What to Expect from the Top College Pitchers in the MLB Draft
Even though the top two picks in this year’s draft were high school arms, there were plenty of elite college pitchers to go around. Five of the first 14 picks were college arms, which helped to make this draft known as the year of the pitcher.
Carlos Rodon, a lefty from NC State, has garnered most of the headlines from this crop of college arms. But there's plenty to say about each of the top five in this draft class. Let's take a look at the repertoire and college statistics of each of these hurlers.
Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox
2014 Stats at NC State: 98.2 IP, 2.01 ERA, 117 Ks, 31 BBs, .229 AVG Against
Underwhelming senior campaign? Talk about some expectations. Rodon was the consensus top overall pick coming into his Junior season at NC State, but those underwhelming numbers listed above dropped him to the number three overall selection behind a pair of high school arms.
Regardless of whether you see a 2.01 ERA in the ACC as a disappointment for the young lefty, Rodon’s stuff is electric. He sits in the mid-90s with his fastball, and possesses arguably the best breaking pitch in the draft class with his sharp slider.
Those pitches helped him continue to dominate the ACC, even in a down year, posting a 3.77 K/BB ratio and a 10.66 K/9. His elite stuff will work against hitters of any caliber, so it's reasonable to expect those strikeout numbers to translate to the professional game. One minor concern is his ability to stay in the rotation, but if he is and if he is able to harness his elite stuff, Rodon will be dominating the Major Leagues shortly.
Bottom Line: Rodon has the pure stuff to front an MLB rotation, but even if it doesn’t all come together, he could still be a solid closer for the Sox.
Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats at LSU: 116.1 IP, 1.47 ERA, 134 Ks, 27 BBs, .172 AVG Against
The early favorite to be the first player from this class to reach the Major Leagues, the selection of Nola marked a change in draft philosophy from the Phillies organization. Typically known for their propensity to draft high upside, high risk prospects, the Phillies went with polish over projection.
While Nola lacks top of the rotation upside, his appeal is that he is a very safe bet to pitch in the middle of a rotation for a long time. His college numbers, posted in the best conference in college baseball, are so good that Nola doesn’t have to even come close to repeating them at the next level in order to be worth the selection.
Nola has all of the tools necessary to pitch and succeed at the highest level. His fastball sits in the low 90s while his off-speed pitches consist of a sharp slider and potential for a plus changeup. Most importantly, his plus command makes everything play up. Nola has good stuff, great command, and won't require much development in order to be major league ready.
Bottom Line: Nola will not be an ace, but he will pitch in the middle of an MLB rotation for a long time.
Kyle Freeland, Colorado Rockies
2014 Stats at Evansville: 99.2 IP, 1.90 ERA, 128 Ks, 12 BBs, .214 AVG Against
Despite not playing in a power conference, Freeland put himself on the map for good with a dominant performance in the Cape Cod League last summer. Just to make sure scouts were convinced that the performance was for real, Freeland dominated the Missouri Valley Conference this season.
While his entire line is impressive, the Colorado native’s 128/12 K/BB ratio is just plain silly. Although it would be unreasonable to suggest that Freeland could post such video game numbers at the next level, these numbers confirm that Freeland possesses both elite stuff and control, tools that will work against hitters at any level.
A high velocity lefty with a good slider, Freeland has a chance to pitch near the top of a Major League rotation if developed properly. He will have to improve his changeup and work on command rather than control, but he has the tools to be a very good MLB starter in a few years.
Bottom Line: Freeland presents more risk than Nola, but also has more upside. With Jon Gray and Eddie Butler already in the system, the Rockies could have an elite future rotation.
Jeff Hoffman, Toronto Blue Jays
2014 Stats at East Carolina: 67.1 IP, 2.94 ERA, 72 Ks, 20 BBs, .216 AVG Against
The biggest risk of the first round, the Blue Jays showed that they were willing to roll the dice on what was a potential top-four pick when healthy. His recent Tommy John surgery pushed him down draft boards, but when he is healthy he belongs in the conversation for best arm in this class.
Like Freeland, Hoffman dominated the Cape Cod League over the summer and followed it up with a solid but not elite junior campaign. However, much like fellow draftee Tyler Beede, the stuff and projection are more impressive than the raw numbers.
His velocity is his calling card, as the lanky righty has touched as high as 98 MPH. His overhand curveball is another elite offering, while his changeup has a chance to be a solid third pitch. Like Freeland, he will need to throw quality strikes instead of just strikes, a concern that is highlighted by the surgery. Nevertheless, Hoffman’s legitimate top of the rotation ceiling makes him one of the most intriguing names to follow.
Bottom Line: Hoffman is a risk, but if he regains his pre-surgery form and makes a few improvements, a future at the top of a rotation is within reach.
Tyler Beede, San Francisco Giants
2014 Stats at Vanderbilt: 98.1 IP, 3.20 ERA, 106 Ks, 43 BBs, .210 AVG Against
Drafted in the first round for the second time in his career, Beede’s decision to go to school proved to be a wise one. The Vanderbilt ace didn't boast elite numbers during his Junior campaign, but the tools to become a top of the rotation are still very present.
Beede’s fastball touches as high as 97 MPH and sits in the low to mid-90s, while the tall, athletic right-hander also boasts a good changeup and a hard overhand curveball. From a pure stuff perspective, Beede belongs in the conversation for best arm in this class, but he was the fifth college hurler selected due to his inconsistent command.
That inconsistent command is demonstrated by his 3.93 walks per nine innings (it was 5.6 per nine last year), but the .210 average against shows that when he does find the zone, he's very difficult to square up. Finally, the draft is a win for Beede as he will enter an organization known for drafting and developing high quality pitching. The Giants are certainly among the best in the business at turning young arms into good major league starters, and Beede figures to be the next in a long line of above average MLB arms coming out of the San Francisco farm.
Bottom Line: If Beede can improve his command he could be the next great San Francisco starter.