The draft order is officially set, and the amateur baseball season has started, which means it's the perfect time to start breaking down the top draft prospects! As it stands right now, this draft looks to have a large and intriguing class of pitchers. The current top four is a very interesting mix as they include two lefties and two righties, with one of each a college pitcher and the other a high school prospect.
Obviously a lot could change between now and June, but going into the amateur season here are the top pitching prospects you should be following:
Groome, a left-handed pitcher, is currently the top prospect in the draft. Usually you expect the high school pitchers to be more of a ceiling pick than a floor pick, but Groome probably is the most polished arm of the current crop of pitching prospects, and he isn't lacking any of the stuff needed to have an astronomical ceiling.
While Groome is a New Jersey native and will be returning to play his senior season in New Jersey, he spent his junior season in Florida at the IMG Academy gaining valuabe experience while playing the longer high school season in the warmer south. Groome followed up his junior season with an extremely impressive summer circuit that catapulted him to the top of almost every draft board.
Groome already possesses a mid-90s fastball, and while he is 6'6" and 220 pounds, he won't turn 18 until two months after the June draft. There is a very real chance for more physical maturity, which would add some extra zip to an already impressive power pitch. Groome also has a nasty curve with the kind of movement and bite that will rack up strikeouts in huge numbers in the minors, and possibly even the majors.
Of all the top pitching prospects, including the college guys, Groome has the best control, too — which is an extraordinary thing. His command will need a little work as he hasn't needed to spot his pitches consistently in order to dominate high school bats, but that will come with repetition and development.
Groome's biggest weakness is currently his changeup. Like many high school pitchers, Groome hasn't thrown his changeup much because he just hasn't needed it, but when he has thrown it, he seems to have a good feel for the off speed offering.
Groome has the size, easy arm action, big velocity, pitch mix, control and pretty much everything else that you want to see when projecting a guy to be a future big league ace. While it might sound very high, the best comparison for Groome's ceiling is a pitcher like Clayton Kershaw.
Like any prospect though, and especially those being drafted out of high school, Groome isn't a sure thing. He still has his full senior high school season ahead of him, and any number of flaws could emerge between now and then, not to mention injuries. But going into this last season of amateur baseball, Groome has positioned himself extremely well to be the best pitcher available.
Puk, a left-handed pitcher, is widely considered to be the best college pitcher available in this year's draft. A strong showing this past summer with Team USA helped scouts look past some of the flaws that he displayed during his sophomore year at the University of Florida.
Puk isn't your standard high-end college pitching prospect, however, where you expect a quick ascension through the minors. Puk's control and command issues have kept him from dominating college hitters consistently and they will be a major stumbling block in any rise through the minors. However, in his short campaign with Team USA last summer, he did show better command, so a lot of eyes will be on him this college season to see if the improvements hold or if he reverts back to his form from last season.
Puk's biggest weapon is his fastball—a true 70+ grade pitch that's capable of touching the upper 90s. His secondary pitches are quite a bit behind in development though, as his breaking ball is still something between a curve and a slider and his changeup is a work in progress. Physically, Puk is the prototype starting pitcher, though, at 6'7" and over 230 pounds.
Another possible red flag is that Puk was arrested last spring for trespassing onto a construction site and climbing up a crane. Not exactly a violent crime, but it's a strange one — and it does make it easy to question his maturity and responsibility, along with whether or not a team would want to give him a multi-million dollar signing bonus.
If Puk shows consistent command of his pitches this spring, though, there is a very real chance that he could be the first overall pick by the Phillies in June. If not, there's a chance he could experience a Kyle Funkhouser-like slide out of the first round.
Hansen, a right-handed pitcher, was a highly regarded Colorado high school prospect though he dropped in the draft due to sign ability issues until the Rockies took a Hail Mary shot on him in the 25th round a few years ago. Since then, he has elevated his status at Oklahoma, where he has drawn some comparisons to current Rockies starter Jon Gray.
Armed with an upper-90s fastball, Hansen pairs it with a high three-quarters delivery to keep it on a steep plane to the plate that makes it an extremely difficult and thus gives it a 75-80 grade offering. Additionally, Hansen has a plus slider, and an above-average curve and changeup to give him the full compliment of pitches that any starter would need.
Hansen's 6'7" build also is a huge plus, as is his great athleticism; at first glance he seems to have everything one would want from a future ace.
However, Hansen has two large red flags. One is his control. Hansen's stuff is almost unhittable, but when it's not being located, that really doesn't matter all that much. The second flag is that he was shut down last fall with forearm tightness, which too often seems to be the precursor to Tommy John surgery. While the surgery isn't as lethal to one's career as it used to be, and Hansen appears healthy now, it's still a sure way to drop a draft status from top overall pick to... something lower.
More than any other prospect, Hansen is going to need a strong showing this spring to maintain this lofty status as a potential top pick. He needs to prove that he can command his pitches, as well as put to rest any lingering concerns about his health.
Pint, a right-handed pitcher, is trying to make history by being the first right-handed high school pitcher ever drafted first overall in the MLB draft. Considering how long the amateur draft has been in place, it is fairly remarkable that no right-handed high school pitcher has ever been drafted first, and yet, here we are.
Pint is more of the typical high school draft prospect than, say, Groome. The righty has tons of potential and it's easy to see him developing into a future ace, but it's also easy to see him either becoming a future reliever or even washing out entirely in the minors.
Already possessing an upper 90s fastball, and the kind of frame that one expects to fill out and add even more velocity, it's easy to see Pint throwing triple digit heaters in the near future. Pint also has legit starter size at 6'4" and will probably still add an inch or two to that stature while filling out in the next couple years.
The off speed stuff is there, though it hasn't been developed much because Pint has been able to dominate the competition so easily using mainly just his fastball. When he has thrown off speed pitches, he shows flashes of a plus change, and a breaking ball that with a little more consistency could become devastating.
Pint's delivery is inconsistent and is also high effort, both of which have led to some command and control issues that will need to be fixed if he is to reach his ceiling. He will need to develop a more consistent arm slot as well if he want to avoid telegraphing his pitches as he moves up in competition.
Overall, Pint is what you'd expect from a highly touted high school prospect. If he can put together a solid senior season of high school baseball and fix some of his flaws, he might make history.
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There is still plenty of time for these guys to cement their status as top picks, or to fall short. But don't be surprised to see any of these guys being drafted first overall come June, or winding up as the Rockies' first round selection.