Despite injuries, college hurlers in Draft still strong
NC State's Rodon, LSU's Nola stand out as Hoffman, Fedde have elbow surgeries
If the college pitchers in the 2014 Draft class had a punch card, as a group, they might be close to earning a free consultation from Dr. James Andrews.
That might be overstating how this spring has unfolded, but a deep pitching pool has been dinged up a bit. While two of the top hurlers have needed Tommy John elbow surgery, there's still a good amount of talent to be had for teams that prefer advanced college arms.
"I think it's a pitching-rich, pitching-heavy Draft," one scouting director said. "There are a couple of unfortunate incidents where a couple of high-profile college arms succumbed to what everyone is succumbing to."
Those two pitchers are East Carolina's Jeff Hoffman, who once upon a time was being mentioned as a potential No. 1 overall pick, and UNLV's Erick Fedde, who had a chance to crack the top 10. Even with the surgeries, there is a considerable amount of buzz that both have the chance to go in the first round.
"I think [Hoffman] is talented enough that he still will get selected in the first round," a scouting executive said when news of the right-hander's surgery first broke. "I don't know where that's going to be. Because of what he showed in the Cape, pushing [Carlos] Rodon for who would be No. 1, then that one outing when he was showing top-of-the-Draft type of stuff. Teams will have to scramble now, having more discussions with their medical staff, to see where that risk factor lies."
Said another scouting director: "I still think it's a good Draft, even with those guys going down. I think they could still go in the first round. They also might be available in the second."
Any discussion of college pitchers must start with Rodon, a left-hander at North Carolina State. While he broke out of the gate a bit slowly this season, raising questions as to whether he was still a seemingly slam-dunk choice to be selected No. 1 by the Astros, he's recently turned it up a few notches. Rodon has a 2.01 ERA, a .229 batting average against and 117 strikeouts in 98 2/3 innings for a disappointing N.C. State team. Rodon could still be Houston's choice. The top two prep pitchers, Brady Aiken and Tyler Kolek, are his primary competition.
Find out where Rodon and others will go when the 2014 First-Year Player Draft takes place on June 5-7, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday, June 5, at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast live on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. ET on June 6.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
With Hoffman on the shelf, the identity of the second-best college arm might depend on preferences. No one has performed better than Louisiana State's Aaron Nola, but a lack of physicality and overpowering stuff might make some teams pause, though his incredibly advanced feel for pitching could get him to the big leagues in a hurry. He's the epitome of low floor, but might not have as high a ceiling as some would like to see in a potential top-10 pick.
Evansville's Kyle Freeland has stepped into some of the void left by Hoffman and Fedde, with he and Hartford's Sean Newcomb representing the next-best college southpaw options behind Rodon. Both come from slightly smaller programs, but both project to be selected in the top half of the first round.
So does Vanderbilt's right-handed ace Tyler Beede. Beede has been a bit enigmatic in his performance, particularly command-wise, but he still has the outstanding pure stuff that made him the Blue Jays' first-round pick out of high school three years ago. He'll be in the conversations of teams from within the top 10.
One wild card, beyond the Tommy John surgery recipients, is Texas Christian lefty Brandon Finnegan. A potential top-10 pick himself, Finnegan caught the injury bug as well, though his issue was his shoulder. He has returned to action and strong showings in his conference tournament and expected regional could help allay any fears about taking him in the early going.
There is a bit of a drop-off after this initial grouping. But it's a fairly large group of six relatively healthy college hurlers who have a chance to go within the first 15 picks. But there is more to come after that, including the two surgery recipients and hard-throwing relievers such as Virginia's Nick Howard (who some believe can start), Louisville's Nick Burdi and even San Diego State's Michael Cederoth, who are all likely to get early consideration.
"You have guys Burdi and Cederoth, who both throw 100 mph," a scouting director said. "In some years, those guys would be at the front of the crop. That gives you a sense of the depth this year."