So it doesn't look much like spring outside this morning. Classic Missouri, giving us a late February snowstorm after a run of mid-60s daytime highs just to remind us we are most definitely not in charge.
Anyhow, I'm going to piggyback on last week's batch of scouting reports, and bring you three more college pitchers, righthanders all. There are still probably a dozen more of these guys I could write about, so prepare to be very tired of reading about them by the time we get to June.
Enough preamble. I'm going to try and keep this brief and breezy, as it looks as if I've got a long morning ahead of me, if I decide to leave the house at all. Honestly, I'm kind of thinking that just not going to work and playing Fire Emblem today is a much better option. But, we'll see.
Daulton Jefferies, RHP, University of California
6'0", 180 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
I am very much of a divided mind on Daulton Jefferies. On the one hand, if I've said it once, I've said it probably at least, like, six times: I love an athlete on the mound. A guy with body awareness, and more importantly, body control, is always going to get some extra credit from me. I'm also not at all hung up on height being much of a predictive factor for future success in pitchers (if anything, I'm probably biased against the new breed of super-tall hurlers, as those guys very rarely have great control over their extra long limbs), and could easily see shorter-but-athletic pitchers as a huge market inefficiency, if clubs are overlooking certain pitching prospects based on their heights, listed or otherwise.
On those two counts, Daulton Jefferies is very much my kind of pitcher. He's a converted infielder -- or perhaps just a former two-way player; he's only pitched in college and wasn't a huge prospect coming out of high school, so those details are tough to track down -- and has the sort of footwork and athletic actions around the mound you would expect from a guy with that background. He's also quite short, as that listed height of 6'0" is similar to Carlos Martinez's 6'0" -- i.e., either counting the rooster mohawk or just plain exaggerated. (And I don't think Jefferies has a rooster mohawk.) If you're looking for a pitcher with the athletic pedigree to be exciting and the stature deficiency to be undervalued, Jefferies is right in that sweet spot.
There's also the matter of the stuff, which could pretty comfortably be called premium, beginning with a 93-95 mph fastball that feels even a little faster, watching the kinds of swings Jefferies elicits from opposing batters. His breaking ball, which you could call a hard curve, or a big slider, or just split the difference and say slurve, gives him a second plus pitch with which to attack hitters. The pitch moves a ton, and misses bats at a very high rate, but Jefferies doesn't yet have the kind of command over the pitch to allow him to throw it in the zone consistently. The fastball is good enough he doesn't really need to pitch backward, for the most part, and so the breaker being mostly an out of the zone swing and miss offering isn't a problem, but it's the sort of thing that could make a big difference in terms of his ceiling going forward.
He also has the makings of a decent changeup, helped by elite arm speed and the accompanying deception. That being said, the pitch is a little straight, and when the batter recognises it early it tends to get smacked around. Developing better sink and fade -- or perhaps trying out a forkball or splitter, which I would at least consider -- could be a big deal for Jefferies as well. He's a bit raw for a college starter, but with a little development, you could be looking at a 60+/60/50 sort of arsenal, with above-average fastball command all around the plate.
So why am I of a divided mind on Jefferies? Sure, he's a little raw for his draft demographic, but that's not the end of the world, when there's potential to be had and athletic talent.
My biggest problem with Jefferies is he shows all the hallmarks of the worst of modern coaching, in terms of the way many pitchers are being taught to deliver the ball. For all his athleticism, he's far too passive with his lower body, never really driving off the mound or engaging his legs to help generate power. It's the kind of delivery you see taught when a pitching coach is trying to teach a pitcher to throw strikes; the tradeoff being repeatability for dynamic energy. As a result, Jefferies is creating all his velocity with his arm, helped out by poor timing, leading to what I believe is a much riskier arm action overall. As much as I like the stuff and the athletic ability, the delivery worries me going forward.
If you ask me the most likely future outcome for Jefferies, I think there's a good chance he ends up with an arm injury in the next couple years, followed by a slow conversion to relief work down the road. If it was up to me, I would probably just stick him in the 'pen now, have him forget about working on a changeup, and just ride a plus fastball and big, sweeping breaking ball to a successful relief career in the Scot Shields sort of mold. Of course, it's hard to take a pitcher in the first round you plan on immediately converting to relief work, even if the game seems to be heading toward relievers being valued more highly than maybe we have for most of the sabermetric era.
Then again, I don't like the delivery, but I've seen worse, certainly. So, you know, if the value proposition looks right, depending on where you're looking at picking him...
via Baseball America (and for once, I'm going to recommend you actually go to Youtube and watch this clip, as it doesn't appear possible to embed at 60 fps, which looks phenomenal):
Jordan Sheffield, RHP, Vanderbilt
6'0", 185 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Last year, there was an undersized righty from Vanderbilt with stuff best described as 'pyrotechnic', but who drew all sorts of mixed reviews for his frame, his delivery, and his ability to pitch in any way other than balls to the wall every second of every outing. He had been a reliever his first two seasons at Vandy, but transitioned his junior year to the rotation, and solidified his stock near the top of the draft by blowing hitters away for five and six innings at a time nearly as effectively as he had done for just one inning previously.
Carson Fulmer eventually went to the White Sox eighth overall last year, and no one looked at the pick as any kind of reach or overzealous bet on a guy whose stuff and results didn't warrant that level of enthusiasm.
I give you that bit of history so that you'll have a frame of reference for what I mean when I say watching Jordan Sheffield pitch is eerily reminiscent of watching his former Vanderbilt teammate on the mound.
