either way, he's capable of spinning the slider down and away as a chase pitch to lefites, or back-footing the pitch to righties, and it generates plenty of empty swings to both. The one issue with the slider is he can bury it down and out of the zone, but struggles to throw it for strikes. It isn't in the 70+ grade category of Francisco Liriano's slider, so don't think I'm making a direct comparison, but think of the way Liriano struggles to locate his slider anywhere but down a the shoe tops or even lower. If Lauer could learn to throw the slider for strikes, it would play up even more, but as it stands it's a 55 grade pitch that isn't often hit, but is almost always out of the zone, limiting its utility somewhat. Because he can work the change in the zone for called strikes, even if it isn't quite the whiff generator the slider is, I lean toward the changeup as his most useful offspeed pitch. It's just average movement on the change, with reasonable sink and a little fade, but the ability to locate it would lead me to put a 55 on it, similar to the slider.

For the record, that's three pitches I would potentially feel fine putting 55s on, and above-average command of the fastball and changeup to boot. One of the more intriguing aspects of Lauer's repertoire, though, is the fact he also features a big-breaking curveball that, at present, is probably a below-average pitch, simply because he lets it get too big and lazy at times, but will occasionally throw with more power. When he powers through the curve, rather than casting it up in the 70-72 range, it comes in with better spin, better shape, and mid-70s velocity, and might just grade as a fourth above-average pitch. For now, though, that's all projection, as the curve lags behind his other offerings, and serves best as an early-count get-over pitch, dropped in for a strike against hitters looking dead red 0-0 or 1-0.

The development of that curveball for Lauer could be huge, as well as him potentially gaining better command of the slider. He can already fill up the zone with his fastball/change combo, and will throw the lazy version of his curve for strikes at times as well. If, however, the curve and slider command come along in pro ball, I could see him moving from a 55/55/50/45 profile to a guy with 55s across the board, or perhaps even a 60 on the slider, and the demands on opposing hitters would be nearly untenable. Think of the way a guy like Andy Pettitte used to overwhelm hitters at his best with four offerings, all potentially in the zone, or, if you really wanted to talk crazy, the way Cliff Lee would spread his strikes among multiple pitches, all above-average offerings, and hitters would look helpless in spite of the fact none of his pitches were blow-you-away impressive. Of course, Lee also featured 80-grade command, so it's a very unfair comp, but all the same, that's the kind of breadth I'm talking about with Lauer's repertoire, if everything came together for him.

It's an easy, athletic delivery, as well, featuring great balance and better timing than the vast majority of pitchers at the top of this year's class. I would like to see his arm get up just a little bit earlier, but it's a delivery I mostly like, if not perfect.

There's room still for Lauer to add weight to his relatively slight frame, but I don't see a ton of development coming in that way. He'll probably fill out a bit more, but if anything I could see the average velocity tick upward more than I could the peak; i.e. I could see him sitting 92.5 instead of 91.5, but he isn't going to add fifteen pounds and come out throwing 97 at the top end some year.

The downside for Lauer is neither of his breaking pitches take any kind of step forward, and he's left with neither a true out pitch nor the variety of weapons to overwhelm hitters. In that scenario he could probably still pitch at the back end of a big league rotation, but the ceiling would look more like a solid number four, rather than a top of the rotation type arm he could be if things break the way I think they very realistically could.

In the end, Lauer has one of the highest floors of any pitcher in the 2016 draft, it's true, but it doesn't take a whole lot of dreaming, at least in my eyes, to see him with one of the higher ceilings among the class, as well. I would be thrilled to see his name called by the Cardinals with any of their early draft picks.

via Wilson Karaman:

Erik Miller, LHP, De Smet Jesuit HS (St. Louis, MO)

6'5", 220 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Left

So, what's so great about this guy?

For the second year in a row, one of my favourite pitchers in the draft is a high school left-hander from the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. Last year, it was Bryan Hudson, the lanky curveball specialist from Alton, taken by the hated Cubs in the third round, thus breaking my heart at least a little bit. This year, the object of my affection hails from even closer to home, in the person of a big, physical lefty from Creve Coeur named Erik Miller, whose draft stock has not yet taken off to quite the extent Hudson's did the spring of his draft year, but who might have just as high a ceiling when all is said and done.

As of right now, Miller is not a name you'll see associated with the first round or two of the draft. He's a bit too raw for that, or at least he was still too raw for that his junior season of 2015, and the stuff is only now beginning to fully mature. He might end up flying under the radar most of the way to draft day, at least relative to the pitchers seen as top 50 locks, and thus could end up a huge bargain for some lucky club come June, I believe.

