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2021 Draft Preview No. 8: Woke Up This Morning

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“Hello, New Jersey!” — Tom Hanks, “You’ve Got Mail”

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Rick Porcello (48) throws in Photo by John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Lots of states are known for being hotbeds of baseball talent. You know, the usual suspects: Florida, California, Arizona, Georgia. Wisconsin is having kind of a moment the last couple years, and Texas produces at least one hard-throwing right-handed high school pitcher in every draft, it seems like. “Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Wood, it’s a stereotype!”

On the other hand, New Jersey is nobody’s idea of a hotbed, except for the best gabagool this side of heaven. Sure, Rick Porcello was a big deal nearly a decade and a half ago, and oh yeah, Mike Trout comes from the Garden State, but on balance, Jersey isn’t the first place a scout is going to go if he’s looking for top talent most years.

This year, though, things are a little different. This year there is not one, not two, but three top talents sitting right there in Jersey, waiting for the call. All three are pitchers; there are no bats here, Billy or otherwise. But all three of these guys have the makings of varsity athletes, and if you get lucky enough to pick one in the draft, then bada bing! you got yourself a top prospect, buddy.

Chase Petty, RHP, Mainland HS

6’1”, 190 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 4th April 2003

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Chase Petty has been on draft radars for quite awhile now as a player who can light up, well, radar guns. He possesses some of the best pure velocity in the 2021 draft, and promising enough secondary pitches it doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to see a future ace in the undersized righty.

It all starts with the fastball for Petty, who comfortably sits 95-97 and will touch triple digits at least a couple times a start. He has been clocked as high as 102 this spring, and struck out eighteen hitters in a seven-inning no-hitter his second time out this season. In other words, Chase Petty throws capital-h Hard, and hitters (at least high school ones), really just don’t seem to have much a chance most days.

What is a little extra interesting about Petty’s heater is the fact it is actually of the two-seam, running-and-sinking variety, as he works from a low arm slot and resembles the Pirate version of Gerrit Cole more than the Houston one, if that makes sense. Apparently Petty was born with flat collarbones and has difficulty getting his arm into a higher slot, which explains both the type of fastball he throws and why certain four-seam-heavy teams appear to be pretty much out on him in the first round. Still, he would have the best sinker in the entire draft if not for the existence of Sam Bachman, and on his best days Petty’s two-seamer can be just as untouchable as anyone’s fastball, of any variety.

As for secondary pitches, Petty throws a slider that has good horizontal break but can be a little flat, another issue mostly caused by the low arm slot. It’s not that one cannot throw a good breaking ball from a lower arm slot, it’s just that it’s more common for a pitcher to get around the ball, rather than on top of it, and that seems to be the case with Petty. He’ll break off a couple good ones, then toss a couple frisbees that just spin. Long-term, I think the slider ends up an above-average pitch, but it definitely needs some refining for now. His other secondary offering, and the one that really excites me, is a fadeaway changeup that absolutely gives left-handed hitters fits. Petty tends to throw the pitch too hard, pushing it up to 90-91, and it gets flat at that velocity. When he chokes the pitch a little more and eases off, though, it comes in at 86 and just disappears at the plate, ending up ten inches outside while still drawing swings. If anything, the pitch will occasionally show so much movement it’s clear he’s struggling to control it, and Petty never throws the change to right-handed hitters because he would probably hit half of them if he did. What I’m saying is that much like the slider, Petty’s changeup is going to require some work. It has the potential to be devastating, though.

So what we have here is a young pitcher with an upper-90s fastball, incredible movement on two of his pitches, and a potential three-pitch package of plus or better offerings. What’s not to like?

Well, for one thing, Petty is small. You might see him listed at 6’2” somewhere, but you shouldn’t believe it. I see 6’1” most of the time, and I’m not sure I believe that, either. He does have very long arms and is a tremendous athlete, but there is a stigma surrounding undersized right-handers all the same. It’s not much of a concern for me, but there are some organisations that simply do not like pitchers of smaller stature.

