Sunday, June 7, 2009

2009 Draft: College Arms

Well, the draft is rapidly approaching, so it's time to look at some of the college arms that are likely to be selected in the early rounds.

Aaron Crow -- rhp

Aaron Crow was drafted last year by the Washington Nationals and ultimately did not sign. He chose to hold out for more money and ended up pitching for the Fort Worth Cats of the Independent League.

For the most part, Crow features a three pitch repertoire: a fastball, change-up, and slider. His fastball sits in the low 90s and touches 95 on occasion, his slider is a nasty pitch with sharp bite, and his change-up is a solid change of pace offering.

Here is a look at Crow in action:

Crow's mechanics are fairly clean, but there are a few issues. He has an unusual arm swing after breaking his hands which gives him a bit of length in his arm action. During his arm swing, he wraps the ball behind his back, which leads to something of a whippy arm action and creates inconsistency in his delivery.

Ultimately, if he can avoid injury, Crow should develop into a solid, middle of the rotation pitcher. As a general rule, I'm not a fan of drafting players who would rather sit out an entire season for a bit more money than sign for a bit less, especially in regard to pitchers. It's difficult for pitchers to take an entire year off and maintain a high level of performance up until draft time.

Kyle Gibson -- rhp

University of Missouri right-hander Gibson is one of the most intriguing and debatable arms in the draft. Scouts question the velocity on his fastball, which sits in the 88-92 range, which is typically a red flag for a right-handed pitching prospect. However, others believe that it's a plus pitch due to the sinking action and his ability to hit his spots. Gibson also features a hard biting slider and a plus change-up.

In addition, Gibson has a good frame for a pitcher, standing 6-6, which allows him to throw on a downward plane. He currently only tips the scales at 208 lbs, so he could pick up velocity when he fills out a bit more. His size gives him some additional projection, which could answer any questions about the velocity on his fastball.

In the clip below, you can see that Gibson is a tall, lanky pitcher. Despite the height, Gibson has good body control and clean mechanics. Often, taller pitchers struggle with command because they cannot keep the different moving parts of their delivery in-sync throughout the delivery, but it's not a problem with Gibson.

Gibson's best attribute may be his pitchability. He understands how to pitch and knows how to get the most out of his stuff. He has the confidence and the ability to throw any pitch in any count. Unfortunately, Gibson may slide down draft boards because of emerging forearm soreness which has sapped his velocity over the past couple starts and is often the precursor of Tommy John surgery. As of Saturday, Gibson was diagnosed with a stress fracture of the forearm, which is potentially better than the speculated TJ surgery. Even so, stress fractures are not natural in the arms and are still a red flag when found in pitching prospects.

If the Reds are satisfied with the medical reports on Gibson, then his polished game and groundball tendencies could make him a very intriguing option. However, the injury concerns may make him too risky for the Reds to draft in the first round, especially given the similar difficulties they have had with prospect Kyle Lotzkar.

Tanner Scheppers -- rhp

Scheppers is another player who was drafted in the 2008 draft, but could not agree to terms. In his case, Scheppers decision not to sign had to due with an injured shoulder, which caused him to slide to the second round and made him too risky to sign in the eyes of the Pirates, who probably regret that decision right about now.

Scheppers is perhaps the ultimately high risk/high reward prospect in the 2009 draft. He has one of the best arms in the draft class...if healthy. He has a live arm that produces a fastball sitting around 95 and touching 98 at times. He also has a power curveball and a show-me change-up.

At this point, it will depend on which team gets positive reports on his shoulder. If he gets something approximating a clean bill of health from a team doctor, then he should be grabbed in the first round. However, if no one has confidence in the health of his shoulder, then he will likely slip to the second round once again. Still, Scheppers has an impressive arm and some team could end up with a steal...if he's healthy.

Mike Leake -- rhp

Leake pitches for Arizona State University and is one of the top college arms around despite standing only 6-0. He is short for a righthanded pitcher, but he is a polished pitcher with a four pitch arsenal. He utilizes a fastball that ranges from 89-93 mph and has good movement, a downward biting slider, a show-me curveball, and a plus change-up.

Leake's calling card is his control, which is tremendous and is a plus tool. In addition, he has strong makeup and is a fierce competitor, which enables his stuff to play up a tick. Leake is very polished, but may not have the highest upside. Still, he is a good athlete and competitor who gets the most out of his ability. He's probably not an option for the Reds, but someone who is unafraid of his height may end up with a steal in the middle or late first round.

Alex White -- rhp

White is currently pitching for the University of North Carolina. He features a plus fastball that sits around 91-92 mph and tops out at 95 and power slider that sits in the 82-84 range. White also works in two below average offspeed pitches: a curve ball and a change-up.

On the season, White has 4.13 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 98.0 innings with a 109/41 K/BB ratio. It was a step down from his 2008 season when he posted a 2.83 ERA and 1.19 WHIP with a 113/42 K/BB ratio. Overall, White has a live arm and spotty command of two plus pitches.

Here's a clip of him against Boston College:

He doesn't have the cleanest mechanics and there is some effort in his delivery. To be successful at the MLB level, he'll need to refine his mechanics, as they are likely responsible for his inconsistent command. Pitchers with an arm like White's are rare and his two power pitches will ensure that he's drafted highly. However, his spotty command, lack of a third quality pitch, and mechanical flaws make him something of a risk. At this point, he's not near the top of my list for who the Reds should draft in the first round.

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