High school arms at premium on Day 1
Seven of first 19 Draft selections are prep pitchers
There were two realities seemingly at odds with each other as the Draft kicked off on Tuesday evening. The strength of the class, at least at the top, was in high school pitching. The problem, as most will be quick to tell you, is that the biggest risk in drafting is in -- you guessed it -- high school pitching.
Something had to give, right? In past years, high school arms would be mentioned highly, but when push came to shove at decision time, they would drop down as teams would go a "safer" route.
"Every team will say, 'We're taking this guy,' then get shaky because you know the risk," said Tigers scouting director David Chadd, who took high school righty Jacob Turner in the first round (No. 9 overall) on Tuesday. "I'm happy we got the guy we got. You could make the argument a high school pitcher or two slid more than they should, but by the top 15 picks, the ones we knew would go pretty much had been taken."
Starting with the Orioles and their selection of Matt Hobgood with the No. 5 pick, there was a run on the high-end high school arms. From No. 5 to No. 19 -- a span of 14 picks -- seven prep pitchers went off the board. A total of 14 of the first 20 picks were pitching as teams up top went with the strength of the Draft early. Chadd is probably correct, with top 10 talents like Tyler Matzek and Matt Purke sliding a little bit because of signability concerns, but they didn't slide off the table.
"I think that's what this Draft offered," Chadd said. "Last year, there were all those bats. It was pitching-heavy, and there were not a lot of position players that factored in up top."
"That's kind of what we thought would happen," Orioles scouting director Joe Jordan said. "That's where the value was."
Jordan, for one, thinks maybe the whole risk thing with high school pitchers can be overdone. He's not ignoring what history has said, and what can happen in the course of developing young arms, but that there's so much more that can be done in terms of conditioning and throwing to minimize the risk some.
"I think the high school pitching thing can be overblown," Jordan said. "You can monitor them, give them a program that will best keep them healthy."
To some, Hobgood was a little bit of a surprise to go at No. 5, as he was not initially a high school arm thought to be in the same group as Zach Wheeler, Matzek, Purke, even Shelby Miller and Chad James, all of whom went in those top 19. And while the signability factor may have figured into things a little, the Orioles were high on Hobgood all along.
"He always was in our discussion -- we just didn't let his name out," Jordan explained. "There were so many good arms, so you have to go to the next step, things like usability, pitchability, qualitiy of secondary stuff. He just came out on top."
The Tigers had Turner on top of their board for most of the spring, though others slid in and out along the way. They talked about Purke for a while, and former college arm Aaron Crow figured into the mix late. When it looked like Matzek was going to be around for them, they scrambled to have a serious discussion about him. In the end, as it tends to be with the Tigers, it came down more to who they felt was the best available talent than any other variable.
"We were kicking it around to the very end," Chadd said. "But it's simple, it boils down to the best player. I'm fortunate to be in a place with the full support of ownership. We set up the board, talent first. We'll see what happens with the signing period, but we want to get the best talent we possibly can."
They did that with Rick Porcello in 2007, and it seems like that's working out just fine. Porcello might be the poster child for the success of high school pitching, that maybe it's not as risky as it might seem, and that the belief that it will take a long time to develop young arms might not always be accurate.
"Porcello is the exception rather than the rule," Jordan said. "But there's no black and white. With the young pitchers we have, we didn't have to be in a hurry. Hobgood is physical and strong and has the chance to move, but there's [no rush]. It will be quick enough."
Not everyone went the high school route up top, but that doesn't mean they won't take advantage of the depth in that area later in the Draft. The Pittsburgh Pirates may have had the first, "Huh?" moment when they took Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez at No. 4 overall. But not only do they really like Sanchez, taking him there is part of a larger plan for the entire Draft that was already including some aggressive drafting on Day 2.
"In terms of our game plan, we're prepared to have an aggressive day," said Pirates scouting director Greg Smith, who took high-ceiling high school arms like Zach Von Rosenberg and Colton Cain early in the day on Wednesday. "We have to be mindful of who else has the ability to do what we want to do and make adjustments, but we're excited about the resources [CEO] Bob Nutting and [President] Frank Coonelly have allowed us to give us the ability to have a very successful day [on Wednesday]."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.