Monday, June 8, 2015

2015 Draft Prospects: The Southpaws

Nathan Kirby
6-2, 185 lbs
B/T: L/L

Kirby was one of my favorite prospects heading into the 2015 season. He finished up the 2014 season very strong for the Cavaliers and was projecting to be a top half of the first round pick in the draft, maybe even top 5. In fact, he even added in an 18 strikeout no-hitter at the end of the 2014 season. Unfortunately, draft boards are very fluid until right up a month or so before the draft and Kirby's 2015 season sent him tumbling.

At this point, Kirby is projecting to go in the bottom of the first round. Of course, all it takes is one team for him to go higher.

Kirby features a three pitch mix, a fastball that sits 89-92, but that has touched 94 in the past, a plus slider, and an above average changeup. His control is average, though his walk rate needs to be reined in and his command inside the zone needs work. There's a lot to like with Kirby and he's still one of my favorites, but he suffered a strained lat early in the college season and it knocked him out for the remainder of the games.

Prior to the lat injury, Kirby was pitching with slightly diminished fastball velocity, but his strikeout rate was up, probably a result of throwing more plus sliders. The only real blemish on his 2015 performance was an increasing walk rate.

In 2015, Kirby posted a 2.28 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and a 75/30 K/BB ratio over 59.1 innings pitched. He finished up his collegiate career with a 2.76 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and a 224/76 K/BB ratio over 205.1 innings pitched.

Here's a look at the strikeout  pitches from his 18 strikeout performance, courtesy of Virginia Sports TV on YouTube:

Overall, I like Kirby's mechanics.

He maintains good balance throughout the delivery. His arm is up in the proper position at foot-strike, so he doesn't have any timing problems. He has very good differential between the rotation of the hips and the rotation of the shoulders, so he's very efficient at transferring energy/force up through the kinetic chain. That should reduce the stress on the pitching arm and reduce his injury risk. His stride is long, but he gets out over the top of it without any difficulty. His deceleration phase is solid, as he pronates his arm at release and doesn't have much recoil.

Prior to the 2015 season, I would have done cartwheels if the Reds could have reeled in Kirby. And, I still might. That said, the strained lat isn't a long term concern, unless his mechanics and physiology combine to increase the risk of this type of injury. If he has to refine or adjust his mechanics to avoid a recurrence of this type of injury, then that could be problematic.

It's difficult to know what to make of Kirby's injury without seeing the medicals and obviously that's not something outsiders will get to see.

Still, I would be very comfortable rolling the dice on Kirby, who remains one of my favorite pitchers in the draft class. Is he an overdraft at 11 overall? Maybe. Could he prove to be a steal? Possibly.

Tyler Jay
University of Illinois
6-1, 175 lbs
B/T: L/L

Jay is likely to be off the board before the Reds pick, as he has usurped the title of "Top Southpaw in the Draft" from Nathan Kirby. I'm only including him here because there's a sense of inevitability to the Reds drafting him if he's still available. Why? Jay is a college reliever and the Reds are big proponents of drafting college relievers with an eye towards converting them into professional starting pitchers. Unfortunately, the jury is still somewhat out on that philosophy, as the results have been something of a mixed bag (N.Howard, M.Lorenzen, T.Cingrani, etc).

Unlike Kirby, Jay's 2015 season was pure positive and many teams are now ready to buy into the notion that he can start at the next level. Maybe he can.

Here's a look at Jay in action, courtesy of FanGraphs on Youtube:

Jay has good stuff, but I'm not comfortable drafting relievers in round 1 with an eye towards turning them into starters. It might work, but it feels like unnecessary risk. Why draft a player who has to convert to a different role for the pick to pan out? That may make sense outside of the first round, but there is a very high opportunity cost in round 1 and it's difficult to believe that out of all the prospects that will be drafted, the organization can't find one that will pay off without incurring the needless risk of a position/role change.

Kolby Allard
San Clemente High School (CA)
6-0, 170 lbs
B/T: L/L

Allard is another pitcher whose draft status is made murky through dint of injury. This time, Allard suffered a stress reaction in his back, which is less disconcerting than serious elbow or shoulder trouble, but more disconcerting than the strained lat of Nathan Kirby

Even so, there is much to recommend Allard, who is also one of my favorite pitchers in this draft. He features two plus pitches, a fastball that sits 92-94 mph and can touch 94/95 and a tight curveball with good power behind it. He also throws an average changeup. In addition, his control and command are above average to plus, so his stuff can play up due to his ability to pound the zone and hit his spots.

Like Kirby, it's difficult to assess Allard's injury risk without access to his medicals and a medical staff on retainer to review them. That said, Michael Wacha had a stress reaction in his shoulder last year and it has yet to slow him down this year. So, it might be a one time issue. Tough to say.

Here's a look at Allard in action, courtesy of PerfectGameBaseball on YouTube:

As with Kirby, I like Allard's mechanics. Both do a lot of things right, but Allard actually has a bit more fluidity and a freer arm action.

Allard uses good coil at the apex of his leg kick and he also gets strong differential between his hip and shoulder rotations, which should have health and performance benefits. His arm is up in proper position at the appropriate time, so he shouldn't have any timing issues. He maintains a good tempo and balance throughout. He uses a good length stride and has the athleticism to to get out over it without difficulty. It might be nice to see a bit more pronation in his deceleration to minimize the stress on the elbow joint, but overall he has a very nice set of pitching mechanics.

The only concern I have with Allard is the medicals, as the stress reaction is a strange injury and recurring back problems can be a scary proposition. Still, as with Kirby, if the medicals check out, then he'd be one of the top pitchers on my draft board. There is much to like here.

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