2010 Draft Preview: Lefthanders
Perhaps the thinnest position in the country, the lefthanded pitching class got a boost when James Paxton didn't sign last year as the Blue Jays' supplemental first-rounder. After top 10 talents Drew Pomeranz and Chris Sale, southpaws could get bumped up draft lists due to position scarcity.
1. Drew Pomeranz
Pomeranz, whose brother Stuart was the Cardinals' second-round pick out of high school in 2003, nearly signed himself out of high school, as a Rangers 12th-rounder in 2007. The deal fell through and Pomeranz instead embarked on a stellar career with Ole Miss, averaging 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings over nearly 300 career innings. He nearly pitched the Rebels to Omaha himself in 2009 with a 16-strikeout complete-game win on two days' rest in the regional final, followed by a 10-strikeout, seven-inning, 146-pitch effort the next week in a super regional. He was no worse for wear last summer with Team USA or this spring, when the Rebels have used him more judiciously. He even was removed from a start at South Carolina in a 0-0 game after seven innings. Pomeranz still was slowed in May by a mild pectoral muscle strain, which caused his fastball velocity to dip into the upper 80s in a start against Arkansas. When he's right, Pomeranz sits 90-94 mph with his fastball and creates tough angles for the hitter, pitching to both sides of the plate. Coaches assert that he's nearly unhittable at the college level when he's throwing his hard curve for strikes, a 12-to-6 downer. His changeup is solid-average as well, as he has shown feel for using it. Control has been Pomeranz's biggest concern. He walked nine in a letdown showdown with Louisiana State's Anthony Ranaudo and was averaging nearly 4.5 walks per nine innings. He said he has fixed the problem with a more consistent takeaway with the ball when he begins his windup, keeping him a better rhythm.
2. Chris Sale
Florida Gulf Coast
An unsigned 21st-round pick of the Rockies out of high school, Sale has developed well at Florida Gulf Coast and gives the program a first-round pick in its first year as a full Division I member. He was hardly good enough as a freshman to get any innings but survived in a relief role thanks to his changeup, which he has always been able to throw for strikes. His velocity jumped in the summer after his freshman season, when he lowered his arm angle to low three-quarters. The switch gave his fastball and change outstanding late life, and he started hitting 90-plus on radar guns. He shined in 2009 showdowns against supplemental first-rounders Rex Brothers and Kyle Heckathorn, then broke into the big time by earning No. 1 prospect status in the Cape Cod League last summer. As a junior, Sale consistently has delivered for scouts, leading the nation with 114 strikeouts while showing excellent fastball command (12 walks in 83 innings). Sale's changeup grades as plus like his fastball, and his slider is a solid-average pitch that's effective against lefthanded hitters. With his low slot, Sale can get on the side of all his pitches, especially his slider, at times leaving them up in the zone. Some scouts are concerned about his durability, due to both his frame (he lost five to seven pounds off his 6-foot-6, 180-pound listed frame due to a bout of food poisoning in May) and upside-down takeaway at the beginning of his arm stroke. But his arm is quick, and Sale repeats his mechanics, as evidenced by his command.
3. James Paxton
Grand Prairie (American Assoc.)
The Blue Jays drafted Paxton 37th overall out of the University of Kentucky a year ago, but they couldn't sign the native Canadian. Team president Paul Beeston told a Toronto newspaper that he had negotiated directly with Paxton's adviser, Scott Boras, which would be a violation of NCAA rules. The Wildcats wouldn't allow Paxton to play until he submitted to an interview with the NCAA, and when he couldn't secure a temporary injunction in the Kentucky courts, he left the team and signed with the independent Grand Prairie AirHogs of the American Association, following the paths of several prominent pitchers in recent years, including Tanner Scheppers. Last spring, he worked at 93-94 mph and touched 97 with his fastball, which features good run and sink. His curveball grades as a true plus pitch at times, and he'll also show solid command and some feel for a changeup, though he doesn't use it often. Despite his stuff and a gaudy 115-20 K-BB ratio as a junior, Paxton got hit hard to the tune of a 5.86 ERA last season. While his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame should lend itself to durability, he has a history of nagging injuries (sore elbow in high school, back issues in 2008, tendinitis in his left knee last spring) that worries some clubs. His stuff was down slightly as he tuned up for the start of the American Association season, but if he regains his 2009 form he could go higher than he did last year. Only Drew Pomeranz offers a better fastball/curve combo among this draft's lefthanders.
4. Sammy Solis
During the majority of his tenure at USD, Solis was overshadowed by the likes of Brian Matusz and Kyle Blair. His coming-out party in 2009 never materialized due to a herniated disc in his back, which prompted him to take a medical redshirt. However, Solis, an unsigned 18th-round pick out of an Arizona high school in 2007, has bounced back to go 8-1, 2.49 in 2010. Most observers expect a pitcher of his 6-foot-5, 228-pound size to be a flamethrower, but Solis is instead a canny command, movement and control pitcher. His fastball varies from 88-92 mph and has good life up in the zone. He adds a fine changeup that dives down and away from righthanded hitters; it's his best pitch. Solis can add or subtract speed with his curveball, varying it from 72-78 mph, and at times it too is an out pitch. As Solis leaves his back injury behind, he could gain velocity and durability due to improved conditioning. A devout Catholic with a penchant for public service, Solis' family owns an AIDS orphanage in South Africa. A healthy Solis profiles solidly in the middle of a big league rotation.
5. Griffin Murphy
Redlands (Calif.) East Valley HS
As the 2010 spring season opened, Murphy quickly established himself as the premier lefthander in the Southern California prep ranks, and he joins Dylan Covey in San Diego's recruiting class. Strong and durable, in both frame and pitching style Murphy resembles Angels lefty Joe Saunders. While not a flamethrower, Murphy likes to establish his 89-92 mph fastball early in a game and work his other pitches off of it. He shows an uncanny knack for manipulating his fastball—he can run it in, run it away, sink it or turn it over. Few lefties can succeed without a quality curveball, and Murphy has one. His sweeping, 75 mph bender exhibits fine shape and two-plane movement, but he needs to work the curve down in the strike zone more consistently. Mechanically solid, Murphy loads up well on his back hip and does a fine job of accelerating his arm at release. A fast worker, he may benefit from slowing his motion down a shade and by improving his leg drive. Murphy's size (6-foot-3, 195 pounds), stuff and pitching smarts could easily push him up into the first two rounds.
6. Kevin Chapman
Since playing high school ball with Gators teammate Matt den Dekker, Chapman has been drafted twice, out of high school in 2006 (Tigers, 42nd round) and last year (White Sox, 50th round). Entering this season, he had thrown fewer than 50 innings for the Gators, thanks mostly to having Tommy John surgery in 2008. He pitched just 11 innings coming back from the surgery in the 2009 season and entered 2010 as a wild card. However, he emerged quickly as Florida's go-to reliever, replacing departed Billy Bullock, a 2009 second-rounder of the Twins. Scouts like Chapman's stuff better than Bullock's, and he could go higher if clubs sign off on his medical reports. Chapman attacks hitters with a 92-94 mph fastball that has touched 95, and his dastardly slider is a strikeout pitch with two-plane depth. Chapman throws a lot of fastballs, and his changeup works off it well, giving him a solid third offering that he rarely needs. Some scouts wonder if the repertoire and his solid 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame could lead Chapman to a starting role, but his medical history and strong results in relief have most projecting him as a pro closer. Chapman could be the first college closer selected.
7. Drew Smyly, Arkansas
8. Rob Rasmussen, UCLA
9. Mike Kickham, Missouri State
10. Jesse Biddle, Germantown Friends HS, Philadelphia
11. Jimmy Hodgskin, Bishop Moore HS, Orlando
12. Daniel Gibson, Jesuit HS, Tampa
13. Pat Dean, Boston College
14. Scott Alexander, Sonoma State (Calif.)
15. Thomas Keeling, Oklahoma State
16. Bryan Morgado, Tennessee
17. Evan Rutckyj, St. Joseph's HS, St. Thomas, Ont.
18. Mitchell Hopkins, LSU-Eunice JC
19. Kevin Ziomek, Amherst (Mass.) Regional HS
20. Logan Ehlers, Nebraska City HS