July 2nd Is For Hitters
July 2nd, particularly at this early juncture in the process, isn't too forgiving to pitchers. Their value is more tied up in physical development (size, strength, athleticism, arm speed) than hitters, whose core skills can often be identified earlier and look closer to the finished product.
For example, I was at a private workout this week that had hitters for 2015 and 2016 class. A 2016 hitter (he turned 14 the day I saw him) stood out as a definite threat to be a seven figure player in 2.5 years, even though his speed and arm strength are both well below average. Because his body was projectable and he already had smooth actions at the plate and in the field, you can project him to develop physical tools (speed, arm strength, power) around those core skills.
Pitchers need to at least hit the upper 80's for scouts to take them seriously for anything more than a nominal bonus. That simply doesn't happen at age 15 or 16 for many future MLB pitchers and without that arm speed, a breaking ball won't look MLB quality either. Since it's still guesswork for scouts to know who will stay healthy and deliver on physical projection, the big July 2nd pitcher bonuses go to now-stuff guys (usually also with some projection) and those are hard to find.
With those caveats in place, four July 2nd pitchers stood out this week, all at the MLB showcase, as the IPL and DPL events were staffed by already-eligible arms. The headliner of this group comes with plenty of hype as Dominican RHP Huascar Ynoa has notoriety for both his own precociousness, but also because of his older brother. A's RHP Michael Ynoa signed in 2008 for what was then the biggest international amateur bonus of all-time: $4.25 million.
The Top Arm
The younger Ynoa met expectations with three above average pitches that all showed the potential to be plus. He's still lanky and long-limbed at 6'2/190, so there's a little projection left, and his later birthday for the class (May 28, 1998) also gives some hope for further physical development. Ynoa's delivery is pretty solid for his age, with the athleticism, fluidity, balance, front side mechanics and clean arm action you're looking for to project health. His arm is a little late to catch up with his body and while he gets good plane from a high 3/4 slot, it differs a bit depending on the pitch.
The rest of the nitpicks are small adjustments and development on his pitches, as all the important things are in order here. Ynoa worked 91-93 in the first inning and 88-92 in the second, but I learned later that this velocity was down a bit from usual. Apparently, the decision for him to pitch came late and his family lives on the extreme north end of the island, so he took a 5-hour drive through the night to make the morning game.
The separator for Ynoa is his changeup, a 79-82 mph weapon that was often a 60 pitch at the event and may be even better in time. His curveball was inconsistent at 70-73 mph, mostly an average pitch that flashed 55 potential, but then he broke off one at the end of his outing that was a 60 for me. Another scout said he wouldn't be surprised if the pitch was eventually a 60.
With both the industry-wide wait-and-see approach to July 2nd pitching and the Yankees' drunken sailor approach being limited to only hitters so far, the market for pitching hasn't been as competitive as the hitter market. There are no indications the Yankees are chasing Ynoa, but he has announced himself as the top arm in the class, so the pay day should be handsome. The chatter is that he's looking for $2 million or more and I think that's where this one ends up.
Three other righties at the MLB event showed potential as starters: Venezuelan Juan Meza and Dominicans Chris Acosta and Carlos Herrera. Meza is skinny and long-limbed but only 6'0/170, so you can't see that much more coming from him. That said, he's got a lot to like, including a smooth delivery and an advanced three-pitch mix. Meza broke a few bats with his heavy 87-90 mph sinker and liberally went to a 79-81 mph changeup that was above average to plus. His slurvy 3/4 breaking ball was a clear third option but was solid-average at times and gives him a chance to profile in the rotation. Sources indicate Meza has a deal done, with most believing Houston has him for around $1 million.
Acosta has some similarities to Meza with the 88-90 mph fastball, smooth delivery and above average changeup. Acosta has less fastball life but more projection in his 6'3/170 frame. Herrera fits the archetype of the super long and skinny (6'3/150) Dominican righty with a whippy arm action. There's a little effort to his delivery and he only throws 85-88 mph now, but there's more here. Herrera has lively cut on his fastball and three off-speed pitches that are average or better now. His 71-75 mph curveball was above average and his best offering, followed closely by his 79-81 changeup that was above average at times as well and a solid-average 81-83 slider.
I don't have rumors on where these two pitchers may sign, but after these high profile appearances, the action should be heating up. I'd estimate Acosta is around Meza's price of about $1 million while Herrera is somewhere close to half that. It's also worth noting there is a notable pitcher that wasn't present this week, a Venezuelan righty that's been compared to last year's top arm, Dominican righty Marcos Diplan (who signed with Texas for $1.3 million). This Venezuelan arm didn't come because he's been locked up to a verbal deal for over a month with a big market club. I'll share more details on him in my wrap-up of the trip with some rankings and notes on the top players that weren't present.