Potentially Valuable Pitchers Taken in Rounds Two to Eight by Chris Mitchell June 19, 2015 On Monday, I took a look at the hitters that KATOH liked the most from rounds two through eight of last week’s amateur draft. I was planning to follow up with a complementary piece on pitchers the following day, but was rudely interrupted when basically all of the top prospects were called up to the major leagues. But now that we have a respite from this year’s onslaught of prospect call-ups, we can get back to our regularly scheduled programming. Here are a few of the pitchers, in order of projected WAR, who slipped past the first round but caught KATOH’s eye. Garrett Cleavinger, LHP, Baltimore Orioles Draft Round: 3rd Projected WAR: 6.6 Garrett Cleavinger was positively dominant in his three years in the University of Oregon’s bullpen. The hard-throwing lefty pitched to a 1.94 ERA over his college career, and struck out an impressive 13.3 batters per nine innings. He was most dominant of all in his junior campaign, where he struck out a whopping 14.9 batters per nine, while walking a manageable 3.8. It’s well known that relief pitchers are generally less valuable than starters. But among relievers, Cleavinger’s performance was about as good as they come. The fact that he pitched in the Pac-12 conference also works in his favor. ***** Ryan Burr, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks Draft Round: 5th Projected WAR: 4.8 Arizona State closer Ryan Burr comes from the same mold as Cleavinger. Like Cleavinger, he pitched exclusively in relief in the Pac-12, and posted a similarly excellent 14.4 strikeouts per nine. However, Burr has a bit more trouble limiting his bases on balls. He posted an uncomfortably high 4.9 walks per nine in his junior season, which was actually a sizable improvement from his 7.8 clip as a sophomore. The high walk totals speak to his shaky control, but any pitcher with a butt-load of strikeouts in the Pac-12 is intriguing. ***** Andrew Moore, RHP, Seattle Mariners Draft Round: 2nd Projected WAR: 3.5 The first starter of the bunch also comes out of the Pac-12 in the person of Oregon State starter Andrew Moore. Moore posted a 1.91 ERA in 16 starts, which was the best of any starter in the entire Pac-12 conference. Moore’s 8.2 strikeouts per nine weren’t great, but his 1.5 walks and 6.3 hits per nine were. Moore limited hits and walks in his freshman and sophomore seasons as well, indicating that these numbers are more skill than fluke. At just 5-foot-11, he doesn’t have a prototypical pitcher’s build, so it will be interesting to see if his low-walk, weak-contact act continues to work in pro ball. ***** Bowdien Derby, RHP, Oakland Athletics Draft Round: 6th Projected WAR: 2.8 Bowdien “Bubba” Derby comes from the Mountain West Conference, which is a notch or two below the Pac-12 and the SEC when it comes to producing big leaguers. But Bowdien’s performance against this inferior competition was excellent. Derby struck out 11.5 batters per nine out of San Diego State’s rotation, while walking just 3.0 per nine. His ERA was an unremarkable 3.30, but his peripherals — which stabilize more quickly — were on point. ***** Riley Ferrell, RHP, Houston Astros Draft Round: 3rd Projected WAR: 2.6 Riley Ferrell had quite a year as TCU’s closer. The hard-throwing righty struck out a remarkable 48 batters in 30 innings of work, on his way to a 2.73 ERA. His 5.8 walks per nine should give you pause, but any pitcher who strikes out 14.6 per nine in the Big 12 — one of the more competitive college conferences — is automatically interesting. His profile is similar to that of Ryan Burr’s. ***** Josh Graham, RHP, Atlanta Braves Draft Round: 4th Projected WAR: 2.6 Josh Graham spent his first two years at the University of Oregon as a catcher. However, after he turned in a weak .202/.297/.296 performance at the plate, Oregon decided to try him out on the mound. Although he had barely pitched since high school, Graham was immediately successful out of the bullpen. He was so successful, in fact, that Oregon later moved him into their rotation, where he made six starts down the stretch. Although he has just 65 college innings to his name, Graham’s 2.63 ERA and 8.9 strikeouts per nine in the Pac-12 are enticing. ***** Cody Poteet, RHP, Miami Marlins Draft Round: 4th Projected WAR: 2.2 Cody Poteet is yet another Pac-12 arm who put up compelling numbers in his junior season. Poteet pitched to a 2.45 ERA for UCLA, which was the eighth-lowest mark among Pac-12 pitchers. Although he made half of his appearances in relief, Poteet’s strikeouts and walks per nine — 8.4 and 3.7, respectively — were both better than average. That bodes well coming from a Pac-12 pitcher. ***** Thomas Eshelman, RHP, Houston Astros Draft Round: 2nd Projected WAR: 2.1 Thomas Eshelman simply doesn’t allow walks. In 131 innings pitched this year, Cal State’s ace yielded just seven of them. That works out to a mere 0.48 walks for every nine innings of work, which was unsurprisingly the lowest mark in the Big West Conference. Of course, allowing very few walks won’t do a pitcher much good if he’s lobbing pitches down the heart of the plate; but that’s not what Eshelman’s did. In addition to limiting his free passes, he allowed just 101 hits in 131 innings — good for a minuscule 6.9 hits per nine, the third lowest in the Big West. Throw in that he struck out nearly a batter per inning, and Eshelman’s pretty much the full package. His 1.58 ERA and 131:7 (!) strikeout-to-walk ratio makes him worthy of his second-round draft selection. ***** Tyler Gilbert, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies Draft Round: 6th Projected WAR: 1.9 After spending two seasons in junior college, the left-handed Tyler Gilbert transferred to USC for his junior year, and immediately became a force as the team’s swing-man. In 22 appearances, including six starts, Gilbert pitched to a 2.79 ERA. He struck out 8.8 batters per nine, while walking just 3.3 over 68 innings of work. None of those numbers are particularly eye-popping, but like Poteet, it’s encouraging that he achieved them in the Pac-12. ***** Brett Lilek, LHP, Miami Marlins Draft Round: 2nd Projected WAR: 1.7 Sticking with the Pac-12 theme, Brett Lilek is the next highest-ranked pitcher according to KATOH. Lilek wasn’t great at Arizona State: his 3.20 ERA was merely 21st best among qualified Pac-12 pitchers, and his strikeout and walk numbers were both within a stone’s throw of the conference-wide average. Nonetheless, it speaks to his pitching ability that he managed to achieve this limited successes as a starter in the Pac-12. One of the findings of my KATOH research was that players who stuck around for their senior seasons generally had worse outcomes than their junior counterparts. For this reason, none of this year’s potential senior signs cracked my top ten. However, senior signs do, on occasion, go on to make an impact in the major leagues. For this reason, I decided I’d include the highest-ranked senior sign from the first eight rounds of the draft. Mariano Rivera, RHP, Washington Nationals Draft Round: 5th Projected WAR: 1.3 Mariano Rivera spent his senior season in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, which comes nowhere close to matching the competition level of the SEC, Pac-12, Big West or any of the other conferences you ever hear about. But given his performance in his senior season at Iona, it’s probably safe to say that he could have held his own in a more highly regarded conference. Rivera recorded a 2.65 ERA as a starter, and most impressive of all, struck out 12 batters per nine innings, while walking fewer than three. If you want to get KATOH’s attention while playing in a lower-tier conference, that’s the way to do it. Fun fact: Rivera’s father, Mariano Rivera Sr., was also a pitcher, and spent some time in the Yankees organization.