Scouting Three Potential First Round Arms

The 2020 draft was instructive to many teams, as it taught them how to scout off data and video since multiple in-person looks were made impossible by the pandemic. And while scouts are back on the road, data and video remain important tools, with some teams giving them the same weight as in-person reports. With access to many of the tools that teams lean on come draft season, I am able to view data and video from nearly every pitch thrown by Division I college arms. So in that spirit, I decided to write up some potential first rounders.

While a great deal of draft coverage when it comes to pitching has focused on Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker, the two much-lauded Vanderbilt arms, there are somewhere between five and seven college pitchers who could also end up first-round picks and demand some attention. I start today with three of them — two who began the year highly regarded by the industry, and a third who has jumped up on boards considerably this spring.

Ty Madden, RHP, Texas

Statistics: 107.2 IP, 71 H, 7 HR, 41 BB, 129 K

2021 Year in Review: Madden came out strong but had some hiccups in late April and early May as he struggled with his command. He finished the year on a high note, including a 7-4-2-2-2-10 line against Mississippi State in Omaha.

Physical Description: 6-foot-3, 215 pounds. To use the scouting cliché, this is what they look like.

Delivery: Utilizes power frame well. Big kick, good hip tilt and leg drive with on-line landing. Finishes a bit wild with very high back leg coming around and creating big spin to the first base side. Leans into a high (12:30) arm angle that produces very good fastball shape.

Fastball (65%): 93-96, touch 98. Sits with comfortable velocity and can reach back for upper 90s seemingly on demand. Pitch features big-league level ride and carry. Works up and down much more effectively than east-west, as he tends to locate to the glove side and will need to develop a better ability to work outside to lefties. Overall, fills the box much more than he commands the pitch.

Slider (32%): Mid-80s power pitch that is one of the better breakers in the draft, with the much desired combination of big velocity and big movement. Two-plane breaker, with a bit of horizontal wiggle and heavy downward bite. More than 60% of his whiffs ended on the slider while he gave up only 17 hits on the pitch. Checks all the boxes in terms of data and performance. Like the fastball, the command of the pitch is fringy with several non-competitive, overworked versions that land in the dirt.

Changeup (3%): Rarely used, but not a disaster. A little firm at 85-87 and features more drop than fade. Telegraphs the pitch a bit with a much calmer finish to delivery. There’s an idea here, but will need to be a point of development as a pro.

Summary: Prototypical starting pitcher in terms of frame/delivery, with plus velocity and plus shape to fastball to go with a slider that could be a difference maker. Improvement of changeup and overall command will ultimately define success. Possibility of outcomes ranging from No. 2 starter to frustrating back-end guy who lacks finesse but can out-stuff guys on the right night. Minor reliever risk, but would have high-leverage potential in short bursts with a two-pitch mix.

Recommended Bonus: $4,500,000

Gunnar Hoglund, RHP, Mississippi

Statistics: 62.2 IP, 40 H, 7 HR, 17 BB, 96 K

2021 Year In Review: Hoglund recorded double-digit strikeouts in five of his first six starts. He was pitching well in conference play before his elbow went pop on May 7 in the first inning against Texas A&M. He had Tommy John surgery one week later.

Physical Description: 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. Physical kid with power frame. Sturdy lower half. Athletic feel to movements and fields his position well.

Delivery: Upright, top-heavy delivery. Stays tall throughout. Pretty easy, low-effort look with high three-quarters release point. In control of body. Generally on-line with good momentum towards the plate.

Fastball (59%): 91-94, touch 96. Frankly, have some concerns here. It’s average velocity in today’s world with no more than average shape. The pitch found way too many barrels at the college level, with opponents slugging .473 against it this spring. Needs to be precise with it and can be at times, showing the ability to utilize all four quadrants, but mistakes get punished.

Slider (31%): Nasty, impactful pitch. Present plus at the big league level. Can manipulate the pitch from the low-to-upper-80s to provide different looks in terms of velocity and break. Big spinner with heavy late bite. Threw 306 sliders this spring and allowed just five hits against the pitch. Command of the pitch is an absolute delight. Can get swings-and-misses in the zone and knows how to bury it effectively. Threw a handful of mid-70s curveballs in February. Has trouble locating it, but could be used as an early count strike stealer.

Changeup (10%): Doesn’t throw a lot of them, but he should. Future 50-55 offering with good arm-speed deception. Fades away from left-handed hitters nicely and produces some awkward swings.

Summary: Super-famous arm who spurned the Pirates as a first-round pick in 2018 and has performed for scouts for half a decade. Big appeal to off-speed offerings, as between pure stuff and command, the breaking ball is one of the best in the draft, and the changeup has potential to be another above-average pitch. Worries about the fastball in terms of velocity and pitch shape. Would completely re-vamp usage in the pros, and argue for nearly doubling breaking ball usage. Mid-rotation ceiling. Should be ready to go early in 2022 with typical rehab schedule.

Recommended Bonus: $3,250,000 pending medical review.

Gavin Williams, RHP, East Carolina

Statistics: 81.1 IP, 57 H, 3 HR, 21 BB, 130 K

2021 Year In Review: Williams is a late bloomer who started the spring in the bullpen as a frustrating kid with arm strength. He thrived after a move to the rotation, and make a steady climb up draft boards, finishing the year with an exclamation point as he struck out 13 against Vanderbilt.

Physical Description: 6-foot-6, 240 pounds. Very large human. More big than strong looking, with sloping shoulders and a wide core.

Delivery: High leg kick with a twisting load. Arm comes exceptionally quickly, but with a dead-red 1:30 release point. A bit of effort to it and a minor head whack. Lands a tick closed leading to some crossfire to the arm swing.

Fastball (63%): 93-97, touch 100. Big velocity from a big kid, but the pitch plays down a touch from the radar gun due to sub-optimal shape. Threw roughly two-thirds heaters on the year, but more than 80% of his hits allowed came off the pitch, including nine of the 10 extra base hits he gave up. Commands the pitch well to the outer half against either side, with misses tending to be up and down as opposed to in and out.

Slider (23%): 83-86. Easy plus pitch with plenty of power that flashes considerable downward break at times. Comfortable throwing strikes with the pitch and challenging hitters, while also using the outer edge of the zone effectively.

Curveball (11%): 75-79. A little light in terms of velocity, but can clearly spin the hell out of it. Classic 12-6 action with a ton of south-bound break. Pitch moves so much that it creates big challenges in terms of command, with more ending well below the strike zone than in it. Good pitch, but tough to use it when behind in the count.

Changeup (3%): 85-87. Rare and fringy. Will need development. Arm speed and velocity is right, but just doesn’t offer much in the way of movement, simply looking like a bad fastball at times.

Summary: Big riser this spring who began the year as someone who would be drafted on arm strength alone, but ended it as a much more complete pitcher. Hulking presence with exceptionally quick arm. Sits mid-90s with plenty of 97-98s and has scraped triple-digits on occasion. Good velo/bad shape guy who will need to maintain the giddy-up when he’s going every five days. Two impressive breaking balls in terms of spin and shape, but commands the slider much better than the curve. Fringy changeup and some effort to the operations creates a bit of relief risk, despite a frame built to eat up innings. Dream is No. 3 starter, maybe even a bit more, but range of outcomes is a bit too wide for a selection in the first half of the first round.

Recommended Bonus: $2,750,000

Kevin Goldstein is a National Writer at FanGraphs.

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2 years ago

Here is a link to recommended slot value for 2021 that is interested after reading this