Six Pitching Prospects Whose Stuff Ticked Up In 2018

Image credit: Adrian Morejon (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Before the Mets drafted Jacob deGrom with their ninth-round pick in 2010, he was throwing 88-93 mph at Stetson.

The report on Corey Kluber after the 2010 season, when the Padres traded him to the Indians, was that he had an 88-92 mph fastball, an average slider and a changeup that only flashed average.

Today, they’re both aces with Cy Young awards.

Scouts can use certain predictive markers to project whether a pitcher’s stuff might improve, but we know there’s still a large margin for error in those projections.

We can’t always predict what will happen with a pitcher’s repertoire. But we can react to what’s already happened. And during the course of the season, a pitcher’s projection can change significantly if a pitch (or multiple pitches) in his arsenal changes.

Going from throwing 93 mph to 99 mph, or taking a pitcher who rarely threw a changeup in high school and developing it into a 60- or 70-grade pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale, substantially changes that pitcher’s true talent level.

These are six pitching prospects—five starters and one relief sleeper—whose stuff improved last season.

Spencer Howard, RHP, Phillies

In the first half of the season with low Class A Lakewood, Howard posted a 5.25 ERA in 48 innings with a 66-to-15 strikeout to walk-ratio. But in the second half with Lakewood, the 6-foot-3 righthander had a 2.67 ERA in 64 innings and struck out 81 hitters compared to 25 walks.

Aside from slicing his ERA in half, Howard’s stuff looked markedly different later in the season than it did in the first half—or at any point in his college career. A second-round pick out of Cal Poly in 2017, Howard started the year throwing in the low to mid-90s, but by the end of the year he was sitting more in the mid-90s, regularly reaching the upper 90s. He topped out at 100 mph, a noticeable improvement from the 96 mph we had him topping out at entering the season.

Not only did Howard’s velocity climb to give him a premium-velocity, high-spin rate fastball with late explosion, but his secondary pitches improved as well. His slider is a plus pitch that can miss bats, while his changeup started to flash above-average by the end of the season and helped him draw swings and misses from both righties and lefties.

Adrian Morejon, LHP, Padres

Triceps discomfort prevented Morejon from pitching for most of the second half last year, but he showed significant progress during the season with one of his key pitches. In addition to his velocity climbing a couple of extra ticks to reach 98 mph, Morejon was starting to master his release point to snap his curveball out front. That helped him better harness a pitch that earns plus grades, landing it in the strike zone or getting hitters to chase in two-strike counts. Morejon’s strikeout rate jumped from 22 percent in 2017 between the Rookie-level Arizona League and short-season Northwest League to 27 percent last year while skipping a level up to the high Class A California League.

Dustin May, RHP, Dodgers

At 6-foot-6, 180 pounds, May had a long, gangly frame oozing with physical projection when the Dodgers drafted him out of high school as a third-round pick in 2016. For such a tall, physically underdeveloped pitcher, May has shown exceptional body control, which helped him repeat his delivery and fill the strike zone consistently.

The Dodgers made a bet that May’s fastball would climb from the 88-93 mph range he showed in high school. That projection started to deliver last season. May mostly parked at 93-96 mph with heavy sink and downhill angle that helps the pitch play up even further. Already in Double-A during his age-20 season last year, May now has a higher probability of developing into a mid-rotation starter.

Daniel Lynch, LHP, Royals

For most of his college career at Virginia, Lynch was a lefthander throwing 88-92 mph. Late in the season, however, his draft stock escalated when he started throwing more in the 93-95 mph range, with the Royals drafting him No. 34 overall last June. After signing, Lynch was sitting 93-95 mph and touched 97 mph. He dominated, too, posting a 1.58 ERA with 47 strikeouts and six walks over 40 innings for low Class A Lexington.

Lynch is a different type of pitcher than Blue Jays righthander Nate Pearson, but their development paths have some similarities. The Blue Jays picked Pearson at No. 28 overall in 2017, with Pearson’s stuff ticking up toward the end of his draft year, then climbing even more in a brief but dominant pro debut that made him look like a player who belonged higher than the back of the first round. The same looks true for Lynch, who has arrows up pointing into 2019.

Josh James, RHP, Astros

James was a 34th-round pick in 2014 out of Western Oklahoma JC. He’s 25 years old. He never ranked in Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook. Until this year. Now he’s the Astros’ No. 4 prospect, one with big league and postseason experience.

What happened? His velocity skyrocketed. He went from sitting in the low 90s to sitting in the mid- to upper 90s and reaching 103 mph. He went from striking out 21 percent of Double-A batters in 2017 to 36 percent between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. Safe to say, that’s a substantial change in his true talent level.

Kyle Dohy, LHP, Phillies

Dohy was a 16th-round pick in 2017 who struggled with his control at Division II Cal Poly Ponoma in 2017. After signing, he walked a batter per inning in his pro debut, which doesn’t exactly scream fast-track prospect. But by the end of 2018, Dohy was pitching in Double-A and in position to help the Phillies’ bullpen by the end of 2019.

The Phillies have shown a knack for helping their young pitchers synchronize their deliveries, getting their legs more involved to squeeze out extra velocity. That happened with Dohy, who went from sitting in the low 90s to now pitching more in the low-to-mid 90s and reaching 97 mph. His secondary stuff took a major jump forward, with a devastating slider that misses bats against both lefties and righties, as well as a changeup that flashes above-average.

Dohy struggled with his control again once he reached Double-A, but after striking out 41 percent of batters last year, keep an eye on him as a possible multi-inning relief threat in the season’s second half.

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