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2021 Draft Preview No. 9: High School Righthanders

A trio of youthful pitchers, all scouted and ready to go.

St Louis Cardinals v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Irving Carter, RHP, Calvary Christian (FL)

6’4”, 210 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 9th October 2002

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Irv Carter (he prefers Irv to Irving, I’ve been told), is not one of the very top prospects in this year’s draft. He’s more like a third round type at the moment, somewhere around in there. He’s not even the best pitching prospect on his own high school team, as he attends the same high school as Andrew Painter, who is almost certainly a lock for the first round. (For the record, if I don’t get to Painter before the draft, I’m lukewarm on him.) However, if you want a player package that includes a little bit of everything, from good and potentially great stuff to an ideal pitcher’s frame to reasonable control and command for an eighteen old and even a little added funk in the delivery, Carter just might be your guy. He’s definitely one of my guys.

Carter throws hard enough already to overmatch high school hitters, even really good ones, sitting in the 91-93 range, topping out at 94, but he’s got another tick or two in the tank down the line, I think. He’s 6’4” and strong already, but there’s still room for another fifteen pounds on his frame, and I think Carter at 22 probably sits 93-95. He works from a high arm slot, almost straight over the top, and he gets both excellent downward plane on his fastball and above-average armside run about half the time. The movement comes and goes throughout a given outing, but once he dials in his mechanics and release point a little more consistently I don’t see that as a long-term issue.

The secondary pitches are where it really gets interesting with Carter. His fastball is strong, but not so spectacular that it jumps out and grabs you. See him on the right day, though, and you might see two 60-grade offspeed pitches. Then again, see him on the wrong day and you might see one 40 and one that he only threw once, and you weren’t totally sure it was really a changeup, so maybe you need to see him again next week or something.

Carter’s primary offspeed pitch is a steep slider that sometimes acts more like a curveball, coming from such a high arm slot, but usually keeps good tilt and power. As I said, there are days when the pitch looks like an easy future 60+, but there are also days he loses the release on it and bounces half a dozen of them at 55 feet. For the most part, though, the slider is a strong secondary, and he can make right-handed hitters look very bad when he locates it down and away. I’ve seen him try to throw what is either a legit curveball or a slower, vertical slider, but it’s not very good. It could just be Carter trying to ease off the slider too much, or it could be him trying to incorporate a separate breaking ball. As is the case with most high schoolers, sometimes you see something that just looks off, and it’s tough to tell if it was a bad version of something you knew he throws, or if he’s trying to experiment with something else. And in the case of Irv Carter, experimentation on the mound is definitely a possibility.

Maybe the most intriguing pitch in Carter’s repertoire, for me, is his changeup. There’s the typical high school story to the pitch, that he doesn’t throw it a ton because high school hitters simply don’t force him to reach that deep into the bag, but on the showcase circuit last summer against top competition he did bring out the change a little more often, and it’s really exciting. Not at all consistent yet, but extremely exciting all the same. His feel for the pitch comes and goes; he’ll bounce it, same as the slider, when he tries to throw it too hard, but when he relaxes and just lets his arm speed and grip do the work, the pitch drops out of sight like a forkball or splitter, and he could get lefties or righties either one with the pitch. It’s not hard to imagine a world where Carter ends up with three 55-60 grade pitches on his card, and some real deception to boot.

Why do I say deception? Well, because Carter’s delivery is rather unorthodox, and he likes to add in even an extra wrinkle or two from time to time as well. The delivery itself is, to my eye, quite similar to that of Ubaldo Jimenez, only with a less extreme arm stab at the back and much better timing at footplant. Carter is a bit of a short strider and stays very upright, helping with that downward plane. I actually like his mechanics a lot, but there is definitely some funk and deception in there.

He also likes to add in things, like the occasional quick pitch a la Matthew Liberatore or a hesitation, even a double leg kick sort of thing from time to time. I admire the precociousness and his feel for pitching, but honestly, he would probably be better off toning that stuff down a little. Too often he’ll focus on fooling the hitter, only to have the pitch he actually throws come in flat or offline because his mechanics were off. He already has solid control, though, and I think will have plus command down the road as he matures.