Miller is already a big, imposing physical presence on the mound, standing 6'5" and built broad through the shoulders and back, rather than the lanky, projectable beanpole build seen in so many tall athletes of high school age. He's beginning to fully grow into that frame, as well, having filled out substantially in the past year and a half, since the time he first started popping up on radars and attending showcase events.

That growing into his frame has been accompanied by a steady ramping up of his velocity, and there are signs there could be more still to come. As recently as the indoor showcase events right around this time last year, Miller was sitting in the high 80s, occasionally reaching 90-91. Then, through the spring and into the summer, his velocity started creeping upward, pushing steadily into the low 90s. At the Area Code Games in August, he was officially clocked at 92 on the fastball, and he's unofficially been a couple miles per hour higher than that. In other words, the velocity for Miller is showing up right around the time you expect it to, and it's exciting to see. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest to see Miller come into this spring sitting at that 92, and pushing 94-95 at the top end. If he does, it's possible he maybe doesn't fly so far under the radar as I postulated at the beginning.

Regardless of the number on the gun, Miller's fastball already features above-average armside run, and he seems able to work it both up and down effectively. The pitch looks and acts 'heavy', as well, generating tons of weak, on-the-ground contact and more than a few hitters shaking their hands as they ran out grounders in the one live game of Miller's I was able to get to last year.

Complementing the fastball is one of the better power curveballs you'll see from a high school lefty this year, outside perhaps the very top of the board guys. Miller already throws it with plenty of power in the upper 70s, and does an excellent job maintaining his arm speed on the pitch. High school pitchers usually take way too much off a breaking ball, counting on the weak velocity to help the pitch drop, rather than powering through and counting on the spin to create movement, but there's no such issue with Miller. The curve shows plenty of spin and hard, nasty tilt, coming in more like 11-to-5 (or 1-to-7; I can never remember if it's supposed to be from the pitcher or catcher's perspective), rather than a true vertical 12-to-6 sort of break, but didn't get too wide or slurvy in the look I got. He doesn't yet have great command over the location of the curve, but that will come with time, I think.

There isn't a changeup yet, or at least not one that shows up in game action. You hear me say it time and time again in these scouting reports, and Miller is very much of the variety of pitcher who hasn't yet needed to figure out a third pitch, changeup or otherwise, and probably will only work on it enough to break it out a time or two this spring for scouts. Pro ball will force him to find a third offering soon enough, and I see no reason to worry about him developing a changeup or some other complementary pitch going forward.

The delivery for Miller is outstanding; the fact he's generating his power and velocity without any of the problematic arm actions nearly every elite arm I look at in this year's draft is incredibly exciting to me. He could do a better job of gathering and balancing over the rubber in his delivery; I would like to see him try to get lower and generate more drive with his legs, if possible. There could be more power in there, I believe. Then again, if he doesn't change a thing about his delivery, I'm certainly not going to complain.

Miller's ceiling is, perhaps, the highest of all three of the pitchers I'm covering today; he's by far the rawest and furthest away, but he could end up a true power arm, working with plus velocity and at least one putaway offspeed pitch in his curveball. The fact he isn't yet a premium draft pick, in terms of position, is testament both to where he is on his own developmental arc and the overall depth of the pitching crop this year. It's also an intriguing possibility, as it could potentially make him a draft-day bargain of the highest order. He's committed to Stanford, so it likely wouldn't be cheap to keep him away from school -- and, potentially impossible, depending on the circumstances -- but it's also possible that bringing his upside into a system, regardless of the cost necessary, could look like a steal almost no matter what that price tag ends up being.

I'm going to try and get to at least one or two of Miller's games this spring, if I can, though I make no guarantees. I would also like to try and grab some video footage if at all possible. If anyone here is in a position to make it to a De Smet game and shoot some video of Miller, please let me know.

via Skillshow Videos:

Logan Shore, RHP, Florida

6'1", 210 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Ordinarily, my tastes in potential draftees tend to run toward the pure upside plays; I'm a sucker for ceiling over floor most of the time. That being said, of the three pitchers I feel comfortable putting out here as my favourite bundles of potential at this early date, only one falls into the ultra-high upside high school hurler category. The other two are polished college arms with what I feel are underrated upsides, including the pitcher I would probably, right now, mark down as my number one arm for where the Cardinals are going to be picking: Logan Shore.

Let's just get this out of the way up front: I like Eric Lauer's delivery well enough. I like Erik Miller's delivery quite a lot. And I flat-out love Logan Shore's. His arm action, among all the terrible, risky deliveries I see at the top of this year's pitching crop, is perhaps the one I most would be willing to bet on, and one I would be tempted to show to kids as an example of how to throw a baseball off a mound. That being said, the single complaint or issue I have with Miller's mechanics is a similar one to what I have here; namely, I would like to see Shore get more drop and drive in his delivery, try to generate more power with his legs by getting lower and coming more aggressively down the slope of the mound. Again, though, as I said above, if Logan Shore never changes a thing about his mechanics you won't hear me complaining.

