2011 Draft: High School Arms

Tigers rough up CC, take game two of the series
The Yankees have a curveball problem
CC's done pretty well for himself without a college education. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

If you’re not new to the site, then you’re probably aware of my infatuation with high school pitchers come draft day. I like seeing them get into the organization and under professional training programs, instructions, diets, the whole nine, as soon as possible. Most college coaches aren’t concerned with long-term development, so pitchers can fall into a lot of bad habits in school (like not pitching inside because of aluminum bats), not to mention the insane workloads. UCLA righty Trevor Bauer is expected to be a first round pick this year, but he’s averaging over 120 pitches per start this year. Texas righty Taylor Jungmann, another expected first rounder, has thrown 89.2 IP in eleven starts this year, or 8.1 innings per start. That’s crazy.

The best college-drafted pitcher in baseball right now is probably Tim Lincecum, though Justin Verlander, Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, and Jered Weaver have a case as well. But the high school draftees, you’re talking Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, Josh Johnson, Clayton Kershaw, John Danks, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Chad Billingsley, the list goes on and on. Even international signees like Felix Hernandez and Ubaldo Jimenez fall into the “weren’t ruined by a college coaches” category. Anyway, that’s just my two cents. Here’s a few high school arms I’ve got my eye on…

Ricky Jacquez, RHP, Franklin HS (Texas)
Jacquez doesn’t necessarily pass the eye test at first glance, since he’s listed at just 5-foot-9 and 155 lbs. The best right-hander to stand no taller than 5-foot-10 in expansion era is Tom Gordon (by far), so the recent history of guys that size isn’t great. Of course Jacquez is still just a teenager and could easily tack on a few inches and pounds, so there’s no sense in writing his baseball obituary just yet. His stuff is very real though, he’ll sit in the low-90’s and touch 94 on most days, getting swings and misses with a hammer curveball that’s allergic to bats. Jacquez challenges hitters and pitches aggressively, and he’s expected to be a third to sixth round selection. If he doesn’t sign, he’ll head to Texas.

Clay Holmes, RHP, Slocomb HS (Alabama)
It happens every year, some guys will go from suspect to prospect with strong showings in the spring and force their way onto teams’ draft boards. Holmes is part of that group, garnering attention for his two low-90’s fastballs (four-seamer and a traditional sinker) and 12-to-6 power curve. He’s a big athletic kid with an ideal frame (6-foot-5, 210 lbs.) and a solid delivery, playing other sports besides baseball for his high school. The problem is that Holmes doesn’t have too much room for growth, so the raw tools might not get a ton better as he gets into his early-20’s. I honestly have no idea where he’s expected to go right now, could be anywhere from the second through tenth round. I like him though, just wish I had a feel for his actual stock. Holmes is committed to Auburn.

(Photo Credit: www.swflbaseball.com)

Hudson Boyd, RHP, Bishop Verot HS (Florida)
Boyd (above) was my pet prospect coming into the year, the guy I liked more than the consensus. That’s not the case anymore, as he went from being a possible top 50 high school prospect before the season to Keith Law’s top 50 overall prospects last week. Boyd’s a big kid (listed at 6-foot-2, 245 lbs.) with a big arm, regularly sitting 93-96 mph with his fastball and throwing his slider in the low-80’s. It’s one of those sliders that breaks downwards and not really sideways, similar to Brad Lidge’s or Josh Johnson’s, so it often gets confused for a curveball or split-finger. Boyd will always have to keep his weight in check, but it’s premium power stuff right now and there’s serious workhorse potential here. He would not at all be a reach for the Yankees at #51, though he might not last that long. He’s committed to Florida.

Austin Robichaux, RHP, Notre Dame HS (Louisiana)
Another “pop-up” guy like Holmes, Robichaux went under the radar because he didn’t play in any national showcases last year. Big and lanky at 6-foot-5 and 180 lbs., he sits in the low-90’s with his heat and can spin a curveball, but he’s all about projection. He’s the kind of kid that gets drafted based on a dream and you hope he grows into something special. Think Nik Turley, a big project like that. Robichaux’s father is the long-time head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, so a) he’s grown up around the game, and b) it might be tough to buy him away from that commitment (yes, of course he’s scheduled to go to school there in the fall). He’s a late round flier guy, not a top target for the first two or three rounds.

* * *

One more prep arm to keep in mind: Andrew Chin of Buckingham Brown & Nichols School in Massachusetts. A 6-foot-1, 180 lb. southpaw, Chin blew out his elbow last month and had/will have Tommy John surgery. He wasn’t a top draft prospect before the injury, more of fifth to tenth round kind of guy, plus he was considered a tough sign given his strong commitment to Boston College. When healthy, Chin throws in the upper-80’s with okay secondary pitches in his changeup and curveball, and he’s the kind of guy that could come out of college in three years as a top draft prospect because there’s room for growth. Obviously his stock is down now. Not a savior, but a decent prospect likely to be undervalued on draft day.

Tigers rough up CC, take game two of the series
The Yankees have a curveball problem
  • jt

    wow, we played bbn in the preseason this year. didnt see chin but did see a couple other guys who must be mlb prospects (position players)

  • Roba the Hut

    What about Tyler glasnow of hart high school? Same school as Jamie shields.
    The only thing missing for him his durability. Hes been hurt about but has the talent to be drafted already. Plus he’s a great guy in the dugout. He eases tension with his jokes.

  • pat

    Boyd looks like a young Brad Penny.

  • Ted Nelson

    You’re dealing with some selection bias. It’s not all the pro training, it’s also that the best prospects at 18 are generally going to trend towards being the top prospects at 21, 22 and the top guys generally get bought out of their college commitments. Josh Johnson had $1.7 mill reasons to take his 6-7 frame and golden arm to Florida rather than college and he wasn’t even picked till the 4th round. We can’t necessarily say anything about how his career would have gone with 3 college seasons rather than 3 MiLB seasons. Could be in the same spot. The best of the best generally don’t have to go to college to play because they can already become millionaires at 18. You would expect to see more top pros coming straight from HS rather than from college, all else equal.

    Still, the results at the top are pretty even. In 2010 the top 20 US pitchers by fWAR were 11-9 HS-college with college boy David Price coming in #21. From 2008-2010 the top 10 US pitchers by fWAR are split 5-5.

    You also get HS guys whose arms are burned out by their pro team. There may be a trend were college arms are more likely to get burned out, but there’s no rule that all college programs are reckless and all MLB orgs take great care with their arms. Take Kerry Wood who pitched 150 innings at 20, 170 innings at 21. Hard to say how the overall workload impacts the arm vs. pitches or innings per start. While Prior, Mulder, Zito were all college pitchers, they were also worked hard by the Cubs and A’s upon signing and that could have contributed to the arm break-downs as much as NCAA work or genetics (Zito never hurt, but he’s seemed to lose his stuff at an early age). Major league teams that want results now don’t always have a pitcher’s long-term best interest at heart either, though I agree their interests more generally align with his long-term interests than a college coach’s. I would think that for all the Joba talk that goes on here that would be accepted as fact.

    • Johnny O

      There’s obviously no conclusive study on whether HS or college pitchers make better pros. An MLB team has waaay more in financial and human resources and they can’t even do it, so i don’t expect Mike or you or me to come up with a definitive study proving the value of one over the other. Mike might have done a little selection bias but also threw in “just my two cents”.

      The answer is that nobody knows, it depends on the individual, and there is no right answer. Mike’s reasons for preferring HS pitchers seem logical to me, but I know nothing about scouting/drafting/developing talent.

      • Ted Nelson

        I was just giving my two cents as well…

        Which is as you say that there’s no definitively right answer. One would expect a lot of good pros to come from HS, though, as the top physical specimens are generally going to be offered big bonuses out of HS (though some like Cole or Prior still go to college). Still I think that now more than ever players are going to college. The results don’t necessarily show a huge disparity at the top of the league in terms of HS pitchers dominating.

        It’s great to get a super-talented HS arm into your system early, but there can also be an advantage to taking a more refined college pitcher with higher probability. I think a team should try to take it case by case. The Yankees, for example, hit to one extent or another with the draft picks they used on Hughes and Betances out of HS, but also IPK, Joba, Robertson, Melancon, and Brackman out of college.

  • T-Dubs

    Would be accurate to say Chin is more likely to break his commitment following TJ surgery since a pro team can more closely monitor and ensure his rehab than a college program could?

    • Rick in Boston

      It’s possible. The Angels got a steal when teams passed on Nick Adenhart after he got hurt his senior year in HS. Part of that was the money and partly to have the best facilities for rehab.

      Now, I don’t know Chin or his family, but I do pass BB&N on my way to work everyday. It’s a very expensive private school with high athletic and academic standards. Purely speculating here, but he might have access to top doctors anyways (Boston is a major hospital city).

      • T-Dubs

        Ya, and I assume he has access to good enough health coverage that would cover procedures and rehab. I’m curious to know either way though.

  • Gonzo

    How the heck does Augie get pitchers to commit to him year after year?

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Kids like winning programs. They’re more passionately interested in being part of a team with a legacy of winning and a legion of fans than the possibility that they might get injured.

      They generally think they’re indestructible. But they know they want to wear the orange and white (or blue and white of Rice, or garnet and gold of USC, or orange and blue of Florida, etc. etc.)

      • Ted Nelson

        Plus they want to get drafted high and get a fat bonus check… Even if Jungmann’s arm falls off at 25, he’s still about to become a millionaire at 21 and had free access to a strong education along the way if he choose to use it.

        • Gonzo

          Did Jungmann have a 100% ride at UT?

          • Ted Nelson

            True, I have no idea. He seems to have taken advantage of the education, though, being on the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll as a freshman and Academic All-Big 12 First Team as a sophomore. He was a big-time 5A prep pitcher in Texas, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he did have a full ride.

            Point is just theoretical MLB earnings aren’t the only thing to consider.

            • Gonzo

              Just commenting on the college choice. Not the MLB vs. college choice.

              • Ted Nelson

                Me too.

                Primarily, that college choice isn’t always about long-term arm health as much as it is about getting the best possible draft position/bonus. If you are a stand-out pitcher from a top program, you have a good chance at getting drafted highly and receiving a big bonus. As I’ve said a few times, for a lot of these players that will make up the vast majority of all their professional baseball earnings.
                If you knew that A. as the ace of the Texas staff you have a very good chance of becoming a millionaire at 21 and B. your chances of having a lasting MLB career are very low regardless of what school you go to or if you go to school at all… what would you choose? It might be in your best financial interests to go to one of these programs where they’ll turn you into a college star and get you a fat MLB signing bonus, even if they shred your arm long-term.

                On top of those baseball concerns, there are also academic and quality of life concerns. If you’re a bigtime Texas 5A HS star… you might want to head to UT to be the BMOC for a few years. It’s a strong academic institution and might have an especially strong program in the area you’re looking to study. Academics can be both a quality of life concern and also a financial concern. Once you’re out of baseball, and most of these guys will be out of baseball at least by 30… you most likely have to keep earning a living if you’re not one of the very few who play MLB ball and get paid.

                All but the most elite HS prospects who decide to go to college need to be thinking about their education and maximizing that first bonus. The odds are stacked heavily against you making it in the MLB.

                • Gonzo

                  If his only chance to be a high pick was UT, sure. I don’t think they are the only show in town though.

                  I can’t say for his other reasons however.

      • Gonzo

        Still shocks me.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          Not a lot of 17 year olds are skilled at always making the best long-term decisions for their future using detailed cost-benefit analysis.

          • Gonzo

            Still shocks me considering the wealth of information readily available nowadays.

          • Ted Nelson

            Even if they did use detailed cost-benefit analysis, I’m not sure the results would change at all. It would be nice to worry about saving your $10 mill annual paycheck when you become an MLB starter, but the vast, vast majority of these kids will never become MLB starters no matter what they do. They have to consider other factors.

            A commitment doesn’t even mean they’ll ever play for that coach, of course, as they may choose to sign out of high school.

            If they don’t get the bonus offer they want out of high school, it can make as much sense to worry about the tangible benefits of a strong education and significantly raising that first signing bonus as the marginal chance that you become a stud MLB pitcher one day. Most of these kids will only see that first bonus check and minimum wage type checks through the minors. Some lucky ones will have a few years at league minimum and arb salaries, and a small fraction will actually hit MLB free agency with the leverage to get a good deal. Of course these odds vary by individual. A lot of the guys with the greatest odds are also signing out of high school, though.

            So, if these programs are burning out arms while they’re in school that’s a big concern. If they’re burning out after they cash their bonus checks… much less of a concern.

          • MannyGeee

            David Stern just nodded

          • MannyGeee

            17 year olds are more interested in getting girls to send them booby pics on their iPhones… well, that or CBA’s I suppose

            • http://www.mystiqueandaura.com/ JMK

              Most up to 26 are as well, I might add.

  • reed

    i think boyd could be a great closer. replace mo or be a setup guy.
    but as far as potential starters you migh look at bryan brickhouse for high school starters. he comes from an area thats known for developing starters.

  • reed

    is it guaranteed we are taking a high schooler with the 51st pick?

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Is anything guaranteed?

      • Ted Nelson


        • http://www.mystiqueandaura.com/ JMK

          And luxury taxes.

      • Thomas Cassidy


      • MannyGeee

        chopper to SS on the third pitch tonight

    • Ted Nelson

      Here are their first round picks: http://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/?query_type=franch_round&team_ID=NYY&draft_round=1&draft_type=&

      Most relevant are probably 2005 or 2006-to-present, since Damon Oppenheimer took over as scouting director (had been director of player personnel from 2001) and Nardi Contreras as minor league pitching coordinator in 2005.

      Pretty good mix between HS and college players.

      • Brian in NH

        Last 3 picks were HS guys. I would bet on a HS guy this year.

        • Ted Nelson

          Last two picks–Jeremy Bleich was picked after Cole. But before Cole, the past three picks had been college guys… so going on a continuing trend one would have guessed college and been wrong 3 of the last 4.