NCAA Weekend Preview: The Enigmatic

In the 2007 draft, Matt Harvey, Kyle Blair and Brandon Workman were considered among the best right-handed prep pitchers available in the draft. And all three, either by intention or by confusion, made a subset of scouts believe that they could be bought away from their college scholarships by large bonuses. Harvey could have been, I think, but Scott Boras played his cards wrong with rumors of multi-million dollar bonus demands. He dropped to the third round, where the Angels hoped they could get him on the cheap. But Blair and Workman were considered signable enough to be drafted in the fifth and third rounds, respectively, and offered large six-figure bonuses to bypass college and enter professional baseball. Ultimately, all three hard-throwing righties decided they would make more money dominating college baseball for a couple years and re-entering the 2010 draft than signing these above-slot offers.

Fast forward three years, and they will make for some very interesting arguments in draft war rooms in June. All three entered the spring still highly thought of — but in six college seasons, only Matt Harvey’s freshman season (2.85 ERA, 10.99 K/9) could be considered dominant, and he still walked 6.5 batters per nine that year. Last weekend, in their first start of opening weekend, they combined for a composite line of 18 hits, 8 walks, 7 earned runs in 15.2 innings. Again, the 18 strikeouts show their promise, but that is just not getting it done. There will be teams that want to understand why these players have been scuffed around so often in college before ascertaining the idea of spending a million bucks on their live arms.

Thankfully, this week I was given some of the same data that these teams might be looking out in June, as the boys at shared their statistics on the three players with me (as they’ve been releasing some data on top prospects at their flagship). I’m going to deal with all three prospects separately, using this great resource to shed some light where possible.

Kyle Blair, rhp, San Diego

Like Harvey, Blair was certainly dominating at times as a freshman, beating the UNC ace with a 12.04 K/9. But as the .219/.332/.286 line that batters posted against Blair suggests, he walked and hit a lot of batters. Last year, Blair missed much of the season with injury, but his 3.15 ERA and 62/18 strikeout-to-walk ratio suggested a lot of improvement. Blair probably has the weakest stuff of this esteemed group, but he appeared on the rise. Still, teams are going to have to wonder if Blair is ultimately a relief pitcher. The reason that I say this is because he has had significant problems against left-handed hitters. As a freshman, left-handers hit .330/.457/.468 in 94 at-bats, and followed that up with a .273/.351/.343 line as a sophomore. Obviously this is improvement, but it’s a far cry from the .469 OPS that right-handers posted. The encouraging sign is that Blair posted a 1.37 GO/AO vs. left-handers as a soph, versus a career average of 0.92. Certainly, when teams send scouts to see Blair this year, they need to see if he has made legitimate improvements against left-handers, or if his problems with just having faith in his fastball and slider give him a reliever grade.

Matt Harvey, rhp, UNC

If there’s someone that generates legitimate concern from people, it’s Harvey. This is a guy I saw strike out six consecutive batters at one of the 2006 summer’s biggest high school showcases, and since, has pitched a little worse each season. This snowballed last season, when a 5.32 BB/9 and 1.01 HR/9 led to a 5.83 ERA. The difference between one home run allowed (freshman season) and 8 (soph) is pretty much the difference between his two seasons. There wasn’t a change in his groundball rate, but I think we can certainly guess that batters were hitting the ball harder. What I can’t explain is Harvey’s reverse platoon split, as right-handers hit him .059 OPS points better as a freshman (insignificant) but then .204 better as a sophomore. Having seen Harvey pitch, my guess is that his change-up has become a weapon under the great North Carolina staff, but that he still hangs too many curveballs to right-handed sluggers. But his 8.24 BB/9 against right-handers last year I can’t explain.

Brandon Workman, rhp, Texas

When it’s all said and done, if I had to bet on one guy being a starter in the Major Leagues, it would be Workman. The guy has been upstaged in each season in Austin, by Chance Ruffin as a freshman, by Taylor Jungmann last season. He’s a lot easier to figure out, because his platoon splits have been insignificant — he bounced back after a freshman season that left-handers hit .294/.410/.485 against him to hold them to .178/.274/.314 as a sophomore. He’s just a simple power pitcher, and you’re going to get what comes with that: strikeouts, walks, flyballs. Last year, a better Texas defense made Workman look better, and he’ll need that: guys seem to hit balls hard off him. But if he can keep those bad line drives to when no one is on base, the positives will outweigh the negatives with Workman.

Matt Harvey is expected to pitch tonight against Maine. Kyle Blair and Brandon Workman will pitch on Saturday, against San Diego State and Stanford, respectively. I’ll be tracking their progress all spring, on Twitter if not in this space.

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