05/20/05 8:00 AM ET
Big arms, small frames highlight draft
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
This is why arms are the biggest commodity each and every June come draft time. Last year, 19 of the 30 first-round picks were of the pitching variety.
They come in all shapes and sizes: high school, college, lefty, right, power, finesse. And everyone is shopping for some.
The main question that each scouting director must ask is just how much quality pitching there is in a given draft. The answer in 2005 seems to be an unmitigated "Eh, it's ok."
"It's an average depth-wise crop," one scouting director said. "There's a greater amount of smaller pitchers with good stuff. That's the one generalization you can make. There are a lot of six-foot, right-handed pitchers with really good arms."
That's forced many in the scouting industry to shift gears. With the normal first choice -- big bodies with big arms -- in short supply, teams are taking closer looks at pitchers who may not look like much, but are throwing the ball well.
"You have to adjust every year to the strength of the draft. Some years, it's more high school-oriented, sometimes college, sometimes finesse, sometimes power," the scouting director said. "There's a large group of smaller right-handed pitchers with good arms and good stuff. You have to adapt to each year's crop."
That's a large reason why a college starter like Miami's Cesar Carrillo, all 177 pounds of him, is moving as quickly up draft charts as just about anyone.
Another reason for Carrillo's helium has to do with his advisor, or rather, who isn't his advisor. While it's important not to overplay the impact Scott Boras has on the draft, it's very hard to ignore when talk of pitching comes up. Boras is working with five of the top college right-handed pitchers in this year's draft in Luke Hochevar, Mike Pelfrey, Craig Hansen, Mark McCormick and Jason Neighborgall. He's also got the top high school lefty, Mark Pawalek. That list doesn't include Jered Weaver, who looks like he's headed back into the draft after not coming to terms with the Angels after they took him No. 12 overall last year.
How this affects the draft status of this corps remains to be seen, but if last year is any indication, some may slip because there are teams who can't afford or would rather not deal with Boras. That allows a Carrillo, probably the best non-Boras right-hander, to move up the charts.
The last wild card is Wade Townsend, formerly of Rice. He was taken No. 8 overall last year by the Orioles, but lost his ability to negotiate with the team when he attended classes at Rice last fall. Scouts have been all over his workouts, but some are leery of drafting him without seeing him pitch in a real game situation.
Here's a closer look at this year's pitching crop, broken down by college/high school, righy/lefty:
At the university
Luke Hochevar, Tennessee
Considered to be one of the top arms in this draft, period, Hochevar has been dominant for the Volunteers this year. He's 12-2 with a 1.81 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .190 against him and he's chalked up 117 K's in 104 2/3 IP. Yet another Team USA participant, Hochevar had a 2.73 ERA in 33 innings of work in international competition. His fastball has heavy sink and he uses a hard 11-to-5 curve and tight, sharp slider.
Scout's view: "He's one of the elite pitchers in this year's crop. He's got a three-pitch mix, with a slider that stands out as a plus pitch. His stuff is good, he knows how to pitch and he has the plus, plus out pitch."
Mike Pelfrey, Wichita State
At 6-foot-7 and armed with a fastball that touches the upper 90s, Pelfrey is the kind of pitcher that usually commands top of the draft attention. And he's lived up to the hype this year, going 11-2 with a 1.47 ERA and 121 strikeouts (against 24 walks) in 116 2/3 IP. Hitters have hit just .188 against him. Pelfrey didn't get to use his fastball, curve, and developing change mix much for Team USA, getting in just 16 2/3 innings. If you want to find a future ace, Pelfrey might be your man.
Scout's view: "Pelfrey's the big body, big arm, big downhill plane. He's got the best power stuff in the draft. If anyone's got a chance in this draft to be a front-of-the rotation guy, he's the guy."
Cesar Carrillo, Miami
He's not big, and he wasn't high on the list of many entering the season, but man, has he been good. He's 12-0 with a 1.91 ERA this year and he went 12-0 last year. That's right, he's never lost a game in college. And his stuff is better than you'd think. His fastball explodes with late life and he's shown the ability to throw 93-95 mph consistently. He also throws a two-seamer, a curve he can throw for strikes and a deceptive changeup. He's around the plate with all his pitches and goes right after hitters.
