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2019 Draft Preview No. 2: Pitching Favourites

The arms loved by the author, circa February.

St Louis Cardinals Photo Day Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The 2019 draft looks thin on pitching, particularly in terms of college players. That seems to be a pattern pretty much across the sport right now; for whatever reason, we’re in a bit of a down period for pitching. A handful of years ago, it seemed there wasn’t enough hitting to go around; these days, TINSTAAPP is king and we can’t seem to find anything but hybrid relievers and glorified swingmen.

That being said, there are still some very intriguing pitching talents in this year’s draft, even if they aren’t quite the highlights of the class that pitchers might be some other years. This is going to be a three pitcher list, because these posts always cover three players, but you can basically add a fourth to the list mentally in the person of Carter Stewart, who was very much my guy going into last year’s draft, had a non-throwing type injury that he and the Braves couldn’t agree on pricing in to his bonus, and will reenter this year’s draft out of junior college as still one of my very favourite players in the class. So without further ado, and keeping Stewart in mind as the invisible fourth at our table, let’s take a look at my favourite pitchers in the draft, at an only somewhat ludicrously early date.

Hunter Barco, LHP, The Bolles School (FL)

6’4”, 210 lbs

Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 15 December 2000

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Hunter Barco is, of the three pitchers I’m covering here today, pretty easily the most raw, the furthest from what he could be, and the most about picking out bits and pieces of potential and projecting them out. That said, there are some very intriguing bits and pieces to work with when it comes to this gangly teenager from Jacksonville.

The first thing to talk about with Barco is his delivery, which is sort of all over the place much of the time, but features a low arm slot, an effortlessly quick arm that makes him extremely deceptive, and creates some of the toughest angle and movement you’re going to see, period. His fastball currently sits in the 90-92 range, though he’s flashed a couple miles an hour better here and there. More important than the velocity is the movement on the pitch, as Barco can’t really seem to throw anything straight. The pitch sails when it’s up, sinks when it’s down, it tails, sometimes it cuts, it’s never really straight. Now, there are two sides to that; on the good side, pitches that move are generally good, but on the bad side, it’s not always easy to control them. That dichotomy is very much present with Barco, as he struggles to not only throw strikes at times, but more than that seems not to really be able to throw the same pitch twice in a row right now.

Here’s the good news on that front: Barco is only eighteen, and will not be expected to appear in major league games the day after the draft. Thus, there is time for him to turn all that funk and all that unpredictability of movement into controlled chaos, into effective wildness (pour one out for Jeff Sullivan), rather than simple lack of command as we have now.

When we move over to Barco’s secondary pitches, we find more rawness, but even more to be excited about. His primary breaking ball is a widescreen slider that shows more sweep than sharp, but has enough power and movement already you can really dream on it. The pitch needs to be tighter, but it’s got really great shape at times, and Barco shows that innate ability to spin a breaking ball that is at least somewhat natural, I feel. He also throws a changeup that’s really intriguing to me for having occasional plus downward movement and relatively good deception already for a high schooler’s offspeed pitch. I’ve seen him baby a couple to try and get the pitch into the zone, but when he’s working ahead in the count and can throw it without worrying about spiking a 56 footer as much, there’s some real promise in the pitch. I can’t tell what kind of grip he uses on the change; it almost reminds me of a split grip the way it comes out of his hand, but I just can’t get a good enough look to be sure.

Barco has room to grow and fill out, and there’s likely a couple more ticks of velocity in the tank as he does so. Even more than that, though, he needs to iron out his mechanics, which would free him up to deliver more power more efficiently. He lands more closed with his front foot than I would prefer, closing his front side off at times, and he loses his pitches up and to the arm side as a result. In general, there’s a lack of finish in his delivery, and he cuts himself off more often than you want to see. These are not fatal flaws, by any means; these are the kinds of things that can take a solid amateur pitching prospect and turn him into a high-level pro. It’s easy to see a little of both Madison Bumgarner and Chris Sale in Barco; Bumgarner for the easy slinging fastball, Sale for the big slider with the killer angle of attack. There’s a lot of work to be done before Hunter Barco can legitimately be compared to either of those pitchers, but he has that kind of raw talent, that package of tools. He’s a bit of a project, but the payoff could be huge.

via The Prospect Pipeline:

Brennan Malone, RHP, IMG Academy (FL)

6’3”, 205 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 8 September 2000

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Hey, remember Roy Oswalt? He was fun, right? Well, here’s another one of those. Only a little taller, actually, which is maybe a good thing.

Brennan Malone is, at this moment, my number one pitching prospect in this draft. It’s a close race between he and Carter Stewart, but even as much as I like Stewart, Malone has, to my eye, the more repeatable delivery, a better fastball, and a curve that, while not historic in terms of potential as Stewart’s is, could grade out at 60-65 when it’s all said and done.

The hype with Malone begins with his fastball, which is one of the best in the draft, and possibly the best among the high school set. He’s hit 98 on the radar gun, sits around 95-96 most of the time, and is capable of just pouring strikes into the zone. It’s one of those fastballs that has that rising optical illusion thing going on, where the pitch seems to jump at the top of the zone, and I assume that’s probably the result of a higher than average spin rate. It should be acknowledged that those big velocity readings are not entirely consistent; Malone will sit 95+ for an inning or two in a showcase setting, but in full game action he tends to work closer to 92-94. Even at those lower velocity numbers the fastball is still extremely exciting, and there’s reason to believe Malone will work in the mid-90s more consistently as he matures and adds size and strength. Down the road I could see a 65+ fastball potentially; think of Oswalt or the good, rookie-season version of Shelby Miller.

