With their eighth selection in the 2015 MLB Draft, the Colorado Rockies selected left-handed pitcher Jack Wynkoop (Round 6, Pick 167) out of the University of South Carolina. A three-year starter for the Gamecocks, Wynkoop showed an ability to consistently win despite not having overpowering stuff.
Although standing 6'5, Wynkoop's fastball typically sits in the upper 80s, and he hasn't added much velocity since he first appeared on the radar of scouts as a high schooler. Instead, Wynkoop relies on his command and ability to keep batters off-balance with a solid offering of secondary pitches. As a guy who's never had overwhelming stuff, Wynkoop has learned how to really pitch; he has an understanding of how to approach batters, repeats his delivery, changes speed well, and locates his pitches.
The Rockies have a handful of flamethrowers in the system who can touch the upper 90s, but we've seen how great stuff doesn't mean much without command. You can't blow a heater by a batter who knows you can't hit the zone. Here's MLB's blurb on Wynkoop:
Wynkoop intrigued scouts as a tall, projectable southpaw with good feel for pitching as a Virginia high schooler, but he was so strongly committed to South Carolina that no team bothered drafting him. While his stuff never took a step forward as hoped, he has won consistently for the Gamecocks for three years. Wynkoop has added little weight to his 6-foot-5 frame and little velocity to his fastball since high school. He maxes out at 92 mph, usually pitches at 86-88 and can dip to 83-85 in the late innings. He survives because he doesn't beat himself with walks and keeps hitters off balance by mixing a solid changeup, average slider and fringy curveball.
A guy with fringy stuff who doesn't blow up radar guns but has a good feel for the game and gets outs thanks to his ability to change speeds and locate his pitches sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it? Reading some of the reports on Wynkoop made me think a bit of Daniel Winkler. While Winkler was more of a fly-ball pitcher whereas Wynkoop has shown a good ability to keep the ball on the ground (and the former posted some really good strikeout numbers in the minors that I'm not sure we'll see from the latter), I do think that the former Gamecock could fit the bill of a command guy who could anchor the back of the rotation and give the team a chance to win every fifth day.
A 2013 article from The Post and Courier of Charleston, SC quoted then second baseman Max Schrock — drafted by the Nationals on Wednesday — who said of Wynkoop, "He can throw it in a cup. He misses very, very rarely. Most of the time, when he misses, if it's supposed to be an outside pitch, he misses farther outside, rather than letting it go over the heart of the plate."
Through his three years at South Carolina, Wynkoop made 50 appearances (41 starts), going 22-14 with an ERA of 3.09 through 256⅔ innings while striking out 180 and walking 35.
To learn more about the Rockies' recent pick, Sam McDowell over at Garnet and Black Attack was gracious enough to answer some questions I had for him regarding Wynkoop. Here's what he had to say (my questions are italicized):
1. Baseball Prospectus' Chris Crawford said that Jack Wynkoop "could become the Rockies' fifth starter, if everything goes well, as soon as 2017." What sort of time frame do you think we're realistically looking at?
I think anywhere from 2017 is a realistic ETA to the big leagues, if everything goes well. However, don't be surprised if he's making his debut in 2018 or 2019.
2. Going off of Baseball Prospectus' best-case scenario for Wynkoop, could you tell us a bit about his pitch mix and how developed each is? I would think he's pretty far along if some are thinking he's that close to MLB ready. Additionally, how do you think his stuff will play at Coors Field?
Jack throws four pitches, with his fastball, changeup, and curveball being his best three. He also throws a slider to lefties as an out pitch. As with most pitchers, his stuff is far more effective when it's down in the zone. With Jack's fastball rarely hitting 93-94, if he's not aiming low and getting downward movement on his two-seamer, he's going to struggle. But when he can locate his fastball, his changeup becomes difficult for batters to make solid contact with.
When Jack is on his game, which is often, he is forcing weak ground balls and letting his defense play well behind him. We all know how Coors Field can play when the ball gets in the air. His ability to induce ground balls could make for a good pairing.
3. MLB's preview on Wynkoop noted that his stuff hasn't progressed much since high school. Do you concur, or is there maybe something you think that scouts are overlooking in that department?
Stuff wise, Jack hasn't really seen much development in his pitching. Despite adding a few mph to his fastball, his off-speed [pitches] didn't gain much movement.
4. What would you say is his strongest quality that will help him succeed at the highest level?
I'd say Jack's biggest strength is in his "makeup." Intangibles such as work ethic, composure, baseball IQ, and having a feel for the game (ability to mix pitches, etc.) is how he succeeds.
5. Wynkoop is listed at 6'5, 200 pounds at MLB.com, who says he's filled out very little during his time at South Carolina. Do you think he's going to be able to fill out that frame and add some velocity to his fastball? Or is he going to be your typical finesse guy?
Hopefully Wynkoop will be able to add some muscle onto his frame in the Rockies' strength and conditioning program. But, even if he does, I wouldn't think it'd be more than 10 or 15 pounds. But I do think he projects more as a finesse guy,
6. Finally, do you think Wynkoop can stick as a starter or is it more likely he ends up as a reliever?
I think Wynkoop's ceiling is as a back-end starter, MAYBE as a No. 3 guy. However, I also think it's realistic to possibly project him as a middle reliever or a lefty specialist. Regardless, barring injury, I think Jack has a bright future in professional baseball.
Huge thanks to Sam McDowell for his time and for lending us his knowledge on Wynkoop. Be sure to check out his fantastic work over at Garnet and Black Attack, and you can follow him on Twitter at @smcdowell12.