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2017 Draft Preview No. 6: The College Pitching Roundup

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Looking around the college baseball landscape in search of a few good hurlers.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at St. Louis Cardinals Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

No long prelude today, even though I thought of a thing I really wanted to talk about a couple days ago. Instead, we’re going to get right into the meat of today’s post, in which I will give very brief scouting reports on ten, count ‘em, ten college pitchers who may or may not be of note to the Cardinals’ situation this year.

David Peterson, LHP, Oregon

The two-way enigma that is Louisville’s Brendan McKay has sucked up most of the college lefty air in the room this draft season, but if you want the top performer available, it’s probably Peterson. He has the best combination of stuff and polish of any college lefty in this year’s draft, if not any pitcher period. Plus, he’s 6’6” and about 235-240 pounds, so we’re not talking about some beanpole projection pick. Peterson pretty much is who he is, and while there’s still room for refinement, obviously, he’s in the Marco Gonzales category of near-finished draft day products.

The good news is who Peterson is just happens to be pretty damned impressive. He works in the low 90s with his fastball, touching 94, and works from a bit of lower arm slot that creates good movement on the pitch. He complements the heater with a widescreen slider that rates a plus on his best days, and an averagey sort of changeup that needs tightening. Some outings it’s a solid pitch, other times he telegraphs it. He’ll mix in a bad curveball as well, but it’s bad. He should probably stop throwing it. You know, on account of it being bad. Kidding aside, the curve is slurvy and slow, and he seems to have a tough time getting the right angle and pulling down on the pitch. He has enough feel for the slider I think he should just concentrate on that and maybe work on shaping it to suit his needs.

The perfect world version of Peterson probably looks something like Madison Bumgarner, as a slightly slingy lefthander with average fastball velocity, good movement on the pitch, and a slow slider he can control like it’s on a string.

Oh, he also struck out 20 hitters about a month ago. It was pretty cool.

via Pac-12 Networks:

Alex Lange, RHP, LSU

Lange is a Missouri native (I think he might have gone to the same high school as Trevor Rosenthal, but I won’t swear to it), who scared big league clubs off in the draft three years ago with an ironclad LSU commitment. Since then, he’s solidified himself as one of the best arms in the nation, so Roll Tide on his going to college. (See what I did there?)

Anyhow, Lange has one of the best one-two combinations of any pitcher in the draft, with a mid-90s fastball and an absolutely devastating curve that has tight, 11-to-7 break and is often unhittable. He’s better at burying the pitch down and out of the strike zone to generate empty swings, and refining the ability to throw the curve in the zone without easing up and sacrificing sharpness could push Lange’s ceiling even higher. The changeup is okay, but needs work.

One thing that’s somewhat more difficult to quantify than the raw stuff for Lange is the deception in his delivery. He short-arms the ball a bit, and it seems to just come out of nowhere. I’m not sure his arm action is the healthiest long-term, but in the more immediate future it only serves to make him even harder to hit.

via Jheremy Brown:

Bryce Montes de Oca, RHP, University of Missouri

A high school Tommy John survivor, Montes de Oca has one of the best pure arms in the draft this year, with a fastball that gets up into the upper 90s and has heavy, bowling ball levels of sink. Think of young Jonathan Broxton and that boring fastball he threw at his best that made even the best hitters look borderline helpless at times.

There’s another similarity between Montes de Oca and Broxton: both are enormous human beings. We all know, of course, about Broxton’s largeness; we’ve seen the pants picture. Montes de Oca, though, goes 6’7” and 265. So he’s huge, throws incredibly hard, and the ball moves when he throws it incredibly hard. What else could you need?

Well, how about a power curveball? That sound good? Montes de Oca has one of those, as well, a mid-80s snapdragon that will flash a 70 grade now and again.

So what’s not to like? Well, there is the fact he’s actually not much of a pitcher; Montes de Oca very much falls into the ‘thrower’ category, lacking much feel for changing speeds, consistent command of any of his offerings, or a delivery that doesn’t just look like an angry child throwing a stuffed animal as hard as possible at a wall during a temper tantrum. Now, please don’t think I’m saying that’s necessarily a bad thing; it’s just that you have to understand what kind of pitcher you’re getting with Bryce Montes de Oca, and that’s a raw thrower. The stuff is incredible, but even to work at the back of a bullpen Montes de Oca has a lot of work to do.

For me it’s a relief-only profile; the arm action is terrible and there’s already an injury history. Still, another good comp for Montes de Oca might be Chris Perez, the control-challenged closer from Miami the Cards took in the supplemental round way back in 2006. Perez never quite lived up to his potential, but he got to the big leagues fairly quickly and had a couple of very nice years at the back end of Cleveland’s bullpen.

via Steve Givarz:

Glenn Otto, RHP, Rice

Watching Glenn Otto pitch is uncomfortably reminiscent of watching Mark Prior pitch. Otto has similar tree-trunk legs and a similar power curveball and a similar scary arm action with similar bad timing.

