Brett Mooneyham and Prospect Perception

Last Friday night, Washington Nationals 2012 third-round pick Brett Mooneyham made his professional debut in Auburn, New York, against the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League. For those not familiar with the plight of the 6-foot-5 lefty, he initially spurned a seven-figure offer from the San Diego Padres prior to spending four years at Stanford battling inconsistency and injury. In the end, Mooneyham not becoming a top college starter may have cost him upwards of a million dollars. It was a pretty good prospect “get” for me – especially with this being a debut of a relatively high-profile prospect. However, had this been 2008 and not 2012, Mooneyham’s profile as a top prospect would have been much higher.

On the mound, Mooneyham featured a 90-92 MPH fastball with minimal movement. Command of the pitch came and went as he’d pepper the catcher’s mitt for a batter and then miss wildly to the next. With it being his debut, results should be disregarded, but it did encapsulate Mooneyham’s college career quite well, actually. With an ideal pitcher’s frame (6-foot-5, 235 pounds), one should expect even more velocity as the lefty works into a regular routine every fifth day. Even if there’s no more velocity to be had, I’m able to count the left-handed pitchers who have worked their fastballs up to 92 on one hand in the three-plus seasons writing about prospects from a first-hand perspective.

In terms of mechanics, Mooneyham’s raised no injury red flags although he did pitch with varying levels of effort which may have contributed to his inconsistency. At times he followed through fully. On a number of pitches, his back foot simply dragged into fielding position. Whether he was slowing up his mechanics to aim his breaking ball, or simply adding a little/taking a little off of his fastball, it’s something more advanced opponents will pick up on.

Additionally, his drop-and-drive mechanics also make him smaller on the mound. Mooneyham has the height to create significant downward plane on his fastball which would greatly increase its effectiveness. I suspect the Washington Nationals will attempt to make mechanical tweaks in instructs to help Mooneyham play more to his physical gifts.

Mooneyham’s primary off-speed pitch was an upper-70s curveball with one-to-seven break. He commanded the pitch pretty well considering the rust, but it lacked the sharp bite to make batter’s swing-and-miss, even though the pitch had considerable depth to it. Unfortunately, Mooneyham didn’t really utilize the changeup — which is considered to be one of his best pitches — in this appearance.

Now that we’ve discussed Mooneyham in as much depth as possible considering he threw only 1 2/3 innings, it’s a great opportunity to discuss prospect perception based on expectations. After all, this is what makes baseball great. Whether chatting with multiple prospect followers, FanGraphs writers, or scouts, each opinion has the chance to be wildly different based on what one thinks the player should become.

If a San Diego Padres scout had been sitting in the stands for Mooneyham’s debut, my conversation with him/her would probably have gone something like this;

Me: So what do you think of Mooneyham four years later?

Fictitious Padres Scout: Mooneyham is a pretty good pitching prospect, but we dodged a bullet when he chose school over the seven-figure bonus we offered him. Had he signed with us in 2008 for such a substantial signing bonus, we’d be expecting him to break through at the big-league level right about now and not pitching in short-season baseball. In all honesty, he hasn’t really improved much since his prep days.

Ask a Washington Nationals scout about the exact same appearance and the response is likely to be entirely different;

Me: So now that you’ve seen Mooneyham, was he worth drafting twice?

Fictitious Nationals Scout: A lefty who touches 92 MPH in his professional debut is impressive. I’ve seen lesser arms sign for much more in previous drafts. Sure, he’s old for the league and missed valuable development time in college, but a little over $400,000 for an arm like Mooneyham is well worth it – even if he’s a poor man’s Ross Detwiler in the end.

In baseball, expectations are driven by prospect age, financial investment, draft position, statistics and a number of other factors. In the case of Brett Mooneyham, those once lofty expectations should be lowered. Accept the left-hander for what he is and the Nationals made excellent use of their third-round pick. Refer to Mooneyham as, “the guy who once spurned a seven-figure signing bonus for Stanford” and it’s likely to end in disappointment.

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Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.

14 Responses to “Brett Mooneyham and Prospect Perception”

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  1. I wonder how much a degree from Stanford is worth versus no college. I’m going to go out on a limb and say 7 figures. At least.

    So while he gave up a few hundred thousand in the short run, he has certainly put himself in a better life situation.

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    • guesswork says:

      True, until you realize that he majored in history.

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    • ROA says:

      Forbes and other website have analyzed the return on investment of ivy-league educations and it is not pretty, they don’t do as well financially as you would expect. The people that go on making good money after college are the people that were accepted to ivy league colleges but decided to go to cheaper state colleges. Its hard to make your investment be worthwhile if it costs 40,000 a year, as some colleges do. Heck, that’s as expensive as our school’s MEDICAL school tuition. And doctors make a lot more than undergrad graduates. (I hope so! Its a LOT harder than college…)

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      • Luke says:

        I assume he went to college for free, so really you should be looking at how much more people make who come out of Ivy league schools rather than how much they make vs. what they spent.

        All in all this is an interesting discussion that I’m sure many HS prospects have.

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      • Bob says:

        Full scholarships don’t exist in college baseball. He paid to go to Stanford, where costs add up to between $50k and $60k a year.

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    • Dan says:

      Also, why can’t a guy just sign, see how it works out, and then go to college whenever he chooses?

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      • Well-Beered Englishman says:

        He can, but it would be way sketchy if Roger Clemens went to college next year and tried to bang freshman girls.

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      • Just a fan says:

        Dan, I’m also assuming he would have been aided in getting into college. Getting into Stanford is not easy. Here is a list of the top US colleges by salary:
        Cal Tech
        Harvey Mudd
        Poly Tech

        Notice they are all either engineering schools or Ivy/Ivy level schools. While Stanford is not on the list, I’

        The mid-career median salary for Stanford is 112,000.
        The median starting salary is 58,000

        Don’t tell me the kids who do best are the ones who turn down the top colleges. Like it or not, some of it has to do with alumni/classmate connections and being able to name drop.

        -We’ve gotten pretty far off from baseball, huh

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      • Mike Newman says:


        Many professional contracts do include a provision where college is paid for by the organization.

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    • Bob says:

      The comparison of a college degree vs. no college is not applicable in this situation. What you need to look at is $1M+ initial contract plus 4 years of service time without a college degree vs. $400k initial contract minus 4 years of service time plus a college degree. Given the initial $600k+ difference in contracts, 4 years of potential contracts lost, plus the time-value of that money, and he will probably end up with less money overall. Even given the greater earnings potential for a post-baseball career with the college degree.

      It is also highly unlikely that he paid to go to Stanford. While athletic scholarships in baseball are quite limited, a private instituation like Stanford has enough scholarhip/grant money from alumni to provide for all who need it.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      Many D1 programs have 11.7 scholarships for a roster of between 25-30 players when taking red shirt players into consideration. Full ride baseball players are an extreme rarity. This isn’t to say a full ride could not be had through a combination of baseball and academic/other scholarship, but it generally does not happen because of baseball alone.

      For me personally, I paid my own way to the University of Kentucky for baseball and then transferred down to a JUCO for immediate playing time. There, I earned a “free ride” through work study (washing team uniforms) as I was a late transfer and unable to receive a scholarship. The second year in JUCO, I did receive a full baseball ride, but JUCO’s cost significantly less than other universities. After transferring to Barry University in Florida, about 70% of college/housing was paid for through a combination of baseball scholarship/academic scholarship. My senior year, I lived off campus and the scholarship(s) covered all of my schooling and a bit of what it cost to live off campus.

      Good coaches will do everything humanly possible to make the most of every penny in scholarship possible. When recruited by the University of Tennessee, they had essentially worked out the money for me factoring in my ability to commute from home.

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    • Matt H says:

      Of course, we’re only considering financial costs and benefits here. There are a lot of benefits to going to college apart from how much money you end up making. One may argue that being well-read, well-spoken, and just well-educated in general improves quality of life as a whole. It definitely gives one a better opportunity to make a difference in the world and/or the lives of others. On the other hand, Mooneyham may have missed out on the experience of being a great major league player for a long time, which is surely an amazing experience apart from the money he would make.

      Long story short: let’s not assume that he made a good/bad decision by going to Stanford just based on financial considerations. He may have always regretted not choosing Stanford if he had signed with the Astros, even if that would have netted him more money.

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  2. Gerald says:

    I’m not sure you’re sentiment regarding the Padres scout is accurate. I think the team always wants the player in its system. The Padres didn’t “dodge a bullet”. How do you know if Mooneyham would have developed differently with Padres coaching? It’s unfair to say if he was drafted in 2008 that he would be pitching in short-season ball four years later just because that is the level he is at now. Maybe Stanford coaches didn’t get the most out of him. Maybe Mooneyham didn’t have as much projection coming out of high school as expected. Who knows. But you cannot say that if he had signed with the Padres he’d be the exact same player as he is now because that is most definitely not true.

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    • Mike Newman says:


      You just did what I warned you not to do. Back in 2008, the Padres surely did want the player or else they would not have offered 1.4 million or so. The Mooneyham of today is not the same player the Padres made a substantial offer to. You can’t speculate the coulda, woulda, shoulda because it did not happen. Today, Mooneyham has 1 professional appearance and is in short season baseball.

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