With just over a month until the 2019 amateur draft, teams are beginning to see their draft boards and preference lists take shape. In Ryan Pepiot and Ricky DeVito, Butler University and Seton Hall University each have a pitcher who is likely to factor into most organizations’ conversations during the first two days of the draft. They met this past weekend at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. Below are my thoughts about each pitcher’s performance.
Ryan Pepiot, RHP, Butler University
Current 2019 Draft Ranking: 86
Pepiot has posted above average strikeout numbers — which have increased over time — since stepping onto Butler’s campus as a freshman in 2017. As a sophomore, he eclipsed triple digit K’s and followed up on that campaign with an impressive summer performance in the Cape Cod League, striking out 33 batters in just 22 innings for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks. His bat-missing abilities continued into his draft-eligible junior year, when he reached 100 strikeouts in just 60 innings; he currently sports 103 in just 62.2 innings pitched as of this writing.
On Saturday afternoon, Pepiot teased onlookers with the bat-missing abilities he’s shown up to this point, although he was a bit inconsistent throughout the outing. A sturdy, strong right-handed pitcher who stands 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Pepiot has a well-proportioned build and a workhorse type frame. He has a compact, quick delivery and works down the mound well, staying on line with the plate and generating good extension. He has a short arm stroke and releases from a high three-quarter slot with average effort and good balance. The delivery isn’t the loosest I’ve ever seen – there is some rigidity and a slight spin off after release – but overall, it is fairly efficient and didn’t raise too many mechanical red flags.
Pepiot’s fastball worked 88-93 throughout the outing after being 93-96 earlier this spring. It rides mostly true with occasional cut and has life through the top of the zone. We’ve received word that his fastball has above average spin rates and, given his higher slot and propensity to work up in the zone, I wouldn’t be surprised if the pitch features the perceived rise that many organizations are beginning to covet in pitchers who have strong north-south profiles.
Also featured in this outing were three different offspeed pitches. Leading the way was a low-80s changeup that flashed plus, with tumbling action and slight fade. His command of the changeup was a bit inconsistent, but when right, it featured good deception out of the hand and tunneled well off the fastball. He showed comfort throwing it to both righties and lefties as well. Pepiot showed two different breaking balls, a low-80s slider and a mid-70s curveball. The curveball, the worse of the two, sort of just rolled out of the hand and through the zone, serving as a show-me, early count strike option but lacking the depth or teeth to be effective. The slider was the better breaking ball, showing occasional slurvy shape and tilt. It worked routinely as a 45-grade pitch and was mostly used versus right-handed hitters.
Pepiot’s final line – three walks in four innings – is a bit deceptive, as most of those were deep counts, and there were a few prolonged innings due to some defensive miscues. I don’t believe Pepiot will ever have better than average command, but I do think he’ll throw enough strikes to hover in the 45-50 control range and be effective enough in the zone. A fastball-changeup dominant right-handed pitcher who will settle in with a fly ball-oriented approach doesn’t have big margin for error, but those who find success typically have a profile similar to Pepiot’s – one who possesses a fastball that plays above its velocity, has a history of missing bats in college, has a good enough breaking ball to keep opposing hitters honest, and has enough of a combination of physicality and athleticism to make adjustments and repeat his delivery.
In my opinion, the best case scenario for Pepiot is that he settles as a backend starter, although I’d be more comfortable projecting him as a middle reliever who can face a lineup a full time through. This is the type of prospect who could very well move quickly through the lower levels of the minor leagues as a starter, and a team that prefers a prospect who has closer proximity to the bigs than his peers may find him especially attractive. For me, based on this outing, Pepiot falls in the range of a late third round or early fourth round selection, with an offspeed pitch that flashes plus, a fine delivery, and enough fastball to dream on his ability to turn lineups over as a starter. With that being said, I could see him sneaking up a bit higher on the draft board of an analytically-inclined team that values his strikeout totals and fastball characteristics.
Ricky DeVito, RHP, Seton Hall University
Current 2019 Draft Ranking: 88
DeVito started game two of Saturday’s rain-caused doubleheader, a change from his typical Friday slot that likely reflects the inconsistent spring he’s had. The Staten Island-native pitched his way to the Big East Pitcher of the Year award as a sophomore in 2018 and followed that up with a 2.45 ERA in 29.1 innings for the Harwich Mariners in the Cape Cod League. DeVito has struggled to command the ball this spring, however, walking nearly five batters per nine heading into his eighth start. On Saturday, he struck out seven Butler hitters in five innings, but also walked three and hit two.
A wiry, lean 6-foot-3, DeVito features a long, off-line arm swing and a slingy, three-quarter release. He has a loose, quick arm and generates average extension down the mound. He really swings his back side through post-release and falls off hard to the first base side, throwing with a good amount of effort each pitch. The effort and direction likely contribute to a decreased ability to repeat his delivery, which impacts command.
DeVito’s stuff was solid. Butler hitters had some trouble squaring up DeVito’s pitches consistently and he only found himself in trouble when behind in the counts. To his credit, he did a fairly good job limiting damage in a few instances and made some pitches that he needed to make in order to execute successfully.
He featured a fastball that was mostly 90-94 with above average tail and sink. When right, this is the type of fastball that can generate groundballs. He showed some ability to throw it for strikes down and to the arm side, although he also missed badly on more than a handful of occasions with the pitch. His curveball, which worked 78-81 mph, was a traditional 11-to-5 shaped breaker with solid depth and some late tumble. When right, it flashed 55, but was inconsistent in doing so. He showed improved feel for his upper-70s changeup as the game went on, which also showed 55 on occasion and showed some split-like tumbling action.
DeVito is the type of pitcher a scout really wants to like. He looked like a solid athlete on the mound, he moved quickly and was spry. He has a quick arm and shows the ability to throw some heavy sinking fastballs. He can spin the ball and slow the ball down. He is also young for his grade, as he won’t be turning 21 until after the summer.
With all that being said, it’s very difficult to project DeVito as a starting pitcher long term based on Saturday’s outing. His delivery and release points were inconsistent, his command was below average, and his inability to marry those things in a positive way leads to concern about his ability to ever be consistent enough to turn lineups over outing after outing. Nonetheless, pitchers with more than one better-than-major-league-average offering don’t grow on trees in the amateur ranks. He’s a good athlete who is young for his year and has several tools in his arsenal that could theoretically be improved upon by a player development department.
DeVito is likely not a prospect who is going to be a quick mover to the big leagues, but there is a possibility that his stuff ticks up in shorter stints. For me, he is someone I would look to be in play during the middle of day two of the draft. Should the stuff tick up in a bullpen role, there is a chance it could be effective enough to withstand below average command and still be successful, and that margin for error is a valuable attribute in a prospect.
Josh Herzenberg has served as an area scout and a minor league coach for the Dodgers. He can be found on Twitter @JoshHerzenberg.