Brett Oberholtzer is a promising young left-hander who, as a rookie, posted the second-best ERA (2.76) among starters who made at least 10 starts in the Astros’ beleaguered rotation in 2013.
He’s also a talented recruiter. Thanks to him, Christmas came early at his alma mater.
Oberholtzer has become good friends with Jarred Cosart, another rookie who led Houston’s starters with a 1.95 ERA last season. So when Cosart’s younger brother Jake was looking to transfer from Duke and find an opportunity to pitch, Oberholtzer suggested Seminole State (Fla.) Community College. He pitched there as a freshman in 2008, before the Braves selected him in the eighth round of the First-Year Player Draft that June.
After talking with Mike Nicholson, Oberholtzer’s former head coach who’s back in charge of the program after a stint as an assistant athletic director, Cosart was sold on the Raiders. And now Seminole State may have the most intriguing junior college prospect for the 2014 Draft.
“We really didn’t have a whole lot of info on him until he contacted us,” Nicholson said. “But he’s consistently throwing 95 mph and bumping 96s and 97s all the time. The boy’s got a good arm.
“We told Obie, ‘You’ve done your alumni duty for the rest of the year.’ “
Cosart’s sudden transformation into an early-round prospect for 2014 is remarkable, considering where he stood the last two seasons. Coming out of Clear Creek High (League City, Texas) in 2012, he did nothing to entice scouts to even consider trying to buy him away from his Duke commitment.
Cosart was a skinny outfielder who wasn’t physically ready for pro ball. Though he had been clocked at 98 mph from the outfield at the 2011 Perfect Game National showcase, he was deliberate on the mound and threw just 86-87. He never got on the field during the 2013 season at Duke, which prompted him to transfer.
Cosart needs innings, and he’ll get them at Seminole State. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound right-hander has obvious fastball velocity, but his curveball, changeup and command are all works in progress.
“He’s going to learn on the job,” Nicholson said. “The great thing about junior college ball, especially here in Florida, is the non-conference schedule won’t deterimine if we get into the playoffs. He can get a lot of innings in.”
Jake isn’t the only Cosart on Seminole State’s roster, nor is he the only prominent transfer from an Atlantic Coast Conference program. Freshman Jansen Cosart will start at third base, while former North Carolina State right-hander Gianni Zayas is creating some draft buzz of his own.
Zayas, who’s 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, is more polished and physically developed than Cosart. Zayas works from 92-95 mph with life on his fastball, and both his curveball and slider are solid breaking pitches.
It’s a big day at MLB Pipeline, as we’re rolling out our initial 2014 First-Year Player Draft coverage. We have a Top 50 Prospects list complete with scouting reports and videos, an overview on the Draft class as a whole and a feature on presumptive No. 1 overall choice Carlos Rodon.
We’re still seven months away from the Astros exercising that first selection, but it’s always fun to start projecting the top of the first round. I’m basing these picks more on educated guesswork than hard intel, of course. It should be interesting to look back next June and see if I was anywhere close.
1. Astros: Carlos Rodon, lhp
Best college lefty since David Price (2007), biggest front-runner for No. 1 overall pick since Bryce Harper (2010).
2. Marlins: Jeff Hoffman, rhp
Could challenge Rodon for top selection, has similar fastball and better changeup and command.
3. White Sox: Tyler Kolek, rhp
White Sox love high-ceiling players, and Kolek has a huge one with a fastball that already reaches 99 mph.
4. Cubs: Tyler Beede, rhp
Cubs almost certainly will take a pitcher after spending last two top-six choices on bats, though Beede must refine his command.
5. Twins: Alex Jackson, c/of
With Joe Mauer moving to first base, Jackson would be a nice fit; Minnesota also could use his power.
6. Mariners: Trea Turner, ss
Seattle has young middle infielders, but Turner’s speed/bat/defense combo will be too much to ignore.
7. Phillies: Jacob Gatewood, ss
Philadelphia isn’t afraid to gamble on upside, could opt for Gatewood’s massive power or Michael Gettys’ all-around package.
8. Rockies: Michael Gettys, of
Has the best collection of tools in this Draft class, could go higher if he answers questions about his bat.
9. Blue Jays: Touki Toussaint, rhp
After failing to sign Phil Bickford in 2013, Toronto lands another high school righty with devastating stuff.
