I'm writing this ahead of time, beginning Friday night, because I have a wedding to attend Saturday evening, and chances are I may be a bit, ahem, under the weather come Sunday morning. Ergo, if anything major has changed between 5:30 Friday and Sunday morning, feel free to simply ignore this post and talk about whatever is more interesting.
Oh, who am I kidding? That's how my columns are all treated, regardless of how timely or useful they may be. Le sigh...
Anyhow, in an attempt to actually get a post up at a reasonable hour, I'm going to compose another pack of draft reports for everyone. Also, since the draft is now barely over a month off, I may be doubling up on draft stuff from here on in. Today I've got three more college pitchers to cover, this coming Wednesday I'll have the first Persons of Interest post going up (if this is your first year reading this, Persons of Interest covers draftable players who fall outside the first two to three round neighbourhood I mostly focus on in these previews, but are still intriguing prospects to me for one reason or another.
Next Sunday, I may try to write up some players who have risen or fallen this spring, as a way to update guys we've already looked at in the past and give you an idea of some of the movement we've seen in the class. I always mean to try and do that every year, but never quite seem to get it done. Hopefully this year I will.
Anyhow, enough housekeeping; onward to the scouting reports.
Jon Duplantier, RHP, Rice University
6'4", 225 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Well, let's actually start off with what's not so great about Duplantier, just to change things up a little, shall we? We always start with the positive; let's tear this dude down a bit before we start building him up again.
The not-so-great about Duplantier revolves almost entirely around questions on health. He was actually eligible to be drafted last year as a sophomore, but he spent most of the spring of 2015 on the shelf with a bum shoulder. Now, two things about that particular injury stand out to me. One, it's a shoulder, and while surgery was never required, anytime you have a pitcher whose shoulder is acting up I'm very, very cautious about his future. Two, Jon Duplantier had a shoulder injury, and he pitches for Rice.
Why would the school for which a player pitches make a difference, you ask? Well, because there is a long and storied history of Rice Owls getting hurt in the pros, and while it would be easy to act as if that's not a meaningful data point, the fact is that the Rice coaching staff seems to have a strong tendency to recruit pitchers with problematic arm actions, and head coach Wayne Graham also just happens to be extremely notorious throughout college baseball as one of the more abusive (in terms of pitcher usage), coaches in the game. Thus, while the Rice thing may still not be a huge deal worth making too much of, I also don't think it's a complete non-factor.
As for Duplantier's delivery, it isn't terrible. It's not great, but it's not terrible. It looks like someone in the past told him about loading his scapula and he bought in, as he has pretty extreme hip and shoulder separation, leaving his throwing arm well behind his body. On the other hand, I've certainly seen worse, so factor in my mechanical concerns as you like.
Now, on to the good stuff. And the good stuff for Duplantier is, well, good stuff, simply put. As in, what he has is very good stuff, beginning with a fastball that he can run up to 96 mph at his best, and pretty consistently averages 93 or so. The heater also moves, running hard to the arm side, making him exceptionally tough on same-handed hitters just due to being able to saw them off. I don't know if he utilises a two- or four-seam grip, but the movement on the pitch suggests to me he's working off a two-seamer most of the time.
Perhaps my favourite of Duplantier's offerings is his curveball, which needs work in terms of consistency, but at times appears positively elite. He lays back on the pitch and casts it occasionally, taking too much speed off and leaving it rolling up there, but when he gets out in front and really pulls down, the pitch has outstanding depth and unusual power, coming in in the mid-80s ad diving down hard. It's unfair to compare any college kid's breaker to one of the best in the majors, but the combination of spin, power, and depth when Duplantier really delivers the curve with conviction and authority makes me think a bit of that of Dellin Betances, the Yankees' all-world reliever.
Duplantier throws a decent changeup as well (nice sink, at times), though it's definitely his third-best pitch. Still, he has three developed, useful offerings, which should allow him to remain a starter in pro ball. He shouldn't be too vulnerable against lefties, since his breaker is a curve, rather than a slider tilting in toward the hitter, and the changeup is enough, combined with the movement on his fastball, to keep the ball away from the barrel.
