Power vs. Finesse: Scouting 2014 Draftees Hess and Imhof

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short background and industry consensus tool grades.  There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his changeup, coming back from injury etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what he would’ve seen in many other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades. -Kiley

David Hess, RHP, Aberdeen IronBirds (BAL, SS-A; Viewed 8/8/14 vs. Vermont)

Hess went in the 5th round out of Tennessee Tech last June and signed for $280,000.  He is a medium-framed athletic power arm that regularly hits 95 and it still learning to have the consistent off-speed pitches and command to be a starter.  The Orioles development staff is working to have him use just one breaking ball to simplify his repertoire, likely ditching the slider.

Fastball: 60/65, Curveball: 40/50+, Changeup: 40/50+, Command: 40/50  –Kiley

Fastball: 60/65

HessFB

Hess’ fastball is his bread and butter, an explosive pitch that already grades as plus. He worked at 91-94 mph, touching 95 several times in the first two innings of his outing. He shows the ability to add lateral movement in both directions, running some fastballs in on right-handers and cutting others away from them. The pitch can miss bats in all four quadrants, and Hess already has a good feel for sequencing locations and movements with it to put batters away. It will only get more consistently deadly as he adapts to a professional schedule and professional opponents.

Curveball: 35/50

HessCB

The curve is probably Hess’ most-used secondary pitch, and it comes in twenty mph slower than the fastball at 71-74. As one might expect, it’s a bit on the soft side, and Hess frequently gets around the pitch, costing it bite. However, it does flash big break and good shape on an 11-to-5 trajectory, and he began to find some feel for it as his outing progressed (the .gif’d pitch above was his final pitch of the night, and easily his best curve). Given its flashes and Hess’ pitchability, it could round into a solid pitch in time.

Changeup: 40/50

HessCH

While Hess turns to the curve more, the changeup is his superior offspeed pitch at present, coming in at 84-87 mph with good sink and occasional fade. It almost looks like a splitter at times, and he tends to drop it out of the zone like one, getting empty swings over the top in two-strike counts. With more reps, it should develop into a consistently average offering.

Slider: 35/45

HessSL

Hess only threw one slider in the outing; it came in at 82 mph with some bite. The Orioles want him to just pick one breaking pitch going forward, and it’s likely that the slider won’t be a major part of his arsenal, at least for the time being. If he ends up keeping the pitch, though, it could also become a serviceable offering.

Command: 35/55

Hess’ muscular, athletic build evokes fellow Orioles youngster Dylan Bundy, and he employs a smooth, rotational delivery that he should have no trouble repeating as he gets reps, assisting him in spotting his pitches. Like most young pitchers, he isn’t quite at that level of mechanical consistency at present, and he struggles to locate the curveball in particular, but I don’t have significant concerns in that department for the long term. He already has an advanced feel for pitch sequencing and shows the ability to adjust in game, further helping his cause.

Summary

Hess looks to be a good value pick for the fifth round, with a plus fastball, a workable arsenal of offspeed pitches, and the pitchability to make that stuff play up to its full potential. Some might look at his fairly short stature and big fastball and picture him as a late-game reliever, and that’s a plausible outcome, but if the curve and change can round into consistently average offerings, Hess could also find success in a major league rotation.

Matt Imhof, LHP, Lakewood BlueClaws (PHI Low-A–Viewed 7/19/14 at Kannapolis)

Imhof went in the 2nd round (47th overall) out of Cal Poly last June and signed for just under $1.2 million.  He is 6’5/220 with some funk to his delivery and had a huge draft year with gaudy stats (99.1 IP, 65 H, 43 BB, 124 K), despite his solid-average stuff, with scouts chalking it up to his plane, deception and command.  Some are still skeptical given the pure stuff and a delivery that is tough to repeat at times, but this is the kind of guy that keeps proving scouts wrong and could be a quick-mover.