10. Mets: Brady Aiken, lhp
New York’s last three first-rounders have been hitters, so the ultra-polished Aiken would make a lot of sense.
The Arizona Fall League always features plenty of prospects, though this year the talent pool seemed deeper than most. We stopped ourselves at 20 when we ranked the AFL’s top prospects, yet we easily could have kept going. If we had, here are five more players I would have included:
Sammy Solis, LHP, Nationals (Mesa): After missing all of 2012 following Tommy John surgery, he continued his comeback by leading the AFL in wins (five) and strikeouts (29 in 29 innings). Solis reached 95 mph with life on his fastball, showed the potential for a plus changeup and a solid breaking ball, and threw strikes.
Andrew Susac, C, Giants (Scottsdale): Sidelined for all of August with a shoulder injury, he returned in Arizona and batted .360/.507/.480 and topped the league in on-base percentage. With plus raw power and a good eye at the plate, not to mention at least average defensive tools, Susac could be a big league regular if he stays healthy.
Alen Hanson, SS, Pirates (Scottsdale): He might not be an everyday shortstop, but he can do a little of everything and play anywhere in the infield. Hanson is strong enough to hit for average with some surprising pop, and he has the above-average speed to steal bases.
Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP, Orioles (Surprise): The three shutout innings he threw in the league championship game were a truer indication of his ability than his 5.52 ERA in the AFL regular season. Rodriguez commands three pitches: a low-90s fastball, a solid changeup and a decent slider.
Matt Purke, LHP, Nationals (Mesa): One scout estimated that Purke is 90 percent of the way back to becoming the guy who got a $6 million offer from the Rangers out of high school and went 16-0 to lead Texas Christian to the 2010 College World Series as a freshman. On the road back from shoulder problems, Purke hit 94 mph with his fastball, got outs with a sweeping slider and flashed a good changeup.
TrackMan collects some of the most fascinating data in baseball. Founded in Denmark in 2003 to evaluate golf swings, the company has a U.S. subsidiary that began measuring baseball attributes five years later. Using a 3D radar system, TrackMan monitors traditional variables such as fastball velocity and non-traditionals ones such as the RPM on pitches.
During the Arizona Fall League’s regular season, TrackMan was on hand for all of the action in Surprise and most of it in Glendale, giving it data for a little less than half of the games. Here’s a quick review of the top performances that TrackMan recorded in the AFL this fall:
Fastball Velocity: Ken Giles (Phillies) had the quickest single pitch at 101.0 mph, while Juan Jaime (Braves) had the best average at 98.6 mph. Among starting pitchers, Kyle Crick (Giants) had the highest peak velocity at 99.2 mph, with Alex Meyer (Twins) recording the top average at 96.5 mph.
Fastball Extension: This measures how far in front of the rubber a pitcher release his fastball, with Major Leaguers averaging 6 feet, 1 inch. The closer a pitcher unleashes his fastball to the plate, the quicker it gets there and the more likely he is to get swings and misses.
Michael Roth (Angels) is the leader here at a phenomenal 7 feet, 5 inches. That gives his typical fastball, which averages 85.7 mph, an effective velocity of 87.9 mph. This helps explain Roth’s success despite mediocre pure stuff. He won two College World Series at South Carolina, nearly won a third and reached the big leaguers after just 27 innings in the Minors.
Fastball Spin: Fastballs with more spin generates more swinging strikes, while those with less spin yield more groundballs. The harder the fastball, the more spin it generates. The typical big league fastball is clocked at 92 mph and has 2,210 RPM, while a 95-mph fastball averages 2,263 RPM.
Jason Adam (Royals) had the most fastball spin in the AFL, averaging 2,611 RPM and 93 mph. Among the league’s hardest throwers, Giles had the most spin with 2,553 RPM (fourth overall) on his 98-mph heater.
Breaking Ball Spin: Curveballs and sliders with more spin feature more break and are harder to hit. The typical Major League curveball is 76 mph with 2,400 RPM. In the AFL, Brandon Maurer (Mariners) had the highest average spin on his curve, 3,142 RPM on a 75-mph breaker.
Among power curves, Aaron Sanchez (Blue Jays) stood out the most with 2,912 RPM (third overall) on an 81-mph bender. Sanchez was the best starting pitching prospect in the AFL, and I have some observations from his final outing here.
