Prospect Watch: ’14 Draftee Arms in the Appy

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

In this installment of the PW, I’m focusing on three hurlers in the Appalachian League who were just selected in the top three rounds of the 2014 draft.

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Foster Griffin, LHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 18  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 8.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 6/3 K/BB, 1.04 ERA, 5.15 FIP

Summary
More about projection than current ability, Griffin is nonetheless off to a good start in pro ball.

Notes
Foster Griffin was selected with the 28th overall pick in last month’s draft and signed for nearly $2 million, which automatically makes him quite intriguing. The Royals have kept him on a short leash so far, only allowing him to throw 8 2/3 innings across four starts, but the Florida high school product has had no problem adjusting to pro ball in that small sample. I’ve taken in two of his outings–in those, he’s faced fifteen batters and retired all of them. Here’s what that looked like:

Certainly, being selected in the first round puts expectations on a player, and when you see Griffin throw, he falls short of those expectations when it comes to lighting up radar guns. In my first look at him, he worked at 88-91 mph, touching 92 once; in the second, he only was at 88-90. Now, Griffin’s just 18 years old and has a lot of projection in his frame, he shows the ability to get the pitch to cut or run at times, and he has an easy motion that helps him have better fastball command than most pitchers his age, so the fastball is not without positives, but it’s certainly not a pitch that is going to awe anyone.

Griffin’s second pitch is a 73-75 mph curveball. He only threw one in the first game but turned to it more extensively in his last outing. It flashes classic 12-to-6 shape at times, but is a bit lacking in depth and isn’t quite consistent enough to rate as an average pitch yet; however, it’s not hard to imagine it becoming a plus pitch in the future. He also tosses in a 79-81 mph changeup that has credible speed separation but not much movement–it’s just a 30-grade pitch right now, but given that he’s just out of high school, the fact that he can throw a changeup with reasonable arm speed and velocity separation is satisfactory.

What that all means is that Foster Griffin is a first-round pick who doesn’t have any present average pitches, and you’d be forgiven for getting a little skittish at that. However, that should not at all imply that Griffin doesn’t have the potential to be a big league starting pitcher–you just have to bet on his projection and development for that to happen. It’s entirely possible to imagine him picking up two miles an hour because of the projection in his body, the curveball could end up being a real weapon, and he’s got plenty of time to turn the changeup into something near an average pitch. If all of that happens, you have a big, durable three-pitch lefty who can throw strikes, work downhill, and spin a bat-missing breaking ball, which all starts to sound a lot like Tyler Skaggs. Given that the Royals had another first-round pick (Brandon Finnegan) and a supplemental pick (Chase Vallot), they could afford to bet on Griffin’s projection–the success of their draft doesn’t necessarily hinge on his outcome. He’s got plenty of work ahead of him, but he definitely has a chance to prove that he was a sound investment.

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Michael Cederoth, RHP, Minnesota Twins (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 21   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 16.1 IP, 17 H, 11 R, 14/5 K/BB, 4.41 ERA, 3.20 FIP

Summary
Billed as an electric but erratic prospect going into the draft, Cederoth has lived up to his reputation in the early going as a pro.

Notes
Michael Cederoth is an enigma. He’s a hulking 6’6″ righthander who touched triple digits in college and was once thought to be a first-round pick, but inconsistency sent him from starting to closing as a junior and made him slip to the third round of the draft, where the Twins took him one round after they selected flamethrowing Louisville closer Nick Burdi.

Unlike Burdi, who was sent straight to full-season ball as a reliever, Cederoth was assigned to Minnesota’s Elizabethton affiliate in the Appy League and moved back to starting. I took in his last start against Danville two days ago, about 90% of which is presented in this video:

Occasionally, erratic collegians move to pro ball and suddenly find consistency, and a look at Cederoth’s numbers (hey, only five walks in 16 1/3 innings!) might tempt one to think (hope?) that’s the case here. It isn’t.

That doesn’t mean the stuff isn’t more than enough to make Cederoth a very interesting project. He worked mostly at 92-96 mph in the outing, and the ball gets on hitters quickly from his high arm slot–it’s clearly a plus pitch even without considering that he threw harder in college. He pairs it with a slider at 80-86 mph, usually 84-86, that actually is more of a curveball when he throws it right, with hard two-plane bite and big depth. It’s a plus pitch when he throws it right, and he gained a feel for it later in the outing, but he’ll overthrow it and spike it at times, making it more of an average pitch overall.

