I’ll say this about Maya and Nova: there’s a good chance that neither becomes a particularly excellent major leaguer. They’re not totally devoid of promise, of course: Nova appears likely to induce ground balls at an above-average rate, if nothing else, while Maya won the Cuban version of the Cy Young award even while Aroldis Chapman was pitching in the league. As opposed to other players on this list, however, whose inclusion is largely a function of being underrated (not that I would dare say it so plainly), Maya and Nova are here primarily for aesthetic purposes. Specifically, each throws a pitch (or, in the case of Maya, pitches) that’s captured the imagination of this author.
For Nova, the pitch in question is his changeup. I’m quoting myself when I say about said pitch:
Though his curve is getting all the love from our pitch-type linear weights (+1.43 per 100 thrown), it’s his change that makes for the most compelling viewing. He throws it around 87 mph, and it just disappears. I mean it: this guy’s like frigging Gob Bluth over here.
Nova made his first career start on Monday. He was was efficient… if not overpowering, but he’s noteworthy for another reason, which is that he features a change-up with rather startling movement. While his fastball sits around 94-95 mph, he throws his changepiece pretty close to that in terms of velocity — around 87 mph. But while (per Texas Leaguers) the average major league change-up features about 6.5 inches of armside run (i.e. toward a righthanded batter), Nova’s change moves over 10 inches. And it’s pretty obvious even while watching the game on a netbook.
With regard to Maya, there are, as I say, two pitches. I noted these, as well, last summer:
His fastball’s nothing to write home about… [I]t’s Maya’s secondary offerings for which the enthusiast should watch. Maya throws a curveball that both (a) leaves his hand at about 20 fewer mph than his fastball and (b) is well-disguised.
The slider is notable, too. It’s not a Daniel Bard-type thing where he (i.e. Maya) simply overpowers the batter with it. Rather, it appears to be the definition of late-breaking, appearing to be pushed slant-ways to the catcher’s right. If I’m remembering correctly, he threw a couple nice ones up under the hands of lefty batters.
As of publication, Nova appears likely to break camp as a part of the Yankee rotation. Maya’s most likely headed to Triple-A.
#8 – Bud Norris, RHP, Houston
Like Felipe Paulino, Norris is a talented young pitcher who’s stuff and peripherals haven’t led to results. Unlike Paulino, Norris hasn’t yet been liberated from the tyranny of Ed Wade and Co. In 209.1 major league innings — 153.2 of them last season — Norris has a 9.11 K.9 (which is obviously excellent), a 4.39 BB/9 (which is obviously less excellent), and a 41.4 GB% (which isn’t ideal, but fine — especially considering the strikeout rate). All that gives Norris a 4.19 xFIP and 4.33 FIP, but just a 4.82 ERA. Despite slight bad luck in the three mains areas where that’s possible (.314 BABIP, 69.9 LOB%, 11.4% HR/FB), Norris’s excellent slider still rates, uh, excellently — good for +1.30 runs for every hundred thrown.
#7 – Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta
For as much attention as Heyward received during spring training last season, I’m surprised by the lack of same in recent months. Per Baseball Reference, only 14 players have ever produced a better age-20 season than Heyward’s 2010. Eleven of those players either are in, or are about to be in, the Hall of Fame. Per FanGraphs WAR, Heyward was worth five wins exactly, slashing .277/.393/.456 despite a thumb injury that led to a DL stint and likely curtailed his power numbers. Essentially, Heyward is the rare player who possess both young- and old-player skills simultaneously, with excellent speed and athleticism plus power and plate discipline. Provided he’s healthy, last season has to be the basest baseline for what he could accomplish. Pittsburgh-era Barry Bonds is a totally possible possibility.
#6 – Zelous Wheeler, SS, Milwaukee
Like Eric Farris — who appears at 16th-overall on this list — Wheeler has the distinction of being a player who (a) could possibly handle shortstop duties for the Brewers and (b) isn’t Yuniesky Betancourt. Unlike Farris, his (i.e. Wheeler’s) first name is Zelous. Common sense dictates that such a thing is worth about 10 places by a standard joy-rating system. As for how well Wheeler might play short, there seems to be some disagreement. Pre-2010 Total Zone defensive ratings like him there, as does the OLIVER projection system. That said, he has played just two innings of shortstop this spring (compared to 66.0 at third and 14.1 at second). And, also, it must be said that 5-foot-10, 220 pounds isn’t the prototypical shortstop body. With regard to the bat, it’s interesting. Even as he has ascended levels each of the past four years, Wheeler’s strikeout rate has actually dropped each step along the way, from 21.6% to 20.9% to 19.0% to 16.0%. The walk rates, meanwhile, have been in the double-digits the entire time.
Team Joy Squad 2011 (w/ Picks #6 – #25):
C Chris Iannetta, C, COL 1B Gaby Sanchez, 1B, FLA 2B 3B SS Zelous Wheeler, SS, MIL LF Brian Cavazos-Galvez, OF, LAD CF RF Jason Heyward, OF, ATL DH Juan Francisco, "3B", CIN B Eric Farris, UTIF, MIL B Brent Morel, UTIF, CHA B Mitch Moreland, 1B, TEX B Cameron Maybin, OF, SD B Robinson Chirinos, C, TB SP SP SP Bud Norris, RHP, HOU SP Ivan Nova, RHP, NYA SP Yunesky Maya, RHP, WAS P Aroldis Chapman, LHP, CIN P Craig Kimbrel, RHP, ATL P Tim Collins, LHP, KC P Manny Parra, LHP, MIL P Felipe Paulino, RHP, COL P Jordan Zimmermann, WAS