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Friday, December 9, 2022

Draft Prospect Watch: Time to Look at a Pitcher

There are about seven weeks left before the first day of the 2022 MLB draft, meaning that we still have plenty of time to look at top draft options for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who select fourth overall. A lot could change between now and then, so the plan is to look at all of the players who rank around where the Pirates select.

In April, we started our Draft Prospect Watch articles, where we look at a new player each Sunday. Our first choice was Druw Jones. The next Sunday we looked at Elijah Green. That was followed by Jackson Holliday, after he moved up some draft charts. In the fourth installment, we went with Termarr Johnson, who has been on the radar all season for the fourth overall pick. The next week was a name that has been linked to the Pirates recently, Cam Collier, who is the son of a former Pirates player. Last week we looked at Brooks Lee, who has been tied to the Pirates numerous times this year, including the most recent mock drafts.

There are six articles and none of them are looking at a pitcher. This draft class is strong at the top, but it is still lacking strong pitching. The only one connected to the Pirates at any point was a prep pitcher out of Georgia named Dylan Lesko, who had his season cut short due to needing Tommy John surgery. Could the Pirates take him despite the double risk of surgery and being a prep pitcher? Sure, he could be a savings pick, who was originally a fourth overall possibility anyway. That would allow them to get a top talent and spend elsewhere. I’m going to skip him for now and go with the highest ranked pitcher in the recent MLB Pipeline updated rankings. He has not been connected to the Pirates, but if they want to go pitching in this class, he’s a strong possibility.

Brock Porter came in at the #10 spot in the updated Pipeline rankings. He’s an 18-year-old from Michigan, who will be 19 before draft day. He’s a 6’4″, 205 pound right-hander with a commitment to Clemson. In the latest Baseball America update, they dropped him from #12 to #14, though the video you see at the bottom of this article came after that ranking, so I wouldn’t exactly say he is trending down. Here’s a look at the Pipeline report on his stuff, followed by the BA report for comparison.

Pipeline grades him as having a 70 grade fastball and a 60 grade changeup, which is definitely a rare grade for a high school pitcher on that second pitch (not that a 70 grade fastball is common). His breaking pitches are rated as a 50 for his curve and a 55 for his slider. His control is average at a 50 grade. Pipeline calls the fastball perhaps the best among all prep pitchers this year. It sits 94-97 MPH and he can hit 100. He also gets good arm-side run. The description of the changeup sounds like a 60 grade might be light, as they say it will get 10+ MPH separate from the fastball, with good horizontal movement and deceptive arm speed. The slider has improved this year and he throws it about 8-10 MPH harder than his curve. They like his low effort delivery and the fact that his large frame still has some projection remaining. In their words, besides refining his spin rate, he just needs experience and continued good health.

For comparison, here is the BA report. They have his velocity a tick slower, which appears be based on the timing of the reports because older reports I looked at from other sources have him even lower. BA is just as high on the changeup, noting the separation, fading action and his feel for the pitch. They also note that it has equally effective against lefty/righty hitters, and some of the best prep hitter have had trouble with the pitch. Their report doesn’t have any specifics for the breaking balls. They note that right now he is more of a control pitcher than a command pitcher, so he’s around the strike zone, but not always hitting his spots.

Some of the older reports that had him ranked lower seem to have issues that he has addressed, such as adding velocity or improving his slider, so we could possibly see him move up the rankings for other people as well. For now, Pipeline’s #10 ranking is his high point, though they are also the last source to update rankings.

Here are some videos, starting with this game action from late August 2021. There are two videos here from different times. While he was still a first round type talent in this top video, the second video should show you the improvements that have led his stock to rise this year.

Here’s a more recent video from MaxPreps of a 12 strikeout game:

 

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John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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docdon385

Prep pitchers are by far the biggest risk in the draft. At least five years of development without being injured and/or needing surgery on a young arm is just too much of a risk for such a high pick, in my opinion of course. Taillon’s the most obvious Pirate example. Needed two TJ’s and when he finally actually started looking like a major league pitcher, it was time to trade him.

The situation with Rocker remains unclear. He was/is supposed to pitch for a Frontier League team this year but as far as I can tell still hasn’t. He’s listed by most as being a likely 30-40 draft pick this year but even that makes little sense. If his arm is damaged goods, no one should or will risk taking him until much later, but if he’s totally healthy why would one of last years top prospects and best pitchers not be worthy of being taken quickly?

The Mets apparently wanted him but after agreeing to overpay at #10 then decided, not that they didn’t want him, but that they didn’t want to pay him what they initially agreed to citing his arm as the reason. I suspect having Scott Boras as his agent probably played a big role in why he was never signed, but who knows. That whole situation still makes no sense.

If his physicals indicate that his arm is fine and he pitches a few games the way he did while at Vanderbilt, the Pirates would be smart to seriously consider him with the #4 pick. If he’s that same guy, he could be in the majors by next year? Of course having Boras as his agent might scare them away knowing he would likely demand the full slot amount to sign, but really what leverage does Rocker have at this point if he expects to pitch in MLB?

jeffw3000

Rocker is pitching for the Tri City Valleycats. His first start will be June 4. They will be in Washington 6/7, 6/8, and 6/9. June 9 would be 4 day rest, so he may pitch then on normal 4 day rest, but I would also not be surprised if they held him until their next game which is at home. I would not have a problem with us taking Rocker with our Comp pick, but I think it would be too aggressive to take him at 4. Perhaps once I see him in the Frontier league I may change my mind. I just think taking him at 4 would be a bit aggressive.

SBRO

It’s bizarre to me that Rocker would drop out of the first round under the assumption that his arm is damaged goods when Dylan Lesko had freakin TJS 6 weeks ago and he’s still considered a mid-first round pick.

The one and only concern I would have is negotiating with Boras. If Rocker shows well in the Frontier League, he’ll demand over-slot. What I don’t know, and haven’t been able to find out, is what if Rocker doesn’t sign with the team that drafts him this year? Does he go back into the ’23 draft pool? I imagine his rights would still be under the control of the team that drafted him until the next draft, but wonder if there’s a loophole there.

roberto

If the team makes an offer and the player doesn’t sign, he can be drafted again (next year in Rocker’s case) and the team gets a compensation pick the next year. Think Mark Appel and Austin Meadows.

SBRO

But how many times can they do that, is my question. It’s already happened once. Can they keep drafting him until he’s 30?

roberto

I think he’s starting today or tomorrow.

jeffw3000

He is starting on 6/4.

skliesen

Fast forward 10 years. Who here is willing to wager a high 1st round pick Porter will be more highly thought of than Dylan Lesko?

If Pirates take a Pitcher, Porter would be my 3rd choice behind Lesko and Rocker.

docdon385

A better question is who wants to wait 10 years to find out?

joesolo6181

I like the arsenal he shows and his easy delivery but 4 is to high for him. They should take a hitter. Less injury risk than a pitcher.

jeffw3000

I agree. 4 is too high for him, but if he is there at 36 I would consider him then.

b mcferren

Rocker is the winner we want at #4 pick

AdministrativeSky236

Nope nope, Rocker is fine with comp pick A or our second rounder, no way in hell we should touch him with our 4 overall. First rounder only makes sense to be a bat with this draft class

skliesen

You misspelled L-E-S-K-O.

roberto

I don’t know how to read what went down last year. He’s pitching in an independent league this year.

b mcferren

could careless

in the end Rocker will be the best starting pitcher to come out of the 2022 draft class

his age and experience is already in line with our core group of winners

roberto

OK, but were the Mets just being weird or was there a real issue? If other teams conclude it was a Mets issue, one of the top four will draft him.

SBRO

METS. You can’t rule out anything. Doesn’t matter the ownership, the front office management, the on-field management. It’s like Chinatown (the movie). Forget about it.

Even if there was a real issue – and I tend to believe there was – they left themselves with no Plan B if he didn’t sign. No over-slot 11th round HS pick with a college commitment they could divert that extra $1.3M to (the delta between Rocker’s slot value and what they shook hands on). From the 3rd round onwards the Mets took 18 college players.

METS.

roberto

Why am I the first to upvote this? A Chinatown reference plus an anti-Mets screed. Does it get better?

BTW I went to the Mets-Braves game right after John Rocker delivered his racist, anti-New York diatribe. My big fear was that a police horse would step on or poop on me or my son.

roberto

Does anyone have a clue about Kumar Rocker?

TNBucs

Reading the above and watching the second video, I’d be fine with him at #4 . Northern players develop later anyway, right?

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