Scout's view: "He's got good stuff. He's a winner. He really competes. The only thing is he's very, very slightly built, with narrow hips and narrow shoulders. He's a little non-physical. He's always pitched once a week. He might get pitched down fairly quickly and won't be flashing the 93-95. He does compete, and pitches well enough and should succeed pitching down."
Wade Townsend and Jered Weaver, no school
The two wild cards in terms of pitching, Townsend is in the draft; Weaver will likely join him once the May 31 deadline to sign with the Angels passes. What they bring to the table remains to be seen. Neither has pitched in a competitive setting in over a year and it's hard to know what you might be getting based on workouts. Last year, Weaver was discussed as the top overall pick, a guy who might not be top-of-the rotation material, but could get to the big leagues in a hurry. Some saw Townsend as a reliever down the road, with a very intriguing knuckle-curve as an out pitch.
Scout's View: I'm not willing to take a chance on what I saw on a side day."
Matt Garza, Fresno State
Garza's another "smaller" righty -- he's 6-foot-4, but weights just 190 pounds -- who is seemingly on the rise. The Friday pitcher for a so-so Fresno State team, Garza's numbers don't measure up to his stuff, though his 108 K's in 93 IP aren't bad. He works in the low 90s and can touch the mid-90s with his fastball while using a curve and developing a change. His best asset, however, is his ability to command the fastball. Despite the fact he's not dominant all the time -- he seems to have an inning in every start where he gets hit -- he's snuck into first-round discussions.
Scout's view: "He's a taller version of Carrillo; skinny, Jack McDowell-looking. His stuff is pretty good. He's on a bad club and his numbers are fair. He doesn't pitch great all the time. He's a tall gangly right-hander whose stuff is pretty good."
Mark McCormick, Baylor
McCormick is a little tough to figure out. His stuff is just as dominant-looking as when he was one of the top high school arms in the 2002 draft (he went in the 11th round to the Orioles). He still possesses the upper-90s fastball. He's got a nasty power curve and a hard slider, but has somehow managed just a 3.48 ERA this season. He has struck out 75 in 75 innings and kept hitters to a .185 average, but the 41 walks have hurt him. He may be the most difficult college arm to peg in this year's draft.
Scout's view: "His arm is as good as anybody's. You watch him and you wonder how he gets hit. He comes at you 95-97 with a power curve, but he gets hit. He's an enigma to me. But his arm belongs on this list."
Ricky Romero, Cal-State Fullerton
The lefty ace of the Titans is 10-4 with a 2.60 ERA and a .218 batting average against, following up a summer when he was virtually unhittable with Team USA. He throws a pair of fastballs, including a cutter that has a slider-type break and late sink, and changes speeds on a 12-to-6 curve. He also can throw a late-breaking slider. Teammates and opponents alike praise Romero for his competitiveness on the mound, and he's outstanding at keeping hitters off-balance.
Scout's view: "He's the best left-handed pitcher in the draft. He's a true starting pitcher candidate in the big leagues."
Brian Bogusevic, Tulane
A two-way player who's hitting .351 for the Green Wave, most now see Bogusevic's future as a pitcher only. On the mound, he's 10-1 with a 2.60 ERA with a strikeout an inning, leading some to ponder what he might be able to do when pitching is his only concern. With a body type similar to Mark Mulder, Bogusevic has good mechanics on the hill. His fastball has late sink, but his slider is his out pitch. He also throws a circle change. All three pitches could improve vastly once he gives up hitting. As a result, it might take him a little longer than other college arms to be Major League ready.
Scout's view: "He's kind of a work in progress. Hopefully the team that takes him, when he concentrates just on pitching, gets the upside you're hoping for with his body and arm. He's still a little raw since he didn't concentrate on pitching only."
Cesar Ramos, Long Beach State
Ramos fits better in the "lefty with pitchability" mold. His fastball sits around 88-89 mph, and he's got a rolling three-quarters curve. His command is his best asset and he's got a tremendous feel for pitching. A good competitor, he changes speeds and hits spots consistently. Taking over as Long Beach State's ace after Jered Weaver's departure, Ramos has gone 10-5 with a 2.02 ERA and 89 strikeouts (against just 13 walks) in 116 innings. Ramos also is a Team USA alum, posting a 3.33 ERA in 27 IP last summer.