Speaking of beautiful things, Logan Shore possesses a changeup that rates as potentially not only the best change in the entire draft this year, but among the very best single offerings, period. He sells it with arm speed nearly identical to that of his fastball, and the pitch features plus-plus movement down and to the armside when he locates it down. On a normal day, the pitch is a 60; on a good day, I could see slapping a 70 grade on it without blinking an eye. The Cardinals have made a habit of drafting college pitchers with outstanding changeups the past few years, with Michael Wacha, Marco Gonzales, and Luke Weaver all featuring some of the best changes of pace in their respective classes; Shore's own rates quite favourably among that group.

And, in fact, Shore's overall profile is very similar to that of the college version of Michael Wacha, both for good and ill. He works with a fastball consistently in the low 90s, averaging around 91, but showed an uptick in velocity this past autumn as well, pushing closer to 93 on average and topping out at 95. Personally, I expect him to remain somewhere in that neighbourhood, and with his feel for changing speeds, the low 90s is plenty of velocity. He generates good movement on his fastball as well, both up and down in the zone, and generally keeps the heater out of the middle of the plate. It isn't overpowering, by any means, but the combination of an above-average fastball and dynamic, devastating changeup is an outstanding place to start.

Unfortunately, the bad side of Michael Wacha's profile is present for Shore as well, as his breaking ball is currently below-average, and he generates fewer whiffs in general, and strikeouts in particular, than one would hope, given the overall quality of his stuff. He throws a slider that has a tendency to get too slow and slurvy, and is just generally a lazier pitch than you want to see. He struggles to maintain good arm speed on the pitch as well, slowing down and telegraphing the pitch on occasion, trying to guide the ball into breaking. If the fastball is a 55, at least, and the changeup is potentially a 65, the slider at this point doesn't justify more than a 40 present grade for me. It's the one real limiting factor on Shore's success at the moment, as he simply doesn't have a breaking ball he can go to for a swinging strike when he's looking one, particularly against right-handed hitters. He can get righties out, certainly, but it's usually by pitching toward contact, rather than being able to miss their bats.

For my part, I would like to see Shore try to tighten his slider up into a cutter, and throw it in between his fastball and changeup in terms of velocity. If he could, I would also like to see him try to add a curve, even if it's mostly a chase pitch, simply to try and give him something hitters are going to swing and miss at, rather than simply keeping away from the barrels of opposing batters.

What Shore ultimately becomes is going to be determined largely by what kind of success he and the organsation that drafts him have in trying to develop a breaking ball. We've seen Michael Wacha struggle to find a consistent breaker, and at times that has kept him from getting the empty swings one might expect. If Shore continues to feature his current below-average slider, I could see similar issues in his future. If, on the other hand, he can either tighten the slider up and throw it harder, in the Dan Warthen mold, or perhaps go to two separate breakers, as I would personally prefer, it could have a further transformative effect on his repertoire.

Shore's build is strong and mature, and I don't expect him to add much, if any, bulk to his frame down the road. In other words, physically, he pretty much is what he is. Which, really, is more than enough to succeed in pro ball; this isn't a projection pick or dreaming on what a guy could be if he adds strength and oomph to his stuff. Rather, the changes and improvements, if any, will come as a result of him developing a third pitch, something spinny, to fully complement his fastball-change combo. His profile, in addition to being very similar to three of the Cardinals' recent high draft picks, as +fastball ++changeup iffy breaking ball pitchers, isn't all that dissimilar to that of James Kaprielian, the right-handed pitcher out of UCLA taken by the Yankees last year who I know the Cardinals had some internal interest in. Considering Shore's relative strengths and the Redbirds' taste in pitchers recently, it wouldn't surprise me at all if he was a target for the organisation. And I would be just fine with that. He's exactly the sort of talent who slots right in to the pipeline and keeps it flowing, with the potential to take off if some coach in the minors could help him unlock a better breaking ball.

via 2080 Baseball:

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my first favourites post. You'll have to forgive the lateness; after being held up traveling over the weekend and failing to get it done, I was finishing it up this morning, including another 500 or so words about David Bowie I won't replicate here, when I had an issue with the post editor, and I lost everything from about the third paragraph of the section on Erik Miller onward. Oh, well.

I'll see you all on Sunday. Not sure what I'm writing about yet, but I'll come up with something, hopefully.

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