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2019 Draft Preview No. 5: Prep School Pitchers

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Diving into the pool of high school pitchers this June.

Los Angeles Dodgers v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Matthew Allan, RHP, Seminole High School (FL)

6’3”, 210 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 17 April 2001 (Happy Birthday!)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Last year, Carter Stewart was the first-round pitching talent with the big helium, who began the spring of 2018 with a top 40ish sort of pedigree and ended up in the top ten overall. This year that honour belongs to Matt Allan, who came into the summer showcases last year with light buzz and left with his name on pretty much everyone’s lips. He’s continued to rise this spring, and right now might be the number one high school pitcher in the nation. Not to say he’s my favourite high school pitcher in the nation; I still much prefer Brennan Malone, and there’s even another hurler in this very column I like more than Allan. However, industry-wide, Allan is the guy steadily climbing up draft boards.

It’s not hard to see why Allan is so highly coveted an asset right now, either; he’s got that prototypical kind of repertoire you look for in a polished pitching product, despite only being a high-schooler. He works with a fastball, curve, and changeup, and all three are average or better for his age, and he’s capable of filling up the strike zone.

Fastball command is a fairly rare commodity in a pitcher this young, but it’s really perhaps Allan’s signature asset at this point. He works consistently around 93 mph, can push up to 96 when he really lets it go (usually up at the top of the zone), and is capable of putting the heater pretty much where he wants it. Allan works from a very high arm slot and isn’t a real long strider, so he features a high release point and good downward action, with the plane on the fastball more notable than the sink. Hitters don’t really catch up to the pitch when it’s up, and he avoids the middle of the zone when he’s working down. There might be a touch more velocity in the tank for Allan as he grows, maybe getting closer to 95 on average, but he really doesn’t need much more. Pitchers who throw strikes with above-average fastballs have a huge leg up on the sport, and that’s exactly what you have here.

As for the offspeed pitches, Allan’s curveball is ahead of his changeup right now, which isn’t surprising for a high schooler, but I actually like the change a little better long term, I think. The curve has good shape, but it’s a little loose and I think ends up better for stealing strikes than getting swings and misses. I will say he’ll show a tighter curve occasionally when he buries it down and out of the zone, so there is definitely some promise there. He has enough arm speed to tighten up that spin, so maybe there’s a better outcome for the breaker down the road than what I’m seeing, but I think ultimately his curveball will be his third pitch, rather than his chief complement as it is right now.

As for that changeup, the high arm slot and a nice finish on the pitch gives Allan’s change a really good amount of drop when it’s working. It’s easily his least consistent offering right now, but I think there’s a really good 55+ pitch waiting to happen here. I don’t know what grip he uses, but I wonder if it’s a split or vulcan grip, considering how much downward action the pitch has at its best.

If everything goes right for Allan, I could see a 60 fastball, 55 change, 50 curveball future for him, and that’s a very good number two starter with plus command like I think he ends up with. The good version of Matt Allan looks, to me, something like a Dan Haren type, throwing a ton of strikes with multiple above-average pitches, forcing hitters to beat him in the zone, rather than allowing them to wait him out.

The downside for Allan is that I don’t like the arm action that well, as he’s pretty late to get the arm up, and while the fastball is firm and he locates it well, I don’t think it has great movement. A guy with velocity and location but not much movement can make that work just fine if he has other weapons hitters have to worry about, but if, say, the changeup stays inconsistent and Allan can’t force hitters to account for it, they may be able to just hunt for anything straight, limiting how he can attack them.

In the end, I like Allan, but while I think he gets drafted extremely high for his unusually polished arsenal, I don’t know that I see quite as high a ceiling as some of the other pitchers he’s competing with for those early draft spots. Dan Haren and Michael Wacha are both good comps for his repertoire, I think, in terms of players we Cardinal fans are familiar with, and I feel like that high three/solid two range is his best level of outcome. He’s as good a bet as any high school pitcher you’re going to find to reach that level, I think, given good luck on health and no TINSTAAPP stuff happening, but I personally don’t look at his stuff and dream on what he could be quite to where I do with certain other pitchers in this year’s draft class.

via Perfect Game Baseball:

Derek Diamond, RHP, Ramona High School (CA)

6’2”, 185 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: January 2001

So, what’s so great about this guy?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m always going to be a fan of really athletic pitchers. Body control and athletic movements always attract me, and inevitably grab pitchers an extra couple spots in the draft rankings when I’m doing the evaluation. To that end, I can say that Derek Diamond is one of the most intriguingly athletic pitchers in the 2019 draft as far as I’m concerned.

Diamond is actually a two-way player currently, as he both pitches and plays third base for his high school team, very similar to what Jack Flaherty did as a prep star. On the hitting side, Diamond is definitely a college guy, someone you follow as he heads off to school to see if he can add muscle and maybe grow into the competition. As a pitcher, he’s a super-projectable tough sign who I think you take a chance on in the supplemental round and see if his precocious feel for pitching and overall athletic gifts can turn him into something special.

On the mound, Diamond operates with a sinking fastball that sits roughly 88-91 now, will peak about 93, and will show occasionally excellent armside run. He throws strikes at a decent rate, but actually struggles much of the time to keep the movement on his heater in the zone, rather than running down and off the plate to the third base side. He has room to add muscle to a fairly skinny build, and there could be a jump in velocity coming. If he stays at 90, you worry he won’t have the velo to compete in the modern game unless he’s Kyle Hendricks in terms of offspeed stuff and command. If he pushes to 92-93, though, the movement is more than enough to make that fastball a 55 pitch, and now you’re really talking.

The reason you could really be talking about something special even with just garden-variety average velocity for Diamond is his feel for his offspeed pitches, and his creativity in pitching. His curveball is a plus pitch not just for his age, but for pretty much everything up through college, and he’ll mix and match the break and spin and velocity on the pitch, occasionally looping up a near-eephus a la Zack Greinke. He features a changeup with excellent tumble and fade, though he does telegraph the pitch a bit right now about half the time. He’ll mix in a cutter sometimes, and sometimes it looks more like a slider, and sometimes it looks more like a slurve. In other words, that Zack Greinke mention in terms of the slow curve wasn’t only in relation to that pitch. Derek Diamond isn’t the level of pitching prodigy Greinke was in high school — basically no one is, really — but he has some of that feel for experimentation, for creativity, that could lead to a special outcome for him long term, I believe.

Diamond was committed to Stanford up until earlier this spring, when he changed his commitment to Ole Miss, alma mater of our own Lance Lynn. If he makes it to college, I imagine he’ll continue on as a two-way player, but his future I believe is firmly on the mound. Nineteen is probably a little too early, but if he’s on the board at 49 I think he would be an absolutely perfect selection at that spot.

via The Prospect Pipeline:

Daniel Espino, RHP, Georgia Premier Academy (GA)

6’2”, 200 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 5 January 2001

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Of all the high school arms in the 2019 draft, Daniel Espino’s is the one with the octane. He throws harder than any other high schooler this year, throws harder than nearly any high schooler we’ve seen in recent memory. He throws as hard or harder than Hunter Greene, and in the same neighbourhood as Tyler Kolek, the big-bodied Texas smoke artist of 2014.

It’s easy to see both the upside and the downside with Espino, even ignoring injury possibilities and all the weird attrition that happens to pitching prospects. On the downside, he’s probably not quite as big as his listed height and weight, and six foot-ish righthanded pitchers who throw near 100 have a name assigned to them. They’re called relievers. Espino also has a long arm action, with a big sweep in the back somewhat reminiscent of Octavio Dotel, so again, you have to think reliever when you look at him initially. The fact his best secondary pitch is a killer power slider is, well, I mean, you get the point, right? This guy is essentially Dotel or the college closer version of Joe Kelly right now at eighteen. And drafting a late-inning reliever out of high school is not something you really want to do too very often on purpose.

However, that all undersells Espino’s talent by quite a bit, I think, because in spite of the fact he immediately looks like a reliever, the stuff is there for him to be more. His fastball isn’t only notable because he works at 94-97, touching 99, but because it’s heavy. It doesn’t necessarily appear to have a ton of sink, but hitters just don’t seem to be able to lift the ball against Espino. He works from a lower arm slot, a touch below that 34 range we usually see from starters, and it seems to give his fastball some extra weight that hitters struggle to deal with. Now, to be fair, we’re talking about high school hitters, so Espino can simply overpower them in a way he likely won’t be able to as he moves up the ladder. Still, it’s worth noting that he’s throwing 96 mph at eighteen and batters are struggling to get the ball out of the infield.

It’s also very much worth noting that Daniel Espino, topping out at 99 in high school, also has three offspeed pitches that he features. His best is the aforementioned power slider, which is sharp, hard, and way too good for high school aged hitters. His second best is a slower, more vertical curveball that he mostly manages to keep from bleeding into the slider, which is always impressive to me in an amateur pitcher. The curve is a bit squirrelly, as Espino struggles to get it into the zone, oftentimes leaving it out to the armside, but it is a distinct pitch with enough break that I think it’s worth keeping and continuing to develop. Finally, he has a changeup, and it’s pretty good for a high school changeup. Now, you probably know by now after reading these reports for years that high school changeups are, in general, a pretty sordid bunch, so we are maybe damning with faint praise in this case just a bit. Still, Espino’s change has good sink, a little bit of armside run, and he sells it reasonably well. It’s probably a little harder than is ideal, and there are times it ends up flat and turns into the dreaded BP fastball, just floating toward the middle of the zone at 87, but there’s real promise here, and the potential for four pitches all at 50 or above down the road.

It’s easy to look at Espino and just think reliever. He could use some tightening up of his arm action, I think; I don’t mind a longer arm swing in the back usually, so long as the timing is consistently solid, but Espino lets his arm drag at times, in a similar way to Dylan Cease a few years back, and it costs him both power and control, as he misses much too often up and to the arm side. But there is so much more than a two-pitch power relief arm going on here, I can’t imagine any club taking him and not doing everything possible to try and husband this arm in such a way he matriculates up to the big leagues as a starter. There is legit ace potential in Daniel Espino, even if it comes in a slightly unorthodox package, and he’s one of my top guys in this draft, who the more I look at him should probably have been in the favourites post rather than Hunter Barco, even though I’m a sucker for slingy lefthanders with great breaking balls.

via 2080 Baseball: