Morning, everyone. I'm writing this Tuesday, ahead of the game tonight, so if there's big news I apologise for not mentioning it.
Anyhow, we're going to skip much of the intro work and jump right into the reports today. After all, we're coming down to it now; less than a month left until the draft kicks off. (It's the 9th of June, in case you were wondering; I'm not 100% sure I've actually mentioned that before.)
Today we've got yet another group of three college pitcher, right-handers all, to take a look at. We know the Cardinals love pitching, and value polish, so there may be some fit in this demographic. In fact, if asked to bet my next paycheck, I would probably put my money on at least one of those first four picks the Cards have up high in the draft being used on a righty out of a four-year school.
Cal Quantrill, RHP, Stanford
6'3", 185 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
If you've been watching baseball for a reasonably long time (like, since the 90s), you may remember the name Quantrill in a baseball-specific sense. Paul Quantrill was a long-time major league pitcher who spent the bulk of his career with the Toronto Blue Jays, and worked out of the bullpen for most of that time. He wasn't a bad pitcher; had a few very good seasons sprinkled in throughout a fourteen-year (I didn't realise he was around that long), major league career. He also wasn't anything resembling dominant, being a groundball-heavy, low strikeout guy with excellent command. In short, you may remember Paul Quantrill as a big league pitcher, and he did very well for himself, but you aren't going to see his number retired or his name going up in any team's hall of fame anytime soon. He just didn't have that kind of talent.
He also has a son, who just might possess that kind of talent.
I said might; there are certainly questions about Cal Quantrill, beginning with health and also covering certain aspects of his repertoire, but the son of the former guile-and-grounders big leaguer has bigger stuff than his father ever did, and some of the more intriguing offerings of any college pitcher in the draft.
To give a comp before jumping into the specifics, it's really fairly easy to come up with a guy: Cal Quantrill isn't nearly as tall, but in nearly every other way what you have here is basically a Michael Wacha starter kit. He works from a high slot, coming straight over the top and throwing his fastball on that steep downhill plane we hear so much about with Pac-Man. The velocity for Quantrill is in a similar neighbourhood, as well, sitting 92-94 most days and occasionally touching a 5. If anything, his fastball might be slightly better than the version we see from Wacha most of the time, as it has a little more tail to it than Wacha's, whose own heater is occasionally too straight for its own good.
What would a Michael Wacha starter kit be without a changeup, though, you ask, and it's a good question. Well, a Michael Wacha starter kit without a great changeup just wouldn't be a Michael Wacha starter kit at all, that's what. Luckily, the starter kit we're talking about here does, in fact, come with a high-level changeup standard in the box, so no worries there.
Quantrill's change is one of the better in the draft this year, featuring both deception and drop, coming out of the same arm tunnel and ending up at the shoetops as often as not. He sells it well with arm speed, and usually locates it well enough that even his mediocre changes don't turn into full capital M Mistake Pitches very often. On a good day, I could see putting a 65 on the pitch, to go along with that above-average (55 grade), fastball.
The really good news for a club looking at Quantrill as a Wacha-type starter's investment is that he may already have a better-developed curveball. It's not an elite hammer, but the breaking ball has nice shape and enough power to get some swings and misses late in counts. He doesn't command it well enough to necessarily work it in the zone all that much, but it's very effective as a chase pitch when he's ahead.
There's also a slider, I'm told, but I honestly don't know if I've seen it. I've seen a couple pitches that look more like soft cutters, which I assume are supposed to be sliders, but there isn't enough sharpness nor power to really be effective yet. I'm sure there's some potential there with the pitch, but for now I'm calling the slider basically a non-factor in terms of what Quantrill can do on the mound.
So all that sounds good, right? Well, here's the catch: Quantrill is a Tommy John survivor, having been shut down his sophomore season (2015, that is), with an elbow injury that led to surgery. He hasn't yet fully come back, either, having had the procedure in May of last year. He's thrown, obviously, but isn't back to full strength, and probably won't be before the draft. Thus, any team wanting to take a chance on Quantrill will be taking a definite chance, as they'll likely be drafting him without seeing him back at full game speed and sharpness since 2015.
