Sunday, January 30, 2005

Draft 2004: Pitching is the name of the game [Pt 1]

With the recent signing of 1st round pick Phillip Humber, the Mets have now inked their first seven draft choices. Following a philosophy that focused for the most part on selecting well built right-handers, the Mets stockpiled their system with several interesting arms. For all of you that don't remember, here is what Baseball America's Allan Simpson said about it two days after the draft madness:

Allan Simpson: I like the Mets draft. Humber is very solid, but several other picks have one or two tools that stand out. Matt Durkin (2) has the big 95 mph fastball, Aaron Hathaway (4) is one of the best defensive catchers in the country, Nick Evans (5) has big-time bat speed and Ryan Coultas (6) is one of the nation's best defensive shortstops--with enough arm strength that he could become a pitcher. The sleeper of the group may be righthander Scott Hyde (7), who struck out 191 with a 94-95 mph fastball while leading Oregon's George Fox College to the NCAA Division III national title.

Obviously, half a season is not enough time to analyze how or if these players will ever contribute at the major league level, especially since some of them have not even made their pro debuts yet, but if first impressions mean anything, the Mets seem on the right track. Like Simpson mentions, the Mets drafted a lot of interesting players and some of them have already showed some of their talent. So without further ado, here's the first part recap of the 2004 Mets' draft:

1. Phillip Humber

Selected third overall from Rice university, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Humber was the Mets' first pick this year and the first of three Rice pitchers picked in the first round. In three college seasons, Humber compiled a 35-8 record with a 2.80 ERA and finished second in school history in strikeouts. While not the flashiest pick, the big right-hander out of Texas has all the tools to become a future ace:
Scouts considered Humber the safest pick among the three Rice aces. He has three plus pitches: a 90-94 mph fastball that scrapes 97, a true 12-6 curveball, and a splitter that he uses as a changeup. Strong and durable, he has been injury-free and has the most resilient arm of the Rice first-rounders.
Since he just signed, Humber hasn't been able to make his professional debut just yet, but his college career speaks for itself:

2.78 era 110 ip
10.6 k/9 3.5 bb/9 0.7 hr/9

3.30 era 128 ip
9.7 k/9 2.7 bb/9 0.8 hr/9

2.27 era 115 ip
12.1 k/9 2.9 bb/9 0.5 hr/9

As you can see, Humber improved with every year at Rice. Since his freshman year, he reduced his walk rate and HR rate while also increasing his strikeouts per nine innings. More importantly, in doing so, Humber displayed excellent mechanics. According to several reports from the NY papers, the team had Rick Peterson review film on the pitchers the Mets were considering taking with the 3rd pick and the only one who didn't have any mechanical flaws was the same one the Mets drafted, Phillip Humber. The Mets haven't decided where to send the big right-hander this season, but its presumed he'll make his professional debut in the warm climate and pitching friendly confines of the Florida State League [A-] before moving to AA-Binghampton.

2. Matt Durkin

A product of San Jose State, Matt Durkin had been well-regarded ever since he had a breakout year in his freshman year. After a subpar season in 2004, however, his draft stock fell a little bit and many thought he could be sleeper pick. The Mets overlooked his subpar 04 and drafted him in the second round hoping he'd find control of his breaking ball. Here's what JJ Cooper of Baseball America had to say about him:
Durkin has a very good fastball, but his stuff failed to produce the numbers that you would expect in his final two years in college. The Mets are encouraged that Durkin seems to have found the curveball that he had lost the last two years. If he has a solid breaking ball, Durkin could be an intriguing prospect
Here's a more informative scouting report courtesy of the guys at NYFS.
The 6'4", 220lbs. righthander features a power fastball that generally sits in the 91-93 mph range and can touch the mid-90's. He also has a slider and changeup with good sink. The fastball is his bread-and-butter pitch though, which he throws with confidence and location on both sides of the plate.
So what to make of Durkin's 2004? A closer look into his stats tell us that other than a rise in his ERA, he's pretty much been the same pitcher throughout his three years in college ball. As you can see, his rate stats remained relatively constant:

2.75 era 98.1 ip
7.8 k/9 2.2 bb/9 0.0 hr/9

2.60 era 100.1 ip
9.9 k/9 3.8 bb/9 0.4 hr/9

4.43 era 85.1 ip
8.4 k/9 4.0 bb/9 0.3 hr/9

Not bad. The increasing walk rate is a little bit worrisome, but other than that, Durkin has displayed good strikeout rates and excellent homerun rates. In fact, Durkin's stats were good enough over the past three years that Craig Burley of the Batter's Box ranked him the 14th best college pitcher using his adjusted pitching statistics [note: Humber was ranked 3rd]. Signed late last year, the product of San Jose State still hasn't made his professional debut but he is expected to start the year at the Florida State League.

3. Gaby Hernandez

Drafted in the third round out of Belen Jesuit HS in Miami, Gaby Hernandez made his professional debut with the Gulf Coast League Mets last year. Despite his young age [18], the right-hander forced a promotion to the NY Penn League playoffs with a dominating showing in rookie league. Already the Mets' 3rd best prospect according to Baseball America, Hernandez still has room for growth:
Hernandez has a 90-93 mph fastball, with sinking and running action. In high school, he had a few problems with his curveball. He would choke it off in the dirt or have it sail high and away; this probably hurt his draft status to some extent. But in pro ball, his curveball was much more reliable. Add the better curve to his fastball, changeup and sharp command, and you have a fine young pitcher. Hernandez could still gain some height and weight, possibly leading to increased velocity. If Hernandez can manage to stay healthy, he could definitely be a front-row starter, yes. He could make a lot of noise in 2005.
Considering that Humber and Durkin haven't made their pro debuts yet, it was up to Hernandez to represent the Mets' pitching class of 04 draft. The right-hander didn't dissapoint as he was spectacular in 50 GCL innings. How good was he? He had more strikeouts than baserunners. Yeah, he was that good:

1.09 era 50 ip
10.5 k/9 2.2 bb/9 0.2 hr/9

Obviously, fifty-innings is such a small sample to draw any meaningful conclusions, but there is nothing about Gaby Hernandez that doesn't stand out. Excellent strikeout, walk and home run rates across the board, and only 4.5 hits per nine innings for the DIPS-haters out there. He's definitely someone who you want to keep an eye on next year. So what can we expect for Hernandez in the future?

J.J. Cooper: It's hard to exactly project Hernandez's ceiling yet, as he has a long way to go, but he could be a No. 2-3 starter it would appear. He has very solid stuff, with a great frame and good mechanics. Scouts in the GCL loved him, as he seemed to fill the role of staff ace with aplomb.

The plan for Hernandez is to start at Brooklyn this year, and eventually move to the South Atlantic League. That is, unless, you know the Cyclones find themselves in another pennant race.


In the next and final part of the early analysis of the Mets' 04 draft I'll take a look at the position players and those players who showed some promise last year. If you are more interested on the subject, you can always check the following links:

MLB: Scouting reports and video on Mets' draft picks.
Baseball America: Premiere scouting information source.
NYFS: Best Mets' minor league coverage on the Web.


Blogger Hojo4Life said...

nice job OFF as always. Look forward to Pt. 2. Last years draft was one of the more interesting ones in the past few years for the Mets. Good mix in the top rounds of college and HS talent. Interesting to see how another different regime handles the draft this year.

January 30, 2005 at 1:20 PM  
Blogger OFF said...

Definitely. The biggest thing last year was that the Mets had their 2nd and 3rd round picks, and that the draft was so pitching heavy. For example, I read Gaby Hernandez would have been a supplemental 1st rounder or an early 2nd rounder had it not been for the wealth of college pitchers. With the signings of Pedro and Beltran, the Mets have once again forfeited their 2nd and 3rd round picks [though at least this time they were worth it] so it'll be interesting to see what they do.

In Montreal, Omar's draft picks were mostly "signability" picks so its hard to gauge what his draft philosophy is. Obviously there'd be exceptions [say Upton fell to the Mets' laps], but if it were up to me, I'd draft the best college hitters available in the first five rounds, go with high-ceiling pitchers [whether hs or college] on the next 10 or so picks, and then try to sign guys who fell because of money demands in the later rounds.

January 30, 2005 at 2:10 PM  
Blogger Hojo4Life said...

yeah having the second and third round picks certainly helped but I thought overall throughout the whole Mets draft it was fairly impressive compared to previous years. Good mixture of talent.

Not having the second and third rounders does hurt depth wise but well worth it this year to give them up. I know Omar has brought in alot of scouts and Sandy Johnson has a lot of scouting in his background as well, mainly in latin american countries though. But it should be a strength in coming years if these guys do a good job.

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