Sheffield is a similar size to Fulmer, listed at six foot even to Fulmer's 6'1" (ish) and their listed weights are within five pounds of each other. They have remarkably similar deliveries, with Sheffield's being just slightly less uptempo, but otherwise extremely close. (Seriously, it's kind of absurd; I'll post videos at the end for you to marvel at.) And they have similarly ridiculous stuff.
It starts with the fastball for Sheffield, which sits comfortably in the mid 90s and has reached as high as 98 at times. It's good when it's up, but even better when it's down; when Sheffield is locating the pitch at the bottom of the zone, the movement and velocity combine to make it an easy 70 grade pitch for me. He complements it with a nasty slider that can get a little big and loopy at times, but mostly comes in around 87-88 with hard tilt, and a changeup with that wicked split-finger sort of movement to it, a straight downward break when he's really going good, that perfectly plays off the fastball and can be almost unhittable at times. The slider is probably more consistent, but it's the changeup I think could make him a dominant force.
It isn't the most likely outcome, of course, but there's a legitimate chance Sheffield could end up with three 60+ grade pitches at the big league level. The fastball is already there, I think, and the changeup I could see being nearly as strong. The breaking ball has good movement, but isn't quite the weapon of mass destruction to my eye the change could be coming off his fastball the way it does.
The one and only problem for Sheffield, really, is a question of health. It's a somewhat scary delivery, and he's already had Tommy John surgery as a freshman at Vandy. The command overall is also not there yet, but there's plenty of reason to believe that will improve with more reps, more experience, and more distance from elbow surgery. The question, of course, is how long a team drafting him will be able to enjoy his services before the elbow becomes a problem again. Or, worse, the shoulder.
As promised, here's Carson Fulmer last year, via Moore Baseball:
and Sheffield, via Jheremy Brown:
Now tell me I'm wrong.
Robert Tyler, RHP, University of Georgia
6'5", 225 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
You know, I considered sticking with the theme of this column already established, and go with a third undersized college righty, but having just passed on writing Tyler up last week, I figured I should go ahead and get him out of the way this week. Therefore, we have two righthanded power pitchers just scraping six feet, and one who looks every inch the part of the modern power pitcher prototype. That 6'5" is probably not an exaggeration; Robert Tyler is a big, big dude.
Robert Tyler also may possess the single best fastball of any starting pitching prospect in this year's class, at least among the likely starters. Nick Burdi's younger brother Zack might throw harder in relief stints, but it's straighter, and really only pushes triple digits in one-inning outings. Tyler brings his heat five and six innings at a time, and it's usually just as good on the last pitch of his day as the first. Alec Hansen, the Oklahoma ace covered last week, might throw a little harder than Tyler as well, even covering whole games, but doesn't have the kind of movement the Georgia rotation anchor boasts.
To wit, Robert Tyler throws a fastball at 94-97 with what is commonly described, in scouting parlance, as 'whiffleball movement'. Hard armside run, good sinking action, and the velocity all combine to make the pitch virtually unhittable when he's on. He uses his height extremely well, also, both extending out in front of the mount to gain valuable extra real estate and still managing to delivery the ball on a steep plane that makes it hard to square up. The pitch is the rare example of a bona fide swing and miss fastball, and even when hitters do get the bat on it they rarely are able to lift the pitch. Tyler is as overpowering as any pitcher you're likely to find at the collegiate level, in terms of the fastball all on its own.
The downside with Tyler is the fact he has yet to really develop a feel for any offspeed offerings. There are times he'll get on top of a breaking ball and show wicked 11-to-5 movement with power, but all too often he's on the side of the pitch and spinning it over the middle of the plate. Every once in a while he'll drop a decent changeup in against a lefty, but I'd say it's probably at a rate of two or three out of every ten. In other words, nowhere near the kind of ratio you can actually count on to be effective.
There's also the matter of the delivery, which is really kind of a disaster. Watching Tyler, I'm uncomfortably reminded of certain things in Mark Mulder's delivery, and I don't mean that in a good way. If I had to place a bet on a pitcher I could see having arm issues between now and the draft, Tyler would easily be in my top three or four picks, I think.
All that being said, there's a chance Robert Tyler is the kind of pitcher you could select in June and have in your big league bullpen in August. I have my doubts about his ability to remain in a rotation long-term; the delivery and lack of offspeed stuff combined makes me think he might end up in the 'pen as well, a common theme among a whole lot of the pitchers in this year's draft. But if he develops some consistency with his breaking ball, he could have a Delin Betances-type level of dominance, that's how good the stuff potentially is. For my money, though, I look at him and I think of Nick Webber, a former Cardinal prospect from nearly ten years ago now who was projected as a future closer, based on the strength of a mid-90s sinker that had unbelievable movement, but not much in the way of secondary pitches. Webber looked, for awhile, like he might make it to that ceiling just with his fastball, but arm injuries eventually caught up to him, and there's a reason you probably didn't know who Nick Webber was when I just brought him up. I worry Robert Tyler may have a similar career path, ultimately.
via Jesse Burkhart:
The three pitchers I've covered here today represent a fairly common theme among the pitching talent that looks to be available in the first round this year. There's an incredible amount of talent on display all throughout what looks like the early part of the draft, but virtually every one of the pitchers likely to go in the first round comes with serious, serious questions attached. So many scary, risky deliveries. Plenty of guys with big velocity and not much else to lean on. Guy with terrible control issues that effectively nerf repertoires that should allow them to dominate. It's an extraordinarily strange draft class on the pitching side this year, and one that frankly scares the hell out of me because the more I look at it, the more it looks like a minefield, just waiting to blow some poor team's hopes to kingdom come.