No, I haven’t been living under a rock for the past week (or for this site, months). I’m not under the influence; nobody’s slipped anything into my purple kool-aid… I’m typing from a clear state of mind; Kyle Gibson just may be the most logical draft choice for our beloved Rockies tomorrow. I think we must consider a few parameters before looking deeply at this Rockies draft:
1. We have no reason to believe the Rockies’ draft budget isn’t at or below slot for each selection we have in the early rounds.
2. With no notable changes in the Rockies’ player development group, we cannot expect the Rockies’ draft philosophy to change dramatically, or any at all.
3. The Rockies’ talent pool at the A levels (specifically Low A) is substandard and could play a role in the type of players targeted early.
So how does any of this relate to a pitcher with a fractured forearm that Keith Law won’t even put in his first round mock? Way more than you’d think. Allow me to present my argument in the case for Kyle Gibson:
Point #1: Gibson’s talent is on par with the eleventh overall selection.
You don’t have to be a draft-nik to know that Gibson has put himself in the top group of arms for this draft. Gibson’s junior season at Missouri has been almost flawless on a week to week basis (Ironically, his worst start was the only one I was able to take in live at Oklahoma State). Gibson made comparisons to John Lackey look fairly apt for the bulk of the season. His clean mechanics and growing frame suggest future workhorse in spite of his injury (which can partly be blamed on a large innings jump from last season as well as a work load that often saw pitch counts past 135- Roy Halladay is the exception NOT the rule). He’s smart with a fastball that can produce plenty of groundouts, as well as a slider that still showed plus depth in his rough start at Oklahoma State. Despite being 6’6 and 208 lbs., there’s still not a lot of space on his frame to put more weight (he has a slender structure), but with a consistent professional regimen, he could gain enough strength to keep his fastball consistently at 92-93 instead of 89-91.
I’m sure by now most of you think I’m talking about Greg Reynolds, but there are some major differences. One, Reynolds did not have a plus breaking ball coming out of Stanford, but one that could possibly become plus with more work. Gibson’s slider is a plus pitch that will better fit Coors because of the weak grounders it produces when it’s not running away from bats. Two, Gibson’s two seam has more sink and life than Reynolds’. I still felt Reynolds got decent action on the two seam at Tulsa, but it wasn’t the same in Colorado. Gibson’s movement is aided by the angle in which he throws, making his two seam much heavier than Greg’s. Three, Reynolds did not dominate the college game like Gibson did this year. Gibson has a k/9 of 11.04, Reynolds was not a K per inning pitcher at Stanford. Likewise, Gibson’s BB/9 was 1.6, while Reynolds’ was almost a walk higher. All of this, and I still feel Reynolds is a good pitcher just needs his arm to cleanup. My summation of Gibson’s talent is that I still believe he’s a number three pitcher, but one with a much safer bet to reach that ceiling than Reynolds thanks to a plus slider and possibly a plus change. This may still seem underwhelming to some, but just how much talent are we leaving on the board…
Point #2: Pick 11 is less important to the Rockies draft than pick 32.
Boy does that come across as an asinine statement, but hear (err read?) me out. Several players the Rockies have been linked to at pick 11 have also been linked to them at pick 32. After the top seven or eight guys, the next tier of talent in this draft arguably extends over 50 or so players. The guy the Nationals pick at 10 could very well still be in play at pick 50. I believe this situation devalues the 11th pick this year, but I want to touch on this in my next point. Right now, let’s look at the alternatives to Gibson:
Mike Leake: I really wanted to buy into this guy. I’ve read the Tim Hudson comparisons and tried to see past the physical shortcomings… and then I watched his performance Saturday. I just don’t see this guy being a better pitcher than Gibson. Leake has all the collegiate-y goodness to win hearts in Omaha, but how much of it applies to the pro game. My first big issue is that to generate his plus fastball movement, he has to dial it down to 87-88, and even then, he still slings the ball from a ¾ angle. To up his velocity, he tends to drop the angle a bit, but loses sink. To throw his breaking pitches, he tends to get on top of the angle a little more, and the curve has a real slurvy-ness to it. I get the feeling that his hype is generated by several people that want to believe it. I don’t think he’s in the 90’s as much as advertised, and I don’t think polished pro hitters will carry the same backpedaling approach to the plate that overmatched collegians do. Leake reminds me a lot of 2007 California League Brandon Hynick. Go read your scouting report of Hynick in the BA Handbook in 2008, then go read a Mike Leake draft profile. Both will be pros, both may surprise and become Duscherer’s, or both may become Ian Kennedy. I want to believe, but I get the feeling I’ve seen this movie before.