It is, finally, worth noting that when I listed his attributes above, I did not mention one last thing about Carter: he appears to very much have what one might call the killer instinct on the mound. Away from the field he’s a really nice kid by all accounts, but on the mound he not only looks intimidating, he pitches angry. Jack Flaherty or Chris Carpenter angry, is what I mean. He wants to win, and he pitches like the whole opposing team owes him money. I’m a big fan.

via Perfect Game Baseball:

Peter Heubeck, RHP, Gilman HS (MD)

6’3”, 170 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 22nd July 2002

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Peter Heubeck has a lot of filling out he needs to do, and even with maturity will probably always look like a stiff breeze could push him right over. He does, however, have a very good one-two combo of fastball and curveball to build off of, and if he can add 20 pounds over the next five or six years he could end up having pretty spectacular stuff.

Heubeck’s best pitch is an overhand curveball that he throws with very good spin and tremendous depth. He’ll baby it from time to time, but for the most part throws the breaker with conviction and enough power that it overmatches his current level of competition. There are a couple better breaking balls in this draft, but not a lot, and none that are head and shoulders better.

As for the fastball, Heubeck can push his heater up to 94 mph, but sits closer to 91 right now. It’s a high-spin four-seam job, though, and even at 91 hitters struggle to catch up when Heubeck keeps the ball at the belt or above. That combination of high fastball at or above the zone and the big curve falling down to the knees or even lower can be deadly when executed well, and Heubeck on his best days looks like he should win his High School’s Most Likely to Turn Into Shane Bieber in Eight Years award. If they happen to give that out along with Best Dresser, Most Serious, and Most Likely to Be On the News for a Terrible Reason, of course; I know some high schools have really gone all woke and don’t allow fun anymore.

Heubeck does throw a changeup occasionally, but it’s a pitch in an even more nascent state than Irv Carter’s change. He shows good arm speed in general, so I would buy into his ability to make the pitch effective down the line, but as of right now it’s still barely a factor in most at-bats.

The delivery isn’t bad, if also not quite ideal. Heubeck’s arm action is short; he looks just as much like a Cleveland pitcher in terms of mechanics as stuff. The arm is a touch late getting up, but I’ve definitely seen worse, and this isn’t anything I would worry about overmuch. His leg drive is good but could be even better, though if he were to try and get more aggressive with his lower body I could also see his timing getting off, causing control problems. He’s not a big guy despite the listed 6’3” height; I would compare his build most closely to Luke Weaver, who never did really add much in the way of bulk or strength. Heubeck has good present stuff, though, and will probably have even a little more in the tank down the road.

via 2080 Baseball:

Ben Kudrna, RHP, Blue Valley Southwest (KS)

6’3”, 175 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 30th January 2003

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Irv Carter has precocious feel for pitching, deception, and a fiery competitive streak that makes him attractive. Peter Heubeck has two plus pitches that work well together and room to grow into further oomph. Ben Kudrna has three pitches already, a calm killer’s stare on the mound, and by far the most polished delivery of any of the three guys covered here today.

Kudrna puts me in mind of former Dodgers first rounder and current Mets prospect J.T. Ginn, in that he not only throws three quality pitches, but tunnels them extraordinarily well, making everything he throws that much harder to pick up and put a swing on for opposing hitters. He works primarily off his fastball, a moving two-seamer in the 92-95 range (well, it moves like a two-seamer; I should specify I don’t actually know for certain what grip he uses), that shows good boring action in on right-handed hitters. He’s very good to the third base side of the plate with the fastball, but doesn’t locate it nearly as well to the first base side. The pitch has enough movement he should be able to throw the Maddux comeback fastball on that inside corner to lefties, but at this age he doesn’t work nearly as confidently to his glove side. Regardless, the pitch has enough power and movement that high schoolers have very little chance against Kudrna, and he could throw even a touch harder down the road as he fills out.

We could have a solid debate on which of Kudrna’s two offspeed pitches is best, but unlike Carter, where the debate would be which one is better now versus which one I might like better down the road, there really is no right answer with Kudrna no matter what the parameters are. He throws both a slider and a changeup, and both are very advanced for a high school pitcher, and both play up even further because he throws all his pitches with virtually identical arm action. This is one of those guys where the three-pitch overlay gif would be extra impressive, I believe.

Kudrna can already throw strikes with all three of his pitches, although as I said, his command will still need work, as he’s much better going arm side than glove side for now. He’ll also throw in the occasional hesitation in his delivery, showing that extra bit of feel for his craft. Eighteen is too early, but I seriously doubt he’ll still be on the board at 54. I wish the Cardinals had a pick in the mid-30s, because Kudrna would be one of my favourites for that spot.

via Baseball America:

Just a little extra FYI: that is current near-lock for the number one overall spot Marcelo Mayer that Kudrna is making look bad beginning right around the 0:45 mark.