Scout's view: "He's more in the finesse mode. He knows how to pitch, it's a good program. It's a big park, but he's crafty and knows how to pitch. He's got a four-pitch mix and throws strikes. He's more on an Abe Alvarez-type of track and won't get a big reading on the radar gun."
Craig Hansen, St. John's
Out of anyone in this draft class, Hansen is the one who could move the quickest up an organizational ladder. He's got two plus pitches -- a fastball and slider -- with command, shows no fear on the mound, plus has a funky arm angle to throw hitters off. His showing in the Cape Cod League last summer put him firmly on the map. He carried it over to his junior year with the Red Storm, where he's got an 1.09 ERA, 13 saves and 66 K's in 49 2/3 IP.
Scout's view: "If you could sign him right away, he could help a [big league] club this year in September."
Joey Devine, North Carolina State
Devine led Team USA with a 0.55 ERA last summer as the setup man for J. Brent Cox (see below). He's a bit undersized and is a maximum effort guy, but his stuff is good with a fastball that touches 95. He's got an eye-popping 64/6 strikeout to walk ratio this season at NC State to go along with 11 saves in 40 1/3 IP.
Scout's view: "His stuff is good, but he's going to struggle against left-handed hitters. They've taken good swings against him all year long. He's out there grunting and spitting with good stuff."
J. Brent Cox, Texas
Cox saved four games for Team USA last summer, then took Huston Street's place as the Longhorns' short man in the pen. He's responded by going 7-1 with 12 saves and a 1.83 ERA in 54 IP. He's struck out 65 and walked 10, holding hitters to a .211 batting average against, using a low-90s fastball with life in the zone.
Scout's view: "He's a distant third in this group. His slider is what separates him here. [Hansen and Devine] have plus sliders and this guy's is flat. He's a one-pitch guy, with a good arm angle on a good sinking fastball."
The high schoolers
Chris Volstad, Palm Beach Gardens HS, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
At 6-foot-7, Volstad has got the kind of pitcher's frame scouts love. His fastball has some sink to it and he's got a sharp curve and above-average changeup already as well. He's got terrific command, goes after hitters and has about as much ceiling as any pitcher in the draft class. He pitched a scoreless inning in the AFLAC All-American Classic last summer, featuring the top high school talent in the country.
Scout's view: "He's the No. 1 high school right-handed pitcher. He's got a down plane, with velocity and secondary stuff. He's got Homer Bailey type stuff. The first team not afraid to take a high school RHP, he's the favorite to go first."
Bryan Morris, Tullahoma HS, Tullahoma, Tenn.
Start the season with back-to-back no-nos and you're going to move up the charts. Morris features a mid-90s fastball and plus curve. After that start, Morris has kept it up all spring, forcing his way into the first-round picture. He didn't play in any kind of national games or showcases last year, so many scouts are getting to know him now for the first time.
Scout's view: "He's got an excellent curve. He's a two-pitch guy: fastball, curve, both quality pitches. He's a very competitive kid. He's a quality high school right-handed arm with two quality pitches and he's been consistent all year."
Craig Italiano, RHP, Flower Mound HS, Flower Mound, Texas
Italiano may throw harder than any high school pitcher in the draft, touching 98 mph with his fastball. He also throws a curve with a three-quarter break and has shown improvement in the past year in terms of learning how to pitch, not just rear back and throw. He's a bit of a maximum-effort guy, so some see his future as a short reliever.
Scout's view: "He's a power guy with flashes of pitchability. He's one of a handful of high school right-handers who should go off in the first round."
Mark Pawalek, Springville HS, Springville, Utah
Pawalek's stock was rising as he showed increased velocity, moving him from pitchability to a southpaw who was touching 95 mph. His other plus pitch is a curve, while he's working on a changeup and splitter as well. He's clearly the top high school lefty in this draft class, but it remains to be seen how his decision to align himself with Boras will impact his positioning.
Scout's view: "Pawelek is definitely one of the best high school arms in the draft ... You just don't see the 1-2 punch (fastball/curveball from a high school kid that often, not to mention a left-handed high school kid at that."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.