Even so, while I think Duplantier has the stuff to start at the next level, I have to admit to being intrigued by what he might be able to do as a two-pitch reliever. The injury history, track record of pitchers coming out of Wayne Graham's program, and potentially dominating one-two punch would be sorely tempting to me to take a look at a role change. In short relief, I could see the fastball playing up even more, perhaps sitting at 95-96 rather than topping out there, and the curve could be even more devastating. The problem is Duplantier has looked healthy enough -- and strong enough -- this spring that some team will likely pick him up in the first couple rounds, and it's very difficult to see a club willing to spend a top-40 pick on him wanting to immediately shift him to the bullpen. If he does ever shift to relief, I would think it would be down the road somewhere, by which time I worry about how well his arm will have held up along the way.
via Andrew Krause:
Justin Dunn, RHP, Boston College
6'1", 170 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
I've talked before about trying very hard to make player comps across racial lines. It's much too easy -- and often not that informative -- to simply comp every black player to the first black player of somewhat similar size that comes to mind. If I can, I always try to find at least one comparable individual of some other race, based on tools and skillset.
Well, in the case of Justin Dunn, the comp to Ronnie Williams, the undersized righthander the Cardinals selected in the second round two years ago out of high school, is just too obvious. I can't help myself.
The two are extremely similar in terms of size, with Dunn a bit more filled out and mature, and the stuff is remarkably similar as well. Like Williams, Dunn's best attribute is pure arm speed, as he can run his fastball up into the upper-90s when he's working in relief (which he mostly did his first two seasons at BC), and still get into the 95 mph range as a starter. Also like Williams, the huge velocity for Dunn has not, as of yet, led to correspondingly huge strikeout numbers, somewhat surprisingly. He's difficult to square up, for sure, and tends to generate lots of ground balls, but when it comes to missing bats, the stuff for Dunn suggests more whiffs than he actually brings to the table.
The modest strikeout totals for Dunn are even more surprising when you consider he possesses not one, but two average-or-better breaking balls. The curve gets slurvy, but is tough to square up, and the slider at times shows real swing and miss potential. At other times, he throws it too hard and it flattens out, also, but when he's on top and not overthrowing, it'll flash a 60 grade now and again.
I know Dunn throws a changeup, but I haven't seen one I could readily identify. Either he hasn't utilised it in the outings I've seen, or the pitch isn't different enough from the fastball for me to be sure it was a change. The fact I couldn't tell suggests to me the pitch is not great at the moment.
Dunn is, on the whole, a bit more raw for his experience level than you would probably expect. He's a college junior, but doesn't really fit the profile of the polished, finished product you usually see from the demographic. He's a tremendous athlete, and the stuff is potentially elite, but he lacks the refinement in terms of feel for pitching and consistency of command that would allow him to get results to match the talent. I also worry about the timing in his delivery, and how durable he's going to be in the long run. It's not a terrible delivery, by any means, but the timing seems to vary from pitch to pitch, best as I can tell.
As much as I like Dunn, and the talent he brings to the table, he's also a much riskier bet than most college pitchers. Think of guys like Adam Ottavino or Gary Daley, those raw college pitchers with big stuff, who the Cardinals used to covet in the early days of Jeff Luhnow running the draft. Dunn falls very much into that category, and spending a top 40-50 pick on him would definitely be taking a chance. The talent in the arm could make the payoff worth the chance, but it's a risk all the same.
via Jheremy Brown:
Dakota Hudson, RHP, Mississippi State
6'5", 205 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Dakota Hudson is, right now, possibly the player with the most helium this spring, or at least in the conversation with guys like Nick Senzel and Zack Collins. He came in to the spring with a mid-second round grade, and has pushed himself solidly a full round higher than that now, easily ranked as one of the top college arms in the entire draft.
