ST. PETERSBURG -- Dan Heefner is the head baseball coach at Dallas Baptist. He has seen some pretty good pitchers grace the Patriots' roster, but he sees something special in Brandon Koch.
The Rays selected the right-hander in the fourth round, with the 118th selection of the 2015 Draft.
"We've had a lot of good arms," Heefner said. "We've had a first-rounder, a second-rounder, a third-rounder, we've had some really good ones come through here. And he's the best we've ever had."
Koch, 21, became the first pitcher selected by the Rays in the 2015 Draft. He is a closer with a power arm, and he had one of the best fastball-slider combinations in the Draft.
"First of all, I'm shocked he didn't go earlier than that," Heefner said. "He's been as dominant as you can be at the college level for the last two years. It wasn't like a one-hit wonder or anything. He did it almost every single outing for two straight years.
"You look at his strikeout numbers. Over a two-year period, he struck out 16 guys per a nine-inning period. About a .150 batting average against."
Koch's maturity seems to have worked against him in the Draft. Because he is advanced, scouts had to decide whether his current abilities translated well to where they project him for the future. In other words, they wonder if they're already seeing the best Koch is going to be. Heefner doesn't think that should matter.
"That's where I think it's like, do you need to project him much more than he is?" Heefner said. "He pitches at 96 and 97 with his fastball. He topped at 98.
"But his slider, that's his bread and butter, and he can throw it for a strike at any time. And that thing is 84 to 87. The slider's been as hard as 90. He doesn't change at all. The only projection that you need to make on him is he needs to improve his fastball command. But from a stuff standpoint, that's big league stuff right now."
While Koch looks like he has the polish to be close to reaching the Major Leagues, Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said they have never tried to "run a guy through the Minor Leagues real quickly" when asked if Koch was Major League ready.
"But in theory, yes, because he is a reliever and he has the two big pitches in place, so there is not a lot of projection there," Harrison said. "It's just how well he pitches against the competition we line up against and how quickly we want to move him."
Heefner believes Koch is the total package.
"He's very strong," Heefner said. "Big-time worker. He's just going to keep getting better. He's just that type of competitor and that kind of worker.
"He's a great kid, he's a likeable kid, but he's a competitor. He's a really good athlete, too. When we recruited him, we recruited him as a shortstop. So he's that type of athlete. He fields his position well. Controls the running game. I'm not kidding, I was shocked that he went that late. They got a steal."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.