Drafting the Third Plus Pitch by Bryan Smith June 7, 2010 Regrettably, I began my series both reviewing draft history and previewing the 2010 draft position-by-position too late in the draft season. So, since we haven’t covered outfielders and pitchers — and because there’s no way I could cover all of them in one post — I’m not going to try. Instead, I’ll just post a bit about one unique story at each position. Mike Leake was drafted in the top 10 last year not because of overwhelming stuff, but because the Reds believed he offered present value — and they have been proven right. There is something to be said for the guy that makes, and sticks, in the Major Leagues first. A win today is cheaper than it’s going to be next year (in theory), and Leake already has 1.6 WAR in 11 starts. This year, many have compared Ohio State RHP Alex Wimmers to Leake, because Wimmers is going to move fast. I saw and wrote about Wimmers earlier in the spring — and came away from the start most intrigued by his change up. “The best development for the right-hander was the strength of his change up,” I wrote. “He struck out three LHHs with the pitch, and he showed plus feel throughout the game.” It seemed that I had mostly heard about the curveball prior to this season, though, so I became intrigued at how far this pitch has come. “His first year, he came mostly out of the bullpen learning to command that curveball,” Ohio State pitching coach Eric Parker told me. As a freshman, Wimmers appeared in 25 games in relief, posting a 4.50 ERA, with a 51/31 K/BB ratio in 40 innings. “I had talked to him about adding a third pitch, but his curve was so good, he didn’t need it in relief. I blame myself — we didn’t talk about the change up much.” Parker credited the work Wimmers put in that next summer, in the Valley League, as where he began the development of the pitch. Baseball America ranked him the #2 prospect in the league after that summer, highlighting his “excellent curveball with hard, late break.” But for the change-up, they were less complimentary: “His circle changeup is still a work in progress and is clearly his third-best pitch.” The next spring was where Wimmers broke out, winning 9 games, finding a spot on the Division I leaderboard in strikeouts with 136 in 104.2 innings. The pitch had evolved, been turned from a weapon in the Valley League to a plus pitch, probably during fall practices with the Buckeyes. According to CollegeSplits, in 2009, he struck out 56 left-handed batters in 147 at-bats. Overall, lefties hit .231/.372/.299 against him. He had a new weapon in his arsenal. Next was a stop in the Cape Cod League, where regular Cape attendee and blogger Greg Schimmel ranked him as the league’s seventh-best pitching prospect, behind likely first-rounders Chris Sale and Brandon Workman, among others. Schimmel wrote, “[H]is best pitch was definitely his 74-75 mph curveball…Wimmers also has a good 76-78 mph changeup with good downward movement.” The pitch seemed undervalued even then. However, his Cape Cod League manager remembered it more fondly in a recent conversation. Bourne manager Harvey Shapiro hasn’t seen Wimmers this spring, so his scouting report dates back to last summer. But the praise for the changeup is bold. “I think his changeup is a plus-plus pitch,” Shapiro said. “Whether you’re a lefty or a righty, his is so good he can throw it to either.” That, in fact, is one thing that his OSU pitching coach Eric Parker referenced was a focal point this spring. And, of course, the pitch has taken a life of its own this spring. The Baseball America scouting report for him now references that one scout has called the pitch the most advanced change he’s seen from an amateur. Lefties, against whom Parker called the changeup “unbelievably effective,” hit a rather unbelievable .110/.168/.120 off him this spring, with 43 strikeouts in 100 at-bats. The key to the pitch came from both coaches, as Parker credited Wimmers for having “such great arm speed” on the pitch, and said he “maintains the same arm slot.” Shapiro, in a separate conversation, said: “He throws all three pitches from the same arm slot, and with the same arm speed.” Scouts often believe that college pitchers with changeups might be even better in pro ball, as they will have more confidence to throw the pitch against same side hitters when they are facing wood bats rather than aluminum. The team that thinks this applies to Wimmers will draft him very highly today. They will think that his three plus pitchers are good enough that he’ll move quickly, potentially contributing at the Major League level by 2012. I do, too.