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2015 Draft Preview Cinco: Righthanders of the High School World

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Three high ceilings, but all with big question marks attached. We continue our draft preview series with a troika of high school righthanders.

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

I don't have any sort of pithy or clever or melancholy intro today. I say this somewhat regretfully, because whether you all like what I do or not, I feel there is a certain expectation of my work, which is to be poorly researched, of middling intelligence but convinced of its own cleverness, and to put far too much emphasis on whatever side story it is I'm telling in the opening paragraphs, usually wrapped in a pleasantly sad aura I've spent what trickle of talent I might once have had cultivating over the years.

Sadly, the thing I was going to talk about this morning before plopping down another batch of scouting reports in front of you like a plate of undercooked diner pancakes now appears it's headed for a post of its own, as I wasn't happy with just the opinion I have on the matter, and I have thus decided I may actually have to do some math. Which is irritating to me, because I hate math. However, I shall endeavour to make it through the math, since this manufactured cleverness doesn't just happen by itself.

But, as I said, that unfortunately leaves me without much of anything to talk about before the main thrust of the post today.

Kind of sucks that the club's ace is already headed back to St. Louis for medical treatment., though, huh? Not even a week in and the injury bug has struck. Frustrating.

Hmph. Let's just get to the scouting reports, shall we? Today we have a trio of righthanded pitchers, all high schoolers, and all with very high ceilings. Spoiler alert, however: none of these guys are players I'm personally all that in love with. Read on to find out why!

(Ryan) Cole McKay, RHP, Spring Branch HS (Texas)

6'5", 220 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

You know, it's really bizarre how in every single draft there is always at least one guy from Texas, usually some big-boned farm kid, who throws really hard. I don't know what it is, but somehow Texas Flamethrower has sort of become its own draft demographic. Last year we had perhaps the ultimate expression of this particular paradigm in Tyler Kolek, the 6'5" fireballer who went second overall to the Marlins. Cole McKay doesn't quite live in the rarefied air of Kolek's triple-digits-at-seventeen strata, but he's at least playing the same sandbox with his stuff.

McKay isn't quite as burly as Kolek, either; his frame is of a similar size and shape, but he isn't nearly as well developed and filled out as last year's number two pick. He's capable of running his fastball into the mid-90s, touching 96 on occasion, and there's reason to believe he'll move into that range more consistently as he fills out. The fastball doesn't have a ton of movement, but McKay does show occasional armside run, especially when the ball is up in the zone. Like most players of his age and talent, McKay is capable of simply overpowering most competition he faces, simply because his velocity puts him on a separate plane from most seventeen year old kids.

Beyond the fastball, McKay possesses a changeup and curveball, neither of which currently impress me much. The changeup in particular is a barely-there offering, which isn't all that uncommon for a guy still in high school. The breaking ball, for me, is the more disappointing pitch; it just doesn't have the kind of shape and power I want to see from a pitcher whose primary tool is supposed to be elite arm speed. There are times he throws the pitch harder, turning it into a weak sort of slider, and I actually think it's a little better at those times. Really, though, there's no version of any secondary pitch from McKay I really find impressive or even particularly promising, at least as things stand now. Of course, it could be a matter of a guy simply not developing because he isn't challenged, and maybe that will work itself out down the road a bit. These things often do. Still, if I'm giving my honest opinion of the stuff, I just don't see much to love outside of the raw velocity, and that alone isn't necessarily enough to get my blood going.

There are times McKay will pitch at a little lower velocity. sitting more in the low 90s than the 95ish neighbourhood the hype is built on. That doesn't actually concern me; while I'm often doubtful of the concept of projectability in terms of peak velocity, I feel a guy's mean velocity does tend to increase as he gains strength and stamina. I don't believe McKay is ever going to push those 100+ gun readings of a guy like Kolek, but I do think he ends up sitting 93-96 consistently in a few years. Think of Shelby Miller's fastball, in terms of both velocity and that riding sort of movement he can conjure up living high in the zone.

In fact, Shelby Miller is probably the best comp I can come up with for McKay overall. He's a little bigger than Shelby, but the body isn't all that dissimilar, and the limited-but-powerful repertoires are very much the same. And also like Shelby, I have concerns about both McKay's health over the long haul (his arm is later coming through than I like to see), and his ability to develop top-quality secondary stuff going forward.

Which, of course, isn't to say Shelby Miller isn't a good outcome for a draft pick. But there are pitchers in this draft class I much prefer to a guy like McKay, at least some of whom I think will still be on the board when the Cardinals hit the clock in June.

If McKay can figure out a more consistent, effective breaking ball, he should be able to move through the minors with relative ease on his way to being a two-pitch mid-rotation starter. If not, his fastball is good enough to carry him to the upper levels of the minor leagues, but probably not to anything more than a middle relief arm in the big leagues. Maybe there's more in there, and he figures out a little more movement on his heater -- not to mention a couple average-or-better secondary pitches to put hitters off it -- but if I'm being honest, Cole McKay isn't an arm that exactly screams out to me that I just can't live without drafting him.

via Cubs Prospect Watch:

Triston McKenzie, RHP, Royal Palm Beach HS (Florida)

6'5", 160 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

No, that weight number is not a typo. It's where a lot of the promise McKenzie brings to the table comes from, in fact.

Triston McKenzie is a tall, lean drink of water. Actually, 'lean' probably isn't the proper word for a person who goes 6'5" and weighs less than, say, Tim Lincecum. Triston McKenzie is a rail, and as such should be counted on, unless something goes horribly wrong, to put on 40 or even 50 pounds by the time he gets to the big leagues, bringing with that extra weight all the added strength one would hope to see bolster his velocity.

Not that the present stuff isn't impressive for McKenzie; it is. He's been up to 92 with his fastball already, and the ball has nice life to it, whether up or down. The velocity isn't consistent, of course; much as is the case with Cole McKay, McKenzie has yet to settle in to a range of speeds with his heater, sometimes working at 86, other days pushing above 90 all the way through an outing. He complements the fastball with a pair of promising secondary offerings, the best of which is a slow curve that can look positively Wainwrightian if you catch him on the right day but could probably stand to be thrown with more power. He also features a changeup that not only exists -- always a pleasant surprise with a high school pitcher -- but already shows excellent fade to the arm side, if not necessarily a whole lot of depth as of yet.

I'm not idly making that Wainwright comparison for McKenzie's curve. It might be slightly hyperbolic, of course, at least in relation to the curve itself, but there are several things about McKenzie I feel make Adam an excellent comp for him at the same age.

In last year's draft, there was a righthander by the name of Cobi Johnson I comped to Waino, citing the firm but not overpowering fastball, big-breaking curve, solid fading change, and precocious feel for pitching as the reasons for my comparison. In that case, I was talking about Wainwright the finished product; the tall, lanky athlete we all love watching so much who mixes his offerings with such creativity and intelligence that his middling velocity seems to be the least important thing about him.

In this case, however, I'm talking about Wainwright the amateur when I mention him in conjunction with McKenzie. When Adam was a high school prospect, he was a tall, gangly amateur hurler who showed velocity into the 90s, a feel for a future-plus curveball, and just enough of a changeup to make scouts believe he could have a good one someday. That's very much where McKenzie is right now, down to the velocity that is more projection than reality at the moment, and the dreams of those who think he's going to add 40 pounds of good weight and suddenly find himself sitting at 96 in the seventh inning of big league starts.

Wainwright also showed an advanced feel for pitching as far back as those high school days. He was a basketball player in school, and showed better than average feet for a guy so big; most 6'6" high school kids are composed almost entirely of shins, and tend to walk the earth like huge, awkward birds of prey, waiting on time and nutrition to finish the job of turning them into fully developed human beings. Wainwright, though, already showed signs of the body control he's become so known for now all the way back then.

McKenzie has many of those same traits, including the intelligence; he's an extremely bright, mature kid who at 16 had already gone through several CPR courses as part of an ambition to become a paramedic, and he brings that intelligence to the mound. He's athletic, shows good footwork and body control for a kid with his frame, and generally puts the ball where he wants much better than you would expect from a player of his age, size, and level of development. Again, a whole lot like Adam Wainwright the Georgia high schooler.

And also like Wainwright, it remains to be seen how much velocity McKenzie actually develops. He's shown up to 92 already at 17, so 'the sky' is generally the answer to the question of, "Limit?" However, velocity isn't always linear, nor is it a given. Adam managed to become an ace-level pitcher in spite of never developing into the mid-90s power pitcher he was projected as back in his high school days. While there is reason to believe McKenzie will, in fact, throw harder in the future than he does now, he might not. Luckily for him -- and the team picking him -- he shows enough of those other Waino-like trait that even if he settles into the 90-92 range rather than popping 97's in a couple years he could still turn into something very promising.

The one downside for me with McKenzie is his arm action. He has a bit of a wrist wrap at the back of his delivery, and his timing is, frankly, kind of terrible. It's a shame, because I like so many things about the kid, but I really, really don't like his mechanics at all. And if I'm investing in a player for hopefully the next decade, I'm not sure I couldn't find a guy I would be more comfortable with than Triston McKenzie.

via rkyosh007:

Ashe Russell, RHP, Cathedral HS (Indiana)

6'4", 195 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Ashe Russell might have the nastiest one-two punch of pitches of any high school hurler in the draft this year. Of the other high school arms at the very top of the class, Justin Hooper (who I'm likely covering either next week or the week after, depending on if I write the other thing I have in mind next week), has the bigger, better fastball, but no second pitch that rises to the level of Russell's slider. Brady Aiken has a wider, more dynamic repertoire, but his curveball lacks the absolute filth of Russell's breaker. Kolby Allard's curve might be as nasty, but his fastball comes and goes more often. Mike Nikorak might be the closest thing, with a fastball just as big and a curve that can be dominant, but the pitch isn't at all consistent yet.

What Russell possesses is a major-league quality fastball-slider combo that has him in contention for a top ten draft slot in June. He works at 93-95 with the heat, and has touched a tick or two higher at showcases. The pitch moves laterally a ton, particularly up in the zone, but lacks anything in the way of sink. His best pitch many days is his slider, a low-80s widescreen offering that gives same-handed hitters essentially zero chance in the box. It can frisbee at times, getting panoramic at the cost of real depth and bite, but even then the pitch has so much movement it rarely gets hit. I have yet to see anything resembling a changeup from him, but this is one of those situations where the pitcher in question simply hasn't had much cause to work on one yet.

Russell is, to me, a high school version of Adam Ottavino, the college righty the Cardinals picked in the first round of the 2006 draft, and the weaknesses of Russell are very much in that same vein. He works from a lower arm slot -- not to mention a pretty ugly arm action -- which might point toward future relief work. His control comes and goes, as his release point seems to wander a bit along with his mechanics. A flat fastball that he tends to work up in the zone more often than not will likely lead to Russell being a definite flyball pitcher in the long term, and while that isn't necessarily a problem on its own, he could also end up prone to giving up the long ball if he can't prevent hard contact.

It honestly wouldn't surprise me to see Ashe Russell end up working relief, much the same way Ottavino has. His arm slot and lack of a changeup could leave him open to platoon splits, and he looks to my eye like a guy for whom just average command would be quite an accomplishment. He's the most likely pitcher of any in this class, I think, to end up closing out games with a Rick Rude mullet and a terrible Craig Wilson mustache, putting up huge strikeout numbers but walking a few too many batters and giving up the occasional bomb to a left-handed hitter. That being said, he'll get every chance in the world to prove he can start -- and he should; the talent is absolutely huge -- and maybe he'll pick up the change without any trouble at all once he has to learn it.

If you're asking me to look into my crystal ball, though, I think Russell ends up in a bullpen somewhere down the line. He could be Craig Kimbrel lite with his fastball/slider combination, and I'll bet whatever team ends up reaping those rewards will be thrilled to have him.

via The Prospect Pipeline:

And via SkillshowVideos:

Of the three pitchers here today, I'm not in love with any of them. Russell has an unbelievable combo, but his repertoire is very shallow and I could easily see him ending up in relief. McKenzie has a lot of things going for him I like, but the arm action scares me and I'm not sold on him continuing to gain velocity the way some think he will. McKay I probably like the least of the three; I see a plus-but-not-elite fastball and a very mediocre breaking ball coming out of an ugly arm action. That being said, I like McKenzie enough to think about taking him, even if he's a pitcher I'm at least considering trading from literally the moment I draft him. And if Ashe Russell pitches the way he should this spring and somehow still ends up falling to where the Cardinals are picking, he would be a value I couldn't pass up.