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2017 Draft Preview No. 2: Starting Off Sinister

A trio of lefty hurlers written up for your portside pleasure.

St Louis Cardinals Photo Day
Former high-round pitching draftee Jack Flaherty.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The 2017 draft class is going to go down as one of the more loaded crops of pitching we’ve seen in a long time. The bumper crop to come is driven primarily by a remarkable collection of college arms; compared to last year’s group of collegiate hurlers, which contained very few can’t-miss names and then a large cluster of pitchers with good stuff but lots of question marks, the college pitching of 2017 is leagues ahead.

However, the focus that will naturally fall on the college side of things should not take away from the fact there’s also a deep, exciting pool of high school arms on the way, too. There’s a little something for everyone in this year’s draft, one might say.

Today I’ll be covering three of those high school arms, lefties all, who will have a lot to say about just how highly thought of this year’s class of prep arms ends up.

Trevor Rogers, LHP, Carlsbad High School (New Mexico)

6’6”, 185 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Left

DOB: 13 November 1997

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Anytime you see a high school pitcher with a height/weight ratio of something like 6’6” and 185, you’re going to see the big P word thrown out there. Projectability. Just think, the logic goes, if he’s throwing X miles an hour now, when he adds 30 pounds of muscle he’ll be throwing X+N!

And really, therein lies the problem. We have no idea what that N represents. Not all pitchers who come in as lean stringbeans turn into fireballers as they grow. Adam Wainwright is one such pitcher; when he was drafted at 6’7” and about 165 out of high school by the Braves back in 1999, Waino threw in the upper 80s, touching 90-91, with a great curveball. When he went from 6’7” 165 to 6’7” and 220, he was supposed to be a fire-breathing monster with high 90s heat and a hammer curve that would make him an ace among aces.

Well, when Wainwright went from 165 to 220, he threw....right around 90. Yeah, sometimes he’ll really bow his back on a fastball and touch 94, but he never became anything resembling a fireballer. A great pitcher? Yes. A flamethrower? Most definitely not.

All of which is a long way of saying, a lot of what scouts are drooling about when it comes to Trevor Rogers is that X+N equation, and that’s dangerous.

That being said, there’s a whole lot of raw material to work with when it comes to Trevor Rogers; I just happen to think more molding will need to be done with him than many others might before you end up with something good.

While I may or may not believe that listed height for Rogers makes him likely to gain huge amounts of velocity as he ages, it’s hard to argue that height doesn’t help him out in any way. He has long arms, works from a slightly funky 34 slot, and generates a ton of plane on his pitches as a result. And even if he never gains a tick of velocity, there’s enough here to see a successful pitcher.

The fastball varies quite a lot from start to start for Rogers, which isn’t all the unusual for a pitcher as raw as he is. When he’s going good, he’ll sit around 92-93, and he’ll touch 95. Low 90s with a weird delivery and good movement will get you pretty far in the world. The days when he’s not repeating his delivery and sitting more in the upper 80s? That’s more of a concern.

Rogers complements his heater with one good offspeed pitch, a slider, that can be devastating when it’s on, particularly to lefties. When he throws the pitch aggressively (read: harder), it has tight lateral break and just enough downward action to be really nasty. He guides it too often, though, and it will get big and wide and slurvy, and any hitter with a shred of plate discipline will see it coming a mile away and just watch as it floats on by. At its best, the slider is a 60, maybe a 65, and combined with his arm slot it looks like it’s coming from behind a left-handed hitter’s back. At the very least, he should be able to parlay the breaking ball into a career as a lefty neutraliser.

The changeup exists, but not much more than that. He’s a high school kid who throws hard. He doesn’t need a changeup yet. There’s time for that.

Mechanically, I don’t like what Rogers does. He has a wrist wrap at the back of his delivery and starts his arm swing up by lifting with his elbow, both of which contribute to a very late arm. He also tends to land on the heel of his plant foot, which isn’t ideal, but also isn’t a deal breaker for me. The length and complexity of the arm swing in the back for Rogers is a big part of why his control is still so shaky; combine a complicated arm action with inconsistent lower-body mechanics and you have a recipe for a guy whose release point is going to be all over the place. (The end of that sentence sounds surprisingly dirty.)

It’s easy to look at Rogers, the size, the arm, the delivery, and see some Chris Sale. Or Madison Bumgarner, if the velocity doesn’t increase. In order to get to that end point, though, I think the delivery is going to require a more significant overhaul than a team might want to do. Then again, considering what kind of payoff we could be talking about, it also might be completely worth it.

One last thing worth considering on Rogers is he’ll be one of the oldest high school players, if not the oldest, in the draft this year. I’m not sure how it worked out, but he’ll actually turn 20 just after the season ends. In addition to making him draft eligible as a college sophomore in a couple years if he heads off to Texas Tech, it also puts him on the bad side of the research that finds players at the youngest edge of their draft classes tend to perform better on the whole than expected. A guy as raw as Rogers would be one thing at seventeen going on eighteen; a pitcher that raw who will pitch at 20 in his first full pro season is a little different matter.

via The Prospect Pipeline:

D.L. Hall, LHP, Valdosta High School (Georgia)

6’0”, 190 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Left

DOB: 19 September 1998

So, what’s so great about this guy?

One word: curveball.

Well, okay, that’s not the only thing about D.L. Hall that should be very attractive to teams come June, so admittedly there will be more than just one word used. But that one word is a pretty good place to start, and so start there we shall.

Hall has the best high school curveball in the draft this year, and potentially the best high school breaking ball period. It’s among the best of any draftee, really, but comparing a high schooler’s breaker and its level of consistency to that of a high-round college pick’s isn’t really fair. The college guy has had three more years to work on his. Even with that said, Hall’s curve compares favourably to just about anyone’s you’ll see in the draft this year.

What’s interesting about Hall’s curveball is that it’s not the big overhand waterfall sort of breaking ball that you see from a lot of high school lefties, who rely heavily on gravity to help their curves curve. Rather, it’s a harder, tilted affair that will draw accusations of slurviness, the scarlet S of the pitching world, but is also frankly untouchable much of the time, and so I find those concerns more than a little misguided. Think of Rick Ankiel’s curve, more 11 to 7 than 12 to 6, thrown to the back foot of helpless right-handed hitters all day long. Hall’s might not be quite that good yet, but it’s a remarkable pitch for a high schooler. Hell, for anyone, much less a high schooler.

Hall throws hard enough, certainly, topping out at 95 and working 90-93 most days. He moves the ball up and down well, but not as much in and out. His changeup shows promise, but it’s still a work in progress. Again, as with Rogers, changeups often come later. Even so, every once in awhile Hall will break off a change that shows wicked fading action, so there’s a good one potentially in there.

As a lefty whose biggest weapon is a curveball and who tops six feet only on paper, Hall draws an easy comp to Scott Kazmir. I would also suggest Rob Kaminsky as a comparison point; the version of Kaminsky the Cardinals drafted, who threw hard and had a great curve, rather than the version you can see now with the Indians, who’s lost velocity and his spin and now leans on a sinker/change combo more than his old arsenal. Hall’s delivery is better than Kaminsky’s, so hopefully he’ll maintain his stuff better. But Kazmir and Kaminsky should both give you an idea of what Hall’s overall game looks like.

via Baseball America:

MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Whiteville High School (North Carolina)

6’2”, 180 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Left

DOB: 24 February 1999

So, what’s so great about this guy?

And now we come to the last of our three pitchers today, and the one who just happens to my personal favourite, as well as one of my personal favourites in the 2017 draft period.

MacKenzie Gore manages to buck a draft trend I’ve mentioned in regards to both of the previous pitchers featured in this particular week’s writeup, in that he is a high school pitcher who does not, in fact, feature a changeup that is barely extant most days, and really only pulled out for showcases to prove he at least knows how the grip works. In fact, MacKenzie Gore’s changeup is probably his best pitch, and it’s a damned good one.

Gore gets outstanding extension out in front of his delivery, thanks to a long stride that helps everything he throws play up a bit, but his stuff is good enough on its own to not really need the extra help. He works primarily off his fastball and change, with the fastball cruising at 90-92 and topping out about 94. He can locate the fastball to either side of the plate already, which is huge for me, and speaks to a greater level of repeatability in the delivery than you might expect. I say than you might expect both because of Gore’s youth and the fact his delivery is unique, with a huge leg kick followed by a drop and drive motion that requires an enormous level of balance and athleticism to pull off. It works for him, and I desperately hope whatever team drafts Gore doesn’t try to tinker overmuch with his delivery unless it becomes an issue.

Whereas the first two pitchers covered here today had notable breaking balls and barely-there changeups, Gore’s strength is in his fastball/change combo, and his curveball is still in its nascency. The pitch shows real promise; that out-front extension allows Gore to pull down on the curve to deliver it with excellent power and spin. However, he also loses it up and to the arm side nearly as often as he throws a good one, so for now the breaking ball is as much projection and promise as real usable quality. Still, when he throws a good one, it’s easy to tell he has the ability to spin the ball plenty, so I personally think it’s more a matter of when than if he’ll develop an above-average curve.

With solid-average velocity and good movement on the fastball (as well as the athleticism to command the pitch already at such a young age), a plus changeup that could end up plus-plus down the road, and an ability to spin the ball, I’m going to throw a comp on MacKenzie Gore that should reflect the absolute highest level of excitement I can communicate, because it just happens to be one of my favourite pitchers of the past dozen years. That comp is Johan Santana, and MacKenzie Gore has that kind of talent.

via FanGraphs:

Another one in the books, ladies and gentlemen. Once again, it’s a real shame the Cardinals don’t have any draft picks this year. Maybe, just maybe, a player of this caliber falls to them in the third round. The question then, though, is whether they would be willing to blow basically the whole draft budget on one overslot player. And considering how conservative the organisation has been the past few years, I have my doubts.