MLB.com Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

Prep pitchers in Draft could be enticing risks

Stewart of Texas, Ball of Indiana stand out but there's potential for more in first round

Prep pitchers in Draft could be enticing risks

At the college level, two pitchers have separated themselves in next month's First-Year Player Draft. The same could be said of the high school pitchers who are eligible.

Among the prep pitchers -- the highest risk-reward part of any Draft -- right-hander Kohl Stewart from Texas and lefty Trey Ball from Indiana have broken away from the pack and left the others behind. There are some other potential first-rounders, enough to allow this year's first round to at least match that of last year, when five high school pitchers were selected, but there isn't quite as much depth as there has been in previous Drafts.

"It's not a great high school pitching class," one scouting director said. "Stewart and Ball have separated themselves just like Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray did in the college class."

Stewart, a two-sport star who has the potential to play quarterback at Texas A&M should he decide to go that route, entered the spring as the top high school pitcher in the country and has done nothing but cement himself in that position. Though he is a Type 1 diabetic, there aren't too many concerns about his physicality. Big and durable, the only thing that could really impact Stewart's status is what it will take to sign him away from the gridiron.

"What helps Kohl Stewart a lot, from the football, he's already a strong kid," the scouting director said. "What's tough with the high school kids, their velocity can really fluctuate. Most of them aren't strong yet. Stewart, most times you see him, he has good stuff. He doesn't know how to pitch yet, but [the velocity] is there."

Ball, on the other hand, has a little more of a feel for pitching, though he's one of those prep pitchers who will fluctuate with his stuff. To be fair, that's a deviation from a very high norm. Since Ball started his season in Indiana -- weather is always an issue for those in the Midwest -- he has rapidly made a beeline up the Draft boards to join Stewart at the top of the high school pitching ranks.

What makes Ball so interesting is that entering the spring, it was uncertain just how teams would like him. He's a highly talented outfielder with a smooth left-handed swing and excellent speed and there was no consensus over the path his pro career should take. Most talk of Ball playing the outfield at the next level, however, quieted when he came out throwing extremely well right from the get-go. And he hasn't let up. In Ball's most recent outing, last weekend, he pitched the second game of a doubleheader and was completely dominant in front of many decision-makers from teams picking high in the Draft.

"He was 92-94 mph with a plus curve," the scouting director said. "I like to see kids sprinting toward the finish line."

Like Stewart, Ian Clarkin entered the spring as perhaps the top high school lefty. While his results over the summer were a bit up and down, the stuff was there and he's done nothing this spring to hurt his stock, even if Ball has moved past him on the prep southpaw list.

"After Stewart and Ball, I like Clarkin the best," said the scouting director. "He's going to have a plus curveball and he has a very solid fastball."

Hunter Harvey is another prep pitcher who is coming on strong. The son of former big league reliever Bryan Harvey, two things have made Harvey intriguing, aside from his size and arm strength. He didn't pitch much over the summer, by design, and he hasn't committed to a college, making it clear to teams that he wants to begin his pro career.

top high school pitchers
A comparison of the top five high school pitchers available in this year's Draft. Scouting grades are on a 2-8 scale for both present and future tools (present/future). 2-3 is well below average, 4 is below average, 5 is average, 6 is above average and 7-8 is plus.
  Stewart Ball Clarkin Harvey Bickford          
Rank 7 8 18 23 26          
Fastball 5/6 5/6 5/6 5/6 5/6          
Curve N/A 5/6 4/5 4/5 N/A          
Slider 5/6 N/A N/A N/A 4/5          
Changeup 4/5 4/5 4/5 4/5 4/5          
Control 4/5 4/5 5/6 4/5 4/5          
Overall 5/6 5/6 4/6 4/5 4/5          
Others to watch: Kyle Serrano, RHP, Farragust (Tenn.); Connor Jones, RHP, Great Bridge (Va.); Matt Krook, LHP, St. Ignatius (Calif.); Robert Kaminsky, LHP, St. Joseph Regional (N.J.); Dustin Driver, RHP, Wenatchee (Wash.); Garrett Williams, LHP, Calvary Baptist (La.); Blake Taylor, LHP, Dana Hills (Calif.); Robert Tyler, RHP, Crisp County (Ga.); Hunter Green, LHP; Warren East (Ky.); Carlos Salazar, RHP, Kerman (Calif.)

"He's going to get bigger and stronger," the scouting director said. "He's lean and wiry. And he really wants to sign."

After that quartet, it's a little more difficult to find consensus. While Southern California right-hander Phil Bickford shot up boards with his strong performances this spring, there's some concern about his arm action and his secondary stuff is raw. Kyle Serrano is much more polished, but will the son of Tennessee coach Dave Serrano sign rather than go play for his dad?

There is some left-handed depth out there, with Hunter Green from Kentucky and Robert Kaminsky from New Jersey getting some late first-round attention. Green is another lean, wiry guy who might not quite belong in the first-tier group. Kaminsky is another southpaw with a good breaking ball, but he's a bit undersized, leading some to wonder about his durability.

That, in a nutshell, is the rub. Drafting high school pitchers is not for the faint of heart. So much can go wrong, but the payoff can be enormous.

"When you hit, look at most of the better pitchers," the scouting director said, pointing to big leaguers like Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright as prime examples. "Those are high school guys that teams got right.

"The hardest thing to scout is the young bat, because you don't get to see them often against high-level pitching. But the highest rate of attrition is the high school arm. A bunch will get hurt and some won't be as good as we think they are."

To see which teams take the leap with high school pitching, be sure to tune in to all three days of Draft coverage. The 2013 First-Year Player Draft will take place on June 6-8, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday, June 6, at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 73 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. Rounds 3-10 will be streamed live on MLB.com on June 7, beginning with a preview show at 12:30 p.m., and Rounds 11-40 will be streamed live on MLB.com on June 8, starting at 1 p.m.

MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.