The story of the 2016 draft will likely, for good and for ill, be told by the absolutely remarkable depth of pitching to be found in the first, say, 200 players who will come off the board. Now, I don't have a complete and proper handle yet on 200+ players, to the point I can say unequivocally I know what that group is going to look like, but I can give you 100 names pretty easily. And of that group, I can safely say the pitching stands out, in a big, big way. I don't expect that perception to change appreciably in going from ~100 names to 200 or more, even if I personally am far less excited by the bulk of the pitching I see on the bill of fare.
I'm rather terribly late in beginning this post this morning; what is scheduled to be the 8:00 am post is getting starter at six minutes past, the result of my failing to get out of bed due to a rather nasty cold, combined with some other miscellany I had to deal with pretty much right off the bat, and so I'm going to skip right past the rest of the extended preamble and get right to the meat of the post. We have three college righthanders here today, the first three of many you'll see written up over the course of this spring, as I attempt to do justice to the full breadth and depth of the pitching class this year. Onward and upward, as always.
Alec Hansen, RHP, University of Oklahoma
6'7", 235 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Alec Hansen, for better and for worse, will likely always be associated with a pair of power-armed righties, both somehow related to the state of Colorado, or at least in the near term. As a high schooler from Colorado three years ago, Hansen already showed plus velocity from a big, physical frame, and drew comps to Kevin Gausman, another big-armed righty from the mile high state. In fact, Hansen was arguably an even better prospect than Gausman, with a bigger fastball at a similar age and equally refined.
Now, heading into his junior season at Oklahoma, the comparison to another former Sooner ace is inevitable. I'm talking about the Colorado Rockies' first round pick of just a few years ago, who has yet to actually make the impact he was projected to have: Jonathan Gray. Gray, you may remember, was the third overall pick in 2013, the same draft that brought us the semi-disastrous (for the selecting team), pick of Mark Appel, and the semi-disastrous (for everyone else), selection of Kris Bryant. That's the sort of circles Gray was trafficking in at the time of his drafting, and there were plenty at the time who thought the Rockies ultimately got the best pitcher available, and some who went so far as to say they got the best player period. I can honestly say I was absolutely not aboard either the Appel or Jon Gray hype trains.
I'm also, spoiler alert, not on the Alec Hansen hype train, but I'll get to that in a minute. In the meantime, let me tell you why so many others are.
The reason is simple: the fastball.
As in, Alec Hansen has one of the more impressive fastballs in this or just about any other draft, as he's capable of dialing his heater up to 100 at times, and sits comfortably around 96 or so. The pitch also has good downhill plane, as well, though that's as much a result of Hansen's height and a high release point as it is true sinking action. As I said, the comparisons to both Gray and Gausman are understandable, but if you're asking me for a pitcher who immediately comes to mind when I watch Hansen pitch, I would go with a different huge, physical power pitcher who plies his trade in the lower part of the zone: Noah Syndergaard. It's a lofty comp, I know, but when the heater is really working for Hansen, that's who he most resembles to my eye.
The fastball alone, in a college pitcher, is probably enough to get Hansen drafted very early, but he also shows the makings of at least one plus offspeed pitch, a hard slurve that comes in around 85 and can overmatch same-handed hitters when he stays on top of it. Most reports have Hansen throwing both a slider and curve, but in practice the two pitches often tend to bleed together, and I could easily see him abandoning the slower curve, which he telegraphs badly much of the time by slowing his arm, in favour of the power slurve that, I suppose, could be called a slider, but I think is a bit looser and larger. Regardless, the pitch is good, sometimes very good, and the combination of an elite fastball and occasionally plus breaking ball is more than enough to push Hansen toward the upper echelons of draft boards.
He also throws a changeup, and it's fine. It's the kind of changeup a college pitcher throws when he doesn't need it much; far more advanced than the changeup you see in high school pitchers who don't need it, but still not the fully-developed, usable weapon of a professional, or even the kind of changeup you see in college pitchers who have been humbled by the competition, and forced to adapt and improve. In other words, Alec Hansen throws a changeup, and it shows enough promise to get future 50+ grades slapped on it, but right now it's still a dead fish that would get crushed to kingdom come by most any decently disciplined pro-level hitter. Still, there's potential in the pitch, and that's enough, considering what he's working with as a foundation.
Now for the bad: Hansen is extremely tall, which isn't by itself a bad thing, but does struggle to repeat his delivery, a more common problem for very tall pitchers, and his control comes and goes as a result. He walks too many hitters, and gets into too many deep counts, forcing him into the zone. He commands the fastball reasonably well, but has very little true command of his offspeed stuff. This is a pitcher who can overwhelm on stuff and velocity, but will need more work than I think some optimists may want to believe when it comes to polishing what he has.
He's also a huge velocity pitcher with a significant timing problem in his delivery, which I think probably adds to his fastball, but makes him a much bigger injury risk. If there was a Jeff Hoffman Memorial Award, given to the pitcher I think is most likely to end up being drafted while rehabbing from an arm injury or even surgery, I would probably give it to Hansen it this year.
So those are my reasons for skepticism regarding what could be a top five, or top three, or top overall pick come June. I'm lukewarm on very tall pitchers in general, unless they show unusual body control, I think his repertoire is going to need more polish and honing than some others probably do, and most of all, I think he's a big-time injury risk.
Even saying all that, I can't deny the upside of Hansen. There are fewer things that have to go completely right for him to become a top of the rotation force than nearly any other pitcher in the draft this year, and it's easy to squint just a little bit and see a pitcher who doesn't just have a Noah Syndergaard fastball, but a Noah Syndergaard impact as well. But if I'm being honest, I think I would pass, hard, on Hansen at the top of the draft.
via Shaun P Kernahan:
Connor Jones, RHP, University of Virginia
6'3", 200 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
There's a very strong chance Connor Jones will not make it to where the Cardinals are picking, particularly if he can carry forward his success from last year's College World Series into this spring. The CWS last year, which saw UVA walk away with a national title, was Jones's national coming out party as much as it was Nathan Kirby's big sendoff, and if Jones looks like the guy this spring he was last year filling in as the ace in place of Kirby on a title-winning team, he should shoot up into the top half of the first round.
If, however, he were to fall down to where the Redbirds are picking, Connor Jones would be one of the most Cardinalsy draft picks imaginable. College pitcher? Check. Right-hander? Check. Polished, potential fast mover? Check. Feel for offspeed stuff and multiple pitches? Check, and check again.
Jones is of the variety of college starter who doesn't succeed by overpowering hitters, but rather by throwing a wide variety of pitches for strikes, and doing it all with solid command of the edges of the strike zone. He works off a fastball that cruises mostly in the low 90s, and he keeps it down around the knees most of the time. He can hump the heater up to 96, but it gets straight and a little...belt highish when he does. He's much better at 92 than he is 95, even if the radar gun readings could get him drafted earlier.
He complements that fastball, which I would put a 55 on if pressed, with three offspeed pitches that I would comfortably call average across the board. His slider is probably the best of the lot, with nice tilt and some power, but it's still more an average or just a slight tick above offering than a true knockout sort of pitch. A little more refinement, and it could rate a 55 as well, I think.
Jones throws a slow curve that can get sloppy at times, and a changeup that he mostly sells with good arm speed, but is a little flat for my taste. When he locates the curve, it's a 50. When he locates the change, it's a 50, too. Neither one ever reaches higher than that for me, and aren't always consistent enough to get there even.
Now it probably seems like I'm describing a pitcher with a decidedly mediocre repertoire to you, and that's not a completely untrue perception. All of Connor Jones's offerings, taken individually, are not all that impressive. Every pitch he throws probably falls between a 45 and a 55 on the scouting scale on any given day, with 50 being pretty much the default for all of them. It sounds pretty meh.
However, Jones is very much a pitcher who's more than the sum of his parts, as all of those average or maybe a tick above, at best, pitches combine to form a repertoire that can be much more effective than it sounds like it should be. While he lacks a true out pitch, he has enough weapons in his arsenal that he always has a pitch to draw on, always has a wrinkle to throw, and on any given day if one pitch isn't working, he can move to another one to see if it's going to carry the day. In other words, Connor Jones is about polish, feel, intelligence, and variety on the mound, and does a good enough job mixing up what he's tossing in any given game that he can usually find some combination of thrusts and parries to get the job done. He's not my favourite pitcher in the draft, not by a long shot, but I also have a long history of underestimating guys like this, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.
