The results weren’t pretty for Andrew Suarez, who battled himself as much as he did the North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill last Saturday.
Pulled after throwing 60 pitches in just three innings (4 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 2 SO), the Miami lefthander repeatedly missed with a fastball that didn’t reach higher than 91 mph and was altogether a much different version from the one selected by the Nationals in the second round last year (subsequently becoming the highest-drafted college player to not sign). Granted, a late-February oblique strain caused him to forego his next two starts – missed development time that can explain the lower velocity from last year. But the control struggles were entirely new, as he walked just one batter in the two starts leading up to Saturday.
In Kiley’s way-too-early draft rankings, Suarez ranked just inside the top 50. Because I had never scouted him before this weekend, seeing only this lesser version leaves me with an incomplete look, so the grades (particularly the present ones) below naturally factor in past reports and performance and are thus kinder than they would have been going on Saturday alone. Besides, compassion has always been my carrying tool, and I’m not about to let a few errant fastballs tear down the softy rep that took me years to build.
Suarez is listed at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds (but looks one or two inches shorter) with a broad, athletic frame that offers little projection. His balanced delivery speaks to good body control, which he pairs with sufficient agility that he’ll need to effectively make adjustments. A redshirt junior, he’ll turn 23 just three months after the draft, making him old for his class.
Also, he had labrum surgery following an injury he sustained in high school, which caused him to redshirt his freshman season after making just three appearances. But he appears to have made a full recovery after sitting in the low-90s all of last season, a couple of ticks higher than his average velo band as a prep.
Kiley’s Background with Suarez
Suarez worked 87-90 mph with a fringy four pitch mix in his redshirt freshman year, coming off of shoulder surgery. Video from when I saw him that year is at the end of the above clips. His velocity spiked the fall before his redshirt sophomore year, hitting 95 mph. I saw him three times in the following spring (2014), also included in the above video. Suarez sat 91-94 and hit 95 in the two early outings, then sat 89-92 mph in the third outing. I discounted the diminished velocity due to 40 degree temperatures, but scouts told me his velocity was a tick down the rest of the year.
At his best, Suarez had a 55 slider (82-84 mph) and 50 to 55 curveball (79-82 mph) that would tend to run together at times, along with a solid average changeup that he didn’t use enough and command that flashed average on good days. I put a 2nd round grade on Suarez after the first two outings and since he was clearly past the shoulder surgery, it didn’t surprise me that Washington took him there last summer. –Kiley
On Saturday, Suarez ranged between 88-90 mph and sprinkled in a few 91s as his fastball took a straighter path to the plate at lower velocity. Despite a penchant for controlling the strike zone, he uncharacteristically struggled with fastball command throughout his three innings, consistently missing to his arm side against a Tar Heels’ starting lineup that head coach Mike Fox loaded up with eight righthanded hitters.
Of three different offspeed pitches he threw, the most advanced was his slider, a 79-81 mph offering that flashes plus thanks to good tilt and consistent late bite (although it, like his fastball, was thrown a few ticks slower than usual). The pitch was noticeably effective against Tyler Ramirez, the Heels’ only lefthanded hitter in the lineup, as Suarez ran it through the front door for a couple of swings and misses.
Against righthanded hitters, the southpaw relied more heavily on a 73-77 mph curveball which was effectively lobbed into the catcher’s mitt, taking a 12-to-6 trajectory with some depth but no snap. He also mixed in a changeup that registered between 82-83 mph and showed at least average potential with good arm speed and velocity differential, although it lacks the plate action needed to do more than just keep righthanded hitters honest.
Even though Suarez threw just 30 strikes out of his 60 total pitches, I didn’t see anything that portends sustained command issues, especially considering his track record of strike-throwing. He starts a well-paced, low-effort delivery with a standard leg kick, creating deception by hiding the ball deep in his arm swing that helps typically average velocity jump on hitters faster than it would otherwise. He leverages his lower half with a moderate bend of his back knee, fires quickly through his hips as he circles cleanly to a high-three-quarters release point with sufficient arm speed, and finishes on line with minimal recoil.
On Saturday, however, he frequently cut himself off, taking an abbreviated stride (compared to when throwing his secondary pitches) that caused his arm to drag behind his shoulders and produce repeated misses away with more cross-body action. (From the windup, the shorter stride is noticed when comparing the curveball thrown at 1:38 and the fastball thrown at 1:40.) But overall it’s a calm and efficient motion, something that can be repeated through deep pitch counts.
As noted, I didn’t get the truest look at Suarez, but the draft pedigree suggests a much better pitcher than the one I saw on Saturday. At his best, he pounds the zone with above-average velocity, pairing a putaway slider with feel to pitch – a recipe that can help him crack the back end of a major league rotation. But even without a more developed changeup or curveball that he can use to neutralize righthanded hitters, the fastball-slider combo is still enough to be effective in middle relief. Assuming the command struggles from this weekend were an aberration, he should once again be popped inside the top two or three rounds. From there, expect him to be fast-tracked through the low minors on account of his age and pitchability.
Fastball: 45/55, Slider: 50/55, Changeup: 40/50+, Curveball: 35/45, Command: 40/50, FV: 50
Other draft-eligible follows from these teams:
- UNC outfielder Skye Bolt, a 26th-rounder of the Nationals in 2012, tempts the eye with a lithe, athletic frame and five-tool ability, but his performance on the field this season hasn’t matched the talent level. High scouts see a standout defender in center field with plus speed and arm strength that has the tools to hit enough to be an everyday big leaguer, while low scouts believe that questionable pitch recognition will cause him to flame out in the upper levels of pro ball. It’s a legitimate concern, as he consistently got out front on offspeed pitches and made weak contact or missed entirely. Still, the raw tools alone will be enough to land him inside the top five rounds.
- I got my second look (albeit a brief one) at UNC closer Trent Thornton, who clearly isn’t the same pitcher we know from his sophomore and freshman seasons. The 6-foot, 200-pound right hander – who blew a save the day before – threw just six pitches before he was lifted, never registering higher than 90 mph. Logging 186 innings as a starter his first two years in Chapel Hill, he sits 90-94 with an above-average curveball and a solid-average changeup when he’s right, with some dropping second-round grades on him after his best outings on the Cape. He’s now in that area where some teams who saw enough of Thornton at his best may still like him in the 4th-5th rounds, but most probably have him in the 5th-8th round territory as a reclamation project, provided he’s signable there.
- Miami third baseman David Thompson, a 38th-round selection of the Yankees in 2012, showed the advanced approach, above-average power and swing plane suited for line drives that has helped him slash .357/.449/.688 on the season. However, the bat speed is just OK, and limited athleticism likely relegates him to first base or left field in pro ball, where his 55 raw power will need to show up in games. He may fit in the 3rd-5th rounds as a polished college corner bat that some scouts see low-end everyday tools from, although most evaluators see a platoon type.
- I wasn’t able to attend Sunday’s game for Benton Moss’ start, but the UNC righthander reportedly sat 90-92 mph with a mid-80s cutter, 75-78 late-breaking curveball and promising changeup, posting a final line of 6 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 2 BB and 4 SO. Selected in the 15th round by the Giants last year, he’s one of the fastest risers in this year’s draft, and as a top 2nd-4th round type that has minimal leverage as a senior, he’s a candidate for the top 50 picks to the right team.