Role Play

For two teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference, when the going gets tough, they go to their bullpen, and that’s where their best professional prospects await the call. Clemson and Maryland met this weekend in College Park, Md., where scouts had to hope for tight games in order to take a look at Tigers closer Daniel Moskos (pictured below) and Terrapins closer Brett Cecil.

Both pitchers established themselves as potential first-round draft picks last summer–Cecil in the Cape Cod League Premium and Moskos with USA Baseball’s college national team Premium.

While their performances during the series opener Friday left lots to be desired, they remain among the top draft-eligible college pitching prospects in the country.

But before you go drafting them in your fantasy baseball leagues, thinking, as college closers they’ll be in a big league bullpen before the leaves change this autumn, take into consideration what their roles and ceilings are, as professionals, not presently. In the case of Cecil, especially, there is much more to offer than just two power pitches, which means he could offer more value as a professional as a member of the starting rotation, rather than remaining in a relief role.

“Cecil has advanced stuff, he’s durable and strong and hasn’t been used much in college so there’s no reason to believe he can’t start,” said an American League scout based in the Mid-Atlantic.

There are a handful of items on each scout’s checklist that help them make their ultimate determination on whether a pitcher profiles as a starter or reliever, and none of them have anything to do with how they were used as amateurs. As long as a pitcher shows the ability to repeat his delivery, and his delivery is relatively clean, especially his arm action, the next item is his control. If he shows the ability to hit the corners and stays out of the middle of the plate, while also limiting his walks, he still falls into the category as a potential starter.

What makes or breaks the final judgment, however, usually comes down to the stuff.

“You look at the ease of his delivery, and if you think his arm action and delivery are such that you can stack innings on a guy as opposed to a guy with some effort who goes full-bore from pitch one, there’s a reason to believe he can start,” said a scouting director with a National League team. “There are a lot of things go into it. But what’s the third pitch like? That’s going to be telling.”

Assuming any pitcher that is closing at the Division-I level has two average- to above-average pitches–typically a fastball and a breaking ball–how his changeup or splitter plays at the pro level is sometimes a deciding factor in his future profile.

“Is there something that hitters at a major league level have to respect and are the hitters going to give it any credit,” the scouting director said. “If it’s not something they have to respect, how effective is he going to be the second time through a lineup? It has to be in the average range to use it. At least three pitches that fit that category.”

Cecil’s delivery has improved significantly since his days at DeMatha High (Hyattsville, Md.) when he was a one-and-a-half-pitch, soft-bodied lefty Premium on his way to college. Cecil’s fastball has been up to 94 mph this spring and his slider has been up to 86. He’s also flashed a curveball, changeup and split-finger fastball, and the changeup has enough fade and deception to become a usable third offering, especially against righthanded hitters.

“In high school he made it clear he wasn’t signing beyond the second round and with the body and the bad hook and wrap on the backside (of his delivery), there wasn’t a lot of interest that high,” the AL scout said. “He’s done a nice job of cleaning those things up, especially the slider. His curveball was actually the better pitch in high school as a senior. The slider now, is a real weapon.”

The wild card in the determination of the future roles of pitchers like Cecil and Moskos, of course, is the immediate needs of the team that takes them. In every draft recently, there seems to be at least one college pitcher that gets pegged as the guy who could move quickly. But if he has advanced stuff, he might have more long-term value as a starter, although he could take longer to develop in that role than he would if he was given the opportunity to climb the minor league ranks as a reliever.

“You try to present a lot of scenarios (in the draft room),” the scouting director said. “You have to keep an open mind and look at the possibilities, but it is true that some guys might feel like (they’re) under the gun to find a guy whose got to get there a little quicker. It all depends on the organization. Some organizations are going to feel the need to find the guy who can make the biggest impact the quickest.”

Others, meanwhile, might elect to try to develop some of this year’s crop of college relievers as starters, with the idea that they can always move back to the bullpen later in their minor league careers if they don’t make the transition successfully.

• No player improved his stock last summer more than Tennessee outfielder Julio Borbon. That fact must have made the fracture in his ankle in January that much more difficult to swallow. He made his return this weekend, and while he was relegated to DH duties, swung the bat well, according to one AL scout in attendance. “He sure didn’t look like he just sat out for two-and-a-half months. He’s making contact, and ran a 4.3 (second home-to-first) on a gimp ankle. His BP was solid, you could see him really working on things, not just in there swinging to swing.”