Feature Photo: Devin Smeltzer, LHP, San Jacinto College
(Photo by Rob Vanya, S.J.C.)
Editor’s Note: As we rapidly approach the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft on June 9th, we’re always happy to have 2080 contributor Chris King around to get us up to speed on some names to watch from the JUCO ranks. Today, he takes us through nine of the top arms that could come off the draft board before the middle rounds are over – six right-handers and three lefties.
Matthias Dietz, RHP, John A. Logan College (Carterville, IL) – Coming into the season, Dietz was a known commodity thanks to his ability to pump the fastball as high as 98 mph, but he was frequently brushed aside because most viewed him as surefire relief pitcher. Fast-forward to this spring, and that tune has changed. A mechanical adjustment was made to streamline his delivery, and the results this spring have been outstanding. He has given up only 14 earned runs in 103 IP while striking out 117 and walking only 11. Dietz has great size at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, and the workhorse frame proved itself out to the tune of eight complete games in only 13 starts. The best secondary offering is a tight low-80’s slider that he can locate in-and-out of the zone when he needs to. The changeup is a work in progress, but it’s showing enough promise to erase the relief pitcher title he was given prior to the 2016 season.
Anthony Herron, RHP, Jefferson College (Hillsboro, MO) – Herron is a kid who’s stock has risen considerably since the start of the year thanks to an uptick in his fastball velocity. Drafted out of high school by the Cardinals in the 32nd round of the 2104 MLB Draft, the 6-foot-1 righty was sitting 88-to-91 mph prior to this season, but has pitched more in the 90-to-93 mph range lately while touching 95. Herron is one of the most polished arms in the JUCO ranks. Pairing up with his newly-found velo is a nasty splitter that can miss bats on a regular basis, and a fringy curveball that has shown improvement over the course of this season. The sophomore led the team with 72.1 IP, striking out an eye-popping 122 batters in that time.
Colin Holderman, RHP, Heartland C.C. (Bloomington, IL) – At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, Holderma’s frame has been compared to that of Adam Wainwright. He is athletic on both sides of the field, and he could play third base if the situation called for it. Even with his athleticism and plus raw power at the plate, Holderman’s future is on the mound, though. The Mississippi State commit has had cross checkers and scouting directors paying regular visits to his starts at Heartland this year, and deservedly so. His fastball can sit anywhere from 90-to-95 mph with solid command. He’ll mix in a nice running two-seamer to jam up right-handed bats, as well as an average changeup and a low-80’s slider that flashes plus. Holderman throws from a high ¾ slot, and uses his size to create angles. At present, the stuff is more about missing barrels than missing bats, but as the secondaries continue to improve, I’d expect the strikeout numbers to improve as well. Praised for a being a “team guy”, Holderman has taken some of the freshman under his wing and has embraced the role of being a leader.
David Lee, RHP, Sante Fe College (Gainesville, FL) – The Gainesville native was widely regarded as the top JUCO pitching prospect in the state of Florida going into 2106, and as we approach the MLB draft in June, that hasn’t seemed to change one bit. Lee has good size and athletic frame at 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds to go along with a consistent and reliable three-pitch mix. Lee’s fastball sits 88-to-92 mph and it features some late tailing action on it. Harnessing this pitch has been a key part of Lee’s development, and there is still some work to do in the control and command department. Lee, who is committed to the University of Florida, also boasts one of the more advanced breaking balls you’ll see in this area, with his hard spiking curveball that he spins in the 81-to-85 mph range. People overlook his changeup at times, but those who have seen him throughout the year agree that the change is coming along nicely, and it will soon be an average pitch to have at his disposal.
Montana Parsons, RHP, San Jacinto College (Houston, TX) – At 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, Parsons has an athletic and long frame that stays tall on the mound. The Baylor commit is routinely sitting 91-to-94 mph (T95) with his fastball while creating angles and generating downhill plane. His calling card is a changeup that most scouts and coaches don’t hesitate to call a plus offering. On a loaded San Jacinto team, Parsons made the second most starts, and was second on the team in ERA among the starters with a nifty 1.46 mark. The fastball/changeup combination is a force that can translate to outs at the next level right now, but the emergence of a viable third pitch will be the key to his development as a professional.
Kyle Roberts, LHP, Henry Ford College (Dearborn, MI) – Committed to Central Michigan, Roberts’ stock has taken off this spring, and there is talk floating around that he could go as high second round. The 6-foot-6 inch lefty can run his fastball up to 95 mph with a lot of angles to the plate. Roberts’ arsenal consists of a fringy curveball and changeup, but his high-70’s to to low-80’s slider is already above-average, and it has a chance to be a future plus offering. At 210 pounds, there is still to room to add strength, but the FB/SL combo already has a power feel to it. The key for Roberts will be the development of a viable third offering, but scouts seem confident he will get there.
Devin Smeltzer, LHP, San Jacinto College (Houston, TX) – Smeltzer entered the season as the top-ranked left-handed pitcher in the JUCO ranks by Perfect Game and he certainly hasn’t disappointed. He’s posted a 1.20 ERA and struck out 88 in only 67.2 IP. The stuff has a lot of traits that will translate into success at the next level. There is deception from the left side, with his low ¾ arm slot and with fastball command allowing him to work to both sides of the plate while setting up his devastating slider. The Texas Tech commit sits 88-to-91 mph with the fastball and he hides it well. His changeup is a work in progress, but it has improved of late and is starting to become a real weapon vs. right-handed hitters. Smeltzer’s put away pitch is his 79-to-82 mph slider that he will throw out of the zone vs. lefties to get them to chase and burry it in the dirt vs. righties. With the deception and pitchability Smeltzer presents, he should be one of the highest-drafted JUCO players come June.
Doug Still, LHP, Jefferson College (Hillsboro, MO) – Still is a crafty lefty with a solid three-pitch mix and a good amount of upside. The Braves seem to like him quite a bit since they drafted him twice: first out of high school, and then again last season in the 30th round. While the ceiling isn’t as high as some of the other arms on this list, Still presents himself with one of the higher floors. He likes to change speeds and disrupt timing with the fastball and will sit anywhere from 86-to-89 or 88-to-91 mph while touching 93. The fastball can miss its share of bats, but more importantly for him, it can miss barrels with the good amount of run and sink that it generates. Like most arms at this level, the secondaries will play a huge a role in just how far he goes, but the feel is there with both his changeup and curveball to inspire hope that he can make them both effective in pro ball.
Kyle Weatherly, RHP, Grayson County College (Grayson County, TX) – Weatherly was ranked as the top right-handed JUCO prospect by Perfect Game heading into this season and the LSU commit backed that up with his play on the field. Blessed with a highly projectable frame at 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, and throwing from a deceptively low ¾ arm slot, Weatherly struck out 99 batters in only 75.2 IP, giving him a K/9 of 11.78 while walking only 19. Obviously, missing bats in the heavy-hitting Region 5 has not been an issue for this kid. Weatherly has a strong four-pitch mix that is highlighted by a fastball that sits 90-to-94 mph (T95) and a devastating low-80’s slider that can cause a fit for righties and lefties alike. Adding to his game is a workable changeup and a two-seamer that he’s showing a lot of confidence in against right-handed batters. When the ball is put in play against him, he generates a ton of weak contact and ground balls to minimize any potential damage. With minimal effort in his delivery, the fastball command has been strong all season, and it should only continue to get better.