More concerning, for me at least, is the delivery. Petty generates his velocity through incredible hip and shoulder separation, creating tremendous torque and power, but that delivery also comes with an arm action that is very long in the back and tends to get the arm up very late. Now, to be fair, Gerrit Cole, who I did not mention earlier simply as an offhand reference, had a similar issue with his arm action as a high school prospect, and he revamped his arm action substantially at UCLA, helping him toward a career in which he has suffered no serious arm injuries. He did have one injury-marred season in 2016, but even that season, which included elbow inflammation and a triceps issue, Cole avoided surgery and has continued to be a star here five years later. (Post-sticky stuff ban asterisk possible, but not yet probable.) I have serious concerns about Petty’s long-term health outlook throwing this hard, with this delivery, and I don’t know if the arm action is something he can easily clean up.

Finally, it is a fact that major league baseball is currently in a cycle in which teams love high fastballs, love four-seamers, love spin. Chase Petty, despite triple-digit gun readings and 18-K no-hitters, does not fit that paradigm. The Cardinals seem to have been in on him pretty much all spring, but there are definitely clubs where the scuttlebutt is they’re just not that interested due to the shape of Petty’s stuff, rather than any concerns about quality. Add it all up and you have a guy with otherworldly stuff who may not go in the first round. He probably will, but it’s not a guarantee. The four-seamer is a made pitch, and the sinker isn’t. There’s nothing we can do about it.

via Baseball America:

Anthony Solometo, LHP, Bishop Eustace HS

6’5”, 218 lbs

Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 2nd December 2002

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Anthony Solometo is the guy in this post with, by far, the most helium this spring, and also the guy whose name is easiest to say in a Tony Soprano impersonation. Go ahead, try it. You have to turn the ‘th’ into just a ‘t’ sound, like AN-tuh-nee. The emphasis in Solometo goes on the third syllable, and you have to pretend you’re saying the word ‘tomato’, almost. So-luh-MAY-to. See? Fun!

Now that I’ve officially offended anyone of Italian descent reading this (also anyone involved with the mafia in New Jersey specifically, I would assume), let’s get to talking about this extremely exciting young pitcher, who has moved from being on the fringes of my early favourites this spring to maybe my number one high school pitcher who might be available when the Cardinals go on the board at eighteen. (Jackson Jobe is still my number one guy, but he’ll be long gone by the time they make their first pick.)

The first thing you notice when watching Solometo pitch is, very obviously, the delivery. It is funky. Like Saturday Night Fever funky, although that was actually Brooklyn, so it’s not the best touchstone here. Anyone know of a dance movie set in Jersey? I’m drawing a blank right now. (On a side note, have I ever told you how much I wish disco and discotheques were still a thing? That looks like so much goddamned fun. Anyway, moving on.) He’s got the high leg kick of a latter-day Dontrelle Willis, and the slinging arm slot of Madison Bumgarner. On the one hand, it looks awkward and difficult to balance. On the other hand, Solometo throws nothing but strikes with remarkable command for an eighteen year old, and hitters struggle to both see and time up his stuff. In other words, the delivery ain’t a beauty, but hey, it’s alright.

It isn’t the delivery that’s going to get Solometo drafted in the first round, though; it’s his ability to land strikes with three pitches, all of which are at least average right now, and could be plus in the future. His fastball sits 89-94, with a good amount of tailing action, and Solometo can put it where he wants it most of the time. He’s especially good at hitting the inside corner against right-handed hitters, throwing that comeback two-seamer that was such a feature of Chris Carpenter’s repertoire, only from the opposite side of the mound. He’s got room to fill out a little more, so maybe there’s another tick or two in terms of velocity coming down the road, but even if not, the movement and placement on the pitch make it very tough on hitters. His best offspeed pitch is his slider, which can get a little big and lazy at times, but has been better and better this spring. When Solometo is really cruising, the slider comes in about 82-84, and has outstanding tilt. His changeup is more of a work in progress, not surprising for a high school pitcher, but he sells it well and keeps it down. He’s naturally deceptive anyway, and the changeup is tough to recognise, even if doesn’t always have a ton of movement just yet.

