With a little more than a month until the 2015 MLB Draft, little has crystallized at the top of the draft, yet we're starting to see tiers of talent pool up. As we get closer to the draft, I want to start to hone in on possible Dodger selections, but to do that, we need to consider potential draft strategy.
When the Dodgers acquired the 74th pick from the , they weren't just adding a second-round selection, they were increasing their bonus pool to give them the flexibility to take the best talent they can with less regard (but not disregard) for cost. With serious injury concerns for top arms Mike Matuella, Brady Aiken, and Kolby Allard, we can expect to see some former early pick candidates slide down in the draft after their bonus demands outweigh the risk for weaker clubs selecting high in the draft. Additionally a few high schoolers thought to be high selections have come back to the field after slow starts to the spring, and the rises of other players. We'll discuss one such player today. via trade
To note, I use most of the major industry sources to pool information about where players might go in the draft. People like Jim Callis at MLB Pipeline, Kiley McDaniel at Fangraphs, and the entire Baseball America team are my most preferred resources for this information. The player analysis is my own, done through watching whatever video is available to me, and when possible, seeing the player in person. Another great guide to filling in the gaps on players, especially high school players, are the workout numbers from Perfect Game events.
Justin Hooper, LHP, De La Salle HS
If you are a fan of the summer showcase circuit all star games, you already know about Justin Hooper and you're probably surprised he would be mentioned this late in the first round. At 6'7 and capable of throwing 97 mph from the left side, Hooper was an early candidate for the first overall pick. Hooper's faults however, have been slow to fix, and other high schoolers have surpassed him with a stronger showing this spring.
For his height, Hooper appears to be an exceptional athlete. His struggles with release point and consistency with his arm action are typical for someone his size and with limbs this long. Hooper throws from a three-quarters to low three-quarters arm action, and displays impressive arm speed. He doesn't get as much shoulder tilt as I'd like to see, and his delivery produces more sink/run on his fastball than it increases the plane on pitches like you may expect from a 6'7 arm. He'll also throw across his body and close off his torso from fulling opening by planting his lead foot toward the first base side.
The fastball is Hooper's calling card as a prospect. Sitting 93-95 in the summer circuit and reaching 97 consistently, you can give it a future 80 grade thanks to the significant life that comes with the velocity. His command is poor, partly due to some correctable mechanical issues to get him more in-line with home in his delivery, and partly because the fastball has so much life. He has progressed as fast as other arms in this class in improving his command, but at 6'7, that's not so uncommon.
I've read reports of Hooper's curveball flashing above average, but I believe the pitch is a poor fit for his mechanics. Hooper can throw the pitch with more vertical action but struggles to bring it back into the zone, missing arm side. He can throw a more sweeping pitch that isn't sharp enough to hold the zone glove side. I'd like to see a development staff re-work the breaking ball into more of a slider profile from his arm slot.
The pitch I haven't seen much of on video but already believe can be a future above average pitch is the change-up. I say this because Hooper has outstanding arm speed and the arm slot to give the pitch fade away from right handers. Once he gets his delivery in sync, he's a terrific athlete that should have little problem picking up the pitch quickly. This is, again, another strong point to get Hooper with a strong development staff.
Despite his slide, Hooper's upside is immense and his talent just needs the right development staff and patience to coax it out of him. The Dodgers' renewed focus on player development would make him a good fit, and the big league team is well stocked and can be patient awaiting his development. Additionally, the threshold just to make the Dodgers 25-man roster is higher than most clubs, so the Dodgers have to take some gambles on high ceiling/high risk talents that have the potential to meet the demanding criteria of an upper division player.
Because Hooper was considered a top-10 pick heading into the spring season, I would expect that Hooper would want to be compensated similarly to those expectations. While his risk may outweigh that lofty a demand, the Dodgers do have the extra bonus room and could entice him with an above slot deal at pick 24. Hooper is a risk, and might require more time in instructs than the typical first round pick, but in this draft, there might not be a higher ceiling available to the Dodgers at pick 24, and the talent is deep enough around the picks in the supplemental and second rounds to leverage some of the risk you assume in drafting Hooper.
I don't want to overstate Finley's connection with the Dodgers (his father David Finley left the Red Sox to join Billy Gasparino in the Dodger's amatuer scouting department last off-season) except to say this: with manipulation of the bonus pool critical in cutting above slot deals, no team is going to have a better read on Finley's bonus demands than Los Angeles. While teams generally make a few nepotism picks in the draft, doing so with a player in the first three rounds is far less common. Finley, however, might have a stronger tie to the Dodgers that is familial, and that's his spin rates.
While "spin rate" sounds like the new chic weatherman slang word to toss around Oklahoma thunderstorms to replace "hail wall" and "torcon rating," it's become a hot topic in Dodgertown with the breakout of Yimi Garcia. According to Baseball America, Drew Finley was one of two pitchers at Perfect Game National to score in the top ten of recorded spin rates in both the fastball and the breaking ball.
You don't need Trackman to tell Finley has a high spin rate on his curveball. I don't mind calling it a 70 future pitch, and 60 present despite some issues commanding the pitch. The curve is a real down curve with tremendous depth and late break. With a more complementary repertoire, the curve is Finley's true carry tool.
The quandary with Finley is a present 45-50 grade fastball that may not project more than a 55 future grade by traditional standards. He can sink the pitch, or run it away from left handers, and he hides the ball well in his high three-quarters delivery.
Finley commands both the fastball and a change-up better than his big curveball, and knows how to set up hitters to get outs with the breaking ball. He's very polished for a high school arm and could move quickly through the lower minors. The concern is just how projectable the fastball is. He's not a big framed pitcher, despite being listed around 6'3 and 200 lbs. depending on where you read, nor is he long levered. He does have a quick arm and clean delivery, which coupled with the spin rate produces enough deception on the fastball to produce results now above his present velocity.
As a supplemental first rounder, or possibly a second rounder if he lasts that long, Finley is a "safe" enough high school arm to counterbalance a riskier upside pick in the first round. At any rate, he exhibits some of the tools behind the tools that the Dodgers' front office likes to talk about, including the ability to pitch high with the fastball. He's not your typical projectable high school arm, but Finley gets outs, needs little clean up from a coaching standpoint, and could still grow beyond the current ceiling I envision for him of an upper division number three starter.