Hudson has always had a premium arm, going all the way back to high school, when he hit 96 his senior season and temporarily looked like a top five round sort of guy. The only problem -- and the reason he did not, ultimately, go high enough in 2013 to forgo college for a pro contract -- was the fact he often had very little (and by very little I mean none), idea of where the ball was going when he let go of it. He was a pure thrower, and remained so his first couple seasons at Mississippi State, whose sudden jump into big-time relevance as a college baseball powerhouse the last few years kept Hudson out of the rotation and not developing.
This year, though, everything has begun to really come together for the tall righty, as he's smoothed out his delivery some and finally started developing something approximating command of his pitches, or at least that somewhat-less demanding quality known as control. To wit, Hudson's walk rate in 2015 was 5.94 BB/9; this season it's 2.91. He's still more hittable than someone with his stuff should be, the result of iffy command within the strike zone, but at least he's not liable to just walk the park on a give day.
The stuff for Hudson has never been in doubt, and it remains elite, with a fastball that sits comfortably at 94-95 and will top out around 97 on a given day. When it's down, it's hard to hit, but when he elevates, it can be positively overpowering. His best pitch, though, has to be his slider, which is one of the best breaking balls overall in the draft this year, along with A.J. Puk's slider, Jason Groome's curveball, and Jordan Sheffield's wicked slurve. Hudson's slider comes in unusually hard, usually in the 87 mph range, but still manages to just drop off the table, with hard tilt down and away to righthanders. The pitch is sharp enough he can back-foot lefties with it as well, without fear of getting beaten on the pitch down and in. At its best, the pitch might rate a 70, and could make him an elite reliever with virtually no development time at all.
There's almost no chance of Hudson becoming a reliever, though, at least not in the near future, as he also features a decent changeup that tumbles nicely but is too often telegraphed, and a decent curveball he goes to as a get-over pitch for a strike, rather than a put-away breaker meant to get those late-count swings and misses. The fact he has four usable pitches (and not too bad a delivery, either), makes starting a very good possibility in the long term. Of course, to get there he'll have to tighten up the command pretty significantly, even with the improvements he's made this spring. Getting the ball into the strike zone is certainly a start, and the quality of stuff he brings is such that simply throwing strikes is enough to get college hitters out. In the professional ranks, though, fat pitches get murdered, even if your stuff is good, and Hudson as he is right now will probably take some lumps in the minors as he continues to refine his ability to locate beyond simply "get it over the plate".
The combination of big velocity, one dominant breaking ball and one pretty good one, a longish arm action, and serious issues with command remind me a bit of Seth Blair, the former Cardinal farmhand (and former Arizona State standout before that), who never did get hold of his fastball command well enough to really take his game to the next level. Hudson has shown more consistently elite velocity, as Blair would pop 97 every once in awhile and then sit 91 his next start, struggling to find his release point (Hudson is also quite a bit bigger physically), but the overall package of stuff across a wide range of pitches feels pretty similar to me. Hopefully, Hudson has better luck refining his game than Blair ever did. If he can't fully get a handle on his command, the combination of a big heater and true elite breaking ball could make him a closer-level reliever, and force me into my second Adam Ottavino reference of this particular column.
Chances are, Hudson will continue to look good the rest of the way and get drafted well above the Cardinals' slot. If he were to cool off, though, and drop back down a bit, I will say I like him better than most of the other big velo starters available in that range. I would take him in a heartbeat over an Alec Hansen or Robert Tyler, and even over Jordan Sheffield, mostly due to the latter's prior injury history. Probably a moot point, but I actually like Hudson a great deal.
via Adam McInturff:
Enjoy your Sunday, everybody. Hopefully we're going for a sweep of the Buccos today following Carlos's perfect game masterpiece and a 2-1 walkoff nail-biter behind Waino on Saturday. If not, and we're just trying to avoid getting swept again, well, all the more reason to be excited for the draft!