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Rays 2014 draft review: Pitchers

22 of the 41 Rays picks were pitchers

Matt Plitt was the one pitcher the Rays drafted with a photo in the editor
Matt Plitt was the one pitcher the Rays drafted with a photo in the editor

2014 draft coverage finally wraps up (with the exception of occasional signing news) with this post reviewing the 22 pitchers the Rays drafted.

They built a portfolio of arms with these picks.  There's some velocity, some college strike throwers, some low arm slots, a guy that throws a screwball, and there's even a high school pitcher that walked a lot of batters.

I think there are two key players here: second rounder Cameron Varga, and 11th rounder Spencer Moran.  Varga could have gone higher without a dip in velocity, and maybe the Rays can help him get that back.  Moran has some projection in him, and he would be a nice overslot catch if they can sign him.

High school right-handers

2. Cameron Varga, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy (Ohio), 6'3 205, 19.78 Y.O. (committed to North Carolina)

In his senior season in Ohio, Varga posted some comical numbers, striking out 141 batters and walking six in 58 innings, and he also set a record for 33 consecutive strikeouts during the season.  He also threw five no-hitters.

The quality of stuff he used to achieve those statistics seems to be up for debate. notes he throws in the low to mid-90's with little effort, but Keith Law contends that he's heard from sources that he wasn't hitting that velocity anymore despite a high level of effort ($).  Moving beyond his fastball, he has a quality breaking ball that could be a plus pitch.

He missed some time recently with shoulder soreness, and that combined with his fluctuating stuff caused him to fall in the draft after appearing to be a first round lock at this time last year.  He has signed already, so he should be able to accumulate some Gulf Coast League innings this year. video

4. Blake Bivens, George Washington H.S. (Virginia), 6'2 205, 18.81 Y.O. (committed to Liberty)

Bivens looks to be a pretty polished high school pitcher.  He doesn't have much room to get stronger at this point, but that's okay because he already pitches with an above average to plus fastball with sink.  He known for throwing strikes, even with his curveball already, and that could be a plus pitch.

Bivens really has to improve his changeup, something he'll be able to do with a professional coaching staff because he has signed.  Aside from that, all of the ingredients are there for a potential big league starter.  In 53 innings his senior year, he struck out 99 batters. video

11. Spencer Moran, Mountain View H.S. (Arizona), 6'6 180, 18.16 Y.O. (committed to Utah)

If the Rays can sign Moran, it would be one of their biggest, if not the biggest, later round catch of this draft for them in this draft.  They could offer him second to fifth round money without incurring a penalty, or at least a very minor one, and they should feel comfortable offering that because he was a fifth or sixth round talent in this draft.

Moran probably couldn't be more different compared to Bivens.  He's all projection with a tall, lean frame and a present below average fastball.  He'll get stronger though, and as that happens, he should be able to pitch with above average to plus velocity.  His breaking ball and changeup both need work.

It would obviously take quite a bit of time to develop Moran, but if the Rays can develop his secondary pitches, and he adds velocity, their patience could be rewarded.

College right-handers

B. Brent Honeywell, Walters State Community College, 6'2 180, 19.17 Y.O.

At the end of the first night of the draft, the Rays sent armchair analysts such as myself scrambling with the selection of Honeywell 72nd overall when he was a fourth or fifth round talent in some online rankings.  Searching for information is where he got interesting.

What stands out most is obviously the fact that Honeywell throws a screwball.  The common speculation is that the Rays will not allow him to throw that pitch, but I disagree.  I don't know if you draft a player 72nd overall just to scrap what he does best.

Honeywell's fastball velocity has improved to the low-90's while touching higher over the last year, and he threw a lot of strikes despite the strange arsenal.  He struck out 102 and walked just 15 in 83.1 innings in his first season at Walters State.  His changeup has more potential than his curveball.

Yesterday, Honeywell signed for $800,000, just a little more than the recommended value.

7. Mike Franco, Florida International, 5'11 200, 22.50 Y.O.

Franco signed for about $70,000 less than the recommended value for the 217th pick, giving the Rays flexibility to sign other players.

Franco has had a long road to being the team's seventh rounder.  He's undergone Tommy John surgery and spent two years at Howard College before his two at FIU.  His first year was awful, but he was one of the best pitchers in college baseball in 2014, finishing second in the country in ERA.  He struck out 112 and walked 27 in 99 innings.