Why Solometo has moved up boards so precipitously this spring is down to his polish, while his stuff has more gradually improved. The balance required to make a delivery like his work is really remarkable, but he’s also toned down the funk just a little, leaning back less and staying slightly more compact toward the plate. Bumgarner really feels like maybe the best comparison point here, as a similarly command-forward lefty with a big frame and stuff that doesn’t jump off the page, but plays better in games than it might seem at first glance. I tend to believe the Cardinals will go college pitching with their first pick, but I also have to say Solometo is an extremely attractive target.

via 2080 Baseball:

Pierce Coppola, LHP, Verona HS

6’8”, 215 lbs

Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 17th December, 2002

So, what’s so great about this guy?

See that number up there right under Coppola’s name? That one that’s a six followed by an eight? I have to say right up front that Coppola’s sheer size is doing a lot of the heavy lifting here, as teams certainly like to dream on a 6’8” lefty turning into the next Randy Johnson. Admittedly, Coppola is not in that class just yet — in fact, he’s not even in the same class as the other two pitchers covered here, being more of a third round type — but picking a guy like this is all about projection, and when you see a kid with this frame, pretty good stuff already, and room for 30+ more pounds, you can project some really intriguing things.

At present, Coppola’s stuff is in the good to very good range, with a fastball that sits around 92, touching an occasional 95, and has a little extra oomph to it coming from closer to home plate than hitters might be used to seeing. Indeed, extension is the name of the game for Coppola, as he gets way down the slope of the mound and is letting the ball go closer to 55 feet away than 60. The heater has good life to it, and he’s better up than down, fitting the current four-seam model of pitching better than either of the other two guys covered here. He also features a very solid slider, with good size and spin, but he’ll back off the pitch a little too much at times and baby it. The good news there is that he can land the slider in the zone for strikes; the bad news is it gets mighty hittable when he does, and pro-level hitters will probably smack him around a little until he learns to throw the pitch with more power and conviction.

As for a changeup, Coppola does throw one, but it’s bad. He struggles in general with control and command, not shocking for a kid this big at eighteen, and the change is the most notable offender. He loses it up and to the arm side at least half the time, and just as with the slider, tends to baby the pitch trying to throw strikes. This is what a pitcher looks like when he’s still trying to get all his limbs synced up in his delivery, and it’s what a whole lot of extremely tall pitchers look like at this age. When Coppola lets the ball fly, his stuff is good but his command is bad. When he backs off to throw strikes, his stuff suffers. The fact he can do both is encouraging that he’ll get there eventually, but for now he’s more of a project than some other pitchers available in this draft. Still, it’s hard not to like the combination of present stuff and size, with future gains more likely than not as he gets bigger, stronger, and irons out his mechanics.

Lucas Giolito presents an interesting comp for me here, as Giolito was another physically huge high schooler who wasn’t just extremely tall (6’6”), but also had the shoulders and frame to support 240 lbs or more. Giolito got his velocity earlier, but also had a much riskier delivery coming out of high school, also. It took him seven years, an elbow reconstruction, and a rebuild of his arm action to really hit his stride, but Giolito did eventually become a devastatingly effective pitcher. A team drafting Coppola would hope he doesn’t take quite as long to reach his ceiling, but it is instructive to note that he’s also going to need to work on some mechanical issues and the like in addition to just growing and filling out. He’s definitely a project, but the upside with Coppola is tough not to love. And New Jersey is, after all, for lovers, I’m told. (Actually, that might be Virginia, now that I think about it.)

via Jersey Sports Zone: