RHP Zack Wheeler (NYM)
Late last week I published an article in which I designed my ideal hitting prospect using different components of various players’ swings.
Today, I thought I’d tackle something similar and attempt to build the perfect pitching prospect.
Here’s what I came up with:
Frame: Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners
At 6’4”, 210 pounds (at least that was his weight at the beginning of the season), Walker possesses an ideal frame for a pitcher. Not only is he incredibly athletic and agile at that size, but there’s also room left for projection as he physically matures and inevitably becomes stronger.
Mechanics: Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
I considered using Jarrod Parker for this portion, though I ultimately decided not to include him considering he’s no longer a prospect. Instead I chose a young right-hander who shares a lot of similarities in the pace of delivery, stride and arm action.
Noah Syndergaard, a 6’5” right-hander who registered a 2.60 ERA, 10.6 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in his age-19 season at Low-A, has some of the cleanest and most repeatable mechanics I’ve seen for a pitcher that age (and size).
Not only does he locate everything and pile up strikeouts; he consistently gets excellent tilt on all his pitches, pounds the lower half of the strike zone and generates a favorable groundball rate (53.7-percent in 2012).
Arm Action: Zack Wheeler, RHP, New York Mets
While there are plenty of pitchers who throw hard by employing a methodical yet efficient arm stroke, I’ve always preferred a guy with a lightning-quick arm. (If you don’t know what I mean by a “lightning-quick” arm, please watch this highlight reel of Pedro Martinez and absorb as much as possible.)
Anyway, I digress. Wheeler’s arm stroke is repeatable on the backside, short and effortless, which allows him to hold his velocity deep into games.
Generating fastballs that typically sit in the 94-98 mph range, the right-hander’s explosive, whippy arm makes all of his offerings jump at the hitter—he keeps his front shoulder closed to the batter until the last possible moment—especially his sharp, downer curveball.
Lower Half/Leg Drive: Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Employing a strong lower half throughout a delivery eliminates a dependence on sheer arm strength, as a strong drive off the back leg reduces the amount of stress placed on the shoulder, elbow and associated ligaments and tendons. Furthermore, it prevents a pitcher from losing the ball high to the arm side and, in principal, provides a given offering with more tilt.
At 19 years old, Dylan Bundy already has a ridiculously strong lower half and his understanding on how to utilize it is evident in his ascent to the major leagues.
Granted, the right-hander’s training regimen alone separates him from almost every other pitching prospect. But still, the fact that he incorporates his lower half so well at such a young age gives him tremendous upside.
Follow Through: Jose Fernandez, RHP, Miami Marlins
At 6’3”, 215 pounds (allegedly), Fernandez has the other type of power pitcher frame that I referenced earlier in contrast to Taijuan Walker. As you can see in the video, the 19-year-old is a thick dude form the waist down, though it doesn’t seem to impede any aspect of his delivery.
Employing a “drop and drive” delivery into weight transfer, Fernandez gets all of his energy off his back side, through the pitch, and still executes a clean and under-control follow through.
While it’s not technically effortless, the right-hander will make it appear that way a majority of the time. And his season stats (14-1, 1.75 ERA, 10.6 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in 134 innings between Low-A and High-A) only attest to his overall consistency.
As I briefly alluded to in the passage on Wheeler’s arm action, the right-hander keeps his shoulder closed to home plate until the last possible moment, as his arm then comes seemingly out of nowhere in conjunction with a long, powerful stride.
If you watch any minor league footage of Wheeler, it’s hard to find instances where opposing hitters barrel his pitches. Normally, there are loads of late swings on two- and four-seam fastballs, as well as a lot of early, dead-red swings on sharp sliders.
While his stuff is undeniably nasty, his deception makes it even more lethal.
What do you know—more Zack Wheeler. With a deceptive delivery and quick arm, his fastballs get on opposing hitters in a hurry. He features a four-seam that frequently reaches 97-98 mph, as well as a two-seam that comes in a few ticks softer but with more arm-side life.
But it’s not only that: Wheeler’s fastball creates a distinct, crisp pop of the catcher’s mitt every single time. Not only does the pitch look like a plus offering, it sounds like one too.
Although he hasn’t had a chance to really snap off a good one in the major leagues, take my word: Dylan Bundy has a yack of a breaking ball. When thrown well, the pitch features extraordinary pace and shape, and, as you can see, is capable of making right-handed hitters look foolish.
Given that he’s still only 19, Bundy has a tendency to leave the pitch up in the zone and therefore has noticeable room for refinement. However, it’s already an above-average pitch that will only continue to get better.
Slider: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
The No. 1 overall draft pick in 2011 was bound to appear in this article sooner or later. While he has one of the best fastballs in the game—a legitimate plus-plus pitch—I was more impressed with Cole’s offspead pitches this past season.
When thrown off a well-located (or even decently-located) fastball, the right-hander’s slider is absolutely devastating. It’s one of those wipeout sliders that’s so good, he can spike it at 58 feet and still draw a swing-and-miss. Registering in the low-90s, it’s a pitch that seems impossible to square up.
Cole’s changeup reminds me a lot of Stephen Strasburg’s, though understandably not as advanced or consistent. Still, he does a nice job throwing it with the same arm speed as his fastball, and although it registers in the 88-90 mph range, is still more-or-less 10 ticks off his heater.
But as I mentioned with his slider, the pitch is most effective when thrown relative to his fastball. Regardless, it’s a third plus pitch in the right-hander’s highly impressive arsenal.
Ok, so he did it against Low-A and High-A hitters. But for a 19-year-old, the command that Jose Fernandez exhibited all season was really, really impressive.
With a four-pitch mix—three of which grade out as at least above-average offerings—the right-hander demonstrated an advanced knowledge on how to attack hitters using both sides of the plate, seemingly setting up pitches well in advance.
This made him equally successful against both right- and left-handed hitters. So while he induced more swinging strikeout from right-handed hitters (20.3-percent), he was able to spot-up and catch more left-handers looking (14.7-percent).