2012 MLB Draft: 25 Best Pitching Prospects in the 2012 Draft Class
After publishing Prospect Pipeline’s second mock draft yesterday evening, I thought that I would break down the top pitching prospects on the draft board.
Now, this order doesn’t necessarily reflect how each player will be drafted, as one organization may prefer one guy to another. Rather, this is based upon how I perceive their ceiling as well as potential impact.
With the draft less than two weeks away, here is a preview of the top 25 draft-eligible pitchers.
25. Nolan Sanburn, RHP, Arkansas
Sanburn asserted himself as a potential first-rounder with an excellent performance in the Northwoods League this past summer, where he garnered No. 1 prospect honors.
His plus fastball is easily his best pitch, as it sits 92-96 mph and has been clocked as high as 98. He’s aggressive with it, working both sides of the plate, and generates a mixture of swing-and-misses and weak contact.
His breaking ball is of the sharp-downer variety, and he throws it with the same arm speed. He also throws a changeup, though it lags behind his nasty slider.
Sanburn has a muscular upper body and clean, repeatable mechanics that have allowed him to consistently improve his command over his college career.
24. Mason Melotakis, LHP, Northwestern State
College: Northwestern State
Melotakis is a left-handed power pitcher with a plus fastball that sits 94-97 mph and is located to both sides of the plate. His secondary offerings lag behind in the form of a spike breaking ball and solid-average changeup. However, he’s worked exceptionally hard this season on improving both pitches, as it lends to his projection as a starting pitcher.
The southpaw’s mechanics are fluid and repeatable, as he’s already demonstrated the ability to attack opposing hitters out of the bullpen with his plus fastball. However, will a big-league bullpen be Melotakis’s final destination?
Given his handedness, frame and plus heater—not to mention the fact that Melotakis does have some experience as a starter over the last two and a half seasons—I truly believe there will be an organization that will want to develop him as a starter.
A left-hander with that type of fastball is a premium in the Major Leagues, and if things don’t pan out, a late-inning bullpen role is still a nice backup plan.
23. Brian Johnson, LHP, Florida
Height/Weight: 6’4”/220 lbs
Despite being a standout two-way player for Florida, Johnson is much more projectable on the mound.
The broad-shouldered left-hander boasts a fastball that sits at 90-94 mph, as well as command of four pitches, including a plus slider. He knows how to attack hitters and has shown an ability to work both sides of the plate with all his pitches.
He’s another safe pick given his polish and could move quickly if drafted into the right system.
22. Tyler Gonzales, RHP, James Madison HS (Texas)
High School: James Madison (Texas)
College Commitment: Texas
Gonzales possesses one of the more impressive prep arms in the 2012 draft class but hasn’t received the first-round consideration like Lance McCullers, Jr., Lucas Giolito or Zach Eflin.
The right-hander’s fastball sits in the 93-95 mph range, though he’ll frequently reach 97 mph in a given outing. Perhaps what’s even more impressive is the fact that he has demonstrated the ability to maintain low-to-mid-90s velocity deep into games.
Gonzales also features one of the best sliders in the class, which explodes out of his hand at 84-88 mph and generates both late and sharp bite. According to one scout, Gonzales does have a changeup but simply has no need for it at the prep level.
Although he lacks a power pitcher’s frame, Gonzales has a quick, whippy arm and a delivery that caters to his arm action. However, it’s uncertain whether he is being viewed as a future starter or reliever—his two-plus pitches project in both scenarios, though he’d have to develop his changeup (and possibly a fourth pitch) to be a successful starter.
If a team profiles Gonzales as a future big-league starter, he could work his way into the supplemental first round or early second round.
21. Nick Travieso, RHP, Archbishop McCarthy HS (Fla.)
High School: Archbishop McCarthy HS (Fla.)
College Commitment: Miami
As a freshman in high school, Travieso was already touching the low 90s. These days, the right-hander sits in the 94-96 mph range and has been known to reach back for 98-99.
Like most fireballers, he also throws a sharp, mid-80s slider that’s intended to generate swing-and-misses rather than hit spots. He also features a changeup, though it is currently more of a show-me pitch intended to setup the fastball-slider combo.
A presence on the mound, Travieso uses his strong lower half and quick arm to generate exceptional torque, which in turn adds an element of deception to all his pitches. Despite the quick arm and high velocity, he has no track record of injuries and has a strong, durable frame.
His high school program has been continually loaded with top-notch pitching, so the right-hander has been used only sparingly throughout his prep career. Therefore, his pure velocity and lack of mileage should make him an intriguing draft pick for some teams and could lead to a higher-than-anticipated selection.
And if he’s regarded as a potential starting pitcher, he could even work his way into the back-end of the first round or early supplemental round.
20. Dylan Baker, RHP, Western Nevada CC
College: Western Nevada CC
Arguably the top junior college draft prospect, Baker, an Alaska native, continues to post video game-like numbers and vault up the draft boards. While he offers the same type of upside as the big three of the 2012 class (Kevin Gausman, Mark Appel and Kyle Zimmer), Baker has repeatedly flown under the radar due to his lack of previous success.
This season, the right-hander has shown vast improvement in all his pitches and has seen a major velocity spike that has his plus fastball up to 93-97 mph. Baker also has two different breaking balls, both with plus potential. His mid-to-upper-80s wipeout slider is a swing-and-miss offering, and his curveball is more of the downer variety.
Although his fastball-breaking ball pairing could make him a first-round draft pick as a relief pitcher, there are many scouts who still believe that can be a starting pitcher.
If he’s drafted as a starting pitcher, Baker has the potential to sneak his way into the tail end of the first round. Either way, he has enormous upside given his current size, work ethic and arsenal of pitches.
19. Chris Beck, RHP, Georgia Southern
Height/Weight: 6’3”/215 lbs
College: Georgia Southern
Coming off a strong season in the Cape Cod League, there’s no reason to look too far into his mediocre results this season. Beck’s stuff is still excellent.
He features three at least above-average pitches in a fastball that sits 92-96 mph, an 81-84 mph slider, and an 80-83 mph changeup. It’s tough to say whether his arsenal and makeup will evolve into that of a front-line starter, but he at least has the potential to be a solid No. 3 or No. 4.
18. Walker Weickel, RHP, Olympia HS (Fla.)
High School: Olympia (Fla.)
College Commitment: Miami
It's no surprise that Weickel, at 6'6", struggles to repeat his mechanics on occasion, as he's still learning how to utilize his lanky frame and easy velocity.
The right-hander's fastball sits 91-94 mph, and, when he's on, Weickel pounds the lower half of the strike zone as well as both sides of the plate with the pitch. Given his easy delivery and projectable frame, it's a fairly safe assumption that he'll add more velocity as he continues to develop.
While his breaking ball is at least an average pitch with good shape, it's significantly slower than his fastball and not particularly effective. However, the offering leaves plenty of room for growth.
Weickel's third pitch, a changeup, is a surprisingly solid, as he throws it with convincing arm speed and has shown an ability to locate it with consistency.
17. Alex Wood, LHP, Georgia
Height/Weight: 6’4”/205 lbs
After missing the entire 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery, Wood has been consistently throwing 94-96 mph this season. However, his mechanics and arm action on the backside are all over the place, though they admittedly add some deception to his pitches.
Having said that, he has shown impressive command this season, as well as a knack for keeping the ball in the park.
16. Hunter Virant, LHP, Camarillo HS (Calif.)
High School: Camarillo (Calif.)
College Commitment: UCLA
Since picking up pitching as a sophomore, Virant has continually asserted himself as one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in the 2012 draft class.
Possessing excellent athleticism and a 6’3” frame that suggests he has room to fill out, the southpaw’s velocity has steadily climbed this spring. He spots his 89-93 mph fastball with conviction on both sides of the plate, while his smooth delivery and clean arm action cater to his deception.
His mechanics also disguise his changeup, which appears to be a pitch that may be equally effective against both right and left-handed hitters. He also has a slider but hasn’t decided whether it will be a finesse pitch dependent on location or a swing-and-miss offering thrown with velocity.
Given his lack of experience, he may ultimately honor his commitment to UCLA. However, his elite athleticism and early feel for pitching may get him drafted higher than most anticipate.
The only question will be whether his future suitor is willing to offer the big bucks that it will take to steer him away from a career as a Bruin.
15. Pierce Johnson, RHP, Missouri State
Height/Weight: 6’3”/180 lbs
College: Missouri State
Johnson hasn’t received the hype as the other right-handers cut from the same mold and continues be a big-time sleeper headed into the draft.
His arsenal consists of an easy 91-96 mph fastball, a filthy slider that could already be considered a plus offering, and an above-average change. He has simple mechanics and fluid arm action that profile well at the next level. His stats have never "wowed" anyone, but his ceiling is high.
The only drawback with Johnson is his health, as he's overcome some type of injury every year. However, none of the injuries—many of which were the result of bad luck—involved his elbow or shoulder, so teams shouldn't be overly concerned.
Yet, they could cause him to slide out of the first round, where he will become a steal in the supplemental or even second round.
14. Lucas Sims, RHP, Brookwood HS (Ga.)
High School: Brookwood (Ga.)
College Commitment: Clemson
Sims is an athletic right-hander with repeatable mechanics and three above-average pitches. His fastball works best in the 92-94 mph range, where it generates some late sink and arm-side movement. This past summer, the right-hander’s fastball was clocked at 96-97 mph on multiple occasions.
Sims’ best offering is his curveball, which he throws with similar arm speed and gets late, downer movement. He has an advanced feel for the pitch and is confident throwing it in any count.
Beyond that, Sims also possesses a changeup, although he uses primarily to set up his fastball-breaking ball combination.
13. Ty Hensley, RHP, Santa Fe HS (Okla.)
High School: Santa Fe (Okla.)
College Commitment: Mississippi
With a power pitcher’s frame at 6’5”, 220 pounds, Hensley continues to be a draft prospect that flies under the radar.
The right-hander’s fastball works in the low 90s and doesn’t have a ton of movement at the moment, but he does throw on a downward plane from a high release point. His best pitch is definitely his breaking ball, a 12-to-6 knee-buckler that he consistently throws for a strike. He also throws a changeup, though it’s not nearly as advanced as the curveball.
12. Lance McCullers, Jr., RHP, Jesuit HS (Fla.)
High School: Tampa Jesuit (Fla.)
College Commitment: Florida
Say what you want about McCullers’ size and max-effort delivery. At the end of the day, all that matters is that he has some of the best pure stuff in the entire 2012 draft class.
At 6’1”, 190 pounds, the right-hander’s fastball registers 94-96 mph and has even been gunned in the 98-100 mph range. Despite his ability to flirt with triple digits, McCullers' best offering is his plus curveball with tight spin and hard, late bite.
Rounding out his arsenal is a changeup with has some fade but noticeably lags behind his other pitches. However, it does have potential to be an above-average pitch.
The only question is whether his future is as a starter or reliever. He’s a strong kid who repeats his mechanics and arm action, so I see no need for an immediate move to the bullpen. His stuff is excellent and could warrant a much higher draft pick than some expect.
11. Matthew Smoral, Solon HS (Ohio)
High School: Solon (Ohio)
College Commitment: North Carolina
An Ohio native, the lanky left-hander has missed most of the 2012 season after having surgery to repair a small fracture in his foot. Working from a high three-quarters arm slot, Smoral pumps an easy 92-94 mph fastball that should add a few ticks over time.
His best pitch, however, is without a doubt his plus slider, which is already could be a legitimate out pitch at the big-league level. The southpaw also features a low-70s curveball that has good shape and late break and offers hitters a much different look.
And finally, Smoral rounds out his rotation with a changeup that he throws with a similar arm speed, which in turn generates late fading action.
10. Zach Efflin, RHP, Hagerty HS (Fla.)
High School: Hagerty (Fla.)
College Commitment: Central Florida
Eflin has everything one looks for in a prep right-hander—and he’s just as risky of a draft pick. Prior to the start of the 2012 season, Eflin corrected a flaw in his mechanics that has yielded eye-popping results.
His fastball has been up to 95 mph this spring—he was only flirting with 90 mph last summer—and he’s dominated some of the nation’s premier prep teams. The pitch also has a lot of late life and is consistently thrown on a downward plane to both sides of the plate.
Beyond his plus heater, the right-hander has the makings of a plus-breaking ball that generates heavy downer action due to his lightning-quick arm. He’s also shown an increased feel for his changeup, though it still lags behind his curveball.
But much like Giolito (once again), Eflin suffered an arm injury early in the season that has his draft stock in jeopardy. He missed all of April while recovering from triceps tendinitis but has since returned to the mound seemingly without missing a beat.
Eflin will have to prove he’s healthy in every outing leading up to the draft in order to solidify a favorable first-round selection.
But even if that’s ultimately the case, he’ll still be a costly draft pick given the injury history and lack of track record relative to some of the other higher-profile arms.
9. Chris Stratton, RHP, Mississippi State
College: Mississippi State
With a fastball that sits 91-96 mph with arm-side action, Stratton has a legitimate out pitch in his plus slider. He throws it with nearly identical arm speed, and it features late, diving movement that generates an abundance of helpless swings.
Furthermore, he has enough confidence in the pitch to challenge hitters in the zone. The right-hander also gets enough depth and tilt on the pitch to consistently start it on the outside corner and draw flailing swing-and-misses out of the zone.
Stratton also features a pretty good changeup that has become more than a show-me pitch this season, as his dominance of SEC hitters has led to a high draft projection.
8. Andrew Heaney, LHP, Oklahoma State
Height/Weight: 6’2”/175 lbs
College: Oklahoma State
Heaney’s draft stock has been surging all spring, as he’s emerged as the top left-handed collegiate arm in the 2012 draft class. He has excellent command of his 90-95 mph fastball with late, arm-side run, and he throws it with conviction to both sides of the plate.
