Pet peeve of the draft, #239: Polished College Pitcher X is a safe pick. Just a few years ago, the internet baseball nerd consortium was unified in their opposition toward high school pitchers. Then a few folks figured out, hey, first-round high school pitchers don't return less value than first-round college pitchers. Well, maybe a little less value, but nothing worth getting yer knickers twisted over. If you like the teenager with the arm of golden fire, draft him.
Of course, drafting high school pitchers is a risky proposition. But the reason that the polished, "safe" college-arm label drives me nuts is that every pitcher is a risky proposition. Context: Brad Hennessey is a first-round success story. Oh, he'll be in the appendix of the book of first-round successes, but he gave some value to his parent club from the latter half of the first round. That's a modest success. Jason Grilli was a safe pitcher. Steve Soderstrom was a safe pitcher.
A couple of the pitchers picked before Tim Lincecum were safe pitchers. Greg Reynolds went to the Rockies on the strength of a repeatable delivery, a high-80s/low-90s two-seamer, and good command of what Baseball America described as a "solid-average" curve/change combination. That's the kind of "safe" that ends up as a bolded term in a textbook, and you can see how that kind of pitcher is attractive to a team. If Reynolds hit his ceiling, the Rockies would have had something like a cheap Jon Garland, and they would have had him soon after the '06 draft. It's too early to label Reynolds a bust, but it's not too early to realize that the safe college pitcher is the chupacabra of the scouting world.
The Pirates split the difference between a risky project like Lincecum and a safe pick like Reynolds, going with medium-safe Brad Lincoln. Hold off on the "lol pirates", as here's the scouting report of Lincoln before the draft:
I'll take four of those, please. Then he sprung a leak shortly after signing with the Pirates, missed the entire 2007 season, and only now seems to have his prospect sheen back. He might be a great first-round success yet, but he was never a safe pitcher, mostly because he used body parts to throw the baseball.
The long-winded intro is all to introduce Kyle Gibson, the Missouri right-hander with the draft's shiniest "safe" label. In order to earn that label, Gibson had to have
- above-average control
- a good-not-great fastball
- a couple of developed off-speed pitches
- and a certain je ne sais quoi package of gritty bulldog gamer grittiness
Gibson has it all. So he's the safe pick that should remind folks of Grilli or Reynolds -- a mid-ceiling guy whose polish and proximity to the bigs is one of his more attractive qualities.
And I'm kind of hoping he falls to the Giants.
Gibson throws a two-seamer with heavy movement, which is a huge point in his favor. A workable sinker allows pitchers like Aaron Cook to hold his own even when he isn't striking a lot of folks out. But Gibson's slider is also an out pitch -- a nasty, late-breaking thing that he throws to lefties and righties. Plus two-seamer + plus slider + plus change + plus control = crazy valuable pitcher. Just don't read that last bit out loud, and you'll be fine.
Now is Gibson guaranteed to develop a plus change or bring his plus control to professional baseball? No way. That's why he's not a safe pick. But one of the biggest pet peeves I have with the "safe"- label is that it usually underrates a pitcher's ceiling. It's hard to choose between a late-moving, well-placed 90 mph fastball and a raw 96 mph fastball, but there are plenty examples of both on All-Star rosters every year. If Gibson can really throw his fastball, slider, or change in any count, and if they all have the potential of being above-average pitches, he has just as much top-of-the-rotation potential as the raw flamethrower du jour.
But he's not a safe pick. Don't hope for the Giants to draft Gibson because he'll be up soon, or because he'll bring back a shiny hitter in trade soon. Hope for the Giants to draft him because you have wild visions of a Brandon Webb with less sink, more slide, and plus control, even if he has a 10% chance of ever being that pitcher.
Baseball America feature (subscribers only)
MLB.com's draft report
Another YouTube video
Yet another YouTube video
Project Prospect scouting report
Purple Row profile
Driveline Mechanics has words of caution