As a short right-hander, he's going to face a lot of questions because of that.  His fastball is just an average pitch, and his curveball and changeup are average offerings.  He'll need to work to stay in shape, and if he can do that and locate down in the zone, he could be a starter.

9. Chris Pike, Oklahoma City University, 6'0 175, 21.64 Y.O.

After subpar sophomore and junior seasons at Fordham, Pike transferred to Oklahoma City University where he was one of the top NAIA pitchers in the country.  In 90.2 innings, he struck out 125 and only allowed 59 hits and 18 walks.  That season even included a perfect game and no-hitter thrown back to back in March.

His low-90's fastball and curveball aren't a bad combination of pitches, but his D-I stats (198 strikeouts and 106 walks in 253 innings at Fordham) are probably a better indicator of his talent.  He did have some success pitching in the off-season Valley League which is decent though.

Pike signed and is pitching for Hudson Valley.

10. Bradley Wallace, Arkansas State, 6'2 175, 21.72 Y.O.

Wallace was ASU's Friday starter in his senior season, and he continued to show incremental improvements, walking batters at a lower rate the last three seasons.  His last two years were spent almost entirely in their rotation, and he struck out about a batter per inning with a 1.35 WHIP.

I can't find any information on his stuff, but Wallace has been pretty well ranked among Arkansas prospects the last two years by Baseball America, also noting he has a high effort delivery.  After his sophomore season, he was a Northwoods League All-Star with 54 strikeouts and 10 walks in 46.1 innings.

Wallace has signed.

15. Brian Miller, Vanderbilt, 6'4 200, 21.88 Y.O.

It's easy to see Miller reaching the big leagues at some point.  Over the last two years, he's had a WHIP under 1.00 at the back of the bullpen for one of the nation's best teams.  In the same period, he has 21 saves and 77 strikeouts to 16 walks in 91.2 innings,

What helps make Miller so successful is throwing from a seriously low arm slot with a long, whippy arm action.  Pitchers who throw like that usually have trouble when they don't have the platoon advantage, but reports from opposing coaches indicate that his mid-80's fastball has enough movement that's it hard for lefties to hit too.  If he can continue doing that as a professional, he could be a big leaguer.

Miller hasn't signed yet because Vanderbilt is still playing.  I suspect he will once the College World Series is over.

19. Justin McCalvin, Kennesaw State, 5'10 180, 22.05 Y.O.

McCalvin was a key cog in the bullpen of this spring's post-season cinderella team.  As KSU's closer, he improved in each year, culminating in this junior season where he struck out 60 and walked 19 in 61 innings and recorded 16 saves.

He gets it done with average stuff.  He throws a high-80's fastball with a three quarters arm slot and complements it with a breaking ball.  Throwing strikes with deception seems to be how he gets out, but he's had success on a good team and in off-season action.  He hasn't signed yet, but as a fourth year junior, he probably should.

20. Kyle McKenzie, Tulane, 6'1 200, 23.71 Y.O.

The Rays noted that McKenzie was the first fifth year senior they drafted in 2014.  He actually pitched in five seasons for Tulane because he got a medical redshirt in his second season.  He was actually drafted by the Yankees in 2010 out of high school, and it has taken all this time for him to become a prospect again.

Over those five seasons, his fastball velocity improved from being a high-80's pitch to a low to mid-90's pitch, but his curveball might be the better offering.  It resulted in his best season in college when he struck out 35 and walked nine in 27.2 innings.  He'll be pitching for Hudson Valley.

29. Tomas Michelson, Illinois-Chicago, 6'4 185, 22.15 Y.O.

Michelson is an extreme ground ball pitcher, and that may explain why he went from winning Horizon League Pitcher of the Year to posting a 4.82 ERA in 2014, despite his strikeout rate (14.4% to 14.6%) and walk rate (5.8% to 4.8%) both getting better. I am not an Illinois-Chicago baseball expert, but maybe the increased hit rate he had was just poor luck or reflects the loss of good defensive players.

Michelson signed, but he is not assigned to Hudson Valley as of now.

30. Trevor Dunlap, Washington, 6'7 230, 21.96 Y.O.

Dunlap was pretty decent as a key Washington reliever the last two years, striking out 102 and walking 43 in 126 innings with the Huskies.  His fastball is just an average pitch, but I'd imagine it has some sink on it with his height.

Dunlap has apparently not signed yet, but since he's a senior, I'm really not sure what he's waiting for.

31. Andrew Woeck, N.C. State, 5'10 180, 22.08 Y.O.

Woeck only made two starts in his two year career with the Wolfpack, but as a reliever, it's unusual for him to be more well known for his deep arsenal than dominating stuff.  His fastball tops out in the high-80's, but he complements it with a cutter, breaking ball and changeup, with the changeup maybe being the best of the three pitches.

Woeck was still very effective for NCSU, striking out 86 and walking 19 in 75.2 innings.  The Rays haven't added him to their draft signing list yet, but his Twitter profile says he plays for the Rays, so I'll go with that.

37. Matt Plitt, Louisiana-Lafayette, 6'4 220, 22.73 Y.O.

Plitt's stats in two years at Lafayette weren't particularly impressive with 70 strikeouts and 48 walks in 97.1 innings.  His fastball sits in the low-90's and apparently he has a good breaking ball, so maybe his strikeout rate could've been a little better.

Apparently he hasn't signed yet, but as a senior, he should probably do so.

40. Conor Harber, Western Nevada Community College, 6'2 205, 20.45 Y.O. (committed to Oregon)

Harber was drafted in the 38th round last year, so despite taking on a bigger role on the WNC staff in 2014, he's losing ground.  He struck out 82 and walked 32 in 72.1 innings, so it's a lot more likely that he's losing ground because he's not going to sign.

Oregon's a nice program, and it could be a challenge for the Rays to pry him away as a 40th rounder.


3. Brock Burke, Evergreen H.S. (Colorado), 6'2 170, 17.82 Y.O. (committed to Oregon)

Burke was the rare high school pick who did not have video game high school statistics, at least in one regard.  He walked 29 in 40 innings, so obviously the Rays will have a lot of work to do with his control.  He also struck out 79, so it's not all bad.

His fastball sits in the mid to high-80's, and the Rays hope that as he gets out of the cold weather and gets stronger, he can add to that.  His breaking ball and changeup have average potential.  He's one of the younger players in the draft, and he struck out 19 and walked one in a game at Coors Field.

For some reason, Colorado has been able to produce quality pitching from the high school ranks in recent years.  Roy Halladay, Brad Lidge, Kevin Gausman and first round picks Marco Gonzales and Kyle Freeland are among the prep arms from Colorado.  Not that Burke will become any of them, but arms are known to come from there.

Burke expects to sign.

14. Trevor Lubking, Pacific Lutheran, 6'0 205, 21.74 Y.O.

Lubking led D-III baseball in strikeouts in 2014 with 111 in 89 innings after finishing fifth in 2013.  Despite the gaudy strikeout numbers, he's described as a crafty lefty, and in lieu of any more scouting information about him, I'll assume he relies on locating an average fastball.  He was the first D-III player off the board, and he has signed.

16. Greg Maisto, McLennan Community College, 6'1 180, 20.39 Y.O.

Maisto walked on at Texas A&M, but after one year he transferred to McLennan.  He wasn't very good, striking out 58 and walking 32 in 76.2 innings, but West Virginia is still disappointed to be losing him because he has signed with the Rays.  He's added velocity to his fastball and now works in the low-90's with movement.

17. Steve Ascher, Oneonta State, 6'0 185, 20.62. Y.O.

Despite only being a D-III player, Ascher was set to play in the Cape Cod League before signing with the Rays.  He won Conference Pitcher of the Year honors after striking out 82 and walking 20 in 69.1 innings as a junior.  I can't find any information on his stuff, but his coach described him as a competitor who knows how to pitch, so I'm not expecting big stuff.

22. Ryan Pennell, Elon, 6'4 225, 21.88 Y.O.

Pennell is big, but his fastball is below average in the mid to upper-80's.  It took him a long time to break out at Elon, and whether that's actually true is up for debate.  In his senior season, he struck out 32 and walked 19 in 30.2 innings.

Pennell signed, and he's on Hudson Valley's roster.

25. Tyler Wells, Nevada, 6'3 215, 20.88 Y.O.

Wells never really broke out with Nevada despite owning an above average fastball and promising secondary pitches.  He was moved into the bullpen for most of the year and still struggled, allowing well over a hit an inning and striking out 41 in 47.1 innings with 20 walks.

It wouldn't surprise me if it doesn't sign and goes back to Nevada, hoping he can straighten things out in his senior season.

35. Kyle Bird, Flagler College, 6'3 190, 21.14 Y.O.

After two unsuccessful years at Florida State, Bird transferred to Flagler where he still didn't pitch well.  He also allowed well over a hit an inning, struck out 39 and walked 20 in 54 innings.  He has a below average to average fastball, but he has signed already.