The 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft is only three days away. This year the Arizona Diamondbacks will have the 16th pick in the first round and then also have picks 54, 69, and 70. Usually, picking 16th in the first round is not much to get excited about. But this year's draft is a particularly deep one, especially at the pitching position. So, it just might be that the Diamondbacks could draft some true needle-moving talent with the 16th pick - talent that better still, may not be too far from MLB ready.
There is something to be said for selecting high ceiling prep talent in the first round, especially when it comes to pitching. This year however, the number of truly gifted college talents means that the Diamondbacks could be in line to grab talent with both a high ceiling, and with some polish already, shortening the time it will take the talent to reach the big league.
Obviously, there are certain talents that have absolutely no chance of falling to the Diamondbacks at #16, so let's get those out of the way now. Carlos Rodon, Brady Aiken, Tyler Kolek, Alex Jackson, Nick Gordon, Touki Toussaint, Aaron Nola, Michael Conforto, Sean Newcomb, Kyle Freeland, and Trea Turner are not making it to #16. Of course, last year I had Braden Shipley as a top 10 pick and he did slide all the way to the Diamondbacks, so I have obviously been quite wrong before. If somehow it were to happen that any of these names are still on the board at #16, it becomes a no-brainer, and just like last year, the Diamondbacks need to strike quickly to take whichever talent has fallen. With eleven spots already spoken for, there will still be some serious talent left on the board, two of whom (Hoffman and Pentecost) actually make my personal top 10.
So who will the Diamondbacks pick? If I were making the choice, it would be one of the following featured talents, determined solely by who is still available. Adding my choices to the list of eleven names above guarantees that no less than three of these names (though perhaps more) will be available at #16.
The Seriously Long Shot:
Jeff Hoffman RHP:
6' 3" 190 lbs. East Carolina
The chances of Hoffman falling all the way to #16 in the draft stand somewhere between slim and none. With the Blue Jays having two picks in the top 11, it's hard to imagine he falls past them as they can afford to "gamble" on him at #11. However, there are some that think he could fall down the board some, so here's the scoop. Going into the season, Hoffman was pretty much a consensus top 5 pick. He's a guy with a lively fastball that can touch 98 but that usually sits in the mid-90s. His curveball is Wainwright-esque. He's also a college pitcher with some polish already. His trouble has not been in throwing strikes. He actually has excellent command, especially for someone with such a big curve. His trouble is hitting his spots. However, with a fairly clean, repeatable delivery, he should be able to get that under control. Meanwhile his velocity and his curve with a true 12-6 break will still miss plenty of advanced bats. He has real TOR potential.
The risk with Hoffman is that he underwent Tommy John surgery in May. As a result, he won't even be ready to pitch again until almost mid-way through next season. Quite frankly, I don't see this as much of a negative though. The TJ procedure has advanced enough that at this point, I'm not willing to write off a guy for having had it once. Even if Hoffman only returns at 85% after the surgery (which would be a significant drop-off) he still would have middle of the rotation stuff. The other problem with Hoffman, and the reason he has dropped on several boards, is that he would seem to agree with me that his TJ surgery should not be a major concern. As a result, there are some indications that he will still demand the same signing bonus as if he had actually been a top-5 pick. If the Diamondbacks were to pay that, they would be pretty hamstrung the rest of the first 10 rounds.
Unfortunately, I never got to see Hoffman pitch this season. However, in my book, if Hoffman is available, the Diamondbacks should take him. As a polished college pitcher with true TOR potential, he should be able to move rather quickly through the system once he recovers from his surgery. Looking longer-term, it's not all that difficult to see Hoffman (if he is as advertised) being able to join the MLB rotation by the time Archie Bradley is first reaching arbitration. Teaming an arm like Hoffman's with the likes of Bradley, Corbin, Shipley, and Blair is just too good to pass up. This guy is a true needle-mover.
The Still Long But Somewhat More Reasonable Shot:
Max Pentecost C - RHB:
6' 1" 190 lbs. Kennesaw State
Max Pentecost was selected in the seventh round of the 2011 draft by the Texas Rangers, but made the right call not signing and going to college instead. Over the last three years, Pentecost has decidedly improved as a receiver making what was once a question in regards to his ability to remain a backstop into a surety. While Pentecost is not going to win any defensive awards behind the plate, he is a solid receiver with a strong arm. Additionally, he is a line drive hitter that has a strong command of the strike zone. He hits for average while demonstrating 15 home run power. Pentecost also possesses decent enough speed that he could potentially be moved to the OF, but with his improved defense there seems little reason to strongly consider that as his value as a catcher far outweighs his value as a corner outfielder.
