Feb
25

2008 Draft Preview: Left-handed Pitchers

By

Do you know the last time the Yankees won the World Series without a substantial contribution from a left-handed starter? Nineteen forty seven. Nineteen hundred forty seven. More than sixty years ago. The Yanks won the 12th World Championship in franchise history that year; that’s how long ago it was. Is that unbelievable, or what?

The greatest Yankee teams fall right in line with its long tradition of great left-handed starting pitchers: Lefty Gomez. Whitey Ford. Ron Guidry. Andy Pettitte. Heck, even guys like Fritz Peterson, David Wells, Dave Righetti, Al Downing and Ed Lopat have their place in Yankee lore. For all the great catchers and center fielders who have marched through the Bronx over the years, the backbone of the franchise has been its left-handed pitching.

Look at the team now. Pettitte is still around and perpetually solid, but he’s in the twilight of his career. Chase Wright and Heath Phillips are fringe big leaguers, and Kei Igawa isn’t a starter on a championship team. The best the farm system has to offer is Mike Dunn, who is a nice prospect, but hardly a difference maker. After Dunn, you’re talking about guys like Angel Reyes, Zach Kroenke, Wilkins DeLaRosa and Phil Coke, who are nothing more than the best of a bad lot. Point is, there’s no left-handed pitching help on the way.

The old adage is that you don’t draft for need, you draft the best player available, regardless of position. That’s a novel idea, but I’ve always believed that a team should always have their needs in mind when taking a player, especially after the first round. Quite often the best available player is actually a dozen players, all of whom can be considered interchangeable based on talent, bonus demands, pedigree–the total package, basically. This is a situation where you consider your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and draft accordingly.

This year’s draft class has a solid group of lefties for the Yanks to choose from, whether your thing is power arms or command-and-control guys. It’s unlikely the Yanks will fix their left-handed pitching problem with one draft class, but this is as good a year as any to start refilling the southpaw pipeline. Here are some notables to keep an eye on.

Brett DeVall, Niceville High (Florida)
One of the top prep left-handers in the class, DeVall’s drawn significant attention because of his fastball, which sits 89-91 (touching 93) but plays up because he has outstanding command of the pitch. He’s also sports a good slider, but his changeup is still is almost nonexistent, not uncommon for dominant high school pitchers. DeVall’s a polished pitcher and he has a chance to climb the ladder a bit quicker than most of his peers. He’s a big kid with an ideal pitcher’s frame (6’4″, 205 lbs), and he’s also an alumni of the famed East Cobb Baseball Program, home to some of the very best high school competition out there. Baseball America recently named him one of the Top 30 Prospects for the draft, while Keith Law had him just outside the top 30. (Sorry, subscription’s required for both pieces). He’s committed to Georgia, although it’s unlikely he’ll ever make it to Athens.

Christian Freidrich, Eastern Kentucky
Kentucky is not a traditional baseball hotbed, but it has managed to produce the occasional top talent (Brandon Webb and Joe Blanton come to mind) through the years. That’s all about to change though, as the region is loaded with legit talent both at the high school and the college level. Freidrich is the banner member of this new talent wave, and is a far better prospect than either Webb or Blanton were at the time they were drafted. Sporting a low-90′s sinking fastball and the best curveball in the draft, he’s one of the toughest pitchers in the country to make contact off of (108 H and 219 K in 163.2 career IP) and one of the most durable, having never missed a start for the Colonels. In his first start of ’08, Freidrich worked over Bucknell to the tune of 5 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 11 K, 1 WP, 1 HB in a 14-inning game that ended in a tie. Freidrich doesn’t have the projection that Ross Detwiler had last year, but he’s polished and aggressive, a combination that should allow him to rocket through the minors. Unless he gets hurt, it would be an upset if Freidrich dropped out of the first round.

Jarret Martin, Centennial High (Bakersfield)
Another one of the top prep left-handers available in the draft, Martin brings more explosiveness and excitement to the craft than DeVall. He brings the heat at 92-93, and his 11-to-5 power curve is a legit put-away pitch. His changeup is coming along, and he has a good frame (6’3″, 200 lbs) with a fast twitch over-the-top delivery that kinda sorta resembles Scott Kazmir’s. Martin has to improve his command-and-control, but only two batters put the ball in play off him in five innings at the Cape Cod High School Classic, which is a testament to the quality of his stuff. Committed to Cal. State-Fullerton, Martin has a chance to go in the first round to a team willing to open its wallet.

Tim Murphy, UCLA
You might be surprised to learn that Murphy isn’t even the best lefty starter on his team–that’s the uber-projectable Gavin Brooks, who won’t be draft eligible until next year. Even though he pitched in high school, Murphy was recruited to UCLA to play the outfield and only ended back up on the mound when the illness of another pitcher created a rotation void. Operating with a 90-92 mph fastball and a power curve that can be unhittable, Murphy racked up a 96-33 K/BB ratio in 76 innings as the Bruins’ third starter last year. He’s got a good frame at 6’2″, 205 lbs, and went 6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 K against Oklahoma in his first start of ’08 Slated to be the team’s #2 starter behind Brooks this year, he will be looked up to for his experience and veteran leadership. Murphy could be this year’s Nick Schmidt–a sandwich round talent that gets first round attention from teams looking for a safe pick at a bargain price.

Josh Romanski, University of San Diego
Romanski’s situation is very similar to Tim Murphy’s. He’s the second best lefty on his team (lagging behind Brian Matusz, who’s a candidate to go first overall), and he was initially recruited to play the outfield. The similarities end there though, as Romanski is a command-and-control guy with four pitches. He’s lanky at 6’0″, 175 lbs, and sits at 86-88 with a few 90s. He backs it up with a changeup, (his most reliable pitch), a curveball (his best pitch, when it’s on) and another slurvy breaking ball that gets classified as a slider by default. Not that it really matters, but Romanski also plays RF when not on the mound, and bats for himself on days he does pitch. In his first start this year, Romanski got pounded by San Diego State, putting up a 5 IP, 7 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 6 K line, but he still managed to put up the W. I’m a big Josh Romanski fan, and I think he’s one of those guys you have to see consistently to appreciate how serious he takes his craft and how hard he battles. Barring injury, he should be a late Day 1 pick (4th or 5th round).

Justin Wilson, Fresno State
Wilson racked up a 1.46 ERA in conference play last year, the best mark in the WAC by more than two full runs. He’s similar to Chien-Ming Wang in that he has so much movement on his heavy fastball that he can survive just by throwing it down the middle and letting its natural movement do it’s thing. Sitting in the high-80′s and touching 92, Wilson can occasionally get himself into trouble when he tries to be too fine and his movement works against him. He rounds out his repertoire with a changeup and a slurvy breaking ball, both of which have plus natural movement. He’s a fierce competitor that likes to have the ball in his hand when it matters most, and he’s got a knack for making pitches when he needs to. In his first start of the year he went 6 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HB in a 4-2 loss to UC Davis. Overshadowed by some of the bigger arms on the Bulldogs’ staff (namely RHP Tanner Scheppers, a name you’ll know soon enough), Wilson figures to go in the 5th to 7th round range.

I also wanna take a second on do a real quick follow up to the first Draft Preview post of ’08, where I looked at some of the top talents which a chance to drop. Of the players mentioned in that post, 3B Pedro Alvarez, RHP Gerrit Cole, RHP Aaron Crow and 1B Eric Hosmer have been confirmed as Boras “advisees.” Cross your fingers for Cole, that kid’s all sorts of awesome.

If you’re interesting in following Alvarez’s progress throughout the season, you can check out almost all of Vanderbilt’s games this season via their FREE online webcast. The only catch is that it’s not compatible with Firefox (IE only), and you need to take two seconds out of your life to create a FREE account first. Okay fine, so that’s two catches. But did I mention it’s FREE? Big ups to Brian at The College Baseball Blog for the heads up.

Categories : Draft

34 Comments»

  1. Eric Schultz says:

    Great stuff as always Mike. Do you think any of these guys would be worth a 1st-round pick for the Yanks? It sounds like Friedrich could be worth it, but if he’s talented enough to be worth the Yankees’ pick, he’ll probably be a top 15 pick as teams seem to over-draft when it comes to college lefties. I’d be fine with the Yanks sticking to their BPA approach and not drafting a single lefty pitcher, since it seems rare that a left-handed pitcher is the best talent available by the time the Yankees’ pick comes around.

    • Mike A. says:

      I’ve got no idea. BA had Friedrich in the top 10 of their draft prospects list, so I imagine he’d be worth a first round pick. However I did hear someone compare him to Jeremy Sowers, which scared the crap out of me.

      Martin is legit, I’d take him in the first round. I wouldn’t seek out any of the other guys that early.

      It all depends on who falls really. If a Gerrit Cole or Justin Smoak or Yonder Alonsa falls to the Yanks, they should take him over a lefty no question. Guys like Romaski, Wilson and others – Austin Wood of Texas, Mike Wilson of Michigan – are middle round guys that could be looked at to add depth.

  2. CB says:

    Mike,

    Excellent post. Can you think of who the last high ceiling left handed arm was who fell in the draft to the late first round due to signability?

    I can’t think of any one that impressive off the top of my head.

    The problem for the yankees and left handed pitching is that this is one of the places where their draft philosophy doesn’t work as well.

