In 2008, the Diamondbacks used their 10th-round pick on a high school lefty from Washington, D.C. A year later, a righthander from Frederick, Md., was popped in the sixth round by the Red Sox. Both players turned down large bonus offers and honored their commitment to attend Virginia. The lefty—Danny Hultzen—had a spectacular college career that was capped by a $6.35 million signing bonus as the No. 2 overall pick. While the righty—Branden Kline—hasn't had as loud of a career, he still projects to go at least a couple rounds higher than he did out of high school.
Nathan Kirby may repeat Hultzen and Kline's path over the next few years, as he soon will have to choose between UVa and pro ball.
Kirby, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound lefthander at James River High in Midlothian, Va., has made it relatively clear to scouts that he intends to go to college, but that may not stop a team from taking their chances in the first 10 rounds. Kirby's fastball ranges from 88-92 mph and can sit 90-91. He also mixes in a good, sharp curveball in the high 70s that would give him a second plus pitch. He threw well early in the season but seemed to take a hit when his team traveled to Anaheim for the Hard 9 National Classic. Kirby pitched the first game against El Toro High (Lake Forest, Calif.) and had a shutout into the sixth inning despite only throwing about 50 percent strikes. The wheels came off that inning and Kirby exited with two outs having allowed five runs on four hits, two walks and two hit batters in 5 2/3 innings. Along with the development of a third pitch, command will be key for Kirby down the road. He has a long arm swing and a head snap that causes it to waver at times. He's a good athlete so it's not a dream to think he can figure it out.
"Hopefully he'll go (to Virginia) and be a dude on a Friday," an American League scout said. "He's not going to be a Hultzen, physical type, but he could be first rounder (in three years)."
Kline's Roller Coaster
If Kirby does end up at Virginia, one thing you can bet on is that he will have a crouched windup when he makes his first collegiate start. The Cavaliers are known for a cookie-cutter style of pitching where all of their pitchers bend their knees at the start of their delivery and generally stay low throughout. Kline is no exception and some scouts think it might be holding him back.
"He's not free and easy like he was in high school," an second American League scout said at a recent start. "He's lost some of his athleticism."
Kline has the frame you would draw up for an amateur pitcher at a projectable 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds. He has a high three-quarter arm slot and can get good downhill plane when he's able to get on top of the baseball, but he hasn't done that consistently.
"His delivery is so out of whack," a National League scout said. "He can be low 90s and downhill. If someone works on his delivery and direction, he could cut down on his walks."
Kline's first five appearances were rather pedestrian, but he put together a string of starts in March and April where he had a 40-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 34 innings and allowed just seven earned runs. But his last two starts (12 innings) haven't gone as well as he walked nine, hit two and allowed eight earned runs on nine hits while striking out 13. His record is now 6-3, 3.52 with 76 strikeouts and 31 walks in 72 innings.
Old Dominion Extras
• Righthander Blake Hauser had some late helium as the top prospect in the state of Virginia in 2009. He was a lanky righthander at 6-foot-2, 160 pounds, and sat 92-93 with his fastball. He was drafted by the Indians in the 25th round, but ultimately ended up at Virginia Commonwealth where he is still garnering interest from scouts. He was 93-95 early, but his velocity has been down recently and scouts attribute it to the amount of sliders he throws, saying in one outing he threw about 25 sliders and less than a dozen fastballs.
"He hasn't been able to get there," the NL scout said. "You can lose that feel for snapping it off when you throw so many breaking balls. But you can project him to have two plus pitches."
Hauser is up to 175 pounds now, but still isn't very physical and fits in a bullpen role.
• Conor Glassey wrote about Damion Carroll in the March 28 Draft Tracker (subscriber only) and he remains a bit of a mystery. The jury was likely split on the raw King George (Va.) High righthander in the first place, but he recently got hit around by a mediocre team and the secondary stuff still needs work. Signability doesn't seem to be a big factor for him so a team could still jump at a chance to get a physical arm that can be 90-95 mph.
• Lefthander Jack Wynkoop also has a little bit of buzz and is in the conversation to make the Top 200 in a few weeks. Wynkoop goes to Cape Henry Collegiate School in Virginia Beach. His fastball is in the 86-89 mph range, but can bump 90 and has projection at 6-foot-6, 190 pounds, and shows aptitude for pitching.