Matt Hobgood: The most up-to-date mock out (ESPN’s Keith Law) has the Rockies selecting Hobgood. I have nothing against Hobgood, I love the boring fastball at 94 mph and am surprised he’s slipped under the radar for so long. However, this isn’t your typical HS right-hander. Hobgood is in some ways a right-handed Brett Anderson as a present tools prep. Hobgood’s frame (6’4 240) shows no projection, so you could probably assume that better conditioning will produce more consistent velocity, but it’s hard to see any more in there. There’s less to dream on with Hobgood as there would be a Shelby Miller or Matt Purke, so "upside" isn’t as a big a factor with Hobgood as it would be a typical HS arm. Thus, if present tools need to be given more credence, is he a better choice than Gibson? Gibson’s off-speed pitches are supposedly superior, and his command isn’t on par with either Leake or Gibson. The fastball is great, but considering the vast talent in this tier, you can probably get a comparable fastball at pick 32.
Tim Wheeler: This guy is continually linked to the Rockies at pick 11 and pick 32. With so many people thinking he’ll still be around at 32, 11 seems like quite the overdraft. Wheeler lacks the one plus tool that gets him out of "possible fourth outfielder" projection, and considering that reports already suggest he’ll move to a corner, that will be all but certain when he’s taken by the team with the mother of all expansive outfields. I think he makes a lot of sense at 32, but his offensive ceiling isn’t necessarily higher than Gibson’s ceiling on the mound, and I fear his floor is much lower. Suffice to say, I’m not convinced this is a safer pick, let alone good value.
Shelby Miller: Or any other high ceiling prepster. Remember back to point number one on this one; The Rockies are likely working at slot on their picks, and Law is stating in his mock today that Miller wants significantly more than that. More upside? Sure. Would I like him? You bet. Does he fit? Hardly, Miller violates parameter one, two, and possibly fits outside of three.
Alex White: I’m still amazed he was ever linked to Colorado. I think he’s a very enticing talent, but he’s a Boras guy and surely won’t be after slot money. Fits parameter two, but guys like this are always linked to Colorado until draft day (see Luke Hochevar in 2005, Andrew Miller in 2006). Besides, his Saturday (and Gibson’s for that matter) will keep him from getting to Colorado at 11.
Aaron Crow, Tanner Scheppers: Better talents, but move on. These guys both violate parameter one more than anybody we’ve discussed yet.
Rex Brothers: One of my biggest pet peeves of draft scouting reports is reading about a pitcher sitting at one velocity, and then watching video of the guy sitting at much less. Brothers and James Paxton may be the biggest offenders this year, but that’s more a personal aside than any condemnation of their talent. Brothers is an arm strength lefty that looks destined to be a reliever, from the max effort delivery down to a two pitch mix as a starter at Lipscomb. Brothers’ fastball has solid burn, but it looks fairly straight to me, and his slider, though strong, is not as good as Gibson’s from what I’ve seen. I think Brothers’ fastball is a little too true to live off it as a starter in the upper levels, so while his floor is fairly high, his likely outcome is something less than the 11th overall pick. I’m also not convinced his size and arm slot are also conducive to the heavy groundball approach Colorado likes to employ. I see him as an odd fit for Colorado other than that he’s signable and should reach the majors, two qualities that fit the Rockies’ M.O.
We could go on, but I believe this proves my point, but I’m sure you’re wondering how the injury ultimately plays into this, so…
Point #3: Gibson is likely a slot or below slot signee.