And that’s pretty much where the positives with Cederoth end–big presence, two really interesting pitches, and minuses everywhere else. For one, his changeup is a bottom-of-the-scale offering. He threw exactly two, both at 88 mph, and I would’ve had no idea they were changeups if I wasn’t looking at the velocity readings, because they came in with no movement.

And then there’s the delivery.

Look, I’m all for trying out big legkicks and hip turns, because they can add deception to a motion without making it any more mechanically unsound. They add levels of mechanical complexity, however, that many pitchers are going to struggle with, especially long-levered ones like Cederoth. There’s a ton of moving parts in his motion, and he doesn’t sync them up well. He tends to rush through the back side of his delivery and then slow down as he turns to the plate and approaches foot strike, and invariably he falls out of sync on a high number of his pitches. Further, he overrotates in his motion, stepping over toward first base and pulling him off line to to the plate. A particularly bad example of the cascading effect of his timing inconsistencies occurs at 15:55 in the video, where Jordan Edgerton gets a 96 mph fastball in the back because Cederoth’s arm is way behind his legs.

While he hasn’t walked a ton of guys yet, he’s not exactly facing a high level of competition, and even then, hitters were often ahead in the count against Cederoth, working very long at-bats and forcing him to throw softer in order to find the plate. He’ll only draw more challenging opponents as he moves up the chain, and it’s hard to foresee him finding consistency with his current mechanics.

Given Cederoth’s mechanical troubles and the poor quality of his changeup, his future home clearly lies in the bullpen, where he can unleash his fastball at higher velocities, eschew the changeup, and probably throw exclusively from the stretch. His chance at becoming a real imposing bullpen presence in the big leagues depends on whether he can find a delivery that works for him. I’m not about to say he can’t, because he has some athleticism and the arm action itself is quite clean. If the Twins’ coaches can find a way to get Cederoth on a more direct line to the plate and simplify what his trunk and lower half are doing, he has a chance to find enough command to let that potentially dominating stuff play up to its promise. If not, he’ll be eternally frustrating to scouts.

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Max Povse, RHP, Atlanta Braves (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 20   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 7/1 K/BB, 5.40 ERA, 1.80 FIP

Summary
This towering righthander has an emerging feel for his craft and the makings of quality stuff.

Notes
“6’8, 185 lbs.” is not a typical build for anyone, let alone a professional baseball player, but that’s exactly what Max Povse is listed at. The Braves took this towering righthander out of UNC-Greensboro 23 picks after Minnesota took Cederoth last month, subsequently assigning Povse, who is quite young for a college draftee, to the Appy to get stretched back out as a pro. So far, he’s made three starts and gone just five innings, with the latest coming as Cederoth’s opponent on Sunday, where he hit his pitch count two batters into the third frame. Here’s complete video of his outing:

A primary concern with pitchers of Povse’s size is the ability to repeat a delivery and thus have a chance at commanding the baseball, and he grades out rather well in this regard. His motion is pretty simple overall and he does a nice job of using his lower half and driving toward the plate, getting solid extension and helping him use his height to good effect. He does have a bit of a collapse on his back leg and could stand to be a bit taller as he drives to the plate, but that’s largely a semantic issue–he’s got good leverage either way.

At present, Povse’s fastball is his best pitch, coming in at 90-92 mph and touching 93 a few times. That’s merely average velocity, but the pitch plays solid-average thanks to the sink and run he generates. When Povse gets the pitch down in the zone, he’s very tough to lift because of the combination of his natural plane and the extra sink on the ball. He also throws an 82-84 mph changeup with good fading action that flashes average and could be a second solid-average pitch in time. His third pitch is a 78-81 mph hybrid breaker that flashes a lot of horizontal action away from righthanded batters but doesn’t have optimal depth for its velocity and gets short at times. There’s clearly some sharpness to the pitch and it could become a weapon if he can get consistent shape on it, either turning it into a power curve or a tilting slider.

With good leverage, a solid-average fastball, two interesting offspeed pitches, and the potential for good command, Povse is the sort of somewhat-polished-but-still-projectable college arm that fits well as a third-round pick. He probably weighs more than his listed 185, maybe 210 or so, but he’s still got some projection in his frame and could add another tick of fastball velocity before maturation. Given his size and easy motion, he could become a workhorse starter with solid groundball rates and low walk rates, in the Rick Porcello mold. As with any player at this nascent stage of pro ball, Povse has work to do to reach his upside, but he’s got a lot of interesting raw materials that are somewhat far along.



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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.


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