Daulton Jefferies wasn’t at the very peak of his game in California’s season opener against Duke at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Friday, but the junior right-hander still flashed the stuff that makes him an early favorite to be a first-round selection in June.
I was on hand for his first start of the year as he opposed another top draft prospect in Duke right-hander Bailey Clark. To paint a fuller picture of Jefferies’ prospect outlook, I’m mixing my takeaways from this outing with what I saw this summer when he pitched for the Team USA Collegiate National Team and ranked as my No. 13 prospect on the squad.
The video below shows all 15 pitches from the first inning of his start on Friday. He tossed six innings and gave up five hits, two runs (both unearned) with two walks and nine strikeouts.
Jefferies is listed at six feet and 180 pounds. He has wiry strength and still projects in spite of his stature, with room for mass through his shoulders and a lean torso that tapers off at the waist. It’s an athletic body type that’s not difficult to maintain. He also shows quick-twitch actions when fielding his position, which you’ll see at the 1:30 mark in the video.
You can ding Jefferies for a few things in his delivery, but the most important thing is that he doesn’t throw with much effort and the ball comes out naturally. He’s also got a very quick arm. The negatives are that his back elbow gets a bit higher in his arm path than you want it to, and there’s also a slight head whack. Neither of these wrinkles prohibit him from throwing strikes, though. His fastball command against Duke was spotty, but it was also a cross-country February game, and I saw better location from him last summer with Team USA. On a typical day, you feel comfortable putting a 55 future command grade on him.
Jefferies topped out at 95 mph and settled into the low-90s against Duke, registering a 93 on his 85th pitch of the game. This summer in his relief role with Team USA he was up to 96 and working comfortably between 93-95. There’s good sinking life on his fastball, especially when it’s down, and he normally doesn’t have trouble spotting it to either side.
His best offspeed pitch against Duke was his changeup, which took a step forward from the summer. With Team USA it showed above-average potential, but I’m adding a half-grade to it now and calling it plus. He throws it with deceptive arm speed, getting consistent sink and fade with ideal velocity separation at 84-86 mph. At one point, he threw four consecutive changeups to left-handed hitting freshman Griffin Conine – son of Jeff – who waved at three of them. It’s going to be a weapon against pros.
He also mixed in a slider with varying shape that he likes pushing through the front door to right-handed hitters, though it doesn’t project beyond average. This summer I saw a three-quarters curveball that projects above average, but he didn’t throw it in the season opener. In general, he has a good feel for everything he throws, but the changeup stands out.
Jefferies is composed on the mound and rarely shows emotion, yet his intense competitive spirit remains discernible. His pre-game approach is focused, almost mechanical, and he carries himself with deliberation. On non-pitching days, he’s an active spectator of his teammates’ preparation.
With potentially three above-average pitches and above-average command, Jefferies projects as a starter in pro ball and has a high floor as a prospect. None of his pitches are of the wipeout variety, limiting his upside, but he’ll still get empty swings and even more ground balls because everything sinks. You can also expect him to improve based on his physical projection, athleticism, pitchability and his overall approach to the game. His ceiling is No. 3 starter, and minimum expectation is back-end starter.
Fastball: 60/65 Slider: 40/50 Curveball: 45/55 Changeup: 45/60
Command: 45/55 FV: 55
Other Draft Follows
- Duke right-hander Bailey Clark (5.1 IP, 4 H, 2, ER, 1 BB, 5 SO) worked in the 93-95 mph range and peaked at 97. He also mixed in a slider at 84-86 with good vertical depth that has at least above-average potential. Although he has a durable workhorse build at 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, he relies on power more than feel and doesn’t have a serviceable changeup, making him a better fit for the bullpen where his bulldog mentality and mound presence will serve him well. He’s a top-three-rounds talent who inspires the compulsory “potential closer” label, though sustained velocity and progression with his changeup before the draft could change the evaluation and make him a top 50 selection.
- California center fielder Aaron Knapp (4-for-14, 1 2B, 1 R, 1 SO, 1 SB in series) – the younger brother of Phillies prospect Andrew – has feel to hit and is a plus-plus runner (3.97 to first). The swing is handsy and won’t produce power, though he does have a knack for putting some part of the bat on the ball. He’s aggressive early in the count but also shows pitch-tracking ability after the first strike. Before struggling in the Cape last summer, he put together a nice sophomore campaign with the Golden Bears. Another one this spring may convince scouts he’s a reserve outfielder at the next level and bet on him inside the top seven rounds.