Actually, that’s not fair; Otto’s timing isn’t nearly as disastrous as Prior or Anthony Reyes, his fellow USC alum from back in the day. I still think the delivery for Otto falls into the high risk category, though, and that’s a real shame because otherwise I really like him an awful lot.

It’s a power fastball in the 93-96 range that’s better up than when it’s down, and a knuckle curve that is occasionally untouchable. I could go 60 on the heater and 65 on the curve, with the caveat that knuckle/spike curves are more rare than the standard version because, while it’s possible to generate tremendous spin and movement with the spike grip, very few pitchers have really solid command of the pitch. The questionable command, delivery concerns, and general scariness of Rice pitchers will all conspire to hold Otto down come draft day, but he could be a real weapon out of a big league bullpen within a fairly short time, I believe. If a club wanted him to start, it would be a longer process, and I’m not sure the payoff would be worth the risk and extra time.

Drafting relievers is always a questionable move, as the best relievers are usually failed starters. However, in Otto’s case, I believe he actually has the stuff to start, but the holes in his profile, the delivery, and the fact he already missed time last year with a tired arm mean he’s probably a better fit for relief. If he’s sitting there at 94, I wouldn’t be upset to hear the Cardinals call his name.

via rkyosh007:

Jake Thompson, RHP, Oregon State

Thompson has been one of the top performers in all college baseball this spring, anchoring the staff of an historically good Beavers squad that’s been ranked number one in the nation for most of 2017.

I don’t honestly know if Thompson profiles better in a bullpen or a rotation as a professional; he has three usable pitches, but he’s an extreme short-armer and really excels when he dialing the fastball up as hard as he can and playing his plus slider off the heat. He has an average changeup, but the fastball/slider combination, along with a delivery that’s very tough to time up because it’s so...sudden, for lack of a better word, could make him a dynamic reliever.

Watching Thompson pitch, I’m most reminded of Dan Wheeler, the former failed Tampa Bay starter from the late 90s who moved on to Houston and became one of their more dominant relievers in that ‘04-’06 window when they were fighting it out constantly with our own Redbirds. You remember Wheeler, right? He was the guy with the slider who wasn’t Brad Lidge and also wasn’t Chad Qualls. (Who is still pitching, by the way, which is kind of crazy.) Anyway, that’s who I think of watching Jake Thompson throw. He’s got a chance to start, but I’d buy him quicker as a reliever, I think.

via Pac-12 Networks:

Blaine Knight, RHP, University of Arkansas

Knight is a draft-eligible sophomore, and as such his draft stock is a little more uncertain than many others. He has some extra leverage, and so could drop down boards a bit as clubs look for better bargains.

Still, a club looking at Knight might just decide he’s worth whatever it would take to get him to leave school a year early, as the stuff is simply outstanding. He works from a low 34 slot, but generates easy velocity up to 96 with hard armside run. He throws a tight slider, occasionally throwing it too hard and flattening the pitch out, and a changeup that runs every bit as much as one might expect from his arm slot. He’ll mix in a curveball, as well, but it’s slow and not very sharp, probably a 40 pitch and best used as a surprise, rather than a regular offering.

Knight is incredibly skinny, going about 6’3” 165, and desperately needs to fill out some. Even so, he has a fast, whippy arm and a movement profile that reminds me a bit of Jake Peavy at times. In other words, I think Blaine Knight might be worth the risk and the payday he’ll likely command.

Tyler Wilson, LHP, University of Rhode Island

A few months ago, I received an email from a reader requesting I write up Tyler Wilson, who I had honestly never come across. Unfortunately, I think in clearing out emails I must have erased this gentlemen’s missive, because now I can’t find it no matter how I go about searching my inbox/archives. Therefore, I must apologise to the reader who sent the email, because I greatly appreciate the bird dogging, and feel terrible I couldn’t send him a personal thank you. Hopefully he sees this, because after he sent the email I looked Wilson up, made a few inquiries, and put together a brief batch of notes. So here they are now, on a pitcher who likely won’t go until the middle rounds in spite of fantastic performances.

Wilson is a pure pitchability lefty, qualifying as a soft-tosser even by the standards of previous eras not yet corrupted by the velocity race of the present day. He works right around 90 with the fastball, and complements it with a really nice changeup and a breaking ball he can work anywhere from a cutter to a big vertical slurve and everything in between. It’s the kind of breaking ball John Tudor would have been proud to break out. I wasn’t able to dig up a whole lot of video on Wilson, but what I could see of him I found that feel for manipulating a breaker to be the most impressive thing.

