Let’s play a game for a second. Consider the following comparison of the 2014 raw production for three southpaws:
Note: 2014 Production
Which player would you chose? Player C, right? After all, he offers the best combination of strikeout ability/control and didn’t allow a homerun all season. Player B probably comes in second, followed by Player A.
OK. Let’s take it a step further. Consider the following comparison of their respective collegiate careers:
Note: Career Production
Now who do you take? Player A, right? His dominance has extended well beyond a single season and in far more innings as well. Unless, of course, you’re concerned with his workload – including high pitch counts – before his 22nd birthday. Player B, once again, comes in second and Player C falls to third.
OK. Let’s go one more step further – the players’ height/weight, age, level of competition, and home ballpark.
|Player A||6-3||234||21||ACC||Slightly Pitcher-Friendly|
|Player B||5-11||184||21||Big 12||Extremely Hitter-Friendly|
|Player C||6-3||170||21||Missouri Valley||Slightly Hitter-Friendly|
A few notes to ponder on: Player A is the most solidly built, at 6-foot-3 and 234 pounds, plays in the most competitive conference, and in the most favorable ballpark of the three; Player B is by the smallest prospect of the group, which could potentially limit his ceiling or at least his long term value, but he does play in a strong conference and pitches in the least favorable home park, making his numbers all that more impressive; Player C still has some room to fill out, plays in the weakest conference and, subsequently, the weakest competition, and pitches in a slightly hitter-friendly environment.
Player A is N.C. State’s ace left-hander – and presumed top three pick – Carlos Rodon (draft analysis and projection here). Player B is TCU’s Brandon Finnegan (draft analysis and projection here). And Player C is Evansville’s Kyle Freeland (draft analysis and projection here).
So, Rodon, who entered the year as the likely top pick, is the choice, right? Yeah. But it’s really not as clear cut as you’d think.
The Case For/Against Rodon: Rodon has long been assumed to be the top pick in the draft – that is, until teenaged man-child Brady Aiken emerged this season – and it’s pretty clear as to why: his level of dominance not only extends one season or just one level of competition, but across each of his last three years as well as on the international stage. On a loaded Team USA pitching staff, it was Rodon who shined brightly – 17 innings, 21 strikeouts, four walks, zero runs allowed. Not only does he have the potential to develop into a top of the rotation starter, but he’s likely less than two years away.
The case against him, however, does not deal with talent, but rather usage.
Rodon has been ridden pretty hard as a teen/early 20’s pitcher during his collegiate career, averaging 115.1 innings each year. And the fact that his coach, Elliot Avent, allowed him to throw 379 pitches in three consecutive starts (including one on short rest) in mid- to late-April only highlights his usage.
So, the question is simple: at what point – because, like all pitchers, it’s likely to happen – does Rodon undergo the knife for elbow surgery? Will the heavy workload push the time table up?
The Case For/Against Finnegan: Finnegan, like Rodon, starred for Team USA last summer, throwing a team-leading 23.2 innings with 23 strikeouts and 10 free passes. And unlike his N.C. State counterpart, Finnegan has not only slowly been brought up to speed (his workload has increased from 62.1 IP to 79.1 to 91.1), but his production has continued to steadily improve.
The case against Finnegan is incredibly simple and comes down to one thing – size. Listed at just 5-foot-11, he’s going to have to show that concerns about his ability to hold up not only over the course of one long season, but multiple seasons as well are unfounded.
The Case For/Against Freeland: Among the pitchers with the best strikeout to walk ratios in the country only Freeland has averaged more than a punch-out-per-inning. The lanky Evansville lefty showcases the rare ability to miss an extraordinary amount of bats, but also rarely walks a hitter.
Now the bad news: His level of competition leaves a lot to be desired. Just take a look at some of Evansville’s opponents – Lipscomb, Mercer, Eastern Kentucky, Southern Illinois, etc… It leaves a lot to be desired.
Freeland is simply far superior to his level of competition. But what happens when he steps into the professional ranks?
In the end, Carlos Rodon is the elite collegiate prospect in the draft, but some interesting arguments could be made for both Finnegan and Freeland.
Photo Courtesy of Karl B DeBlaker | Associated Press via News-Record.com.