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Bad Start Probably Won't Hurt Your Draft Stock

The first weekend of the college season is now behind us, and with that, many of the game’s top draft prospects have gotten their first outings out of the way.

Some players have gotten out to fantastic starts—Oregon State outfielder Trevor Larnach went 8-for-12 with three home runs in four games—while others stumbled or even had their seasons come to an abrupt end—Texas Tech lefthander Steven Gingery left his start after 2.1 innings and found that he tore his ulnar collateral ligament.

Many decision-makers in the country were busy watching some of the top arms in the college class. Here’s how top seven college pitchers performed in their first outings of the 2018 season:

No. 1 Brady Singer | RHP | Florida
7 IP, 2 H, 1 R (0 ER), 1 BB, 8 K, 0 HBP, 89 pitches

No. 3 Shane McClanahan | LHP | South Florida
6 IP, 3 H, 0 R (0 ER), 5 BB, 11 K, 1 HBP, 113 pitches

No. 4 Casey Mize | RHP | Auburn
6 IP, 3 H, 0 R (0 ER), 0 BB, 7 K, 1 HBP, 75 pitches

No. 8 Jackson Kowar | RHP | Florida
7 IP, 6 H, 2 R (2 ER), 0 BB, 10 K, 0 HBP, 89 pitches

No. 11 Ryan Rolison | RHP | Mississippi
5 IP, 1 H, 0 R (0 ER), 2 BB, 12 K, 0 HBP

No. 14 Logan Gilbert | RHP | Stetson
5.1 IP, 5 H, 5 R (5 ER), 2 BB, 10 K, 2 HBP, 94 pitches

No. 27 Tim Cate | LHP | Connecticut
5.2 IP, 6 H, 5 R (4 ER), 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HBP

The top five starters all had great success, combining to strike out 48 batters and walk seven in 31 innings, while allowing just two earned runs (a collective 0.58 ERA). Gilbert and Cate on the other hand, struggled.

But how important is it to start the season quickly? How much does that help a player’s draft stock? How much does it hurt you to stumble out of the gate?

If you look at last year’s draft as an example, it doesn’t matter much.

Take Vanderbilt righthander Kyle Wright as an example. Entering the season, Wright was the No. 5 player on Baseball America’s preseason college top 100 list. In his first start against San Diego, Wright threw five innings and allowed three earned runs on four hits while walking three batters and striking out just two. In fact, throughout Wright’s first four starts, he posted a 5.40 ERA (12 earned runs in 20 innings), and allowed three or more earned runs in three of the four starts.

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His draft stock didn’t take a hit in the slightest, as he finished the season as the No. 2 player on the BA 500 and was drafted fifth overall to the Braves thanks in part to a strong finish to the season. But also because Wright’s peripheral numbers looked good even with an ERA that wasn’t indicative of a top-of-the-first-round talent.

He still had strikeout rate per nine pushing 11, a 2.7 walk per nine rate and a fastball that regularly sat in the mid 90s. He was still a 6-foot-4, 220 pound workhorse with four-pitch mix.

So neither Gilbert nor Cate need to be too concerned with one bad outing that’s essentially a blip on a radar that contains many other data points including previous college experience, summer league performance and as far back as high school track record. For Cate, he’ll get even more benefit of the doubt as a Northern pitcher who hasn’t been able to throw outdoors as much as players in the south, while Gilbert’s fastball played up despite not having the velocity he’s seen in the past.

The starts themselves raise questions of course, but every one of the pitchers above who threw well during their first outing have questions of their own: Can McClanahan throw enough strikes and command within the zone? Will Singer’s arm action be an issue? Can Mize stay healthy?

Over the next three and a half months, scouts will try and gather as much information as possible to answer those questions. One start is not the end all be all, whether that’s the first game of the season or the last. There’s a lot of baseball yet to be played.

“I think like anything first impressions are important,” one scouting director said. “But at the same time I think sort of taking the perspective of, especially for some of these guys who we’ve seen a lot of—Team USA, the Cape Cod League, Northwoods League, high school, three years in college—that’s the part where it’s nice to see a guy coming out of the gate strong, sure. But at the same time I think we all are careful not to put too much weight into any one outing or any one game.”

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