Drafting the Third Plus Pitch

Regrettably, I began my series both reviewing draft history and previewing the 2010 draft position-by-position too late in the draft season. So, since we haven’t covered outfielders and pitchers — and because there’s no way I could cover all of them in one post — I’m not going to try. Instead, I’ll just post a bit about one unique story at each position.

Mike Leake
was drafted in the top 10 last year not because of overwhelming stuff, but because the Reds believed he offered present value — and they have been proven right. There is something to be said for the guy that makes, and sticks, in the Major Leagues first. A win today is cheaper than it’s going to be next year (in theory), and Leake already has 1.6 WAR in 11 starts. This year, many have compared Ohio State RHP Alex Wimmers to Leake, because Wimmers is going to move fast.

I saw and wrote about Wimmers earlier in the spring — and came away from the start most intrigued by his change up. “The best development for the right-hander was the strength of his change up,” I wrote. “He struck out three LHHs with the pitch, and he showed plus feel throughout the game.” It seemed that I had mostly heard about the curveball prior to this season, though, so I became intrigued at how far this pitch has come.

“His first year, he came mostly out of the bullpen learning to command that curveball,” Ohio State pitching coach Eric Parker told me. As a freshman, Wimmers appeared in 25 games in relief, posting a 4.50 ERA, with a 51/31 K/BB ratio in 40 innings. “I had talked to him about adding a third pitch, but his curve was so good, he didn’t need it in relief. I blame myself — we didn’t talk about the change up much.”

Parker credited the work Wimmers put in that next summer, in the Valley League, as where he began the development of the pitch. Baseball America ranked him the #2 prospect in the league after that summer, highlighting his “excellent curveball with hard, late break.” But for the change-up, they were less complimentary: “His circle changeup is still a work in progress and is clearly his third-best pitch.”

The next spring was where Wimmers broke out, winning 9 games, finding a spot on the Division I leaderboard in strikeouts with 136 in 104.2 innings. The pitch had evolved, been turned from a weapon in the Valley League to a plus pitch, probably during fall practices with the Buckeyes. According to CollegeSplits, in 2009, he struck out 56 left-handed batters in 147 at-bats. Overall, lefties hit .231/.372/.299 against him. He had a new weapon in his arsenal.

Next was a stop in the Cape Cod League, where regular Cape attendee and blogger Greg Schimmel ranked him as the league’s seventh-best pitching prospect, behind likely first-rounders Chris Sale and Brandon Workman, among others. Schimmel wrote, “[H]is best pitch was definitely his 74-75 mph curveball…Wimmers also has a good 76-78 mph changeup with good downward movement.” The pitch seemed undervalued even then.

However, his Cape Cod League manager remembered it more fondly in a recent conversation. Bourne manager Harvey Shapiro hasn’t seen Wimmers this spring, so his scouting report dates back to last summer. But the praise for the changeup is bold. “I think his changeup is a plus-plus pitch,” Shapiro said. “Whether you’re a lefty or a righty, his is so good he can throw it to either.” That, in fact, is one thing that his OSU pitching coach Eric Parker referenced was a focal point this spring.

And, of course, the pitch has taken a life of its own this spring. The Baseball America scouting report for him now references that one scout has called the pitch the most advanced change he’s seen from an amateur. Lefties, against whom Parker called the changeup “unbelievably effective,” hit a rather unbelievable .110/.168/.120 off him this spring, with 43 strikeouts in 100 at-bats.

The key to the pitch came from both coaches, as Parker credited Wimmers for having “such great arm speed” on the pitch, and said he “maintains the same arm slot.” Shapiro, in a separate conversation, said: “He throws all three pitches from the same arm slot, and with the same arm speed.” Scouts often believe that college pitchers with changeups might be even better in pro ball, as they will have more confidence to throw the pitch against same side hitters when they are facing wood bats rather than aluminum. The team that thinks this applies to Wimmers will draft him very highly today. They will think that his three plus pitchers are good enough that he’ll move quickly, potentially contributing at the Major League level by 2012. I do, too.




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8 Responses to “Drafting the Third Plus Pitch”

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  1. OremLK says:

    He doesn’t have three plus pitches. He has two plus pitches (curve, change) and an average pitch (fastball). What on earth made you think a high 80s heater with average command and average movement was a “plus pitch”?

    And while it might be great to have excellent secondary stuff, the fastball is still the most important pitch in baseball.

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      First of all, it isn’t high 80s. When I saw him, on a brisk, windy day in Chicago, he was 90-94, and sat 91-93 for most of the day. Second, the pitch projects to have above-average command, as Wimmers is a good feel pitcher. Third, the pitch is often lauded for having good arm side run, which I can also verify.

      We agree that the fastball is the most important pitch in baseball. But we don’t agree on your information.

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      • OremLK says:

        Every source I have says 88-91mph, occasionally touching 92mph, with slight tailing action and average command due to inconsistencies in finding his release point. Maybe you saw him on a particularly good day for him, velocity-wise; you do know that there is some variation in that.

        But even if it does sit 91-93, that’s still not plus. It’s a hair above major league average, maybe a 55 on the scouting scale.

        http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/draft/player/_/id/18931/alex-wimmers
        http://www.mlbbonusbaby.com/2010/02/14/alex-wimmers-scouting-report/
        http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?topic_id=8080130&content_id=7177795

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      • OremLK says:

        Lest I come across as too harsh, I will say that I really like Wimmers, and agree he has a high floor. I just take issue with stating he has three plus pitches. That would make him a potential ace and a consensus top five pick, instead of a safe #3-4 starter without a whole lot of upside.

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      • Bryan Smith says:

        It’s worth mentioning, though, that Keith is working in that report off seeing him last summer in the Cape, and Andy is working off three sightings a year ago. Alex had some projection then — Andy thought so more than Keith — and it seems to me that he came back this spring more filled out, and a little crisper.

        And no worries, you’re not being too harsh. I do think that whether the pitch is ever plus depends on how the command evolves.

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  2. Paul says:

    Great report Bryan. I really hope the Royals don’t take one of the lefties at number 4 and go after Wimmers instead if they really want a college arm. But they won’t see through the myth of the college pitcher not being projectable or able to add velo. Brian Bannister, as one example, is averaging over 90 on the FB this season. According to this report, Wimmers’ secondary offerings are already better than “Banny’s”. That’s a 3rd starter on a good staff in the AL. In this draft, if the first three picks play out as expected, that’s a great pick at number 4.

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  3. Tim says:

    Saw him a few weeks ago….definitely throwing in the 90’s and touching 93-94 on a regular basis. He might be in the big leagues next year.

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  4. I Alivandi says:

    Why do so many think that velocity = plus fastball. If that was the case, Radhames Liz and Daniel Cabrera wouldn’t be awful pitchers.

    John Ely’s fastball is an excellent pitch because he commands it and throws a plus plus change off it. Randy Wolf’s fastball is an excellent pitch because he commands it and changes speeds from the left side.

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