I'm writing this and next Wednesday's posts ahead of time, as I have several hours free on Memorial Day, so I'm hoping not a whole lot changes between now and the 3rd of June. If anything notable does, I'll try to make any necessary alterations to the posts, but just for the record, know that this is all well ahead of time.
What I've got today is one last group of arms to cover. Next week I'll have a final grouping of position players, including a guy I love but who has so far managed to slip through the cracks on me, and then the Sunday before the draft (the first round begins on Monday evening, the eighth of June), I'll have a final wrap-up post with players I like most, a couple quick scouting reports on guys at the very top I haven't yet covered because the Cardinals have zero chance of drafting them (I mostly try to cover players with at least a somewhat realistic shot of being on the board when the Cards pick, though that of course is much more difficult to judge when I start these things around New Year's), and maybe even a quick mock up of how I see things going.
Ben, Eric, and I are going to record a draft-focused podcast next Wednesday evening, as well, so if you're interested in the MLB draft at all there will be tons of material for you to digest, both in written and audio form over the next two weeks.
I'm doing four arms today instead of the usual three; as has been the case the last couple weeks, it's simply an attempt to get as many scouting reports done as possible, and the groupings have worked out so that I can easily insert an extra player. So, further ado being unnecessary, let's get straight to it, shall we?
Austin Smith, RHP, Park Vista High School (FL)
6'4", 215 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Easy velocity, that's what's so great about this guy. Austin Smith has one of the more remarkable arms among the high school ranks this year, capable of pushing his fastball into the mid-90s without mechanical shenanigans or even much apparent effort.
There's some real athleticism here, as well; Smith is very much an athlete who pitches, which is one of those things you're probably tired of hearing me say by now but is a big deal to me all the same. He gets well down the mound without overextending, generates power without losing balance, and repeats it all beautifully for a player this young.
Beyond the fastball, which he has pushed as high as 96 at times in showcases but generally cruises more at 92-93, he features an inconsistent curveball that will flash 60 now and again, and could end up even better once he refines it. It's the kind of two-plane breaker a team could easily see as being better tending toward a slider, but I would prefer to see him keep it as is, just work on refining the pitch. There's an occasional changeup here as well, but it's very much in the same category as most high school power pitchers' changeups, in that it technically exists, but isn't any kind of weapon yet, and won't be until either better competition or organisational directive forces him to develop it.
Perhaps my biggest concern about Smith is the body; he's a big guy, and there's a definite softness to him that suggests he could become an even bigger guy pretty easily. He's already thick in the hips and thighs, less the projectable frame type and closer to something like Felix Hernandez's body. Of course, being heavy hasn't hurt Lance Lynn any, but I do worry extra weight for Smith could adversely affect that athleticism, so I would prefer to see a team drafting him make conditioning a priority.
As of right now, Smith is still relatively raw, which isn't all that surprising considering he's a high school pitching prospect, but it's also fairly new velocity, so he's still learning to command his newer, bigger stuff. Long term, I think he repeats his delivery, I think his balance and athleticism translate into high-end command, and I think he has one of the higher ceilings of any pitcher in this draft. Twenty three might be a little high for him, but if he's sitting on the board at 39 when the Cardinals make their second pick, this is very much a player I would love to see them snatch up.
via The Prospect Pipeline:
Thomas Szapucki, LHP, William T. Dwyer High School (FL)
6'2', 190 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
The velocity for Szapucki isn't what I would call easy the same way I would with Austin Smith, as the lefty from Florida delivers his heat with a fairly ugly arm action that worries me in the long term, but his fastball is every bit as exciting all the same.
It isn't just the velocity of Szapucki's heater, which can reach 95 pretty consistently; it's the sailing, riding sort of life up in the zone that makes his fastball so intriguing. He works from a low arm slot, and the fastball has tons of what old-school types would call rise and new-school types would call, well, rise, but with the understanding it's really just less drop than usual. If I said Tony Cingrani, would that give you an idea of the kind of fastball I mean? I would like to say Billy Wagner, but Szapucki doesn't have that level of velocity, and besides, Billy Wagner is a freak. Comparing a fastball's movement and velocity to Billy Wagner's just isn't fair. So Cingrani it is.
Szapucki's secondary pitches are rudimentary right now; the slider shows occasional hard break but is just as often flat and asking for trouble, and I've only ever seen one changeup, and it didn't do much of anything at all. In other words, he has a long way to go before he's a pitcher, rather than a thrower, as the old cliche goes.
For my money, Szapucki probably ends up a reliever, largely due to the arm action. He's a slinger with a fastball that should take him a long, long way, but I'm doubtful he's able to hold up with his delivery. As a high school pitching prospect, though, no team is going to make him a reliever until he proves he can't start, by which time he may have already proven it through arm injuries, which is a real shame. I think there's enough deception, velocity, and movement on his fastball he could succeed essentially as a one-pitch pitcher in a major league bullpen in fairly short order, and if he could develop his slider into a real weapon he could ascend to closer quality, I believe. As a starter, though, he has a much longer road to building a broader repertoire, and I worry he has a limited number of bullets in the chamber, so to speak.
Jackson Kowar, RHP, Charlotte Christian High School (NC)
6'4", 160 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
As far as one-two punches go, Kowar features one of my favourites of any high school pitcher in this year's draft, combining a low-90s running fastball with a split-grip changeup that just disappears. He works at 91-94, and the fastball plays up because it has tremendous movement to the armside, so much that he occasionally struggles to work to the first-base side of the plate. Think of the way Carlos Martinez loses his release at times and will throw half a dozen two-seamers in a row that end up a foot inside to a right-handed hitter. There are times that happens to Kowar, as well. Also somewhat like El Gallo, however, Kowar's best pitch may not be the fastball at all, but his change of pace.
What's a little strange about the change, in fact, is that as much tailing action as he gets on his fastball, the result of a Jake Peavy-like arm slot, the changeup drops almost straight down, with very little fade. It's a swing-and-miss offering, for sure, and should be equally effective against both right- and left-handed hitters, as comparable to a splitter as it is a changeup for most pitchers. The fastball is a 55, maybe a 60; the changeup is a 60 for me, and occasionally a tick better than that.
On the other hand, the breaking ball for Kowar has yet to develop. He throws a slider, but it's pretty terrible. The pitch tends to just spin up to the plate, sitting in the middle of the zone, begging for a hitter with some kind of discipline to murder the poor thing. Of course, high school hitters rarely have that kind of ability, but the pro level is going to be very unkind to Kowar's slider, methinks. How much he can improve the breaking ball will go a long way toward deciding his ultimate upside; if he can turn his slider into a 50 pitch consistently, you might be looking at a number two starter on a contending team. If he can't, and the pitch turns out to be, say, a 40 most days, he's probably no better than a back-end rotation guy. The two-pitch mix is good enough to keep him starting, I think, but a third pitch going the opposite direction of his fastball would turn him into a real dynamo, I believe.
It's a bit of a troubling arm action for Kowar; he's a high back elbow guy, and the timing isn't ideal. That being said, I've seen worse, and perhaps a team could improve his timing with a few tweaks here and there. It's an extremely whippy arm action, also, and I worry about his long-term durability. Still, I like what he brings to the table so much that I probably wouldn't be able to pass him up if he was still sitting there in the third round, and the second isn't too early to take him, in all actuality.
The perfect-world version of Jackson Kowar probably looks a little something like maybe Max Scherzer, as a low arm slot fastball/changeup guy, with a slider slotting in as his third pitch. I'm not saying qualitatively, of course; projecting Kowar to be as good as one of the best pitchers in baseball is absolutely unfair. But in terms of the type of pitcher, that's not a terrible comp to my eye.
Kowar is committed to Clemson and could be a tough sign, which should probably factor into any decisions regarding drafting him. He'd probably take an overslot bonus to get a deal done, which could make him intriguing if he falls a bit for an organisation with a good feel for his signability. I have no idea what that would be, mind you; only that reading the tea leaves he isn't going to be the easiest sign.
via Chip Case:
Brady Singer, RHP, Eustis High School (FL)
6'5", 180 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Boy, this edition of the draft preview has been heavily Florida-flavoured, hasn't it? Which I would hope is just orange-flavoured, but having been to Jacksonville I think might be much swampier and unpleasant.
Anyway, back to Brady Singer, who is remarkably similar to Jackson Kowar, only much less desirable to my eye. Both are tall, lean, righthanded slingers who work in the low- to mid-90s. Where Kowar complements his fastball with a wicked changeup, though, Singer's best complementary pitch is a slider that can rate a 55 on a good day with a frisbee-like action. There are reports he's shown feel for a changeup, but I have yet to see it, and am always skeptical of that line, "has shown feel for throwing a changeup." I think that usually tends to mean he doesn't really have one, but when someone suggested he learn it he managed to throw a couple pitches that were slower than a fastball. Being a high schooler, I don't count the lack of a changeup as a serious black mark against Singer or pretty much any other prep pitcher, really; I just think it's funny how often that specific phrase comes up, and how meaningless it tends to be.
Singer might throw a touch harder than Kowar; he's been up to 96 in short outings, but the pitch doesn't seem to have quite as much running action to me. His delivery is similar, with a high back elbow and low slot, but I think Singer's timing is a fair bit worse than Kowar's, and it worries me a bit more. Neither one is ideal, but on the spectrum I think Singer is a somewhat riskier bet than Kowar, both because of the timing and the fact I'll nearly always take a fastball/changeup combination over a fastball/slider guy.
Singer puts me in mind a bit of Phil BIckford, the hard-throwing righthander the Blue Jays drafted out of high school and failed to sign a couple years ago, who is back in the draft this year out of a junior college after transferring out of Cal State Fullerton for very vague, nebulous reasons. Singer isn't as advanced as Bickford was at the same point, but the deliveries, repertoires, and bodies are fairly similar. Or perhaps Zack Wheeler, the currently on-the-shelf Mets' starter and former San Francisco Giants prospect with a similar slingy arm slot and timing problem. Again, Singer isn't as highly touted or advanced as Wheeler was when San Fran popped him sixth overall back in 2009, but the stuff isn't far off, and the deliveries aren't dissimilar, if I'm remembering Wheeler's correctly when he was an amateur.
I like Brady Singer, but I don't love him. He's a risky bet, I think, and specifically riskier than Kowar, who I kind of think of as the better version of the same guy, to be completely honest. Singer has a fair bit of helium this spring, and is trending toward being a top-50 sort of talent. Would I put him there? Maybe. But given the level of pick you would almost certainly have to spend to get him into the system, there are a whole lot of players I feel should still be on the board I would much rather have.
Not many more of these left now; the draft is coming up in a hurry. Like I said, I'll have one more proper group next Wednesday of hitters, and then one final roundup of everything heading into draft day. I hope you all have enjoyed these this year; I do, believe it or not, put quite a lot of work into them, and care that they're of as high a quality and accuracy as I can manage. My opinions may not count for much, but I'm doing my very best at amateur scouting, which I bizarrely now have something like seven years of experience doing. (Though it's only the last few that I've been able to dig in as deep as I do nowadays.) At the very least, I hope you've gotten a few names here and there in your head you might like or can watch out for as we head into the draft.