As for sliders, the Major League averages are 84 mph and 2,300 RPM. Jonas Dufek (Astros) had the highest AFL average with 2,997 RPM on an 81-mph slider. Among those with above-average velocity, Carson Smith (Mariners) led the way with 2,801 RPM (third overall) on an 85-mph slider.
Hardest Hits: TrackMan measures not just the velocity of each pitch, but also the velocity at which it comes off a player’s bat. More exit velocity means a greater likelihood for a hit. In the big leagues, an exit velocity of 80 mph yields a .242 batting average, compared to a .369 average at 95 mph and a .751 average at 110 mph or more.
The hardest-hit ball in the AFL belonged to Steven Souza (Nationals), who smoked a double at 115 mph. Of the top 25 exit velocities, only one player showed up three times. Travis Shaw (Red Sox) had a 114.8 mph double (second overall), a 109.5 mph single and a 109.4 mph double.
Scouts consider Kris Bryant (Cubs), the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 Draft, the best college power hitter to come along in years. It’s no surprise then that he had the highest percentage of hard contact (hits leaving the bat at 95 mph or faster). Bryant made hard contact in 68% of his 19 at-bats — and he also topped the AFL with six homers and a .727 slugging percentage.
Power Contacts: In addition to exit velocity, TrackMan also monitors the angle at which the ball leaves the bat, combining the two to determine which drives are most likely to be home runs. They’ve found that 93 percent of all fair balls hit at 105-110 mph at an angle of 25-35 degrees become homers.
The best power contact belonged to Stefen Romero (Mariners), who blasted a ball 110 mph at 32 degrees that indeed went over the fence. Only two hitters made the top 20 list more than once: Bryant at 109 mph/30 degrees (second overall, a homer) and 107 mph/37 degree (the highest-ranking out) and Shaw at 108 mph/28 degrees and 106 mph/34 degrees (both homers).
Home Run Distance: Peter O’Brien (Yankees) smashed the longest home run recorded by TrackMan, a 455-foot blast that left his bat at 109 mph. He also hit a 429-foot longball, making him one of two players to top 420 feet multiple times.
Ryan Rua (Rangers) accomplished that feat three times, with drives of 432, 427 and 426 feet. He also showed off his power during the regular season, smoking 32 homers in his first shot at full-season ball.
When I covered Perfect Game’s World Wood Bat Association World Championship this weekend, my goal was to spotlight the most highly touted First-Year Player Draft prospects and also report on other intriguing players I stumbled upon.
Staying on top of all of the roughly 1,700 prospects at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla., would be an impossible task. Apparently, keeping track of all of the prospects I took notes on was difficult as well.
I returned home Sunday, and when I was looking through my notebook today, I discovered to my horror that I had neglected to include Team Elite lefthander Tucker Baca (North Gwinnett High, Suwanee, Ga.) in my Saturday recap.
Baca dominated the Dallas Patriots, working four shutout innings in a 9-1 win. He’s a 6-foot-3, 195-pound lefty who throws from a low arm slot, so of course he draws Chris Sale comparisons.
Baca threw 91-93 mph early in the game, harder than usual and without sacrificing any of the tremendous life he generates with his fastball. He averaged 88-90 mph over the course of his outing.
The Arizona State recruit also destroyed lefthanders with his slider, which averaged 72-74 mph and peaked at 78. He used just three changeups, though some evaluators believe that’s consistently his best pitch. All told, he threw 45 of his 68 pitches for strikes while allowing just one hit and two walks and fanning seven.
The hardest part of writing the Pipeline Perspective of which Arizona Fall League hitter and pitcher I’m most interested in seeing was just picking one of each.
With that in mind, I’m going to expand beyond my choices of Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant and Mariners lefthander Danny Hultzen, and select an entire team of AFL players to watch:
Austin Hedges, c, Padres (Peoria)
He’s the best all-around catcher in the Minors; Jorge Alfaro (Rangers/Surprise) has intriguing power and athleticism.
Kyle Parker, 1b, Rockies (Surprise)
AFL’s two best first-base prospects are converting from the outfield, former Clemson quarterback Parker and Tyler Austin (Yankees/Scottsdale).
Mookie Betts, 2b, Red Sox (Surprise)
His .314 in low Class A didn’t surprise me, but his 15 homers and .506 slugging percentage sure did.
Addison Russell, ss, Athletics (Mesa)
Mesa would be ridiculously stacked at shortstop if the Cubs hadn’t scratched Javier Baez from the roster; Corey Seager (Dodgers/Glendale) is another young shortstop stud.
