With the draft less than 50 days away, power arms are moving up draft boards. This week’s installment of Draft Tracker focuses on a pair of tall pitchers and two with ties to Missouri.
Brett Graves, rhp, Missouri
Missouri righthander Brett Graves reached campus as a prized recruit who touched the mid-90s with his fastball during his senior year of high school. His college career began slowly as he walked (5.7 per nine) more than he struck out (5.4) in 47 innings as a freshman. His control improved as a sophomore (2.7 walks per nine), but Graves struggled strike hitters out (4.0).
“When he gets to campus he is still that same high school pitcher with velocity but scattered command up in the zone with his fastball, a good breaking ball and he never needed a changeup,” Missouri pitching coach Matt Hobbs said. “Freshman year was a tough year for him. Then came the progression of having the stuff and being able to command it his sophomore year, but it wasn't at a high velocity. His velocity dipped a little bit his sophomore year because he was trying to throw strikes.”
After a strong summer in the New England Collegiate League, the athletic Graves has combined impressive stuff with dramatically improved strike-throwing ability.
“He went out this summer with velocity and command and then he came back this fall with velocity and a nasty breaking ball,” Hobbs said. “It was a really exciting progression.”
Graves, who has a loose, quick arm, has primarily sat 90-93 throughout the spring, touching 95 with regularity. He has a two- and four-seamer, commanding the four-seamer better. Unlike many college starters, Graves pitches off of his fastball and scouts have noted that he has the ability to get swings and misses with his fastball.
“I would say his fastball usage probably in the 60-70 percent range,” Hobbs said. “He pitches more with a pro style because he throws a ton of fastballs and he knows that is his money-maker. The breaking ball, changeup and the cutter are all behind his fastball and that is not a knock on him that is only because we throw so many fastballs and it is such a good pitch.”
Graves, who entered the year with a career walk rate of 3.9 per nine, has improved his control significantly, lowering his walk rate to 1.6 this season and throwing strikes on 67 percent of his pitches. His strike-throwing ability has been remarkably consistent, with seven consecutive starts of allowing zero walks or one walk. The righthander’s low strikeout rate has also improved to 7.1, and he has a strikeout-walk ratio of 4.4 compared to 1.2 during his first two seasons.
His top secondary offering is his breaking ball that has at least average potential, flashing better. Scouts have said that his breaking stuff has blended together at times this season, but Hobbs said Graves doesn't use multiple breaking balls.
“I want to call it a curveball and he wants to throw it a slider. We can stay in the middle and call it a power slurve. It is an 11-5 hard breaking ball,” Hobbs said. “This sounds crazy but sometimes he works anywhere from 77-86 with it. When he is throwing it really hard, he has thrown it up to 85-86 this season. It is shorter in those situations, so scouts are seeing slider. It is the same pitch he is just throwing it harder.”
A mid-80s changeup is his third offering, and Graves has integrated a high-80s cutter into his repertoire against lefthanded hitters that he uses fewer than five times a game, according to Hobbs.
Graves has a strong, athletic build at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds. Despite his size, Graves has groundball tendencies with a 1.3 groundout-flyout ratio this season.
The 21-year-old’s development this season has put in him consideration to be drafted on the first day.
Bryce Montes de Oca, rhp, Lawrence (Kan.) High
The high school draft class is defined by the sheer volume of power arms and one of the biggest arms in the class has returned to game action for the first time in over a year, as righthander Bryce Montes de Oca has started twice this season after not pitching on the showcase circuit due to Tommy John surgery.
Montes de Oca created a stir among evaluations at Jupiter in October of 2012. The audience for the junior righthander consisted mainly of a handful of college coaches. But when the 6-foot-8, 265-pound Montes de Oca showed his mid-90s fastball, evaluators came flocking by the dozens and he became a priority follow.
Montes de Oca, a Perfect Game All-American, missed nearly all of his spring season last year and made his regular season debut this season (last Thursday) on the one-year anniversary of his surgery.
He was limited to 35 pitches in his first outing, brandishing a 94-97 mph fastball. He was 92-96 Thursday on 45 pitches.
“He has major league stuff,” said pitching coach Shawn Sedlacek, a former major league pitcher. “He is a big guy with a very heavy fastball. He has a lot behind the ball and when he goes to his two-seam fastball it is very heavy and sinks a lot. The heavy arm-side run is something that will make life very difficult for hitters.”
His breaking ball showed at least average potential before his surgery and the offering will be a work in progress because of the mound time he has missed.
“His curveball is plenty good and it has plenty of rotation as far as spin,” Sedlacek said. “He has good action on it. It is in that 11-5 range and he likes his changeup. He might even throw his changeup more than his curveball.”
The Missouri commit used altered mechanics since he came back from his surgery.
“He has worked at smoothing out the lower half where he is not dropping and driving, but he is driving to the plate by using his legs and hips,” Sedlacek said.
Large pitchers regularly face questions about their strike-throwing ability, and Montes de Oca will be no different. He mostly worked up with his fastball in his first start but threw strikes on 64 percent of his pitches in his second start. Montes de Oca, who is in the running to be valedictorian of his high school class, is young for the class and will turn 18 next week.
History shows that the majority of tall pitchers to reach the majors come from the college ranks, as the scouting industry prefers to have tall pitchers show their stuff and strike-throwing ability for a few years after high school. Of the 33 American-born major league pitchers taller that were at least 6-foot-8, 82 percent were not selected from high school. The tallest drafted high school pitchers in the top two rounds in recent years are (2012 supplemental first-rounder) 6-foot-8 lefthander Matt Smoral, (2005 first rounder) 6-foot-8 righthander Chris Volstad and (2005 supplemental first rounder) 6-foot-8 lefthander Sean West.
Montes de Oca will be priority viewing for teams over the next few weeks leading up to the draft because few arms possess his power stuff, which puts him in contention to be a potential first-day selection.
Brock Dykxhoorn, rhp, Central Arizona JC
Canadian righthander Brock Dykxhoorn originally committed to Central Arizona JC out of his Ontario high school, and he's starred for the Vaqueros this spring, going 8-3, 2.73 in the wood-bat Arizona CC Athletic Conference.
In the process, the 6-foot-8, 225-pounder has climbed draft boards and positioned himself as the top prospect in the Grand Canyon State's juco ranks, with scouts pegging him as a first-10-rounds selection.
"He's throwing a lot of strikes," Central Arizona JC coach John Wente said. "We usually do not get strike-throwers like him at this level, but he repeats, even at his size. And that gives him a different angle and makes him hard to square up."
The Reds drafted Dykxhoorn in the 20th round in 2012 out of high school, but he didn't sign and spent his freshman season at West Virginia. Dykxhoorn pitched well for the Mountaineers, going 2-1, 3.15 in 10 appearances over 34.1 innings, but decided to transfer, as he explained to ex-BA intern Alexis Brudnicki.
The move should pay off in this year's draft, as the Canadian's frame and stuff have earned him some comparisons to big league veteran Jon Rauch. Dykxhoorn pitches off a sinking fastball he throws in the 88-91 mph range and has touched 92 mph. His best secondary pitch prior to this season was his changeup, especially in the fall, Wente said. But his slider has improved this spring, helping him get more swings and misses. He's racked up 93 strikeouts in 66 innings (12.68 K/9) with 21 walks, 46 hits allowed and no home runs.
Jack Flaherty, rhp/3b, Harvard-Westlake HS, Burbank, Calif.
Scouts have had Flaherty on their radar for years, both as a third baseman and as a pitcher. From the start of the 2014 season, however, when Flaherty struck out 12 in his season debut, the pendulum of opinion has swung over to the pitcher side. And nothing Flaherty has done since then has stopped the momentum.
"He's going out as a pitcher," said an area scout in Los Angeles. "For me, he can't hit. The swing's mechanics are bad. But on the mound, it's athletic, there's a lot of plusses. The arm is clean and fast."
Flaherty had plenty of heat at a Monday start against Loyola High and didn't disappoint, striking out eight over seven innings, using 100 pitches. An area scout agreed with coach Matt LaCour, who said Flaherty sat 90-91 mph with his fastball, hit 92 regularly and touched 93. Flaherty's feel for pitching and strike-throwing ability stand out, as does his changeup, a pitch some scouts are projecting as a plus-plus pitch. One evaluator compared him to Jeff Suppan and said there may be more velocity to come, pointing to the projection in Flaherty's listed 6-foot-3, 217-pound frame.
Everyone involved believes the North Carolina recruit will be drafted as a pitcher, perhaps as early as the compensation round or early in the second round.