HOUSTON -- Tyler Kolek is unquestionably the hardest thrower eligible for this year's First-Year Player Draft, and perhaps in the history of the Draft. And if he's taken No. 1 overall by the Astros on Thursday, he'll make some more history.
Never, since the Draft began in 1965, has a right-handed high school pitcher been taken first overall. Top five? Sure. But first? Hasn't happened yet.
If there was ever a time to seriously consider breaking tradition, this may be it. Kolek, who spent his senior season at Shepherd High School, about an hour and a half up Highway 59 from Minute Maid Park, regularly touching 100 mph with his fastball, appears to be an enticing choice for the teams picking highest in the Draft. Even with a class stocked with flamethrowers, Kolek is in a category by himself.
"He has a huge ceiling, staff-ace potential," one Houston-area scout said. "One-hundred-mile-per-hour fastballs are rare. From a high school kid, it's unheard of."
Kolek has been described as "country strong," a lumbering, 6-foot-5 specimen who's still raw, but loaded with potential. Despite his large frame, he still has room to grow, and some believe once he takes up a strength-and-conditioning program in the professional ranks, it's likely he'll further grow into his athleticism.
If there's a drawback, it's that his pitches beyond the fastball -- curveball, slider, changeup -- need work. That's not unusual when you're talking about an 18-year-old high schooler. At this point, Kolek's slider appears to be his best secondary pitch.
"It's still a work in progress," said one scout who has watched Kolek pitch several times since his junior season. "He's improved since last summer. Every time you watch him, he gets better, which is what you want to see."
This past season, Kolek went 5-2 with a 0.35 ERA while recording 126 strikeouts against eight walks over 60 1/3 innings. Opponents hit .118 off him, a testament to improved velocity late in games and better control than when he was younger.
It's no wonder the stands at his high school field were teeming with scouts throughout his senior season.
"Every game that he pitched in this year, I don't think there was one game that he didn't hit 100 miles per hour multiple times," Shepherd head baseball coach Josh Jackson said in an interview with CSNHouston.com. "He throws a slider some, but he relies on his curveball more. His changeup is actually really good. He throws his changeup 90 miles per hour, his curveball is usually 78 to 82 -- I think I've seen it up to 83, 84 before. So, fastball, curveball are his two main pitches, but his changeup I think is really going to be really good."
Kolek missed most of his junior season, according to CSNHouston.com, after breaking his left arm during a game over spring break. When he began throwing two months later, that's when he hit triple digits for the first time. Much of that could be attributed to simple rest, his coach said.
"There was probably a game last year where he probably walked eight batters in one game, and this year he walked eight batters the whole year, which again, that's crazy for that kind of control," Jackson told CSNHouston.com. "And his confidence was through the roof. He knew he could throw it for a strike; he knew he could get strikeouts; he knew he was going to get guys out."
Kolek is one of only a handful of potential draftees being mentioned as a viable No. 1 pick. While there has been some buzz about two position players possibly sneaking into the top three -- catcher/outfielder Alex Jackson of Rancho Bernardo High in San Diego and shortstop Nick Gordon of Olympia High in Orlando, Fla. -- the focus for much of the pre-Draft season has centered on North Carolina State lefty Carlos Rodon, high school lefty Brady Aiken from Southern California and Kolek.
Even though Kolek is not the favorite to be picked first overall by the Astros, the story line of a young, emerging, talented team possibly taking a highly touted local kid is intriguing.
The Astros may take the "logical" route and pick Rodon, but Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has shown in the past he's not afraid to think outside the proverbial box and get creative. If that's the case, Kolek may not have to travel far to check out his future big league digs.
The 2014 Draft will take place Thursday through Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday at 5 p.m. CT. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 6 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 11:30 a.m. on Friday.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 200 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.