So now he fits into both parameter one and two, and despite delaying his arrival to the minors until 2010, his polish qualifies as an answer to the talent in question in parameter three. Before injury, most reports seem to suggest that Gibson was a slot guy, considering his lower ceiling in comparison to other players in the top eight. Now saddled with an arm injury, Gibson is left dealing from a position with little leverage. Draft Gibson at pick 32 or 34, and you’re more likely to face a Tanner Scheppers situation, as the lost money becomes significant. Draft, Gibson at 11, and the lost bonus from falling out of the top ten is much less significant. If we assume that Gibson would have gone at pick 8 to the Reds as several mocks presumed, then the difference in slot from 8 to 11 is roughly 200,000. To pick 32, the drop off becomes 1,200,000 (using figures from the 2008 draft). Ignoring the new slot recommendations for a second, Gibson would still be in line for close to 2,000,000 in bonus should the Rockies float slot to him at 11. Yet the Rockies still hold the cards here…
Point #4: The opportunity cost of gambling on Gibson is less this year than other years.
This point is based off the assumption that the talent level at 11 this year is not on par with past or future years of the draft. Building off point #3, the Rockies don’t have to sign Gibson if they don’t like what they see at the end of July. I’ve already tried to establish that the value for the Rockies at pick 11 isn’t tremendously higher than the value at pick 32, so we shouldn’t make pick 11 out to be any more important than pick 32 or 34, especially when you factor in the transaction cost of pick 11. This gives the Rockies some leverage with how Gibson pans out in July. Points in the Rockies favor:
1. The Rockies are already granted a shot at two players in this second tier at picks 32 and 34
2. Failure to sign Gibson would give the Rockies the 12 pick in the 2010 draft
3. Gibson’s diminished leverage could lead to a potential discount on slot at pick 11
4. A perfectly healthy Gibson in July would represent a steal at 11
Point 2 on this list is certainly a gamble. There are no guarantees that 2010 will be a better draft than 2009, but it’s certainly possible that the talent could be better, as much as it’s possible that the drop off in talent will be faster after the first 15 picks than it will be in this year, where the drop off may not begin until the middle of round two. Gibson gives the budget conscious Rockies the best chance to control costs while procuring a better talent. If his medical records don’t check out in July, the Rockies move on, take the future first, and remain satisfied that they still selected twice in the first round in 2009. Or, Gibson looks good in July, the Rockies likely pay slot for his services, and land a player they could not have expected to land before last weekend.
Point #5: Pick 11 doesn’t break this draft as much as picks 32 and 34 make it.
The final point rolls a few points into one. Because of the Rockies perennial budgetary concerns, pick 11 is not likely to be a major talent boon when you consider the players likely available at the spot. However, picks 32 and 34 are significantly more important to the success of this draft. Again, consider that the talent is still deep at these picks AND slot is roughly one million less than it is at 11, so you could assume that the Rockies are taking a player of roughly equivalent talent value at half the cost of their actual first round pick. You simply cannot miss here. This could be the landing spot for a high upside prep (Gould, Stassi, Davidson, Skaggs, Heathcott) or a polished collegian with still intriguing tools (Poythress, Heckathorn, Mitchell, Wheeler, Pollock, Jackson). The Rockies also have to be prepared for any surprise sliders from the middle of round one (remember Christian Friedrich, your likely number one Purp for ’10?).
In summation, Gibson just isn’t as big a gamble for Colorado as he would be another franchise. Colorado was not likely to receive a better talent than Gibson at 11 that was both affordable and signable, and they won’t be left in the cold of the talent grab should they fail to sign him. I don’t want to underplay Gibson’s arm injury, but when drafted, Colorado will have two months to monitor his rehab and injury reports to make an informed opinion about his health and future prospects on the mound. By then, the Rockies will either have one of the bigger steals of the first round in 2009, or they simply try again from roughly the same slot in 2010, knowing that they still had two shots at first round talent in 2009.