Frankly, there is no sugar-coating it. The Diamondbacks organization is in desperate need of catching talent. Max Pentecost represents the best pure catcher in the draft. While his ceiling isn't Matt Wieters, his floor is probably somewhere in the Ryan Hanigan range. This guy is a future MLB caliber player, and he should reach the bigs in relatively short order. With three years left on Miguel Montero's contract, Pentecost's timetable for arrival is well suited for the organization as well. The one and only hurdle for the Diamondbacks in regard to Pentecost is that it is unlikely he will still be on the board at #16.
The Long Shot:
Tyler Beede RHP:
6' 4" 215 lbs. Vanderbilt
Beede has already been a first round choice once before, being selected #21 by the Blue Jays in 2011. He has a standard repertoire of fastball, change, and curve and a cutter. His fastball is low to mid 90s with some tail. He throws what is either a cutter or a slider (depending on who you ask, it looked like a cutter to me) that also has good movement. The curve is plus, but not anything special. His change sits in the low 80s and has some good tailing movement. His has a very prototypical power pitcher frame and looks like he might still be growing into just a tad, giving encouragement that the 2-3 MPH he added to his fastball over the last three years are not all that is left. His fastball touches 96 from time-to-time and he can get it up to the plate at 96 later in the game, so there is certainly reason to believe there might still be more average velocity on the way.
The big concern with Beede is his command. He often pitches from behind in the count, meaning hitters can wait for that fastball of his. Even more worrisome is that his command has not improved significantly in the three years he has been pitching for Vanderbilt. If he had lousy mechanics, this might be less of an issue. The thing is, his delivery is actually pretty smooth, he simply has problems with repeating it.
Assuming the Diamondbacks feel they can help Beede improve his control issues, he is another TOR arm. The downside is that if they can't he is at best a bullpen arm. He also needs to start repeating his delivery more regularly (which may help his command) even if it means sacrificing some velocity before he ends up hurting the shoulder from erratic stress or worse yet, the elbow. While Beede is not a "reach" at #16, he is the epitome of high risk/high reward. In a draft as deep as this one is in pitching, it would sure be nice if the Diamondbacks could pick up a TOR arm at #16.
The Most Likely:
Bradley Zimmer OF - LHB:
6' 5" 205 lbs. San Francisco
Bradley Zimmer continues to be the name I must often hear associated with the Diamondbacks. Zimmer is the younger brother of Kansas City Royals 2012 first round pick Kyle. Listed at 6'5", the younger Zimmer is tall and rather lanky. He has been showing signs over the last year of bulking up some, and there is plenty of reason to believe he is going to fill out that very large frame. If he does, the kid is going to be able to hit for some very big power. Zimmer already hits decently for average showing signs of plus power. However, he has some pretty big swing and miss in his bat as well. His mechanics are going to need some work if he is going to cut down on that. The real question is whether or not he will be able to make the adjustment or not. Zimmer plays CF right now, relying on his plus speed to be an above average fielder. That's misleading though. His real calling is right field. His speed will serve him well enough there that he would have above average range to pair with his best defensive talent, the canon he calls his right arm. His arm has been clocked in the 90s, with some reports stating he has hit 96 MPH throwing off the mound.
Though the situation in the outfield is not quite as desperate for the Diamondbacks as it is at catcher, there is no denying that the organization could use some strong outfield talent in the minors. Zimmer represents exactly that. That said, I am not terribly high on Zimmer. Even though he is an accomplished college bat, his need to tinker with mechanics to decrease the strikeouts and increase the OBP are going to put him on a slower path to the majors. The real questions with Zimmer are, do the Diamondbacks really think they can fix his swing/approach and who else is actually available?
The Dark Horse:
Kyle Scwarber C/OF - LHB:
6' 0" 240 lbs. Indiana
One name that has on again/off again been linked to the Diamondbacks is Kyle Schwarber. While Schwarber is currently listed as a C/OF, don't be misled. While it's possible Schwarber could eventually be a left fielder, this kid's future is almost certainly at first base in the NL and splitting time between first and DH in the AL. Although his catching has improved over the last year, his very average arm and slow feet do not project well for him behind the plate. What Schwarber does have though, is undeniably the biggest power in this year's draft. He has light tower power to his pull side and still has plenty of pop in his bat to send it out opposite field as well. But, like many power hitters, there is a great deal of swing and miss in his game. Unlike some others in the draft though, this is less a matter of mechanics than it is bat speed. Schwarber's bat speed is below average. It could certainly be shortened up, but if it is, there will quite likely also be a decline in his power, which as his best tool is probably not something that many teams are going to want him sacrificing too much of.
If the Diamondbacks feel he can be serviceable in left field, then Schwarber might be worth taking a shot at, but as a first baseman, or even a catcher, they need to pass. Unlike some teams, the Diamondbacks can afford for their sluggers to sacrifice some power for better hitting. Even Schwarber's opposite field power still clears Chase Field's fences. The concern with Schwarber is that he becomes Stryker Trahan 2.0. The upside to avoiding that is that Schwarber is a college bat and has managed to improve each year since joining Indiana while playing one of the most stressful positions possible.
The Intriguing Choice:
Brandon Finnegan LHP - TCU:
5' 11" 190 lbs.
At 5' 11" Brandon Finnegan is not intimidating anyone from the mound. Don't let his size fool you. Finnegan features three well-polished average to above average offerings. Just how polished is Finnegan? An aggressive placement could plug him into a MLB bullpen in September, that's how polished. Finnegan's fastball sits in the 91-94 range, but when he really needs a strikeout, he tops it out (with control) at 98 MPH. He also features a changeup, which while average in velocity and movement, is at least that, average or above. Finnegan makes his changeup even better by having an exceptional feel for when to use it. Finnegan's breaking pitch is a curveball that could use some tightening up. This is his least average pitch, but already has such good tumble and spin that he misses plenty of bats with it. Some focused coaching should be able to help him tighten the pitch up with little trouble. Lastly, Finnegan's mechanics are fluid and he has an easy, repeatable delivery.
Brandon Finnegan is not going to be a TOR pitcher. His ceiling is likely to be as a #3 starter with occasional flashes of brilliance. His floor however, is probably as a BOR starter, or a long-arm out of the bullpen. The upside here is that the risk is low and he could be at or near his ceiling as soon as sometime in 2015.
The Prep Possibility:
Grant Holmes RHP:
6' 2" 200 lbs. Conway (S.C.) H.S.
If the Diamondbacks are going to take a prep pitcher in the first round, this is the one to grab. Holmes features three complete pitches that he can use at will, a fastball in the low to mid 90s, an above average curve, and a changeup that, while not stellar by any means, benefits from great arm action and an above average sense of when to use it to greatest effect. Prep pitchers with three quality pitches, solid command, and an above average pitching IQ simply do not grow on trees. Not only does the kid have quality pitches, he knows how to mix and locate them well, making his a true stand-out.
The downside to Holmes is that he is almost at the "what you see is what you get" stage. His fastball is very likely all it is going to be, as the young man has almost certainly grown into the frame he is going to have going forward. There is far less projection to speculate on with Holmes, meaning that the Diamondbacks should feel that his stuff is good enough already that with some professional time he'll figure out how to have success on the main stage. While his arm angle is sometimes somewhat erratic, it appears that the problem will be an easy fix. This is actually helped by the fact that Holmes has mostly finished developing physically.
In a draft as stacked as this one is with quality pitching, Holmes could quite conceivably be on the board at #16. With a maximum ceiling as a TOR arm, he's a difficult prep prospect to pass up. If the Diamondbacks are going to go the prep route, Holmes is easily the player to take.
Players to Avoid:
Nick Burdi, RHP: The hardest thrower in the draft, this kid out of Louisville has the stuff to be an impact closer in the near future. The Diamondbacks already have those in spades and don't need to spend a first round pick on anything other than a starter.
Derek Fisher, OF - LHB: If the Diamondbacks are going to take an OF, they are far better off going with Zimmer.
Erick Fedde, RHP: Though TJ surgery is not alone enough to discourage me from liking a pitcher, the fact that Fedde's was in May means he won't be a contributor until at least June of next year. At that point, if absolutely everything goes right for him, he could be a potential TOR arm. Unfortunately, it wouldn't take much going wrong for him to be a bullpen arm. The combination of waiting a full year and the low ceiling should be a deal breaker.
Sean Reid-Foley, RHP: There is actually plenty to like about Reid-Foley and every reason to expect that he will go in the first round. But if the Diamondbacks are going to take a prep talent, they are much better off taking Holmes.