He has also shown above-average command of his 79-83 mph curveball and 83-87 mph changeup, which gives him overall pitchability. His mechanics are smooth and repeatable, and his quick arm adds deception to all his pitches.
7. Michael Wacha, RHP, Texas A&M
Height/Weight: 6’6”/210 lbs
Wacha is basically a two-pitch pitcher with a 50-grade fastball and plus changeup that is the best in the entire 2012 draft class. By the time he reaches the major leagues, it could even grade as a 65 or 70.
While he’s been effective with a limited arsenal, he’ll need to significantly develop his breaking ball to be successful at the next level. He has a power pitcher’s frame with little room left to grow and is one of the safer pitching prospects in the draft.
6. Max Fried, LHP, Harvard-Westlake HS (Calif.)
High School: Harvard-Westlake (Calif.)
College Commitment: UCLA
Fried, a 6’3”, 170-pounder whose fastball sits in the low 90s, has drawn rave reviews from scouts, especially for his plus breaking ball that has excellent shape and downward action.
He has a highly athletic and projectable frame, while his feel and command of his pitches is incredibly mature for his age. His curveball is already a plus offering and the best in the draft, as he throws it in the mid-to-upper-70s with tight rotation and late, downer bite.
His delivery is smooth yet deceptive, which aids the effectiveness of his solid-average changeup. As a senior, he’s already shown an above-average feel for the strike zone as well as command of each of his pitches.
5. Marcus Stroman, RHP, Duke
Height/Weight: 5’9”/185 lbs
At 5’9”, Stroman could probably pump low 90s from his knees. His size will ultimately hurt his draft stock, but his blinding arm speed and upper-90s fastball are legitimate. However, he struggles to throw consistently on a downward plane and could be in for a rude awakening upon entering pro ball.
Given his plus-plus fastball, there’s a strong chance that the right-hander will be transitioned to the bullpen, where he profiles as a high-leverage reliever or closer down the road.
4. Lucas Giolito, RHP, Harvard-Westlake HS (Calif.)
High School: Harvard Westlake (Calif.)
College Commitment: UCLA
One of the nation’s top pitching prospects headed into the 2012 season, Giolito affirmed his potential as No. 1 overall draft pick by pumping 95-99 mph fastballs and dominating top-notch competition earlier this spring.
However, the right-hander has been sidelined since early March after spraining his UCL and has become one of the biggest gambles in the 2012 draft class. He’s begun throwing flat ground sessions, though he’ll need to be able to throw for scouts to be a top pick.
A UCLA commit, Giolito’s injury will inevitably scare some teams enough to avoid drafting him. At the same time, his arm and arsenal—including a double-plus breaking and solid-average changeup—will surely be viewed as a gamble worth taking.
He’ll need big-time money to pass on his college commitment, which means he’ll likely have to be a top-10 selection come draft day.
3. Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford
Height/Weight: 6’5”/190 lbs
The top collegiate arm headed into the 2012 season, the tall right-hander has the prototypical power build and 94-98 mph fastball to match.
However, while his stats may suggest dominance, Appel has been too hittable all season. He struggles to get on top of his fastball at times, which results in straighter and lighter variations that linger up in the zone.
While his slider can flash plus potential on occasion, it’s an inconsistent pitch. Appel’s struggles with the pitch have led to him throwing an increased amount of changeups this season—a pitch that currently works due to its speed differential and not due to movement.
He’s a safe pick in any of the top five spots but still lacks the polish and pitchability one looks for in an elite college pitcher.
2. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, San Francisco
College: San Francisco
A former position player who’s only been pitching for a few years, Zimmer is already highly advanced with a relatively fresh arm. His fastball has been as high as 98 mph this spring, though he typically works in the 93-96 range.
His curveball has late, sharp break and is viewed by some as the best breaking ball in the draft. As he gains more of a feel for it (and pitching in general), it should become a legitimate plus offering.
His changeup lags behind his breaking ball, but considering how quickly he’s put everything together on the mound, there’s no reason to doubt the pitch will be anything less than above average.
1. Kevin Gausman, RHP, LSU
Height/Weight: 6’4”/180 lbs
College: Louisiana State
Gausman—who possesses a lightning-quick arm—has consistently popped upper 90s all spring. Surprisingly, his best secondary pitch is a changeup that grades as an above-average offering. His slider has flashed improved bite and depth, and, considering his plus fastball, it should be a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch once it's more developed.
He's been dominant this season against top-notch SEC hitters and is perhaps the most big-league-ready of all collegiate arms.