Kris Bryant, 3b, Cubs (Mesa)
The top two college bats from the 2013 Draft are in the AFL in No. 2 overall pick Bryant and No. 6 choice Colin Moran (Marlins/Glendale); I’m also looking forward to Garin Cecchini (Red Sox/Surprise) and Patrick Kivlehan (Mariners/Peoria).
Albert Almora, of, Cubs (Mesa)
No team has a better quartet of position prospects than the Cubs with Baez, Bryant, Almora and Jorge Soler (see below); Almora has the highest floor.
Byron Buxton, of, Twins (Glendale)
The best prospect in baseball, and the most exciting to watch as well.
Jorge Soler, of, Cubs (Mesa)
He and Bryant will lose a lot of balls during Mesa batting practices.
Jameson Taillon, rhp, Pirates (Scottsdale)
The AFL’s top pitching prospect; other quality righties include Kyle Crick (Giants/Scottsdale), Alex Meyer (Twins/Glendale), Aaron Sanchez (Blue Jays/Salt River), Marcus Stroman (Blue Jays/Salt River).
Danny Hultzen, lhp, Mariners (Peoria)
The Mariners are anxious to see how Hultzen looks after his shoulder woes this summer; I also like Andrew Heaney (Marlins/Glendale) and Andrew Chafin (Diamondbacks/Salt River).
My second team is below and Jonathan’s can be found at his blog, B3: Big, Bald and Beautiful. (Incidentally, I’m still searching for a better name for my blog than “Callis’ Corner” . . . suggestions are welcomed!)
Gary Sanchez, c, Yankees
Not a lot of outstanding catching prospect performances this year, but he held his own in Double-A at age 20.
Greg Bird, 1b, Yankees
Signed for $1.1 million as 2011 fourth-rounder, hit .288/.428/.511 in first taste of full-season ball this season.
Delino DeShields Jr., 2b, Astros
For me, his electric speed separated him from Rougned Odor (Rangers), even if DeShields is moving to center field in the Arizona Fall League.
Xander Bogaerts, ss, Red Sox
Shortstop is loaded, also could have gone with Carlos Correa (Astros), Francisco Lindor (Indians), Addison Russell (Athletics).
Maikel Franco, 3b, Phillies
Close call here vs. Garin Cecchini (Red Sox), who doesn’t have Franco’s power but has more athleticism and feel for hitting.
Wil Myers, of, Rays
After Jose Fernandez and Yasiel Puig, no rookie was more important or impressive in 2013.
Joc Pederson, of, Dodgers
Puig wasn’t Los Angeles’ only top outfield prospect; this guy has solid tools across the board.
Christian Yelich, of, Marlins
Shook off early-season foot and abdominal injuries to post second-best OPS (.753) among Miami regulars.
Archie Bradley, rhp, Diamondbacks
Challenges Taijuan Walker (Mariners) as game’s best pitching prospect, finished third in Minors in wins (14) and ERA (1.84) and sixth in strikeouts (162).
Henry Owens, lhp, Red Sox
Overpowers hitters without overpowering stuff, had twice as many whiffs (169) as hits allowed (84) while reaching Double-A.
It’s unusual to see noteworthy callups in the second half of September, but for the second straight day we’re getting one.
Yesterday, the Royals promoted righthander Yordano Ventura. He allowed just one run in 5 2/3 innings, reaching triple digits with his fastball six times and peaking at 102 mph. But Kansas City couldn’t hold the lead he gave them in what wound up as a crucial loss to the Indians.
Today’s big-name callup is infielder Tim Beckham, whom the Rays drafted No. 1 overall in 2008. He signed for $6.15 million, at the time a Draft record. Once he makes his debut, there will be only five No. 1 overall picks who haven’t played in the Majors: Steve Chilcott (1966), Brien Taylor (1991), Matt Bush (2004), Carlos Correa (2012) and Mark Appel (2013).
Tampa Bay summoned Beckham to serve more as a reinforcement than to play a significant role down the stretch. His best pure tool is probably his arm strength, with his raw righthanded power a close second. However, he hit just four homers in 122 games this year at Triple-A Durham, where he batted .276/.342/.387.