The arm action I find very concerning; he’s got a whole bunch of extraneous movement at the back of his arm swing that reminds me of the delivery of Jeremy Sowers, the former top prospect of the Cleveland Indians, who came up and initially pitched very well in his first taste of the big leagues, but struggled to miss bats and eventually saw his arm deteriorate badly. Hopefully that doesn’t happen to Wilson, but I admit to being concerned.

Brendon Little, LHP, State College of Florida (Junior College)

Little is probably the top junior college guy in the draft this year, after transferring from North Carolina to a Florida juco in order to get into the draft earlier. He’s also one of the more intriguing arms in the whole draft class to me personally.

His primary calling card is velocity, as Little works consistently around 94 and popped some 97s on the Cape last year. That pure arm speed also gives him the ability to spin a breaking ball with tremendous movement; in his case it’s an overhand curve he’ll throw in the 80-82 range and gets some really, really ugly swings.

Beyond the fastball/curve combination, Little is still very raw. I like the arm action, but his delivery as a whole could use some work. He’s very athletic, but it’s kind of a choppy motion that doesn’t utilise his lower half as well as he could. He tends to land differently from pitch to pitch, as well, leading to shaky control and an inconsistent release point. I also haven’t really seen much feel for a changeup from Little, though admittedly my viewing of him has been fairly limited.

Brendon Little is a very similar pitcher to the pre-draft version of Rob Kaminsky, back when Kaminsky had the best curve in his draft class and hadn’t yet started losing velocity. Maybe that’s why I like Little so much.

via 2080 Baseball:

Aaron Fletcher, LHP, University of Houston

Fletcher is a potential mid-round pick as a college reliever who I think has a chance to start down the road. He’s a short, stocky lefty with a long arm action who’s served as the primary closer for Houston this spring, and has excelled in that role. I have one really good scouting report on him, and that particular scout had him working in the low to mid-90s with his fastball. I’ve also seen a whiffleball breaker out of Fletcher in a couple videos, and he has a history of throwing strikes.

It’s mostly raw material at this point for Fletcher, but he’s a guy who caught my eye as an intriguing starting candidate. He throws harder than Tyler Lyons, but doesn’t have the natural sink of Lyons. Similar long arm action and nasty slurve, though.

Fletcher is kind of my sleeper prospect in the draft this year, as I happen to think a team could pop him sometime on day two of the draft and send him out as a starter to see what they might have. Maybe it amounts to nothing, but I think he’s also the kind of pitcher who is definitely worth taking a shot on. Better conditioning would probably be a must, though.

Zach Pop, RHP, University of Kentucky

Last year, Zack Burdi was the top college closer in the draft, possessed of absolutely electric stuff and an unorthodox delivery that created unusual planes and movement for said electric stuff. This year, it’s another Zach who occupies that spot as the most electric college reliever, if a clear step back from the pyrotechnics offered by the younger Burdi brother.

As for Pop himself, he works with a long, slingy arm action and low slot that gives his fastball incredible run, especially considering he pushes the heater up to 99 pretty consistently working out of the ‘pen. His best secondary offering is a hard slider that’s really more of a big cutter, which Pop tends to overthrow. Still, it’s a breaking ball that can touch 90, so it can do some damage even as an inconsistent weapon. He throws a changeup, too, but it’s too straight if he maintains his arm speed, and too obvious if he slows up to make it drop.

A moment ago, I compared Pop to Zack Burdi as the most electric reliever in a given class, but there’s another comp for Pop that’s maybe even more apropos: Joe Kelly. Pop has that same unbelievable sinking fastball that, for whatever reason, still doesn’t miss that many bats despite coming in at 95+ with tons of movement. He’s more of a groundball pitcher than a true strikeout artist, again like Kelly.

Also like Kelly, Pop is very much in need of polishing. He has the pure arm talent, but very little actual feel for pitching. He has no real changeup to speak of, shaky at best control, and even less command many nights.

Still, it’s hard not to be at least a little excited by the raw stuff of Zach Pop. The Cardinals had some real success taking Joe Kelly, putting him in the starting rotation and letting him learn in the role. Maybe they would’t be so patient these day, but Zach Pop is exactly the sort of player you take that risk for, because the payoff could potentially be huge.

via Baseball America:

There are, of course, more. Tons more, in fact. What I’ve tried to do here is present a survey looking around college baseball what level of talent is potentially out there this year. Even picking where they do, the Redbirds will have a chance this year to grab at least an intriguing talent. Thats not always the case. But this year, while the performances of many of the top players have been shaky, there is plenty of depth to ensure the first two days of the draft will have plenty of intrigue. Of the good kind, I mean.