It’s the curve that really gives Malone that exciting potential one-two punch in the future. As of now, the pitch is fairly inconsistent, and you’ll see Malone spin out of the breaker at least once in just about every outing, even on the showcase circuit, as he tries to dial in the action on the pitch. When he stays on line and lets his arm speed create the spin, though, the curve will flash plus, and he can actually get it in the strike zone as well as bury it in the dirt. The ability to throw the pitch is naturally there, it just needs honing. Which, you know, not a problem when you’re talking about a high school senior.

As for the changeup, I’ve seen less of it than I have Malone’s other pitches, but it appears to have some potential. Right now probably one out of every three is really good, with solid deception and great armside run, while the other two are either telegraphed like crazy or chest-high lollipops. Malone has tremendous natural arm speed, and I think once he gets a grip he likes dialed in and gains some feel for how much to let the ball slip he could have at least an average change, maybe even better, and it could play up further because of the quality of his fastball. For now, though, the changeup is all potential and not much present, if you know what I mean. Still, there’s the possibility of a 70/60/50 arsenal here, with plus command and plus-plus control. That’s probably a 90th percentile outcome for Malone, maybe even more, but there is that level of talent here I believe. He’s already a well-built kid for his age, and he could add another fifteen pounds pretty easily, ending up around 215-220 and crazy strong.

Unfortunately, I think there’s a pretty high likelihood Malone is off the board by the time the Cardinals make their first selection in June. I’m not sure how pitchers are going to fare in this draft given their relative paucity at the top; it really could go either way, I think, with arms either coveted due to their rarity or overlooked due to the overwhelming dominance of the hitters. If Malone did make it to nineteen, well, he would be very much the pitching version of the Nolan Gorman situation last year, where you can’t quite believe that talent just fell to where you’re picking.

via Perfect Game Baseball:

Erik Miller, LHP, Stanford

6’5”, 240 lbs

Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 13 February 1998

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Erik Miller was one of my personal sleeper guys in the 2016 draft, back when he was a big lanky high school thrower out of De Smet here in St. Louis. At the time I really liked his delivery, liked the body, loved the fact he was already up to 94 at times, and thought he was being slept on by the industry due to not coming out of a baseball hotbed. Miller ended up undrafted that year, largely due to a very strong Stanford commitment, and given how his stock has risen in the intervening years, it seems he did just fine by sticking to his collegiate guns.

As things stand now, Miller has filled out considerably and is flat out a man on the mound. With that added strength has come more velocity, and he pitches at 94-95 consistently, even deep into starts. There’s a little more in the tank when he needs it, but the 98s usually look pretty obviously overthrown, and are very rarely good pitches, despite impressive numbers on the gun. The delivery I don’t actually like as well; Miller is a little more awkward in his mechanics now, seemingly caught a little in between, and his arm is later than it used to be. Actually, it may not be that the arm is late so much as it seems he rushes with his lower body these days. If I had my druthers, I would sit Miller down with a slow-mo reel of David Price and tell him to watch Price’s lower body all day, every day, Clockwork Orange-style if necessary.

However, I’m in danger of losing the thread at this point, so let me get back to the actual scouting report portion of this writeup. Erik Miller works in the mid-90s with his fastball, and he complements that with one of the better sliders in the draft. It’s not a huge, sweepy affair like that of Hunter Barco, but rather is tight, taut, and tilted, thrown with conviction, and pretty much wipes out left-handed hitters entirely. Miller can back foot righties with the slider too, though he doesn’t seem as comfortable doing that as he does working away from them with soft stuff and his fastball. Speaking of soft stuff, the changeup is at least average, and has a chance to be better than that long term. The one issue I have with Miller’s change is that he drops his arm slot when he throws it occasionally. He mostly gets away with it in college, but professional hitters will see that and make the adjustment. He’ll need to get the changeup more in line with his other pitches if he’s going to have success long term with it.

Dropping his arm is actually a bit of a habit with Miller; when he stays on top of his pitches they all show very good movement, and he can throw all three of his offerings for strikes. When he lets the elbow drop, though, he gets out of whack and the arm drags, throwing things off. The result is flat pitches that usually catch too much of the plate and tend to get knocked around.

The good version of Erik Miller could have two plus pitches and a third that’s at least a 50 and probably more like a 55. I personally think a minor mechanical overhaul would be a good thing for him, as I believe he would be better staying back over the rubber a bit longer with his lower body and then driving forward, rather than rushing through as it seems like he does now. He has the stuff and profile of a number two starter, and will likely push into the first round come June if he has a strong spring at Stanford. Strangely, he’s seen as less safe a bet than a guy like Graeme Stinson, the former closer for Duke who is trying to convert to starting this year, which I just don’t get at all. Miller was underscouted and underappreciated coming out of high school, and I think he still is to an extent now.

via Perfect Game Baseball: