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Viva El Birdos 2017 Cardinals Top Prospects: #13 Dakota Hudson

Hudson has a live arm. We’ll see how he progresses this year, but he has a sinker/cutter combo like a potential HOFer.

Philadelphia Phillies v Miami Marlins
Crazy comp? Maybe
Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: the red baron has once again written up a very large number of prospects, done a great job on them, and combined them in just a few posts. You can read those posts, including a dozen reports on players who just missed the list by going here. This post contains a write-up of just a single prospect in a perhaps easier to digest form.-CE

#13: Dakota Hudson, RHP

6’5”, 215 lbs; R/R; 15 September 1994

Relevant Stats: 19:7 K:BB ratio in 13.1 innings

So, what’s so great about this guy?

If Nick Plummer was my ranking that felt low to some people last year, Hudson will almost certainly be that guy this year. And I’m okay with that. There’s a chance that Hudson comes out in 2017, pitches to his ability, and blows past half a dozen players I have rated more highly right now. But I have doubts about him, and they’re strong enough to push him down this list for me.

Mostly, though, this lower ranking is a simple matter of him barely having pitched in pro ball so far. He compiled less than fifteen total innings between the Cards’ Gulf Coast League complex team and their Palm Beach High A affiliate (remember Palm Beach also plays at Roger Dean Stadium, so basically the Cards just kept him at the facility down there), and while he pitched quite well, he did walk seven hitters in just nine innings at High A. That could, of course, be a simple matter of wearing down late in the longest year of his pitching life so far coupled with better competition laying off a tired arm’s stuff, but throwing strikes was also a concern for Hudson in college, and so I’m a little cautious about the notion he’s as close to ready as some people seem to think.

I’m also worried by Hudson’s arm action, which pushes him down in my personal rankings a bit. I always struggle with how much to weigh potential mechanical concerns in ranking pitchers, because while I believe it really is a big contributing factor in injury, quantifying how much risk is added, or when said risk could manifest, etc, is just so nebulous. In Hudson’s case, though, the longer I watch him, the less I like the mechanics, and I’m going to factor that in. He’s been healthy so far in his career, though (he did relieve his first two seasons at Mississippi State, just as a point of order), so grains of salt and all that.

Stuff-wise, there’s really nothing not to like about Hudson. He features two true plus pitches, both of which rate among the best of their kinds in the system already. His fastball cruises at 92-95, and it features armside run and sink that are actually more impressive than the velocity. It’s a 55-60 pitch right now, and if he could improve his command of the pitch it could play up another full grade. Perhaps his most impressive offering is his cutter, which serves as his primary offspeed pitch and grades out at least a 60 already, if not better. The pitch is actually an interesting hybrid, somewhere between a true cut fastball and a full-on slider, which leads to a bit of a conundrum when discussing said pitch. Call it a slider if you like, call it a cutter. The problem, of course, is the ‘slurve’ naming convention for a curve/slider hybrid, which would naturally make Hudson’s breaker a ‘slutter’. Rail against my social conscience if you must, but I don’t feel very comfortable using that term.

Nomenclatural isues aside, Hudson’s cutter (or whatever), gives him a weapon the likes of which very few other pitchers in the system can match. He could probably transition to the professional ‘pen and fly through the system in a blink, based on the strength of his two best offerings. If he’s to remain a starter, however, Hudson will have to improve the rest of his arsenal as well.

He features a curve that can flash plus grades, but tends to be sort of big and lazy much of the time. It’s a college curveball, is what I’m saying. His changeup is also that of a collegian, as the pitch shows intriguing depth and movement, but is often telegraphed. The most important refinement or improvement Hudson will make with his third and fourth pitches is conviction, rather than completely changing the pitches in some way.

The biggest question for Hudson — aside from my personal reservations about his health long term — is how much he can improve his command. He made big strides this past year at Mississippi State in controlling the strike zone better, but there were times when his feel for location still almost completely deserted him. The stuff is so good (at least the primary two pitches), that he could probably survive in a big league relief role as soon as this year, even without really making big improvements. His ceiling is much, much too high, though, to relegate him to that kind of role without exhausting every possibility of him fulfilling his maximum potential.

Player Comp: It is, of course, hyperbolic, but Hudson’s sinker/cutter combo has the potential for Roy Halladay levels of dominance. We all know, though, that what made Halladay who he was was not the quality of the stuff, but the precision with which he deployed it. It’s hard to see Hudson getting to that sort of level, but the foundation of stuff really is that good.

via Adam McInturff: