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2015 Draft Preview No. Fifteen: Persons of Interest One (Arms)

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A double shot of drafty goodness, delivered piping hot on a Sunday morning.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I'm writing this ahead of time -- Saturday morning, to be exact -- so hopefully nothing earth-shattering happened in tonight's game that really needs to be talked about , as was the case last time I did one of these Sunday posts well ahead of time. (If you'll recall, I wrote a column about how brilliant the Cardinals' pitching had been early in the season on the day Adam Wainwright's ankle exploded.)

I was planning on writing a column today examining the recent hotness of Peter Bourjos, who I love so very, very much, but every time I looked at one of the numbers to try and make a point, the small sample size caveat had to be made, to the point that, within a relatively quick space of time, the whole exercise started to feel pointless, and worse, wishy-washy. My post plan was at least partially informed by my enthusiasm for the new batted-ball data being incorporated on the Fangraphs player pages, which even being a less-advanced version of the stuff Hit Tracker is supposed to be doing is still super cool to see. Maybe if the Gorgeous one gets a large amount of playing time this week by next Sunday it will be worth talking about how legitimate he looks. Or maybe he sucks and no one cares by then. We'll just have to wait and see!

Anyhow, today I'm doing draft stuff instead of that; I apologise for the two draft-centric posts in the same week, but as I said on Wednesday, I'm trying to get as many players covered as I possibly can. In order to try and change it up slightly so as not to be exactly the same as my Wednesday draft coverage, I bring you this morning the first Persons of Interest post for the year, in which players who don't quite rate the full writeup treatment (read: they're a bit further down the pecking order in terms of draft value), but are still intriguing prospects for one reason or another to me get their due, albeit in somewhat abbreviated form.

You're probably familiar with the format by now; rather than the normal trio of players I cover six at a time in these abridged scouting segments. Today we've got pitchers. Nothing but pitchers as far as the eye can see. And, spoiler alert, a whole bunch of guys I think fit best as relievers in pro ball. But, hey, you've got to find your bullpenners somewhere, right?

Brandon Koch, RHP, Dallas Baptist University

6'", 190 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Brandon Koch fits exactly into two of the draft demographics the Cardinals have seemingly focused on pretty heavily the last few years: he's a power-armed pitching prospect who also just happens to be a position-player conversion.

Actually, Koch is less a conversion and more just a two-way player -- a shortstop, to be exact -- but his future is definitely in pitching full-time. Koch doesn't have the size and physicality of, say, a Trevor Rosenthal or Sam Tuivailala, but he has a whole lot of other similar traits. The fastball is a good starting spot. He works consistently in the mid-90s, and has been up as high as 98 on the gun. He also possesses one outstanding complementary pitch, a knockout slider that could pull a 65 or even 70 grade some nights. The one-two punch of fastball and slider for Koch is almost unfair when he's locating, and feels very much like what we've seen in short glimpses from Tuivailala.

The problem is that bit about 'when he's locating', because Koch doesn't do a whole lot of that just yet. He's raw in virtually every way as a pitcher, and while the strikeouts are ridiculous -- he's currently striking out 16.66 batters per nine as the closer for DBU -- the walks are a big problem. (Nearly 5.50 BB/9.) Of course, that's the sort of thing you expect with a player still relatively new to pitching, and the Cardinals have shown a willingness to invest in positional conversion projects with big arm speed and low mileage on the joints. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the Cards went for Koch somewhere in the middle rounds and he followed Rosie, Tui, Jason Motte, and Joe Kelly to the majors.

Jared Carkuff, RHP, Austin Peay State University

6'4", 165 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Carkuff was brought up in the comments not too long ago, as one of the more intriguing pitching prospects in the non-baseball hotbed Ohio Valley Conference, and while I was somewhat familiar I hadn't had a chance to really dig in on him yet at that time.

Well, since then I've taken a better look (a big thanks goes to Ms. Myra Dixon for helping me get some actual, really good video of him pitching), and while I find him to be a very, very intriguing arm, my opinion of him hasn't much changed since my initial off the cuff reaction: I think he's a relief arm long term. Possibly a very good one, but a relief arm all the same.

There's plenty to like here; Carkuff works in the low 90s with his fastball, and his lower, slinging arm action gives the pitch nice running life. He can sink it or sail it, depending on whether he's working up or down in the zone, but either way the pitch is tough to square up. He also features a nasty slider with wicked lateral bit and decent depth. He gets around on the pitch a bit too often, spinning it and not maintaining the kind of tilt that would make the pitch unhittable, but it's a plus offering all the same.

Carkuff has worked on incorporating both a curveball and changeup the past couple seasons, in an attempt to remain a starter in pro ball, and there's a chance he could do it. For me, though, I would have him scrap the curve and change, go straight fastball-slider, and worry less about the toll on his arm from an ugly delivery. He needs work on command and consistency, even with his good pitches, but there's a Huston Street type of pitcher just waiting to happen here to my eye.

via letsgopeay:

Alex Robinson, LHP, Maryland

6'1", 205 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Left

So, what's so great about this guy?

Even if it's a relief arm you're talking about, lefties who can push the velocity readings into the mid-90s are a rare and valuable breed. Robinson is exactly that, a power-armed southpaw who began his college career as a starter but has really only blossomed since moving into a bullpen role for Maryland.

The fastball for Robinson has the potential to be a special pitch at even the highest level of competition, as the combination of 94+ mph velocity and a slightly funky, deceptive delivery tends to lead to some extremely awkward, occasionally helpless swings. He's shown no real issues pitching to opposite-handed hitters to this point, either, which should save him from being relegated to LOOGYdom.

The good part for Robinson is the fastball; the bad part is that there really isn't any other part. He throws a slider, and throws it with power and conviction, but it's still just not a very good pitch. At the very best of times, the pitch really resembles a hard cutter more than a true slider, which wouldn't be a problem if he was shooting for that and deployed the pitch as one would a cutter. Unfortunately for Robinson, he's trying to throw a proper breaking ball, and the pitch just isn't cooperating much of the time. The best solution, to my mind, would be for Robinson and the team drafting him to simply lean on the fastball and tighten the slider up into a cutter. When you have one great pitch, sometimes half of another is really all you need.

Control is a definite issue for Robinson, although he's made marked strides in cutting down on his walk rate this season. It's still too high, but better than the rather ghastly number he posted in 2014. Again, leaning into the fastball and refining the command of that one pitch, rather than trying to carry a full complement of offerings (which he still does), would help in that regard, I believe.

The most likely outcome for Robinson is probably something like Tony Sipp, a similarly short but stocky lefthander with a hard-to-hit fastball but limited secondary offerings and career-long control issues. For Robinson's sake, one would hope he can figure out his command better than Sipp, who has never been as valuable as the stuff would suggest because of elevated walk rates throughout his big league career. (Until the last two seasons with Houston, that is, when Sipp has seemingly finally figured it out and made himself into a very valuable reliever.) If Robinson can get his control issues ironed out, he could be a setup quality arm, maybe even a closer. If not, fringy middle relief might seem like an okay outcome for him.

David Berg, RHP, UCLA

6'0", 190 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

There's a chance, if you are a loyal reader of this blog and consume my draft coverage with any kind of regularity, that the name David Berg might sound vaguely familiar to you. There's a reason for that.

See, David Berg was eligible for the 2014 draft, as a college junior, and was, in fact, drafted. By the Texas Rangers in the seventeenth round, to be more specific. He was also selected by a certain local blogger as part of his 2014 shadow draft. So, you know.

I wrote about Berg last year, and not much has changed. He returned to school, either because he wanted to be drafted higher, didn't receive the bonus offer he wanted from Texas, or just wanted to set a whole bunch of NCAA records related to closing games. (Which he's doing this year, by the way.) He's a sidearmer. The ball moves like crazy. He's got giant brass balls I have no idea how he fits in his Bruins uniform. He's one of the greatest college closers in the history of college closers. He's also taken to varying his arm angle more this season than in the past, and it's allowed him to attack hitters in even more baffling, befuddling, and effective ways than ever before.

Oh, and he also has a 10.20 strikeout to walk ratio this year. No, that's not a typo. He's struck out nearly a batter per inning, and has walked exactly five hitters in 52 innings. Those are late 80s Dennis Eckersley type numbers.

As a college senior, Berg will be a bargain signing for some team. He'll go in the first ten rounds, so the team picking him can save some cash against their draft pool, while also picking up a pretty amazing pitcher. In case you can't tell, I love David Berg. And while I won't promise any naked street-running were the Cardinals to pop him in, say, the fourth or fifth round, I won't rule it out, either.

via rkyosh007:

Thomas Eshelman, RHP, Cal State Fullerton

6'3", 190 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

If you like Nick Petree, the command specialist with middling stuff the Cardinals took out of Missouri State two years ago, you're probably going to love Eshelman, as he's cut from a remarkably similar mold.

Like Petree, Eshelman lives mostly in the upper 80s with his fastball, and lives by locating it to all parts of the strike zone. He'll pop the occasional 92, but that's really just a tease. Don't buy into the idea he's going to start throwing harder anytime soon. And, really, he doesn't need to to be successful. In his three-year college career, Eshelman is the proud owner (at least, I assume he's proud; I certainly would be if I could pitch like him), of a 16.29 strikeout to walk ratio, fueled largely by a microscopic 0.46 walks per nine number. It isn't often you see a pitcher who can out-Seth Maness Seth Maness, but damned if Tom Esnelman isn't trying to do just that.

He throws a full complement of pitches, with a curveball, slider, and changeup all in his bag of tricks, and he deploys the various offerings as needed. None rate as any better than average individually, but the ability put the ball right where he wants helps all play up. His changeup is probably the best of his complementary offerings, but either of his two breaking balls could carry that distinction as well on a given night. None of his pitches are overwhelming, but each one will show just enough to get the job done.

The delivery isn't the best, but Eshelman's extreme short-arm kind of action (also very Seth Maness-y, come to think of it), makes him deceptive and extraordinarily difficult to pick up. The absurdly good command of the strike zone would be enough to contend with; the fact the ball seems to come out of nowhere is just icing on the cake.

The ceiling for Eshelman likely isn't all that high; he simply doesn't have the pitches to slot in toward the top of a major league rotation. Then again, it isn't often you see a pitcher with the level of command he has, and the Cardinals have been willing to dip into similar wells before.

Josh Staumont, RHP, Azusa Pacific University

6'2", 205 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Staumont probably has the strongest arm of any pitcher in this group I'm covering here today, with a fastball he can occasionally push into the triple-digit sort of range, even eclipsing the raw heat of Brandon Koch. It's a fastball that is absolutely impossible not to admire.

The problem is the fact Staumont has very, very little idea where it's going.

It's a slightly frightening proposition, really; a guy who can throw a fastball 97 mph or more without much control over the thing. There's a bit of that Mark Wohlers or Mitch Williams feel to Staumont, although admittedly he isn't as much fun to watch as the original Wild Thing, given that his delivery lacks much of the histrionic flair. He doesn't look to be working all that hard to throw incredibly fast; the arm just has seemingly impossible speed built right in.

There's a curveball here also, though it's a fringe-average pitch at best, and a changeup that's barely there as well. Perhaps an enterprising pitching coach for some team could try teaching Staumont a splitter, thus making the Mark Wohlers comparison even more appropriate, but at the moment 'secondary stuff' is as much a hypothetical construct to Josh Staumont as it is a class of pitches. He simply rears back and throws the ball extremely hard, and so far, pitching for a Division II school, that has been enough. It won't be forever, of course, but he has yet to hit the point that learning is forced by failure.

Staumont is a fascinating sort of talent, the kind of pitcher with arm strength that simply can't be taught. He's actually started for most of his college career, and there's a chance some team who selects him could try and keep him in a rotation, hoping against hope that he might turn into the idealised version of Jason Neighborgall, rather than the actual version, which never did learn to throw the ball over the plate at even an acceptable rate. If it were me trying to coach the kid, I would actually try to get him to speed up his delivery and use his body more, rather than simply relying on pure arm strength, and hope to help him repeat an athletic, full-body motion. But I'm no coach, and that may be exactly the wrong way to approach the problem.

One thing I definitely do believe I'm right about, though, is the fact Staumont would have a much better chance learning short relief than continuing on the path of trying to start. Simple would seem to serve him better, and nothing could be simpler than paring down his approach to one and a half, maybe two pitches, and putting him in a situation where that absurd arm speed could hopefully translate into big time results. Maybe it works, maybe not. But a guy with this kind of pure arm strength is, in my ever so humble opinion, absolutely worth placing a bet on if he happened to be sitting there as the third round starts to wind down.

via The Prospect Pipeline:

You'll forgive the lateness of this post, I hope; I typed it up yesterday and then forgot to schedule it. I checked just a few minutes ago to see if there was any discussion yet, and lo and behold, no post.

Anyhow, happy Mother's Day to any mothers reading this, and let's hope our boys in red can bring home another series win after Carlos Martinez was frustratingly off last night, albeit in a really, really weird way.