Fastball: 50/50+, Curveball: 45/50+, Changeup: 45/50+, Command: 45/55  –Kiley

Fastball: 40/50

ImhofFB

Imhof works at 88-91 mph with good downhill plane from his 6’5 frame and high arm slot. The ball gets on hitters quickly than its velocity might indicate because of the deception in his delivery, and he’ll sneak it by batters at the letters, though this strategy may be less viable as he advances. The pitch is fairly straight. Imhof’s fairly mature 220-pound frame doesn’t necessarily imply a lot of projection on the pitch.

Slider: 40/50

ImhofSL

I didn’t get a good look at the slider in my viewing—there were steady rains after Imhof’s first inning of work, and he essentially abandoned the pitch (a strategy his opponent, Kannapolis’ Robinson Leyer, would have been wise to adopt, but I digress…) at that point. The ones he threw registered 78 mph and came in on a curveball-esque 11-to-5 trajectory due to the high arm slot, but the pitch has the tightness of a slider. It shows good shape and could be a solid weapon as he refines it, especially to lefties.

Changeup: 45/55

ImhofCH

This is often billed as Imhof’s weakest pitch, but in my viewing, it was right there with the other two offerings if not superior. It arrives at 82-83 mph with fade and sink, and Imhof does a good job selling the pitch with excellent arm speed. The cost of the arm speed is that the changeup lacks great velocity separation, but it can still be an average or better pitch without that asset.

Command: 35/50

It’s hard for me to fairly judge Imhof’s command on three innings, two of which were marred by the most rain I’ve ever seen during a game that continued play. He certainly hasn’t had any issues throwing strikes so far (7 BB in 33 pro IP), but how much of that is due to advanced command and how much is due to low-minors hitters having trouble figuring out his arsenal is an open question. Imhof’s mechanics aren’t the most conventional, with a slight pause in the back of the arm action, a pronounced hop to the plate, and a significant back-leg collapse, and he doesn’t seem to repeat his release point consistently. He does have some aptitude for sequencing and good feel for his pitches, and he’s around the zone at present, so he has a chance to hit his spots with some frequency in the future.

Summary

Since he lacks a knockout pitch and isn’t a big projection guy, Imhof has a fairly low ceiling—I’d be surprised to see him as more than a #4-caliber starter in the big leagues. With premium size and three pitches that flash at or near average at present, though, he has a high floor and should at least be able to manage a Jerry Blevins sort of career out of the bullpen unless his skillset backs up from its present form. His consistency with his motion will determine whether he can be an innings-muncher or a deceptive lefty reliever.

Comparing Hess & Imhof

Imhof was drafted three rounds ahead of Hess, but watching them, it’s almost surprising they weren’t drafted in the reverse order. That’s not to say that Hess is a three-rounds-superior talent, but more a comment that he’s the more obviously exciting pitcher, while Imhof’s skillset is more sneakily effective, with three reasonable pitches and deception as opposed to Hess’ big heat and pretty motion. One might think that it would be easier to “steal” a pitcher like Imhof in the middle rounds than one like Hess, but that’s obviously not how it played out.




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Nathaniel Stoltz is a prospect writer for FanGraphs. A resident of Bowie, MD and University of Maryland graduate student, he frequently views prospects in the Carolina and South Atlantic Leagues. He can be followed on Twitter at @stoltz_baseball.


9 Responses to “Power vs. Finesse: Scouting 2014 Draftees Hess and Imhof”

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  1. SimonSays says:

    Is it because of the camera angle or does Hess lower his arm angle and elbow a little on the change? Even if it’s not there in this case, how do you deal with a pitcher who tips his pitches when grading the pitch?

    Then the real question: when we’re looking at guys who appear as if they could have been drafted in reverse order, how much can a player’s OFP change from scout to scout? There may be a consensus grade, but someone is going to go over and someone is going to go under.

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    • Nathaniel Stoltz says:

      On the change: maybe slightly, but nothing really pronounced. When it comes to grading tipped pitches, obviously it really depends on how significant the tipping is and how easy it is to fix. Probably the worst I’ve seen is Stephen Gonsalves’ changeup, where he slows his whole delivery down and gets this exaggerated wrist wrap in the back. It was like a 25-grade pitch in my look. I’d say on average a significant tip lops maybe five points off of my grade on a pitch. In terms of the future grade, it comes down more to what would happen to the pitch if it wasn’t tipped. A pitcher might raise his arm slot on a curveball, but that higher arm slot might give it better shape than the slot he uses for his other pitches would, so fixing the tip would hurt the projection of the pitch, and so on. It’s a very case-by-case basis, and I don’t sweat it TOO much with low-minors guys, but it does factor in somewhat.

      On your second question, there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to these sorts of cases. For one, guys can get better or worse after the draft. Just because Hess looked like a third-round talent on August 8 and Imhof looked like a fourth-round talent on July 19 doesn’t mean that they didn’t resemble their actual draft spots all spring only to see things change as professionals. I don’t really follow amateur ball much, so I’m not the guy to ask on that.

      I will say, though, that I’ve heard many a scout talk about how his organization graded some eventual second-rounder as a tenth-round talent or whatever. There does seem to be significant disparity between the ultimate draft boards (and thus the scouting evals) of different orgs, no matter how much it seems that the scouting industry is largely one of consensus. There’s also the matter of floor vs. ceiling, and with the new CBA, the balance of high-floor types with high-ceiling types comes into sharper play in the draft. Overall, it’s fluid enough that while I probably like Hess a bit more than Imhof, I’m not about to sit here and say “Oh, the Phillies would’ve been better served taking Hess” or anything. There are simply too many contextual elements and too many unknowns to make blanket statements like that without a very compelling and one-sided set of evidence, especially at this early stage.

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  2. Marcus Tullius Cicero says:

    Great stuff, Nathaniel, and Kiley’s contributions really are quite helpful. I think this might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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  3. n0exit says:

    I like the structure. It’s different, it’s thorough, it’s interesting. Can’t wait to see more.

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  4. MustBunique says:

    Really enjoyed this writeup and the format, thanks. The gifs with ratings and review all right in one place for each pitch made it very readable/watchable. What are your thoughts on Hess going with the curve instead of the slider? Is that because the organization is worried about health issues related to slide usage? I would think that given what we know about the slider having superior swinging strike rates compared to curves, he would have been pushed in that direction.

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    • I talked to the O’s and they said what is commonly said about young arms with some feel issues; sticking to one breaking ball simplifies things. Especially when they’re working on a couple areas, there’s no reason to learn two breaking balls when many successful big leaguers can’t throw both as one often negatively effects the other and when you’re fatigued they run together. This is very common with newly-drafted prep arms and Hess is still a little green as well.

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    • Nathaniel Stoltz says:

      I second what Kiley says above. There are a few things to consider with the “pick one breaker” thing. Sometimes the pitches run together (which isn’t really the case with Hess, as the slider seems fairly well-differentiated). Other times, one is demonstrably better than the other (also not really the case here; I doubt anyone sees that Hess slider .gif and goes “Oh man, he’s gotta scrap that).

      But sticking to one expedites development, which is especially important for a case like this where the breaking stuff lags behind the FB/CH. Even if we say both breakers have average potential, they’re going to take twice as long to get there if he throws both because he gets fewer reps with each. Also, as Kiley said, sometimes one can negatively impact the other.

      As far as specifically going with the curve, maybe it’s injury based, maybe it’s just that Hess likes it more. I don’t have enough of a sample of the slider to really compare them extensively. It’s important to remember, though, that ditching the SL now doesn’t mean it’s permanently gone. Anyone familiar with the great Pitch F/X stuff done here and elsewhere knows it’s far from uncommon for pitchers to restore long-ditched breaking balls at the MLB level. If and when Hess has gotten the curve where he wants it, I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts working the slider in again if he/the org feel it’s necessary or beneficial.

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