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Drafting High School Pitchers in the Top Ten Rounds -- Brewers since 2004 (Rogers, Gallardo)


Mass Haas
Brewer Fanatic Staff
Danny Keller, an overslot signing out of HS in California, has been really struggling as a professional. At 6'5" and 190 lbs, he is physically imposing, but his repertoire, in its current form, is simply not. Hitters are batting close to .400 against him this season. The worst part, he has pitched worse this year then last. Gross.

 

Boy, you're not kidding. Fellow top-10 round high schoolers, 9th round RHP Alex Lavandero (3.83!) and 10th round LHP Anthony Banda (2.10), sport WHIP's even higher than Keller's 2.08.

 

Of course I'm posting this a day after stating we accentuate the positive around here, but after striking gold with 2004 2nd round high school pitcher Yovani Gallardo (and we'll also now credit them with the 2004 1st round choice Mark Rogers), it's been a mixed bag with highly drafted high school pithers, but Bruce Seid's early returns in this specific regard should give us pause.

 

2004 7th round LHP Craig Langille -- Canadian never escaped rookie ball

 

2004 8th round LHP Brandon Parillo -- peaked with 11 games at low-A

 

2005 3rd round RHP Will Inman -- now 25, may have found a niche with Boston in AAA this year out of the bullpen; Brewers get a pass, he had value

 

2005 10th round LHP Steve Garrison -- now a Mariner organizational soldier, he did manage one scoreless big league outing with the Yankees

 

2006 1st round RHP Jeremy Jeffress -- we know the story

 

2006 4th round RHP Evan Anundsen -- seven solid, never spectacular seasons in the system, scheduled to become a free agent in the fall at age 24, he'll find suitors

 

2006 8th round RHP Shane Hill -- never left Maryvale

 

2007 7th round LHP Efrain Nieves -- can you believe this young man is still just 22? He's been pitching in the New York - Penn League (short-season A-ball level) for the Tigers this year.

 

2007 9th round LHP Kristian Bueno -- never above Helena with Brewers, short subsequent stint with Astros now over

 

2008 supplemental 1st round RHP Jake Odorizzi -- kudos to the Brewers (and the Royals), one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, now on the cusp of the majors in AAA at age 22.

 

2008 2nd round RHP Seth Lintz -- major disappointment, never above Wisconsin; given the combo of Odorizzi / Lintz, still a win

 

2008 5th round RHP Maverick Lasker -- lost his rookie season to back problms, which re-surfaced early in 2012; jury still out at age 22, but long road ahead

 

***

 

That concludes the Jack Z. era, now we enter the Bruce Seid era of drafting high school pitchers early (top ten rounds). Even without giving Seid the benefit of patience and hindsight thus far, the early returns are troubling:

 

2009 -- None taken (perhaps he knew what future picks would do)

 

2010 1st round RHP Dylan Covey -- you likely know all about the diabetes decision, awful freshman season, better sophomore campaign (3.32 ERA, but 43 walks and only 50 K's in 81.1 2012 innings). Especially under the new CBA, Covey will never see anything near 1st round 2010 money, and given his college results, this was probably not going to be a pretty Brewer start to a pro career.

 

2010 7th round RHP Joel Pierce -- tough sledding thus far for the Canadian, now in Helena's middle relief corps

 

2011 2nd round RHP Jorge Lopez -- won't be 20 until February, but Maryvale struggles led to a 2012 move to the DSL, not Helena; way too soon to judge yet

 

2011 6th round RHP Danny Keller -- linked to begin this post

 

in addition to Alex Lavendero and Anthony Banda, also linked above, you have

 

2012 3rd round RHP Zach Quintana -- flashing promise, but not dominance, in the early small sample of 37.1 innings

 

Note that the rookie player development staffs have something to be responsible for here as well. It's been a rocky few years for developing highly thought-of high school arms.

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I just wonder if it's a money issue that could make the situation better. I've always been a huge fan of spending a lot in development. Down the road you'd save a little money with cost effective (I meant to phrase this better but I lost the words as soon as I started typing).
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Certainly scouting is much more difficult for high schoolers than college players - it is harder to project physical development. There is an injury risk, but for the most part the Brewers seem to be very cognizant of arm stress and gradual workload increases and few of those listed had significant injuries. But there is also a lot more than physical talent that goes into succeeding in baseball, particularly in the minors.

 

One major advantage college players have is the mental maturity they develop. With high school players, this may be the first time they have ever been away from home. That emotional effect can impact your performance. College players have already learned how to, for the most part, live on their own. They are used to travel and being away from family/friends. They have probably figured out for the most part how to live on a budget, do laundry, basic cooking, and other life skills. They are used to dealing with distractions (girls, partying, etc.) and how to balance those with knowing they need to perform (on the field & in the classroom). These are things that some if not most high schoolers don't know how to deal with and can have an impact on development.

