Blaine Knight, RHP, University of Arkansas
6’3”, 165 lbs
DOB: 28 June 1996
So, what’s so great about this guy?
Of the non-top college pitchers in this year’s draft (and by non-top I mean pitchers not likely to go in the first half of the first round), Blaine Knight might have the best combination of stuff and polish, a little like Luke Weaver his draft year. Knight can’t compete with the Casey Mizes or Shane McClanahans for completeness and hype, but he has upside that could carry him into a similar spot as Weaver all the same. There’s also a physical similarity between Knight and Weaver, but we’ll get into that more in a moment.
Knight’s stuff, at its best, is dynamic, beginning with a lively fastball that cruises from 91-94 and will regularly push higher, touching a 96 or even 7 at times. The fastball has decent movement, but it’s really not a special pitch. What it is is a solid 55 based on power, and that’s good enough. The pitch, to my eye, looks better down than up, and it’s flat and hittable when he works at the top of the zone.
The best part of Knight’s repertoire, though, comes when one considers his non-fastball stuff. He throws three distinct offspeed pitches: curveball, changeup, and a slider, all three of which have a chance to be at least average offerings. The curve and change are both solid, with the change a little ahead; he tends to telegraph the curveball and take too much off at times. The changeup has just enough movement to be effective, and he sells it well. And then there’s the slider, which, depending upon the day you see Knight could look like a big cutter, or a short slider, or something in between. For the most part, though, it’s always effective, and it has moments when it will flash 60 or even 65 potential. It’s his best present pitch, and probably his best future pitch as well.
There are some concerns with Knight in terms of durability, as he is of extremely slight build, and adding weight and strength to his frame would likely be a focus of any organisation drafting him. The arm action looks somewhat risky to me as well, but not disastrous.
The best version of Knight probably looks something like Jack Flaherty, with maybe a little more fastball, but really leaning on one headliner offspeed pitch and a wide assortment of solid offerings to get the job done. He’s been good this spring for Arkansas, and may be moving into late first round consideration, though I think he’s still more of a supplemental guy.
And now here’s some video where you can watch both Knight and Casey Mize, who happens to be my favourite college pitcher in this draft, and sadly has been so good this spring that he’s likely to go first overall, rather than having a mediocre spring and potentially falling to the Cardinals as I was hoping against hope might happen. It’s frustrating, to me at least, that as difficult, as frustrating, as downright shitty as the 2017 season was for the Cards, they’re still only picking nineteenth overall, and have no chance at one of those instant game-changing elite draft picks.
Kris Bubic, LHP, Stanford
6’3”, 180 lbs
DOB: 19 August 1997
So, what’s so great about this guy?
Another lefty cut from the Marco Gonzales fastball-changeup cloth, Bubic features one of the better changes in the class this year, as well as a deceptive delivery that helps make it even more difficult for hitters to pick up.
The fastball isn’t exactly a dominant offering, as Bubic works around 90-93 with a little armside run, but he mostly puts the ball where he wants. It’s that easy command of the zone that makes him one of the more efficient starters in college baseball this year, and should get him some top 30 consideration. I’m probably a little lower on him than that, but he could be one of those fast-moving college pitchers that some team with a near-term window of contention may covet.
It’s the changeup that really defines his success, and it is excellent. The movement is solid, but nothing extraordinary, but what he has is outstanding arm speed on the pitch, and hitters simply don’t pick the pitch up. He has a funky arm action, with a bit of a hesitation in his delivery, and that seems to help the deception on the change even more. That slow-fast-slow rhythm is extraordinarily tough to adjust to, and both lefties and righties will swing and miss at the arm, while the pitch just isn’t there yet.
Bubic’s third pitch is his curveball, and it is very much a third pitch. It’s good enough to work as a complement to the fastball-change combo, but as of right now it’s still decidedly below average. If he can continue to improve the breaking ball he could end up with three average or better pitches (with the change obviously being the ‘or better’ part of that formulation), but I’m not certain he gets there. Adding something else to the arsenal, perhaps a cutter or a sinker, would help as well.
Overall, I can see the appeal of Bubic, as he is as polished as just about any pitcher in the draft this year, and shouldn’t take long to matriculate up through a minor league system. For my money, though, I think the ceiling is limited, and I’m less certain he gets to the big leagues than some others might be. I would want to see him either improve the curve or add something else before I would bet on him being a major leaguer, at least as a starter. Maybe in a relief role the fastball plays up into the mid 90s and he can ride the change to glory, but he wouldn’t be my guy if I were holding a first round pick, to be honest.
Griffin Roberts, RHP, Wake Forest
6’3”, 210 lbs
DOB: 13 May 1996
So, what’s so great about this guy?
Put simply, Griffin Roberts has the single best breaking ball in the 2018 draft, and one of the best you’re going to see period. Long term, Carter Stewart’s curveball has the potential to be historically good, but in the shorter term the slider of Griffin Roberts is king of the hill as far as this year’s draft goes.
Roberts served as closer at Wake Forest prior to this season, when he moved to the rotation and, so far, has made the conversion seamlessly. Call it the Dakota Hudson move, if you like. Roberts has improved his command of the strike zone each of his three seasons at Wake Forest, and the 2018 version was easily the best so far.
Actually, speaking of Dakota Hudson, he’s not a bad comp for Roberts in a variety of ways, as Roberts features a wicked sinking fastball from 91-95 that avoids barrels like the plague. He’s not as big as Hudson, but it’s a similar lower arm slot, and similar armside run to the fastball. Similar bowling ball results, as well.
The gem of Roberts’s repertoire, though, is his slider, which is just too much for most college hitters, period. It has incredible depth and power, and Roberts is able to throw it both in and out of the zone. If you’re looking for a readymade MLB reliever, Roberts is probably the guy, mostly because of that breaking ball. Personally, I would keep him on a starter’s track, but it’s possible he could end up one of those pitchers who makes his way to the big leagues for a cup of coffee in his draft year, just because he already has one plus-plus major league pitch.
Roberts has a changeup as well, and it’s actually not bad, though it still needs some work. For my money, he should get every chance to start until he proves he can’t. The delivery isn’t bad, a little Gerrit Cole-ish, and the timing isn’t terrible. It’s possible a club picking him could try to add another offering to his arsenal, but I’m not sure he really needs it. Refine the change, continue to dial in the command, and I think you have a very good MLB starter down the road.
There’s definitely some helium to Roberts this spring, as he’s shown real development as a pitcher having moved to the rotation, and there’s a chance he sneaks into the back of the first round. More like, though, he’s in the 35-50 range, and happens to be one of my favourite players in that range. He might be a bit of a reach at nineteen, but might also not be there the next time the Cardinals pick. (Thanks, Holland.) I think there’s a real chance Roberts ends up one of the better value picks in the draft this year, depending where exactly he ends up going.
via Jheremy Brown: