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2018 Draft Preview No. 12: More High School Hurlers

A trio of high school pitchers examined in exquisite detail.

Philadelphia Phillies v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images

Author’s Note: Apologies for the delayed post today, everyone. I actually wasn’t stuck working, as is usually the case when my schedule gets out of whack; rather, my router died this morning so I had to give in and buy a new one, which was long overdue anyway. - A

Ryan Weathers, LHP, Loretto High School (TN)

6’2”, 210 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Left

DOB: 6 November 1999

So, what’s so great about this guy?

You hear the term ‘late bloomer’ thrown around a fair bit in baseball (and other sports); plenty of players take off at a later age than others, or put on weight and size later, or just take awhile to figure things out. On the other hand, ‘early bloomer’ is not really a commonly used phrase, other than maybe being tossed out in reference to that one girl in seventh grade that was very noticeably, um, ahead of the curve, so to speak.

Ryan Weathers, though, is a bona fide early bloomer of the baseball variety. He’s built like an older player, works like an older player, and has the well-developed repertoire of a college sophomore, rather than a kid approaching high school graduation. He’s not exactly a power pitcher, but has more stuff than your average lefty, and his feel for pitching and maturity helps the whole package play up.

He works the fastball primary around 91-93, and there’s a touch more in the tank. I could see him sitting closer to 93 and pushing 95 in a few years after working in a professional player development system, but even if he stays right where he is he’s got enough heat. The fastball is better when it’s up than down, and it’s got a little bit of cut to it at times. He’ll probably always be a fly ball-heavy pitcher with the way the fastball works, so it’s possible teams might worry about homeritis becoming an issue, but I’m not concerned. I think he’s got the movement and life at the top of the zone to generate weak to middling air contact that turns into easy outs, rather than excessively hard contact that turns into home runs. He also knows how to pitch up and where to locate, so again, I consider the high fastball a feature, rather than a bug, in his case.

Weathers complements that fastball with two offspeed pitches, in a big-breaking curveball that’s one of the better curves amongst high school pitchers this year and a pretty good changeup that needs work but is still way more advanced than is usual for a high schooler. The curve I could see slapping a 60 on, with power and depth both, and Weathers will change the shape of it a little at times, creating more lateral break, sometimes slowing it down to a real lollipop. Again, it’s both the quality of the pitch and his feel for using it that is notable, and it gives him a true out pitch already. The change, meanwhile, doesn’t have a ton of shape to it, but he does a very good job selling the arm speed most of the time. Probably once he gets into pro ball some pitching coach will be able to help him tweak his grip and get a little more depth, a little more fade, or both, and then you’ve got a potential third pitch with a 55 grade on it. As it is now, the change is still fairly effective just based on deception, even being a little straight, but it will need to be better if Weathers is going to hit his ceiling.

He’s a big kid, thickly built, and the body will bear watching. The delivery isn’t bad, but it’s also not my favourite. There’s a little CJ Wilson in him, and maybe a little Drew Pomeranz as well. As it stands now, Weathers is probably slated to go somewhere from 10-20 in the first round, and could end up one of the fastest-moving high school pitchers in the draft this year.

via Taiwan Baseball Notes:

Cole Wilcox, RHP, Heritage High School (GA)

6’5”, 220 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 14 July 1999

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Not too long ago, there was a mock draft at FanGraphs that had Cole Winn, a high school righthander, selected by the Cardinals, and I thought to myself upon reading that, “Yeah, that’s a good pick there. I really like Winn.” And then, after a few minutes of thought, I realised that no, Winn isn’t the kid I really like; that’s Cole Wilcox. Winn is okay, but I don’t like him nearly as well. So I’m writing up Wilcox now, and will maybe get to Winn a little later on. Also, I really wish parents would quit naming their kids similar names.

If you like ground balls, you’ll like Wilcox, who possesses one of the best sinkers in the 2018 draft, full stop. It comes in at 92-94, and he works from a slightly lower arm slot that creates easy sink and run to the pitch. He saws off righthanded hitters and get lefties off the end of the bat, and basically no one has any real hope of lifting the ball.

If you like changeups, you’ll also like Wilcox, who has a wicked fader that just disappears at the plate when he’s on. It’s not a high school changeup. Wilcox’s command of the pitch isn’t all that fine yet, but the movement is outstanding and he rarely telegraphs it by slowing his arm. I could see an easy future 60 on the pitch, maybe even a little higher.

If you like sliders, well, um, maybe look elsewhere, but Wilcox does throw one, and it could be good down the line somewhere. As it is right now, about one of every four breaking balls he throws looks really good, sharp and exciting, while the others hang, or just spin, or get spiked in the dirt. There’s certainly promise to the pitch, as he has the arm speed to spin the ball effectively, but it’s a ways away. The relationship between his changeup and breaking ball is the reverse of what we usually see from high school pitchers, where they can spin a breaker but don’t yet have the feel to slip the ball; rather, Wilcox has great stuff to the arm side, including that devastating change, but hasn’t yet developed much feel for spin.

Wilcox is one of my personal cheeseballs in this draft class; I think there’s a future top of the rotation pitcher hiding in his arm. He’s not gotten the attention yet of some of his contemporaries for whatever reason, but if I’m picking in the back half of the first round or supplemental, he’s got to be a very strong consideration for me.

via Vincent Cervino:

Kumar Rocker, RHP, North Oconee High School (GA)

6’5”, 250 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 22 November 1999

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Kumar Rocker is the son of a defensive lineman, and he looks like the son of a defensive lineman, and if I’m being honest, he pitches like the son of a defensive lineman. He’s a huge physical presence on the mound, and he attacks hitters like a blunt instrument. And I mean that in the very best possible way.

Rocker’s game is all about power, as he heavily leans on a powerful sinking fastball that has been clocked as high as 98 already, and sits comfortably in the mid 90s. It’s great when it’s down, but flat when it’s up, and doesn’t really do a whole lot. If forced to guess, I would say it’s probably a low-spin job, more like the fastball of, say, a Jordan Hicks, rather than one of those high-spin swing and miss heaters capable of missing bats at the top of the zone. And that’s okay; ground balls are good, and Rocker has a good enough complement to his fastball that he can get swings and misses when he needs to.

Said complement is a hard, sharp slider he throws in the mid 80s, and has good depth when he stays on top of the pitch, but hangs when he gets around on the side. The pitch is already very good, but with more development time and consistency it could end up a wipeout pitch down the road. He’s got some feel for a changeup, as well, but it’s not all the developed right now. Time should take care of that, as Rocker shows pretty good feel and mound awareness for the most part. He’s not as polished as a guy like Weathers or as artistic as Ethan Hankins, his number one competitor for the title of top Georgia prep pitcher this year, but Rocker has a smart, direct approach all the same. He understands what he has, what he does well, and where his weaknesses are, and mostly seems to make it all work for him.

Speaking of Hankins, if pressed I like him a little better than Rocker, but it’s close. (Hankins has had a weird spring, with some shoulder soreness that is obviously concerning and stuff that’s been up and down as a result.) I think there’s a little more reliever downside with Rocker than either Hankins or Cole Wilcox, but even that downside could be really good. Rocker as a reliever looks something like Chris Perez (in terms of stuff, hopefully not results), and that’s not a bad place to start. With a decent player development staff, though, I think Rocker should be able to hone his craft enough to remain a starter, and he certainly has the stuff he could be a very good one. His stock has been up and down a bit since last summer, but as we head into the draft he’s on a bit of an upswing and should go inside the top 20, I believe.

via The Prospect Pipeline: