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2019 Draft Preview No. 12: Persons of Interest One — Pitchers

A six-pack of intriguing arms.

St. Louis Cardinals Spring Training Workout Session Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images

Less than a week left until the draft, everyone. My plan for covering the draft itself is basically this: I have one more slot on Sunday for a persons of interest post (covering hitters as the companion to this piece), then on Monday morning I’ll post a final favourites list, maybe some speculation on how things could do, and any scuttlebutt that has arisen by that time as to who certain teams are leaning toward. That night, during the draft proper, I will try to be around in the comments section if at all possible — though I do have things I have to do that night — and will attempt to write up the Cardinals’ selections as quickly as possible.

For now, though, let’s jump right in to this double shot of non-first-round-but-still-extremely-intriguing pitching talent, shall we?

Drew Gilbert, LHP, Stillwater High School (MN)

5’11”, 170 lbs; Left/Left

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Drew Gilbert was very nearly in my initial post of pitching favourites this year, and if you asked me to name the player in this draft I’m maybe most enamoured of relative to where he’s likely to be drafted, it just might be Gilbert. I’m not saying he’s the player I have the most confidence in, but when you consider he’s unlikely to go any higher than, say, the fourth round at the earliest, he’s maybe the guy I think could be the biggest bargain a few years from now.

It could just be that I’m a sucker for Rob Kaminsky types, so stop me if you’ve heard this one. Drew Gilbert is an undersized left-handed pitcher with one of the best curveballs in the entire draft. So, you know. Naked in the streets and all that.

It isn’t just the curveball that’s exciting with Gilbert, though. He’s pushed his fastball as high as 96 this spring, though he works better around 91-93, and it’s got nice natural movement to it. He gets inside on right-handed hitters very well, and can work right at hand level to jam them quite effectively. The changeup has come along this spring, and he’s closer to being a proper three-pitch pitcher than Rob Kaminsky was at the time he was drafted. (Maybe closer than Kaminsky ever got, seeing as how by the time he developed a changeup his curveball had disappeared along with his velocity, casualties of a shoulder slowly breaking down.) It’s not a great changeup yet, but it’s in the averageish range, and definitely shows promise.

Gilbert, along with his teammate whom I will cover here in just a moment, is committed to Oregon State. That’s not the easiest commitment to buy out, so depending on where Gilbert is drafted I think there’s a decent chance he heads off to college, and probably ends up a first round pick in a couple years.

via Program 15:

Will Frisch, RHP, Stillwater High School (MN)

6’1”, 210 lbs; Right/Right

So, what’s so great about this guy?

It’s rare to find two arms as talented as Will Frisch and Drew Gilbert on the same high school pitching staff, but the fact they’re in a cold weather state makes it even harder to believe. Back at the beginning of these draft previews, within the first couple posts, I had a reader email me about Gilbert and Frisch, as his son apparently plays on the same team. I knew about both players, Gilbert in particular, already at that point, but the heads up is always appreciated. Unfortunately, I deleted the email shortly after I received it in the course of clearing out a bunch of messages all at once on the phone, and I never got back to the person who emailed me. I don’t even remember if they gave a screen name or not. So apologies to the individual; it was not on purpose that I failed to get back to you.

Anyhow, while Drew Gilbert is clearly my favourite pitcher from Stillwater Minnesota this year, it wouldn’t disappoint me at all if we just happened to see a pair of high school teammates stick together in the minors, specifically after being drafted by the Cardinals.

Will Frisch is a strongly built young man, though also a bit undersized at 6’1”, and he has a repertoire to match. He works at 91-95 with his fastball, and it has a little natural cut to it. The velocity and movement on the pitch are enough for him to dominate high school competition most days, and the rest of his repertoire is a couple steps behind the heater. His primary offspeed pitch is a big slider that’s almost a slurve; it has good shape but gets a little slow and lazy at times. He also throws a changeup with decent movement, but I would probably try to see if he could throw a splitter or forkball instead. Frisch doesn’t command any of his pitches yet all that well, largely because his delivery isn’t all that consistent yet. He’s got excellent raw materials to work with, but he needs to smooth out his mechanics and hone his release point. He’s also committed to Oregon State just like Gilbert, so it’s possible the two will, in fact, remain teammates for a while longer still. If it were up to me, though, I’d pick both of them and wreck the Beavers’ chances in favour of my own.

via 2080 Baseball:

T.J. Sikkema, LHP, University of Missouri

6’0”, 217 lbs; Left/Left

So, what’s so great about this guy?

When I was a kid, I hated the Mets. They were Pond Scum. Lenny Dykstra seemed like just the worst person in baseball, except that all of the other Mets also seemed like the worst person in baseball.

I did, however, have a secret shame. Namely, there were several of those Mets I secretly loved watching play, especially on the pitching side. Daryl Strawberry’s leg kick was awesome. Doc Gooden had the greatest curveball I had ever seen. (I was six, so it wasn’t a long list, but still.) And most of all, I thought Sid Fernandez was just super cool to watch. He was like John Tudor, except he could throw hard too.

I say all that by way of explaining why I’m very partial to T.J. Sikkema, who is a thickly-built lefty and works from a low arm slot and actually moves that arm slot around a bunch and throws a killer slider and he’s just the best.

Now that we’re past six year old Aaron popping in for a moment, let’s get to the brass tacks of Sikkema’s game. He’s not the hardest thrower, working around 89-92, but he’s got a little extra in the tank when he needs it, and the pitch is sneaky fast. The varying arm slot has a lot to do with that, but there’s also just some general funk in the delivery that makes the ball hard to pick up from his hand. His best pitch is his slider, which he’ll vary the speed and shape of quite a bit, going panoramic on some and getting on top of others, tilting it harder and backfooting right-handed batters. He also features a pretty good changeup, with really good depth but which he occasionally telegraphs.

Sid Fernandez is the first guy I think of when I watch T.J. Sikkema pitch, but if you’re looking for a more modern comp Patrick Corbin isn’t far off. Sikkema could move quickly through a farm system, I believe, and his slider alone could make him an impact reliever if things don’t work out as a starter. He’s also one of the younger college players available in the draft, which is a positive for me. He’s not got quite the ceiling of some really high-octane arms in this year’s draft, but I think he would be a perfect second round pick.

via Mizzou Athletics:

Brandon Williamson, LHP, TCU

6’5”, 210 lbs; Left/Left

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Brandon Williamson has one of the best fastballs in the draft, at least to my eye. He has other pitches too, yes, but the thing that really jumps out watching Williamson pitch is just how explosive the heater is when he’s at his best.

The problem is, Williamson isn’t always at his best. He’s raw for a college pitcher, was so lightly recruited out of high school (in Minnesota, weirdly enough, meaning that of the six pitchers covered here three are originally from Minnesota), that he ended up at a Juco for two years, and still struggles to keep his mechanics together well enough to throw strikes and maintain his stuff at a high level. Depending on the day you see Williamson, you could think you’re looking at a top-20 talent or a mid-round lottery ticket. Add in the fact he had two hip surgeries last year, and there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the tall lefty from the frozen North. (By way of Fort Worth, Texas.)

However, given all those concerns, it’s still impossible not to dream on Williamson’s arm, which produces a fastball that runs from 92-96 mph and gets more swings and misses than even you would expect from the velocity. It’s good when it’s down, but it’s almost unhittable when it’s up. He complements the fastball with a slider, curve, and changeup, and the slider shows signs of being an above-average pitch. All of his pitches have their moments, really; it’s just a matter of none of them being the same pitch all the time.

If it were up to me, I would try to get Williamson to sit down more on his back leg and drive toward the plate lower, really get down the slope of the mound. I like his arm action, but I feel like he would be even better if he used his lower body more aggressively than he does. The real issue, though, is just getting him on line more consistently and getting him good reps to hone his delivery. He’s more of a project than most college juniors, but the stuff is undeniable. Well, most days, anyway.

via Perfect Game Baseball:

Gavin Collyer, RHP, Mountain View High School (GA)

6’1”, 155 lbs; Right/Right

So, what’s so great about this guy?

The owner of both one of the fastest arms and one of the riskiest arm actions in the draft this year is Gavin Collyer, a rail-thin occasional flamethrower from Georgia. He can push his fastball up to 96 at times, and that 155 pound number is most definitely not a typo. It’s like watching a rubberband pitch.

Beyond the fastball, which has impressive running life as well as big-time velocity, Collyer features a slider which will flash 60 every once in a while, but tends to flatten out into a slow cutter pretty often. I haven’t really seen him throw a changeup, but I’m told he has a decent one for a high schooler. Which, you know, is about as good as you can hope for with this kind of arm.

My concern with Collyer is just how late his arm is, laid almost completely off at foot plant. That delay helps him throw harder, as he is essentially forcing his arm to move faster in order to try and catch up to his body, but it’s also adding a lot of extra stress to his arm. It’s a tradeoff, obviously; he’s not as exciting a prospect if he’s not throwing this hard, but he might be less vulnerable to arm troubles if he were throwing with a less risky motion. For my money, I would honestly probably steer clear of Collyer. He might not have any arm issues at all — after all, Luke Weaver has stayed healthy so far despite my concerns — but I wouldn’t personally want to bet on it. There are bound to be plenty of other talented arms on the board you could look at instead, and I would go in some other direction first. I can’t deny he’s got an exciting arm, though.

via Perfect Game Baseball:

Michael McAvene, RHP, University of Louisville

6’3”, 205 lbs; Right/Right

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Michael McAvene is one of those pitchers who does a thing right now, does it very well, and has a bunch of people looking at him and asking, well, what if he did something else?

The thing he does very well right now is close games out for Louisville, and the something else everyone wants to know about is starting games in pro ball. If you’re asking me — and let’s face it, if you’re reading this you’re at least sort of asking me — he’s a reliever only. However, I think he could be a dominant one, and I think trying to shoehorn him into some other role would only short-circuit what’s good about him.

McAvene operates with two plus pitches, a fastball at 93-95 with good armside run and a breaking ball that’s somewhere between a curveball and slider, but in a good way. The pitch is a little like the slider of Griffin Roberts, the righthander out of Wake Forest the Cardinals made their second pick in the draft last year. Much like Roberts’s slider, McAvene’s breaking ball is hard enough to be called a slider, but big enough to be called a curveball. It’s usually referred to as a slider, and that’s probably correct, but it’s not the typical slider.

The downside with McAvene is this: he doesn’t have any other pitches, and he’s already had Tommy John surgery. To me, those are very good reasons not to mess around and try to turn him into a starter, but there are definitely teams out there that will try if they get a chance. As important as relievers have become in the modern game, I would not look this gift horse in the mouth and just let McAvene do what he does best, maybe protect him a bit from lefties (he works from a low 34 slot and is a little vulnerable to opposite-hand hitters), and reap the fruits of having developed a really good reliever relatively quickly. He’s had control issues in the past, but this spring he’s improved massively in that regard. I’m not much of a proponent of drafting relievers with high picks, but if McAvene is still sitting there in, say, the fifth or sixth round I would be glad to nab him.

via Jheremy Brown: