INDIANAPOLIS – Greetings from the crossroads of America where I’ve come to watch Charlie Morton throw a bullpen. OK, OK, I’m really here to watch Gerrit Cole pitch. More on that later.
But first, I wanted to talk some more MLB draft. I caught up with former Cleveland and Texas GM John Hart, a current MLB Network analyst, to chat for tomorrow’s draft preview.
Hart was the architect of one of the better rebuilding jobs in modern baseball history: turning around the Cleveland Indians from laughing stock to one of the best teams in baseball.
Part of the success in Cleveland was tied to smart trades and pioneering long-term, arbitration buyout deals to young players, since copied by Tampa Bay and many other clubs. But a large part of the success came through the draft.
As a kid growing up in Cleveland I worshiped at the alter of John Hart (sorry, not you, Charlie)
Like every team that drafts, the Indians had some misses. But what Hart did is swing and swing big early in the draft. The Indians didn’t often take “safe” college-ready players, like out of the Moneyball philosophy. They went for high-upside players in Manny Ramirez (11th overall – 1991), Jaret Wright (10th ovearall 1994 – an impact guy at MLB level until injury), C.C. Sabatahia (20th overall 1998).
Hart’s doctrine is this: the draft is the best vehicle for small-market clubs to acquire impact talent so small-market clubs should draft high-upside players, who are often high schoolers and riskier players.
“When I say higher ceiling, I think in the first round what you are looking for, if it’s a position player, it’s a guy who has a chance to be an everyday player on a first-division club,” Hart said. “We would like to take that a step further and say a player who has all-star type ability: .280-.300 hitter, 20-25 home runs, or a front- to-mid starting pitcher in the first round.”
In other words, even though Mike Leake is a solid No. 5 starter for the Reds, Hart would advise against forgoing a “safe” college arm that projects to be a bottom of the rotation arm eighth overall and draft, say, Shelby Miller instead in 2009, a riskier prep arm.
“Clubs that keep it simple (have success),” Hart said. “Look for an everyday player on a 1st division club or a starting pitcher, a guy who has a chance to be a starter front-to-mid rotation pitcher. That’s what I want to take.”
The Pirates are going to face this debate: upside high school prospects or second-tier college talent tomorrow with the 9th and 14th overall picks.
Some of the high upside candidates are high schoolers:
OF Clint Frazier
OF Austin Meadows
LHP Trey Ball (who they like)
SS J.P. Crawford
C Reese McGuire (who they like)
That’s the group I’d advise to be picking from them unless something crazy happens like Mark Appel or Colin Moran fall.
I’m not sure if the Pirates front office feels comfortable enough to take players that might not arrive for five years, but in the long-term, it’s high school players that give the Pirates the best chance to find another star, another Andrew McCutchen (11th overall 2005, high school pick).
IS THE PIRATES BULLPEN REALLY OVERWORKED?
We know the Pirates starters have struggled to go deep into games with injuries to Jeanmar Gomez and Wandy Rodriguez recently.
We know the bullpen has pitched more innings than any other club in baseball.
But are the key bullpen arms really overworked? Interesting stuff from Ken Rosenthal
*Jason Grilli has pitched three consecutive days only once, totaling just 43 pitches in that span. He has thrown 20 or more pitches just four times in 28 outings.
• Mark Melancon has yet to pitch three consecutive days and gone back-to-back only eight times. He has thrown 20 or more pitches in just four of 30 outings.
• Justin Wilson has gone back-to-back just twice and never after throwing 20 or more pitches. Only once has he thrown more than 30 pitches and then not taken at least two days off.
Clint Hurdle has done a very good job of keeping his key bullpen aces fresh.
I wonder if there’s a common misnomer in baseball. Maybe what really happens is “overworked” bullpens are ones where middle relievers are forced to pick up the slack. That means a staff is having its weakest arms pickup more of the workload. That can be ugly. Maybe that’s where the lack of performance really comes from. Not end-game bullpen fatigue.
SCOUTING GERRIT COLE
OK, now what you’v long awaited for: my amateur scouting report on Gerrit Cole.
*The most impressive thing to me is the strength he holds deep into starts: his 88th pitch touched 99 mph Wednesday
Scouting Gerrit Cole. It’s not hard. He’s good.
*The other thing that stuck out is Cole has been much more efficient lately: 95 pitches, 62 for strikes Wednesday.
Said a scout: ‘when Cole works down in the zone he makes it look easy.’
The scout was also impressed with Cole’s more direct path to home plate, resulting in better fastball command.
*Cole said he was aware of Wandy Rodriguez’s injury prior to his start but said he doesn’t think he’s the next in line for a call-up motioning to veterans Morton and James McDonald in the Triple-A clubhouse.
*Cole said he has been trying to pitch to contact and isn’t worried about his lackluster strikeout totals.
*Cole appeared to be working on his curve (not many changeups Wednesday) and it was sharp. Cole froze Vince Belnome on a knee-buckling curve in the third inning.
*Final line: 7Ip, 3H. 0R, BB, 3K. …. 18 straight scoreless innings … not many Ks but Cole was challenging the Bulls with his fastball that sat 94-98 mph.
*Cole’s fastball can still get flat when he loses the downward plane. Shelley Duncan drilled a 98 mph Cole fastball to deep center for a flyout.
*Wil Myers was 0 for 3 against Cole with mostly weak contact.
*I’m not a scout but I think this: Cole is ready for The Show. And when Super 2 passes at the end of next week, I think he could be there.