Beckham has played mostly shortstop in the Minors and also has seen action at second base in the last two seasons. Though he’s still just 23, scouts are divided on whether he projects as a future big league regular. He’s just a career .266/.332/.381 hitter in the minors, hasn’t tapped into that raw pop and may lack the quickness for the middle infield. He may profile best at third base—provided his power comes to fruition—but he’s blocked there by Evan Longoria.
Five years later, it may be easy to second-guess the Rays for not using the top selection on Buster Posey, who lasted until the Giants pounced on him at No. 5. Tampa Bay’s camp was split between Beckham and Posey, with some mild support for Brian Matusz (who went No. 4 to the Orioles).
To be fair, at the time Beckham was clearly the top high school prospect in the Draft, an athlete who projected as a potential five-tool shortstop. He drew comparisons to B.J. and Justin Upton, with scouts saying that Beckham’s bat wasn’t quite as good as theirs but that he showed more defensive aptitude. For reasons that never have been explained, Beckham seemed to lose some of his athleticism as soon as his first full pro season in 2009, putting more pressure on his bat.
Assuming that the Rays continue to deploy Ben Zobrist primarily at second base and pick up Yunel Escobar’s $5 million option for 2014, Beckham will have a hard time earning a starting job in Tampa Bay next year. If he produces in spring training, he could serve a role as an offensive utilityman.
The Royals’ suffering is well-documented. Before this year, they hadn’t posted a winning record or contended into September since 2003. They enter today just 2 1/2 games out of a playoff spot, the closest they’ve been to a postseason berth this late in a season since they won the American League West (and eventually the World Series) in 1985.
Because Kansas City is contending, its fans and us prospect watchers get a treat. The Royals have called up righthander Yordano Ventura, one of the hardest-throwing starting pitchers in baseball. He’ll start tonight against the Indians.
Though he’s only 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, Ventura regularly works in the upper 90s and can run his fastball up to 102 mph. That’s a far cry from the mid-80s heater he showed when he signed out of the Dominican Republic for a mere $28,000 in 2008. He generates his velocity with an incredibly quick arm, and he has earned the nickname “Lil’ Pedro” because of his size and fastball.
Ventura also has improved the consistency of his curveball, which can be an out pitch at times. He’s still working on his changeup and command but has the upside of a No. 2 starter. Splitting the season between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha, he went 8-6, 3.14 with a 155-53 K-BB ratio in 134 2/3 innings.
He also added a strong start in the Pacific Coast League playoffs, running his innings total to 140 2/3 as the Storm Chasers won the championship. That’s 31 1/3 more than his previous career high. If the Royals weren’t contending, they likely wouldn’t have called him up because of his workload, age (22) and the lack of any reason to add him to the 40-man roster or start his service-time clock ticking at this point.
But Kansas City is making a push for the playoffs, so we’ll get an earlier look at Ventura than we would have otherwise. And after having trouble developing rotation help, the Royals may have a pair of frontline starters on their hands in the near future in Kyle Zimmer and Ventura.
My duties here at MLBPipeline.com include running my own blog, so let’s take it for a quick test drive.
My first day at MLB.com HQ in Manhattan was a busy one. Yesterday, I recorded videos on recent American League and National League callups, which were blended into an Around The Minors podcast. I also wrote a story on callups and took over the @MLBPipeline Twitter feed for an hour.
As I was getting right to work, so were two of the players I discussed. While battling the Pirates for National League Central supremacy, the Cardinals are hoping that righthander Michael Wacha can solidy their fifth-starter slot and the Reds are looking for center fielder Billy Hamilton to provide a spark. Both players were promoted after the minor league season ended on Monday (though Wacha had spent most of August in the St. Louis bullpen).
Facing off last night in Cincinnati, both rookies did exactly what was asked of them. Wacha required just 80 pitches to throw six shutout innings, working at 90-95 mph with his fastball and repeatedly recording outs with his changeup. But he had to settle for a no-decision because Homer Bailey threw seven shutout innings for the Reds.
Hamilton scored the game’s lone run in the seventh inning. Ryan Ludwick led off the frame with a single off Seth Maness, prompting Hamilton’s big league debut as a pinch-runner. Well aware that Hamilton had set a minor league record with 155 steals last year, Maness tried to pick him off three times. When Maness finally delivered to the plate, Hamilton took off and beat Yadier Molina’s throw to second base. Three pitches later, Todd Frazier doubled Hamilton in.
Wacha and Hamilton have bright futures in the major leagues. And I like to think I have one here in my new job.