 

Your decision-making skills are definitely more developed after going to college. The Brewers need not look any further than Wilhelmson, Jeffress, and others to see how talent can be wasted by bad decisions. And players with those issues you don't want in your organization for fear that those habits will permeate to other players. I think the lesson here is that guys like Gallardo, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Mat Latos, and other non-first-round HS pitchers are the exception, not the rule.

 

The oddest of those to me is Brandon Parillo. Don't know what happened there, but when he was 19 he gave up 23 hits in 39 innings and struck out 41. You don't give up on a 20-year-old after 25 not-so-good low-A ball innings unless there was something else going on. I highly doubt his departure was due to on-the-field performance.

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I wonder if some of the failures are due to injury? Anundson, in particular, was going pretty well until he was injured and hasn't been able to reach the same level (yet). I'm not sure it's that easy to project injuries although I guess you could detect delivery flaws which could lead to them. I'm sure other organizations have this same problem.
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I'm sorry this got much longer than I originally intended

I don't think this should be a surprise given the Brewer's problems with pitching in general. They haven't hit on many college pitchers either.

 

Obviously the vast majority of HS draftees are going to fail, there's no college performance to filter out the 90% of the players that wouldn't have made professional ball if they had played at a level in between high school and the professional league like in the other major sports. The one advantage that baseball has is that it's largely an individual sport without contact so talented enough boys can actually have success against men, unlike football for example where maybe 1 18 year old kid out of a 1000 could walk in and physically compete against the men in the league. The minor leagues are slowly changing from a "trial by fire" atmosphere to more of a developmental atmosphere, but there are simply too many games on a horrible schedule to ever give each young man the individual attention and coaching he so desperately needs.

 

I think the current pitching renaissance in baseball has more to do with organizations actually starting for the first time to develop pitchers instead of throwing them out there and hoping for the best. I linked to a story early in the year about teams using 6 man rotations below AA and it's a great way to be able to get more coaching time in the bullpen and build arm strength in-between starts. I'm not sure I'm completely on board with that concept, but it does have obvious merit.

 

Drafting college players has always been a safer bet, but it's no way to build in an organization. Impact college players rarely last past the first 10 picks and I'm a huge proponent of having both high ceiling and high floor players in the organization, however I really struggle with the notion of taking "safe" college pitchers in the first round who might top out a #3 best case. That might be fine if we had a plethora of high ceiling arms but we haven't, we haven't had a pitcher whom we could say legitimately profiled as a #1 in quite a long time. I agree that any MLB contribution is better than no MLB contribution, but I'm not looking to be mediocre, and if we never take shots at high ceiling players and draft safe college players with the premium picks you end with Oakland's farm system through the mid 2000s to 2011, that's not where I want to be.

 

So what's an acceptable rate for high school arms? I'd say getting a successful and productive impact pitcher 1 out of 2 years should be the goal, maybe you have a down year in there on the MLB side (like 2012) where you can draft high and pick-up an impact college arm in the top 10 picks, but for the most part if you're drafting in the middle to the end of the first round impact pitching is going to come from the high school ranks or international signings. The Rays have done a tremendous job getting impact high school to the majors, but they also drafted a ton of high school arms to do it. It's a reasonable assumption that the more players you draft with high ceilings, the greater the likely hood that 1 will live up to the hype. If we're only drafting a couple per year then the scouting dept has to be nearly perfect. Personally, I'd like to see 3 high school arms taken in the top 10 rounds pending draft position every year as well as some significant money spent that way in Latin America. Add 4-5 high ceiling arms every year between the draft and international signings, then actually get them the coaching they need, (Lee Tunnell in Milwaukee's bullpen is a joke). After that the chips will fall where they may with injuries and such, but we need to impact options out there.

 

If you look at the Brewers Gallardo was a hit, Odorizzi was hit, and Rondon would have been a hit but they didn't get him signed. That's one heck of a top of the rotation if Odorizzi and Rondon pan out like they should, the problem is simply the spacing in years between those selections. We don't have the volume or the consistency in quality when it comes to high school pitchers.

 

If it were my scouting dept this is what I'd do. 1) I'd hire more scouts and 2) I'd specialize them by area. 1 guy is the hitting guy, 1 guy is the pitching guy in each geographic area. Certainly they can compare notes about players that catch their eye, but not all scouts are equally good at judging pitchers and hitters. The scouts would continue to report to regional crosscheckers but then 3) I'd have an organizational crosschecker for both pitching and hitting right beneath the scouting director. Finally I really like the idea of splitting international and domestic scouting so 4) I'd create a separate international scouting dept focused solely on Latin America and Asia with a similar structure. These ideas would certainly create more overhead for the organization but every dollar spent on good scouting potential saves 10X that much signing FAs of any kind.

 

In general the problem with high failure rates is that the the people who really know about a kid often overlook the negatives when selling that kid to scouts or recruiters, their motivation is simply to look after their son or a young man they've coached and grown attached to. They don't see the other side, that people's jobs and lively hoods depends on these kids developing into solid young men. It doesn't matter which college or professional sport, it's tough to see through the garbage to find out what the kid is actually like. Years ago one of my brother's best friends was drafted out of high school, chose college, was drafted again, and ultimately had a short stint as a reliever in the big leagues. I remember the day he was called up a good friend sent an email asking if I had heard and what I thought his prospects were for a career. Having been around him he had all the physical tools you'd want in arm, size, and stuff, but none of the intangibles so even though he'd always been successful I didn't hesitate to guess he wouldn't last the year. Unfortunately for him he didn't last the year and he was out of baseball within 2 years, a large number of people in the community thought this young man was screwed over by his organization when he simply didn't have enough to compete with the players at that level.

 

I've said many times that I'm no one special, but my father is, so I've had opportunities to get to know and be around people that I otherwise wouldn't have had the opportunity to associated with and learn from. I've listened to high school coaches from high profile programs bitterly talk about colleges refusing to recruit their kids and I've listened to college coaches talk about how certain high school programs always oversell their kids so they aren't credible any longer. I've listened to professional athletes tell stories about the ultra talented players in college who never played a down or pitched in a meaningful game, and the same is true of those same kind of guys not making it out of training camp or the minor leagues once they went professional. Then at the end there's always that player who's attitude changes once he finally gets paid, those guys are extremely hard to weed out... some guys are happy with that first big singing bonus and that's it, others with their first big contract and that's it, they seem to relax once they feel they've arrived.

 

The most difficult part of all of this isn't how tall, or how hard, or what kind stuff a pitcher has, it's how hard he competes and how badly he wants to play. The more information you have, the more eyes you have on a player, the better decisions you can make but when it comes time to make a choice it's always going to be subjective based on gut feelings about who a kid actually is. There's no magic psych profiling that can predict how an 18 year old kid will develop into a 22 year old young man. However, If you can find young men with all those qualities then you pursue them aggressively drafting as many as is feasible. I don't think the Brewers are good enough at scouting pitching to draft so few players with impact potential and they certainly can't fail to sign a kid when they do get it right.

 

Baseball is tough enough the way is, bad travel, poor nutrition, not enough rest, lack of practice time, and inconsistent coaching. However, I'd still prefer high school kids that were only abused by their high school coach and not also through college where they get varying levels of coaching on mechanics and so on. It would appear that most college pitching coaches don't mess with what isn't broke as long as the player is having success, that irks me just as much as 140 pitch outings. Simple mechanics are always better than the alternative, there are less things the body has to manage, so at the very least we shouldn't see so pitchers with the significant fall off towards 1st base like K-Rod, but as long as a guy makes it work why challenge him to be better right? In fact that's the part of the Reid Nichols interview that really pissed me off, paraphrasing "we won't fix a kid until they fail"... it's certainly a non abrasive form of coaching but is it actually in the organization's, program's, or player's best long-term interest to just let a player do what he does until the bottom falls out?

 

The Brewers must continue to target high ceiling arms through the draft, but they also must do a better job selecting and developing the talent. 1-2 players per year isn't going to cut it, there should be 4-5 new pitchers between the DSL and rookie leagues every single season. I'd absolutely like the trend of higher floor players to continue as well, but we need a better of mix talent in the organization, right now we simply have too many players of the same type and not enough players at the high end of the physical talent spectrum.

"You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation."

- Plato

"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something."

- Plato

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Also, there are unique circumstances this year with the Rookie league teams. The 2011 draft was headlined by 2 college pitchers who were promoted above Rookie league immediately. The 2012 draft was mainly about drafting hitting to make up for the deficit of that in the system. The combination of these two drafts has left Rookie league teams without any major arms. This could be something for this year only. I do think Seid has gotten a bit better with his later drafts than the first.
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I don't think the Brewers are good enough at scouting pitching to draft so few players with impact potential and they certainly can't fail to sign a kid when they do get it right.

 

 

The problem Crew07 is it's YOU who seems to assign a players ceiling or lack thereof.

 

You've had Nelson labeled as nothing more than an innings eater and bemoaned that pick since it was made because SOMEONE mentioned Suppan...though of course I don't recall him throwing 98 with a nasty slider.

 

You've had Jungman's ceiling as nothing more than a back end innings eater(though where a bit higher on Bradley).

 

And you loved Lopez, and we drafted Rondon in one year.

 

So in reality, that's at least 4 extremely high ceiling arms right there.

Icbj86c-"I'm not that enamored with Aaron Donald either."
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