CARY, N.C.–It’s too early to say the 2014 draft class will be dominated by pitching, and the Tournament of Stars certainly featured plenty of noteworthy hitters. But as scouts start to build consensus about the players to watch 11 months before next year’s draft, it’s clear the high school pitching depth is getting their attention.
Hurlers like lefthander Brady Aiken and righthander Tyler Kolek already stand out. They were the faces of this class coming into the summer and only reinforced that at TOS. Aiken showed polished mechanics and a good feel for two offspeed pitches to complement a 90-92 mph fastball. Kolek impressed on day one with his fastball touching 95 mph, and then looked even better on day five, peaking at 97.
Every class, though, has headliners like these two. What has jumped out in the first few weeks of the summer showcase circuit this year has been the depth of power arms.
Obviously, the easiest gauge of power arms is pure velocity. Teenage pitchers are constantly changing and evolving, so we looked at how the six high school pitchers selected in the first round of the 2013 draft performed last summer at Tournament of Stars, the East Coast Professional Showcase and the Area Code Games. None of the six surpassed 93 mph, and all six showed significantly better fastball velocity in the spring. Yet at this year's TOS alone, seven pitchers all touched or exceeded 93 mph: righthanders Marvin Gorgas, Kolek, Turner Larkins, Brandon Murray, Luiz Ortiz, Sean Reid-Foley and Keith Weisenberg.
The 2014 class also has shown it has more than just pure velocity, as many of the top arms have an advanced feel for offspeed pitches and the ability to throw them for strikes.
Ortiz and Reid-Foley are great examples. Ortiz can establish his 92-94 mph fastball in the zone before burying hitters with a mid-80s slider. And the 6-foot-4 Reid-Foley is a rising senior in high school who already pitches like a college senior. He shows a plus fastball to either side of the plate and has enough confidence in his changeup to throw it at any point in the count. Throw in a sharp slider that shows good shape when it's down in the zone, and you've got a 17-year-old who offers a true three-pitch mix.
And the talent goes well beyond the guys with attention-grabbing velocity. Take Justus Sheffield or Ryan Castellani and you'll see a fastball from 88-90 mph and the confidence to throw changeups to lefthanded and righthanded hitters. Sheffield is a 6-foot, 190-pound lefthander who can run a high-80s fastball by a lot of hitters just by showing a changeup in the zone at 80 mph. At 6-foot-4, Castellani has a prototypical power pitcher’s build, but it's the same story. The Arizona righthander works a heavy fastball to either side of the plate and lives off the ability to throw both his changeup and curveball in the zone, taking advantage of a good downhill delivery and the ability to reach back for 92 when necessary.
A lot of those names were expected to impress at the Tournament of Stars, however. Building even more excitement about that 2014 class were the performances of some of the lower-profile pitchers, who showed they deserve a second look.
Zachary Carter, who played for the USA Stars team, was one of about 40 TOS participants who had yet to commit to a college. And at first glance, it was no wonder, as he’s 5-foot-9, 164-pound righthander. Amid a collection of pitchers who outweighed him by 50 pounds, he was easy to overlook–until he stepped on the mound. With a max-effort delivery that added deception and generated consistent arm speed, Carter breezed through his only TOS outing, tossing 3 1/3 hitless innings with five strikeouts. Carter pitched at 87-88 mph and separated himself with his feel for pitching, giving hitters trouble with a sharp curveball and a deceptive mid-70s changeup. He attacked the strike zone from his first pitch and shut down a strong NABF lineup. His performance drew the attention of the USA Baseball coaching staff and earned him an invitation to the 18-and-under national team trials.
Of course, what scouts will watch now is how these pitchers continue to develop heading toward the 2014 draft, and whether they continue to show good stuff as well as pitchability. As is always the case, many pitchers will steadily gain velocity as high school seasons and the draft near. For some, it will be about commanding a fastball with improved velocity, and for others it will be the ability to maintain the command they showed at TOS. As it stands now, though, a good number of these arms could crack the first round next June, with many more scattered across the first five rounds.