    Talented left handed arms just don’t fall that much in the draft due to to signability. Teams are just more willing to shell out dollars because of how scarce they are.

    I think they may ultimately have to fill this void through an international signing. But I do agree that this year they may need to “reach” somewhere in rounds 1-4 for a left handed arm.

  3. dan says:

    I haven’t seen any video and am by no means an expert, but Freidrich’s picture looks a little scary in terms of mechanics. His step is tiny, and he has to be producing his velocity solely with his arm. You said he’s never missed a start, so maybe this is a warm-up, a bad pic, or something like that.

    I second Eric’s question.

  4. jeff says:

    The scouting reports are great and much appreciated. Thank you for that. But the introduction to this piece and the implication that a left-handed starter is needed to win the World Series is incredibly silly.

    Correlation does not imply causation. The reason the Yankees haven’t won the World Series without a substantial contribution from a left-handed starter since 1947 is that teams almost never go a season without a substantial contribution from a left-handed starter.

    I looked quickly so I could have missed something, but I only see four seasons since 1947 when the Yankees didn’t have substantial contributions from a left-handed starter. Four. 1990, 1991, 1992 and 2004. Something else interesting about those seasons, for the most part they didn’t get substantial contributions from right-handed starters either.

    There are a couple of other seasons that are debatable since you didn’t define “substantial contribution.” They got 13 wins out of leftys in ’76, 17 wins in ’74 and 15 wins in 1989. Include those in the not substantial contribution list if you want. That doesn’t change my point.

    The Yankees haven’t won a World Series without a switch-hitting outfielder since 1950. Good thing they didn’t trade Melky!

    • Mike A. says:

      I should have been more candid. My loosely defined idea of a “substantial contribution” is basically a guy who stayed in the rotation all year, not a guy who bounced up and down, or move into and out of the ‘pen.

    • The Scout says:

      Amen. When the lefties were Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich, they were better at swapping wives than retiring batters. I hope Pettite sticks around and remains effective in 2009, but if not I will take my chances on quality righties.

  5. Brian Foley says:

    FYI…Pedro Alvarez got injured during warmups for the second game of the season and did not play the rest of the weekend. Rumors are that his injury is very serious and is seeing a specialist this week.

    My writer NYDore is my Vandy writer and is always pushing the Commdores on my readers.

    I will be in touch throughout the season with you guys. I will again provide an Interview with RAB about the top College prospects as we get closer to the MLB Draft.

  6. matt says:

    With a projected lineup of Wang, Hughes, Chamberlain, and Kennedy for 2009 do we really need a lefty? Sure it would be nice to have a great lefty, but I think people are over reacting to the lack of quality left arms, they simply aren’t that important if you can fill your rotation with that type of righty talent. I think the same can be said about the pen, sure you can create a match-up advantage by adding a lefty, but I would take a righty with superior stuff that can throw to anyone rather than settling for a mediocre lefty just for the sake of a lefty.

    None of the guys profiled up there seem to be the type that the organization is gravitating towards, being high upside guys.

    • dan says:

      I feel like they can win a world series in ’09 with a rotation of Wang, Hughes, Chamberlain, Kennedy, and Horne/Marquez/someone. The lefty certainly would be nice, but certainly not necessary. I’d take 5 of pedro martinez in his prime over 4 pedro’s and a randy johnson.

    • Mike R. says:

      Did Andy Pettitte announce his retirement after this season and I didn’t catch it? I understood he was committed to pitching next season because he wanted to inaugurate the new stadium. People keep forgetting about him when counting on next year’s rotation.

      Sabathia is also an option if he reaches free agency. We could have two good lefties.

  7. Great stuff Mike!–What is your opinion on Eric Hosmer, the 1st base prospect out of high school? I remember reading from your previous draft talk that he wanted to go to college, but the Yankees could always take him in the 1st round and pony up the $$$

  8. EJ says:

    I don’t know about Mike, but the first thing that I think of when I see Eric Hosmer’s swing is, “Adam Dunn.” He’s got *just a bit* of uppercut.

  9. bart says:

    now you figure this out you – and you have no integrity as you fail to give credit for tha Santana lefty in Yankee Stadium emails

  10. Mike A. says:

    Life in Yankee Stadium and the AL East is far easier with one or two quality lefties in the rotation. That’s not an opinion.

    • jeff says:

      1) Of course it’s an opinion. Otherwise, show me proof that it’s better to have a lefty than an equally effective righty.

      2) Easier than what? Life with bad right-handers instead of quality left-handers? Sure. Life would also be easier with a rotation of Webb, Peavy, Beckett, Verlander and Lackey.

      Do you think the Yankees have a better chance to win the World Series as presently constructed than they would if you traded Pettitte for Webb?

      I’ll take the better pitcher regardless of which hand he throws with.

      • Mike A. says:

        No I would keep Pettitte. I would also trade Hughes for Washburn, Joba for Chris Capuano, IPK for Wandy Rodriguez, and CM Wang for Dana Eveland. I would also look into signing David Wells, and possibly try to bring Jeroime Robertson back from obscurity.

        Jorge DeLaRosa and Beau Hale are also interesting possibilities. Maybe if we’re lucky, Dayton Moore would take Mo and Cano straight up. We might have to throw in Jesus Montero though.

        • jeff says:

          So, no evidence to back up your “That’s not an opinion” statement?

          • Mike A. says:

            It’s not rocket science. Yankee Stadium has a short RF porch, which LHB take advantage of, plus there’s are some seriously strong lineups in the AL East, having a lefty or two helps neutralize that.

            Of course you’d take a RHP if he’s better than a lefty. But that doesn’t mean having a lefty or two is a bad thing.

            • jeff says:

              “It’s not rocket science.”

              Then show some evidence.

              “Yankee Stadium has a short RF porch, which LHB take advantage of…”

              Pettitte last year:
              Home ERA: 4.17
              Road ERA: 3.95

              Yeah, I know I’m cheating there by only looking at one year. Pettitte has most likely been better at home than on the road over his career with the Yankees. But my point is, it’s not like lefties automatically pitch better at Yankee Stadium.

              “…plus there’s are some seriously strong lineups in the AL East, having a lefty or two helps neutralize that.”

              Red Sox OPS last year:
              vs RHP: .808
              vs LHP: .801
              Rays OPS last year:
              vs RHP: .752
              vs LHP: .816
              Blue Jays OPS last year:
              vs RHP: .715
              vs LHP: .849
              Orioles OPS last year:
              vs RHP: .744
              vs LHP: .750

              Also, all four teams had a higher OBP vs LHP than RHP. Given the choice, I’d rather throw right-handers than left-handers against that group of teams.

              “But that doesn’t mean having a lefty or two is a bad thing.”

              Sweet. You’ve changed your position from implying that the Yankees must have a lefty starter to win the World Series to having a lefty is not a bad thing. I think we agree now.

    • Kanst says:

      Boston only got 18 starts from lefties last year and they seemed to do alright. A lefty is a nice thing to have but it is far from a necessity

  11. dan says:

    It seems counter-intuitive, but last year (I can’t speak for years past) Yankee stadium favored home runs to LEFT field. At Yankee Stadium, homers were inflated by 3% to left, and homers to right were neither inflated nor deflated (score of 1.00).

    http://docs.google.com/View?do.....26f49mrgk6

    If you don’t like explanations, just skip to the second chart. Lichtman (the guy who made the page) co-wrote The Book, and used to work for the Cardinals as their sabermetrician….if you doubt his methodology then you had better have a good explanation.

    Mike does raise a good point with the power line-ups, but I don’t have the slightest idea of how to investigate it, or the motivation to do so.

  12. mike says:

    To summarize…I believe the Yanks would do better having an average lefty on their staff than an average righty, as for some reason managers tend to panic (especially at the stadium) and over-react, and may remove an average lefty hitter from the line-up in exchange for an average righty hitter, where the stadium ultimately will be more forgiving to the lefty starter. This has been written into Yankee thinking for generations, and while stats may occasionally demonstrate a flaw in this position, as a life-long fan i tend to agree.

  13. Chip says:

    Yeah I also wish that we could teach IPK or Hughes to pitch with their left hand but overall I’m not too concerned about it. Like it was stated before, you take a lefty over a righty if they’re of the same caliber but there’s no way the Yanks give up a shot on Cole or somebody of his talent if he falls into their lap just because they want a lefty.

  14. [...] telling you about some of the top overall prospects and top left-handed pitchers available in this year’s draft, it’s time to bring you up to speed on how they’re [...]

  15. [...] tomorrow, winner takes home the Title. I’m not sure who will start the game for each team (Justin Wilson is a good bet for Fresno), but I’m willing to bet the last two men standing tomorrow will be [...]

  16. [...] mound, firing 8 innings of 1 run, 9 strikeout ball on three days rest. I wrote him up as part of my draft coverage, so I feel vindicated (he was the Pirates’ 5th round [...]

  17. Matt Kopinsky says:

    I’ve always followed a lot of Big Ten baseball and I remember seeing Mike Wilson play for Michigan in the CWS a couple years ago. I thought he stunk! Is he really major-league talent?

  18. [...] been a fan of Romanski’s for quite some time, and even wrote him up as a potential draft target back in ‘08. I have no idea why the Brewers cut him after giving him a $247,000 signing bonus [...]

  19. [...] 23, is a former 4th round pick for Milwaukee. Mike Axisa wrote a profile on him back in [...]

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