In general, I've always been someone who shies away from drafting pitchers who already have arm surgeries on their record by the time they get to draft day. Shoulders, especially, but even elbow injuries, which we have a much better track record on at this point. We know that Tommy John has a lifespan, and the thought of drafting a kid who's already running out the clock on his replacement elbow, and will use up most of that period of time in the minors, is tough for me to stomach.
All that being said, I like Quantrill's delivery better than most Tommy John pitchers I've seen -- the arm is late, but not terrible so, and I wonder if there aren't small adjustments you could make to improve that further -- and the talent is very intriguing. You would still be drafting a player living on borrowed time in terms of his arm, but the payoff might be worth it. The most likely path would be to draft him, send him to extended spring instructs after to continue throwing and rehabbing, and not actually see him on a mound in-game until 2017. Whether a club felt good about their ability to help build up a pitcher and protect him from injury recurrence would go a long way toward determining how they feel about drafting Quantrill.
This is the first of the post-Tommy John pitchers I could really see the Cardinals drafting; his overall profile and approach match the organisation well enough I wouldn't be surprised if they had real interest. Personally, I think there are better choices, as I believe the draft slot one would have to spend to pick up Quantrill should have several other very talented, attractive players available there without as many health questions, but make no mistake, this is a premium talent, even if he's in the scratch and ding section.
Long-term, I could see Quantrill becoming something very much like Michael Wacha, given their skillsets are so similar. I don't know that I see him ever hitting the heights of Wacha at his very best, when he first came up (then again, I'm not sure I see that level of performance in Wacha's future either, at this point), but something closer to the low-90s multi-pitch version we've seen over the past couple years. Which is a pretty damned good return on a draft pick.
Ian Hamilton, RHP, Washington State
6'0", 190 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Every year, there are at least a handful of college pitchers attempting to make a conversion from the rotation to the bullpen, or vice versa. The curious nature of college ball, in terms of players coming through in waves, rather than being signed off the market, leads to starters coming up in the bullpen initially, until someone graduates or is drafted and opens up a space. Of course, you also have the reverse of that, when a former starter moves to the 'pen, either out of necessity for himself (i.e. control issues or limited number of pitches or just plain not being very good), or out of necessity for the team, since again, the more constrained nature of college ball can lead to team needs that aren't as easily filled as those of a pro squad.
The most interesting conversions come when a reliever moves to the rotation, simply because it opens the door for a player to significantly alter his draft stock. Tyler Jay of Illinois nearly made the move last year, ultimately staying in the 'pen in spite of the fact he looked good as a starter, because the Illini couldn't find a better option to close games. Cody Sedlock, also of Illinois, has made the move this year, had success, and basically moved into the top slot on my personal draft board for the Cardinals, at least in terms of pitchers.
For every Sedlock-type success, though, there are also those pitchers who try to make the conversion and, well, don't do so well. Ian Hamilton falls into that category, and also falls into the category of a pitcher who falls, by which I mean his draft stock has actually been hurt quite badly by his struggles in the rotation.
That said, there's some chance that Hamilton's draft stock dropping could be an opportunity for some club to pick up a potentially dominant reliever a bit later in the draft than they could have when it was still a question whether or not he could make the transition. Funny how that works, isn't it?
When he was coming out of the 'pen, Hamilton possessed a dominant two-pitch arsenal, combining a sinking fastball with nice, squirrelly movement on it that topped out as high as 97 at times with a wicked slider that he would occasionally throw extra hard and turn it into a 90 mph cutter that ate left-handed hitters alive. He would occasionally mix in a change with a little sink, but it was strictly a get-over pitch best thrown when the hitter was sitting on something else.
As a starter, Hamilton has been forced to go to all his pitches more often, and having to pace himself in terms of velocity and stamina hasn't been kind to him. He's actually shown slightly better control this season than in the past -- though he's always been slightly iffy in terms of putting the ball where he wants -- but he's just not able to miss bats gearing back and trying to mix it up more.
