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2018 Draft Preview No. 6: Not the Top High School Arms

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Continuing our draft previews with a trio of high school pitching prospects.

St Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

An inordinate amount of draft preview time here and elsewhere is spent on the very top of the scale, those players guaranteed to come off the board early on draft day. For my part, I try very hard to focus in most heavily on players I think fit into the area the Cardinals will be drafting (as much as I can, anyway, considering I start these previews up to seven or even eight months ahead of the draft), and grabbing names from further down the spectrum, but it isn’t always easy. Players just slip through the cracks, even ones with talent that belongs in the top few rounds. And while I do as much scouting as I can myself, if the player isn’t on the showcase circuit or at a college program with a certain threshold of coverage, he may never make it on to my follow lists to begin with.

All of which is just a short introduction to today’s post, which features three high school arms who are, as of right now, not going to be in first round consideration, I don’t believe. It’s still early, and performance or a jump in stuff can certainly change how a player is perceived, but at the moment I think all three of these guys are closer to round 3-5 guys than top 50 picks.

Mike Vasil, RHP, Boston College High School (MA)

6’4”, 210 lbs

Bats/Throws: Left/Right

DOB: 19 March 2000

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Of the three pitchers I’m covering here today, Vasil probably comes the closest to actually fitting in as a top draft pick. He’s not a slam dunk top 30 guy, maybe not even a lock for the top 50, but he has the most things going in his direction that would push him there.

For starters, Vasil has a big, physical frame that’s already stronger than most eighteen year olds, without being so mature or so big that there’s no real room for projection. He won’t put 25+ pounds onto his frame like some of the beanpole preppers who come in every year, but he could add another 10-15 pounds without any problem and still be solid, rather than sloppy. He has strong, sturdy legs already that give him a powerful base for his delivery, although he is slightly less aggressive with his lower body than I might personally prefer.

On the stuff side, Vasil has premium talent, if not quite transcendent. His best pitch is his fastball, which is common for pitchers this young, but isn’t necessarily always the case. It is for Vasil, though, as he works from a 34 slot that gives his heater impressive life and a little extra run regardless of where he throws it. The velocity is good, as he works at 91-94, occasionally touching 95 or even 96 in short showcase stints, and there’s a little deception as well, as it seems to get on hitters a touch faster than they expect. I wouldn’t project Vasil to add a ton of velocity, but this is the kind of arm that, as he matures, he might sit closer to 93-94, rather than the lower end of his range. If he never adds any oomph, though, there’s still enough power in the heater to get the job done.

Interestingly, Vasil shows some real feel for two offspeed pitches already, which is slightly surprising for a pitcher who is overall a touch on the raw side, even for a high school pitcher. (I’ll get to that in a second.) His curveball is the better of his complementary offerings at the moment, and when he stays on top of the pitch he can create good depth and power, albeit in a slightly slurvy package. There’s a little more lateral sweep to his curve than many pitchers try to go for these days, thanks to that slightly lower arm slot. Regardless, when the pitch is on it shows signs of being above average at least.

He also throws a changeup, and while it’s clearly a third pitch, often telegraphed through a drop in arm speed, there’s more feel for the pitch than a lot of high school kids. It shows a decent bit of sink and a little lateral wiggle, and as he improves down the road he should figure out his feel for the grip better, allowing him to sell the pitch more effectively.

That all sounds pretty good, right? Of course it does. He’s a talented kid. Taken together, the stuff isn’t all that far off what we saw from Shelby Miller as a high schooler, with maybe even better feel for a change. The real downside for Vasil is as much geographic as anything; he’s from Massachusetts, as cold weather a state as there is, and he’s more raw overall than a kid from Texas or Florida as a result, due to just less playing time available. He’s also not faced nearly as strong a competition consistently as a lot of those kids from the sun belt, which makes him a little tougher to gauge.

Overall, though, the package of size and stuff is strong enough Vasil could move into first-round consideration if he looks good coming out of the gate this spring. He’s got power stuff, a sound delivery — although I would like to see him more aggressively drive off the mound and add that little stepover move with his front foot so many great pitchers have — and a big frame with room for a little more strength and weight. The simple fact he won’t get as much run this spring to perform as a kid from Texas could keep him down the board a ways, but he also has a chance to jump up. As it stands now, he feels like a supplemental round guy to me on the high end, or more likely a second rounder.

via 2080 Baseball:

Owen Sharts, RHP, Simi Valley High School (CA)

6’1”, 185 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

So, what’s so great about this guy?

First off, yes, he really does look a whole lot like Zack Greinke when he pitches, which you’ll see in the video at the end of this section. So that’s neat.

However, the similarities to Greinke for Sharts actually go deeper than strictly cosmetic, as he features a precocious feel for working offspeed that goes beyond what you see from most high school pitchers. That feel, along with a slightly undersized frame and what looks like outstanding athleticism and body control, makes him one of the more intriguing lower-tier arms in this draft. (And by lower-tier I only mean in relation to the players in the top 100-150 pick range.)

The fastball is good enough, pushing into the low 90s, and it’s a little sneaky, especially up. Sharts’s command of the pitch isn’t always great just yet, but when he’s locating it has plenty of juice to succeed with. More impressive, he has a big-breaking curveball that he throws both early and late in counts, showing confidence in his feel for the pitch that belies his age. He works from a high 34 slot, and gets more vertical break on the curve than Vasil does, with closer to a true 12-to-6 break. Sharts also shows some feel for varying the speed of the curve, sometimes throwing it a little slower, with bigger break, and sometimes throwing it harder, usually when trying to bury it in the dirt. It’s an easy plus pitch for his age level, and there’s potential for him to end up with a 60+ curve down the road that he can manipulate to do whatever he needs.

While not as advanced as his curve, Sharts also has good feel for a changeup he can work down below the zone but tends to slow up too much when trying to throw it for strikes. Still, there’s good drop to the pitch, and I think the ability to locate it consistently will come in time. He also appears to throw either a cutter or a short slider, I can’t really tell which, though I’ve only seen a few of them, so don’t have a great feel for the quality. Still, this is a high schooler working with four pitches, and at least some feel for all of them. That’s a very impressive thing.

The downside for Sharts is his size, as he’s on the small size for pitchers, and the fact he’s not overpowering in that classic flamethrowing high school pitcher way. Instead, he has good velocity, not great velocity, complemented by remarkable feel for pitching and a potentially wide assortment of pitches. I’m a huge fan of this kid, and would love to see the Cards nab him in the second round range.

via rkyosh007:

Ben Harris, LHP, Milton High School (GA)

6’1”, 190 lbs

Bats/Throws: Left/Left

So, what’s so great about this guy?

In relation to where a player is currently expected to go in the draft, Ben Harris might just be my favourite pitcher in the class this year. He’s not my actual favourite, you understand; Carter Stewart is probably still number one on my personal board, or maybe Logan Gilbert, but Harris isn’t going to require a first round pick to get him. He’s probably more of a round 3-5 guy for right now, and in that range he’s maybe the guy I like most for the delta between what I think he could be and where he falls in the rankings right now, if that makes sense.

Harris isn’t a huge guy, either; just like Owen Sharts, part of the reason he’s a little lower on boards than one might expect is the simple fact he’s 6’1” and not 6’4”. Being lefthanded mitigates that bias somewhat, but it’s still a factor. Teams, even in this age, are still more likely to take a chance on Jack Flaherty’s body type than that of Carlos Martinez, to use current Cardinal examples.

The velocity for Harris also isn’t really that premium, if I’m being honest. He works right around 90 with his fastball for the most part, ranging about 89-92, but the pitch shows natural cutting action, especially at the top of the zone, that could make it a real bat-breaker working inside against righthanded hitters. He’ll probably end up a fly ball pitcher, as he seems to work at the top of the zone more easily than the bottom, but that doesn’t concern me as good as the movement on the fastball is.

Harris complements the fastball with a curve that shows good shape and power when he gets through it all the way, but that he often leaves up and to the arm side for now. It’s a matter of confidence and reps, and throwing the breaker with full conviction, rather than trying to baby the pitch and not pulling through it aggressively enough. Harris will get there, I think, as he appears to have fantastic body control; it’s just going to take some development time.

There’s a changeup, too, but it’s actually sort of the opposite of what Sharts and Vasil work with; whereas both of them show movement on the change but telegraph the pitch by showing their arms, Harris sells his changeup reasonably well by maintaining arm speed, but the pitch is a little too straight. The speed differential is enough to make it effective for now, but he’ll need to figure out a grip that adds some more break or fade to the pitch down the road, I think. Perhaps a split grip of some sort could get him more drop; I don’t honestly know what grip he uses currently.

Watching Ben Harris pitch is, in a word, exquisite. He works from a high arm slot, but throws slightly across his body, closing off his front side in a similar fashion to Cliff Lee, and that’s honestly the pitcher he most reminds me of. The stuff doesn’t necessarily jump off the page at you immediately, but there’s an easy athleticism in his motion that bodes well for his ability to repeat the delivery, and a consistency in his release point already that is impressive for a high schooler. He’s actually a fairly well thought of two-way player, with a solid, lofted swing from the left side and above-average speed in the outfield, but for me the pitching is far too attractive to really consider him too much as a hitter. Still, there’s another data point in his favour as far as pure athleticism goes, and I’m sure by now you’re all tired of hearing me say after all these years how much I value athleticism in pitchers.

Harris is almost certainly not going to be a first round pick in June, barring a big step forward in his stuff this spring. However, if you’re asking me for one gut-feel guy I want to see in Cardinal red as much as anyone, he’s probably going to be the name I pull out of the hat.

via Vincent Cervino: