College Pitchers Face Similar Workloads In Draft Year
When the Angels chose not to send second-round pick Griffin Canning out to an affiliate last year, it raised a few eyebrows across the industry.
Some teams had concerns about Canning’s medical reports, which helped the UCLA righthander slip to the second round. The Angels have insisted, from day one, their decision to not send Canning to an affiliate had nothing to do with any medical concern and was solely the product of him pitching 119 innings as a college junior.
Put to scrutiny, the claim that holds up.
A survey of data shows four-year college starting pitchers selected in the top three rounds of the 2017 draft were mostly targeted for between 115-130 innings combined between their college and pro stints. As teams become increasingly wary of pitcher overuse, it appears a fairly uniform standard has been put in place on college pitchers the year they are drafted.
Canning was one of just four signed picks in the top three rounds who pitched at least 119 innings during his college season. Another was Tigers first-rounder Alex Faedo (123.2), who was also held back. The other two were Cubs first-rounder Alex Lange (124.1) and Phillies second-rounder Connor Seabold (127.2). Both Lange and Seabold were limited to 10 innings or fewer after being sent out.
For those already in that 115-130 inning range from their college workload, it’s become standard to be held back from an affiliate or extremely limited if they do go out to one.
“It was the volume of innings that he threw. We had seen him reach his quota,” Angels general manager Billy Eppler said. “If he would have been a player who signed with us out of high school, and I specifically told Griff this in our conversation, I told him ‘If you signed with us out of high school, you ultimately would’ve thrown this number of innings this year. You just happened to achieve it by the time you reached end of May or early June. You hit your quota because you started earlier.’
“We would have paced it differently in professional baseball, but nonetheless he hit that volume mark that we would have probably scripted for him. So at that point, the only thing we could do was not have him pitch and have him work on other areas of his development.”
In all, there were 22 four-year college starting pitchers drafted and signed in the top three rounds of the 2017 draft. All but four—Canning, Faedo, Yankees first-rounder Clarke Schmidt and Dodgers second-rounder Morgan Cooper—were sent out to an affiliate after signing.
Schmidt (Tommy John surgery) and Cooper (shoulder tendinitis) had documented injuries. Another pick, Nationals first-rounder Seth Romero, had limited collegiate innings because he got kicked off the team at Houston midseason.
For those healthy or otherwise uninterrupted from pitching, the 115-130 innings “quota” mostly held. Kyle Wright pitched 103.1 innings at Vanderbilt, then 17 in pro ball after signing. Brendan McKay pitched 109 innings at Louisville, then 20 in the New-York Penn League. Tanner Houck pitched 94.2 innings at Missouri, then 22.1 after signing as Boston’s first-rounder.
Canning threw more than all of them—as well as nearly everyone else in his draft class—at UCLA. The Angels, as such, saw no need to push things and sent Canning to their training complex in Arizona, where he was put on a total body workout plan in preparation for 2018.
Canning was on board with the plan.
“I don’t know how much I actually planned on throwing because I had just finished a college season where I threw a pretty good amount of innings,” Canning said. “So it didn’t come as too much of a shock. And I mean after seasons I’m normally taking a couple months off anyway, so it wasn’t too big a deal.”
The Tigers had a similar situation with Faedo. After the 18th overall pick pitched into late June to lead Florida to the College World Series title and pushed past the 120-inning mark, Detroit made the decision to have him spend the rest of 2017 working out at the Tigers complex in Lakeland, Fla., rather than pitching more with an affiliate.
“We just took into account everything,” Tigers farm director Dave Owen said. “Innings pitched, pitching late into the college season . . . There’s not a set number of innings. We kind of glance at what kind of season the player has had, how he’s feeling. There are a lot of different factors that play into it.”
Importantly, being held out after signing hasn’t hampered Canning’s or Faedo’s progress up the minor league ladder.
Canning and Faedo both opened 2018 at high Class A, the same level as the many of their draft peers and higher even than a few who did pitch after signing, such as Astros first-rounder J.B Bukauskas, Phillies second-rounder Spencer Howard and Orioles supplemental second-rounder Zac Lowther.
Canning pitched 8.2 scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts over his first two starts at Inland Empire. Faedo posted a 2.61 ERA with nine strikeouts and zero walks in his first 10.1 innings at Lakeland.
While the sample may be too small to draw conclusions, it’s an encouraging sign that both started at high Class A and were off to good starts.
Beyond just the numbers, Canning’s stuff has been better after the layoff than what he showed in college. His fastball sat 93-96 mph and touched 98 after previously sitting 90-94 at UCLA. Both his 85-87 mph slider and 80-82 curveball had been dastardly, and he was holding his location and velocity through his outings. He was so dominant that the Angels promoted him to Double-A Mobile after just two starts.
As for what it means moving forward, teams have generally progressed further into protecting pitchers, and the early success of Canning and Faedo is an example they can point to.
Still, Eppler and Owen cautioned there is no “one size fits all” approach.
“There’s not kind of an end-all, be-all number (of innings),” Eppler said. “It’s more just done looking at the historical workload of the player, and then deriving from that.”
For now, coincidentally or not, that 115-130 inning range is what teams have generally targeted for the workload of their college pitchers the year they are drafted.
Hitting The Target
Teams taking college pitchers in the draft are largely targeting them for a specific innings range in their draft years, to the point those who enter that range n college are sometimes held back from a minor league affiliate after signing.
Of the 20 four-year college pitchers drafted and signed in the top three rounds in 2017, 11 pitched between 115-130 total innings between their pro and college workloads. Five more were within eight innings of that range.
The pitcher with the largest total workload was Rockies third-round pick Will Gaddis at 149.1 innings. That expected workload has changed dramatically since the beginning of the 2000s. Righthander Kenny Baugh, the Tigers’ first-rounder in 2001, pitched 141.1 innings at Rice and then went out and pitched 64.1 innings in the Tigers’ system after signing, giving him a total of 205.2 innings in his draft year.
Baugh had labrum surgery on his shoulder the following year and missed the entire season.
|Push It To The Limit|
|Rd||Pick||Player/Team||College IP||Sent To Affiliate||Pro IP||Total IP|
|1||4||Brendan McKay, Rays||109||Y||20||129|
|1||5||Kyle Wright, Braves||103.1||Y||17||120.1|
|1||15||J.B. Bukauskas, Astros||92.2||Y||10||102.2|
|1||17||Alex Faedo, Tigers||123.2||N||—||123.2|
|1||20||David Peterson, Mets||100.1||Y||3.2||104|
|1||24||Tanner Houck, Red Sox||94.2||Y||22.1||117|
|1||30||Alex Lange, Cubs||124.1||Y||9.1||133.2|
|2||45||Spencer Howard, Phillies||87.2||Y||28.1||116|
|2||47||Griffin Canning, Angels||119||N||—||119|
|2||56||Corbin Martin, Astros||87.2||Y||32.2||118.1|
|2||62||Morgan Cooper, Dodgers||89.1||N||—||89.1|
|2||65||Wil Crowe, Nationals||92.1||Y||24.1||116.2|
|2||67||Cory Abbott, Cubs||98.1||Y||14||112.1|
|2||74||Zac Lowther, Orioles||83.1||Y||54.1||138|
|3||83||Connor Seabold, Phillies||127.2||Y||10||137.2|
|3||86||Will Gaddis, Rockies||105||Y||44.1||149.1|
|3||92||Trevor Stephan, Yankees||91||Y||34.1||125.1|
|3||98||Michael Baumann, Orioles||87.2||Y||42.1||130|
|3||103||Nick Raquet, Nationals||77.1||Y||53.1||130|
|3||105||Keegan Thompson, Cubs||93.1||Y||19||112.1|
NOTE: Yankees first-rounder Clarke Schmidt (Tommy John surgery) and Nationals first-rounder Seth Romero (kicked off team) were not included in the sample due to abbreviated college workloads.