At this point, it seems fairly clear, to me at least, that Hamilton really fits best in a relief capacity. He just doesn't have the breadth of offerings to make it as a starter, and being forced to try and sustain his stuff over the course of a full game ends up bringing the overall quality down to a point he's not all that successful. It's possible a club drafting him has seen something in his starts that would make them think he should continue to develop that way (he does have a pretty good delivery, and has worked on developing a curveball, as well), but for my money I think he should be put back in the 'pen and fast-tracked as a pure fastball/slider short reliever. He came into the spring with something like a second-round grade because of his excellence in relief and the possibility of starting; now that he's shown that possibility to be more remote it's possible a club might grab him closer to the fourth round and end up with the good part of his profile we already knew was there.
via Jheremy Brown:
T.J. Zeuch, RHP, University of Pittsburgh
6'7", 225 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Zeuch is one of the biggest helium guys in this year's draft, as the cold-weather third year starter from Pennsylvania has shown the best stuff of his career so far this spring, as well as an ever-increasing idea of how to use that stuff. He came into the spring sort of back half of the top 100 kind of guy, and is now creeping into first round consideration. He also happens to be a guy I -- spoiler alert -- like quite a lot.
The first thing that stands out about Zeuch is his height -- he's in that Adam Wainwright/Michael Wacha neighbourhood -- and while he doesn't come straight over the top the way Cal Quantril does, the height of his release point still helps him create plane with his pitches. His curveball, in particular, has days when it flashes 60-65, with huge break and an ability to put it at the bottom of the zone. It may be his best pitch, at least to my eye, although it still needs work in terms of consistency. He does tip it at times, slowing his arm enough to be noticeable, but that's the sort of thing I'm sure will improve as he goes along.
He also throws hard, occasionally very hard, with a fastball that typically sits around 93-94, but has been up as high as 97 this spring. I like him better sub-95, as he overthrows when trying to really gear up for velocity, but the attraction of upper 90s high in the zone every once in a while cannot be overstated. The fastball has nice armside run, although I've also seen multiple occasions when Zeuch cuts off his delivery and ends up throwing sort of an accidental cutter, and the pitch straightens out.
He also throws a slider that will flash 55 now and then, and gives him a nice way to change the look of his breaking ball. It's not as good as the curve, definitely, but still a solid addition to a strong repertoire. I could see him tightening it up into a cutter down the road, or perhaps keeping it as is and dividing his breaking ball usage along hitter handedness lines.
The one real bugbear for Zeuch is a lack of a changeup, as he has yet to really develop the feel to throw one. It's unfortunate, because as we've seen with plenty of other pitchers, even if the overall stuff is very good, the lack of a weapon to combat opposite-hand hitters can leave a pitcher more vulnerable than one might think he should be. The variety of pitches, and quality of each, is much too good to consign Zeuch to relief work, but he's going to need to do some development work on the change if he's to make it as a starter at the highest level.
I like the delivery. In fact, it's one of the better deliveries in the class, I think, in terms of timing, although he does tend to land somewhat closed with his front foot. That might also contribute to the tendency to cut the fastball by accident from time to time, as he forces himself to throw across his body and make the adjustment to his release point essentially on every pitch. Would I try to get him to land more square if I were his pitching coach? I would, but I also wouldn't consider it a fatal flaw if he couldn't make the adjustment, by any means.
The package of tools and skills T.J. Zeuch brings to the table is as good as any pitcher in the draft this year, and could ultimately allow him to pitch not only in a big-league rotation, but at the front of one. There's a reason he's moving up draft boards, and if he's still available when the Cardinals make their first pick he'd be on my short list of names I'm hoping to hear. There's work to do, certainly, if he's ever going to reach that very considerable ceiling, but the stuff is undeniable, and he's done nothing but get better every step of the way.
via prospectjunkies's channel:
Of the three pitchers here, I think Zeuch is the prize, with Cal Quantrill also representing a solid bet, even with the questions about his future durability. I would be hesitant picking Quantrill, but I'm not sure how hesitant; figuring out how to balance that ticking clock against the potential payoff is very difficult. Hamilton doesn't belong in the same conversation with the other two, but could end up a bargain for some team who looks at what he can do, and what he could contribute, rather than focusing in on what it looks like he can't.