The baseball industry in recent years has changed quite dramatically. Just ten years ago, it was revolutionary for a player like Dylan Bundy to be setting his workout routine together with long-toss and building muscle through workouts. At the time there was a perceived battle between the Royals development plan and Bundy’s.
That has all changed now as pretty much every player and pitcher has specialized workouts along with their own training facilities to work on their velocity and pitch formation. Since then, teams have also learned from the mistakes that a Major League contract for Bundy taught them. Even the most developed pitchers have hidden issues in their game, shoulder, or UCL that they often don’t get to learn until that first medical or game once the team has already drafted the player.
Knowing this, teams are starting to mitigate the risk involved with their selections, letting the colleges see their failure more than they do. In the last two drafts, the highest a high school pitcher has gone is in the teens. Before that, it wasn’t uncommon for a high school prospect to go much earlier, as Hunter Greene went second overall in 2017, and fellow prep player Mackenzie Gore followed just a pick later. Is the industry-changing, or were those drafts just light in talented high school pitching talent?
High school pitchers in recent drafts (Top 10 or first HS pitcher chosen)
2020 #15 Mick Abel Phillies
2019 #18 Quinn Priester Pirates
2018 #7 Ryan Weathers Padres, #8 Carter Stewart Braves (unsigned)
2017 #2 Hunter Greene Reds, #3 McKenzie Gore Padres
2016 #3 Ian Anderson Braves, #4 Riley Pint Rockies, #7 Braxton Garrett Marlins, #9 Matt Manning Tigers
While there remain good prospects on this board, one can see that the impact has been negligible in the Major Leagues. Even a couple of the no-brainer selections, Hunter Greene and Mackenzie Gore, have had setbacks, such as an injury to Greene and development roadblocks with Gore. Does that mean a team should write off a selection of a prep pitcher in the Top 10? I’m not quite so sure despite the limited results recently. One should probably analyze the entire draft talent and decide what a team has offered to them at their selection.
The year’s draft could have a limited upside available to the Royals picking at #7. The decision for them will be an interesting one for sure, whether they can buy a hyped high schooler like Brady House down to them or find a once highly-coveted pitcher like Kumar Rocker if he pitches his way down to their spot. The mocks we see over the next few weeks should be very interesting as the perceived top-end talented college pitching is starting to run into plenty of issues.
Both Vanderbilt starters Rocker and Jack Leiter have seen their velocity drop while their results have also come down. Ole Miss starter Gunnar Hoglund will need Tommy John surgery. The high school prep bats are rising while the safer pitching selections are going backward. A draft thought to have depth at college pitching is now looking rather scary there too. If the upside is limited and wrought with injury potential on the college side, should the Royals zag the industry and take a high-end high school pitching talent?
The most talented high school pitcher to come from Oklahoma since Dylan Bundy in 2011 has shined his way into Top 10 potential. Unlike Bundy, who people were well aware of for a while, Jackson Jobe’s stock has flown up thanks to the propeller-like spin provided by his slider. Arriving at the PG National Showcase last year as a good two-way prospect heading to Ole Miss, Jobe stole the show, showing off a 3100 rpm slider and fastball that was hitting 96 mph. Suddenly the shortstop was a top-notch pitching prospect.
Jackson Jobe is a shortstop by trade. I don't think he's a shortstop in scouts' minds anymore. 92-96 w2500 RPM today w/an absolutely devastating slider at 3200 RPMs. Undressed almost every hitter he faced. He'll be on the mound a lot this summer. Huge riser today. #PGNational pic.twitter.com/Tthhs0vwim— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) June 18, 2020
All the right-hander has done since that explosive showcase is continue to improve on his craft. The velocity keeps climbing while he also adds different pitches to his repertoire. The fastball is now hitting up to 99 mph with RPM closed in the 2650 range in multiple outings while the slider maintains that ridiculous top of the chart 3100 rpm spin rate. To put those numbers in perspective the top slider average currently in the game is 2977 by Corbin Burnes and the 2650 RPM if he could get to average with that figure would place him top three in the league as well. Jobe has stopped with the work on those two pitches though. He’s continued to refine and work on his high spin curveball and changeup as well, knowing he will need more than just two pitches at the pro level.
Those at his games have seen the improvement in the changeup recently and the fact that he’s forcing himself to throw it when he could dominate with just two pitches shows intelligence in his game. The ability to mold and create a monster slider so good that he has pro pitchers seeking advice from him is a story in itself. That inventiveness is similar to Bundy’s at the time of his draft, though that was much more to do with his workout style than pitch molding. He has more athleticism than Bundy did however and is at the top of the charts for a pitcher available in the draft. That shouldn’t surprise as he is a kid who could be drafted as a shortstop if he wanted to go that route. As part of that athleticism, he was his team’s quarterback just a few seasons ago as part of their 3A championship squad. Using that football grip helped him morph the pitch into the pitch it is today.
There are always questions about control and command for any high school pitcher. Strikes that pitchers dominate with in the high school ranks become balls at the lower minor league levels and things continue to tighten up at each level above. Pitches like his slider and curvebal may have difficulty getting called strikes in the lower minors with so much movement considering the lack of umpire talent. With a pro golf father, one would think repeating mechanics and release points would be somewhat of an inherited skillset, and his natural athleticism would combine well with that in the future.
The risk of giving any player $5 million in the draft is significant, and a high school pitcher comes with an even greater risk. The Royals’ history of developing high school pitchers is a rough one in the Dayton Moore era with only Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis, Foster Griffin, and Scott Blewett landing in Kauffman Stadium after being drafted out of high school. Unfortunately, the college stars are struggling which may mean mitigating risk while getting ceiling isn’t likely this year. If the risk is pulled out then there aren’t many pitchers or players in this draft that have Jobe’s ceiling which makes him a very possible candidate at #7 for the Royals.