But my opinion, grains of salt and all, is this: Connor Jones has an absolute ceiling of a #3 starter, is probably closer to a four, and is one of the safer bets in the draft to reach something close to that ceiling. He's the very definition of a "safe" college pitcher, and probably wouldn't be a terrible pick. I wouldn't necessarily love it, but I could certainly see the appeal.
via Baseball America:
Cody Sedlock, RHP, University of Illinois
6'4", 210 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
On my DVR at home, I have a pair of college baseball games from the 2015 season, both featuring Illinois, and both featuring pitching appearances by two U of I relievers. I've saved these games because the two relievers in question just happen to be two of my favourite pitching prospects around.
The first pitcher is Tyler Jay, the left-handed closer-turned-starter-for-one-game-then-immediately-bumped-back-to-closer for Illinois, who was taken by the Twins last year, breaking my heart (not because the Twins took him, but because the Cardinals couldn't). The other represents, for the second year in a row, a pitcher from Illinois I consider to be the best potential bullpen-to-starter conversion candidate in major college baseball: Cody Sedlock.
I've also saved the two games I have because it's surprisingly hard to find decent video of Sedlock online -- and, had I thought of it ahead of time, I should have uploaded some off my DVR to use for this, but alas, I lacked that foresight -- and so I needed to save them for reference material. Sedlock has been on my radar since I started seeing him pitch out of the 'pen for Illinois last year, and I almost immediately marked him mentally as an arm nearly as intriguing as Jay, who very well may have been my favourite pitcher in the entire draft in 2015.
Sedlock's arsenal is built on a low-90s sinker, with nasty armside run that gets in on righthanded hitters extremely well, and rarely ends up in the middle of the zone. He's not as good working to the first base side of the plate, something he will need to work on in pro ball, but the natural downward action and run on the ball is more than enough to make him a force. It's a 60 pitch easy, maybe a touch better if you catch him on the right day, and with more innings and more polish, I think he only improves that foundation.
On that foundation, Sedlock can build with an above-average slider that features excellent drop, if not always quite as much lateral break as you might like. He can locate it in the zone or below it, and the downward movement on the pitch gives him a second grounder-generating weapon. Some days it's a true swing-and-miss offering, particularly against righties, while others it gets more contact off the sweet spot and on the ground, but doesn't bite quite enough to miss bats entirely. Still, I'd put a 50 on it currently, a 55 future, and the potential for a 60 if he can develop it a bit more. Pretty good, in other words.
The pitch I find most intriguing in Sedlocks repertoire is his changeup, which he rarely throws as a reliever, but looks extremely promising when I've seen it. He sells it with good arm speed, and it tumbles, dropping down in a forkball/splitter type fashion when it's good, but hanging more often than you would like. The pitch also doesn't have a ton of fade, being more of the vertical-breaking variety, but that's certainly not a problem if he can get the break consistently mastered. The pitch is probably a 45 at the moment, simply because it's inconsistent (and it's inconsistent because, again, he's mostly throwing one or maybe two innings at a time), but I hope you won't think I'm exaggerating when I say I've seen at least a few 60 grade changes from him at various points. It's just not there all the time.
Sedlock also throws a curveball, reportedly, but I'll be honest: I don't think I've seen one. Or, if I have, it wasn't very good, and looked like a bad slider maybe. Again, it's always tough to properly judge a pitcher's potential for three or four or five pitches when you're seeing him lean on only two out of the bullpen, and so I won't damn his curveball until I've actually seen him try to develop it.
The delivery...is outstanding. One of the best in the draft, in fact, I think. I really can't say any more. I want Cody Sedlock in a Cardinal uniform, developing as a starter. He broke out in the Cape Cod League last year, working as a starter for the first time in his collegiate career, and it appears that's the way the Illini will choose to use him this spring. My only hope is that he isn't so successful, and doesn't make such huge strides immediately, that he blasts up the board past where the Cardinals could hope to draft him.
Cody Sedlock came close to making my favourites post, that's how much I like him. And I really only left him out because he is still mostly a reliever, and there's always some worry about the transition. But honestly, I don't worry about it in my gut, even if I do in my head. I don't know what they're doing at Illinois to churn out these pitchers, but they're doing something right, at least with the guys in the bullpen.
So here's some video of Sedlock being interviewed, and a little pitching. Oh, and there's a teeny, tiny, little bit of him pitching at Busch Stadium. (At about 1:02 or so.)
I'm hoping to see much more of that in the future.
via Fighting Illini Athletics:
Whew. Three pitchers down, god only knows how many to go. Take care, everybody. And don't forget, tomorrow is officially The Day, even if the vast majority of the team has been down in Florida for weeks already.