Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories on players who scouts say could be selected in the first round of the first-year player draft on Tuesday.
College pitchers are certain to get top billing in this draft, but high school arms will be in co-starring roles. Five right-handers and four left-handers highlight a group that has more similarities than differences. All nine potential first-round high school pitchers are well over 6-feet tall. All touch at least 90 mph with their fastballs. Most already possess an outstanding breaking ball. And nearly all need substantial work on their changeups.
Signability isn't insurmountable with any of them, although signing-bonus expectations vary from reasonable to astronomical. High school pitchers are perhaps the draft's biggest gamble. The upside can be huge – a starting rotation mainstay by age 21 with six years of below-market salaries ahead. But the downside can be devastating – an arm injury that robs a prospect of years of development as well as the extra life on the pitches that made them so special.
No doubt, many teams will be willing to take that risk with these pitchers.
Zack Wheeler, RH, East Paulding HS, Dallas, Ga.: Wheeler is the kind of pitcher scouts spend all those hours at the ballpark to find. He's 6-4 with a low-90s fastball that has uncommon movement because of his three-quarters arm slot. Wheeler has an excellent mental makeup and has pitched well in high-pressure situations. His secondary pitches need work and occasionally he struggles with command, but his upside might be second to none among available high school pitchers.
Tyler Matzek, LH, Capistrano Valley HS, Mission Viejo, Calif.: The Baltimore Orioles could take him at No. 5 and he will be forever compared to and confused with Brian Matusz(notes), a left-hander from the University of San Diego who the Orioles at No. 4 took last year. Same easy arm action and sky-high potential. Matzek has a low 90s fastball, good slider, developing curve and changeup, an impressive repertoire for his age. If the Orioles pass, the Giants could grab him with the next pick.
Jacob Turner, RH, Westminster Christian Academy, St. Louis: The 6-5, 215-pound Turner has climbed draft boards because of several impressive outings late in the season. He shows a terrific breaking ball, but needs to improve consistency with it. Turner could have signability issues because he has a scholarship to North Carolina and is represented by Scott Boras. But he has indicated he would sign at the right price.
Shelby Miller, RH, Brownwood HS, Texas: Miller has made it clear he'd pass on his Texas A&M scholarship in a heartbeat, so that 95 mph fastball looks even better to scouts. Miller is tall with a sturdy build and is projected to be a workhorse starting pitcher. His changeup, like so many high school pitchers, is virtually nonexistent, but his tight-breaking curve is an excellent complement to his fastball. Don't expect him to get past the Toronto Blue Jays at No. 20.
Tyler Skaggs, LH, Santa Monica HS, Calif.: Another tall, lean left-hander whose fastball consistently hits 90 mph, Skaggs also boasts a wicked slow curveball that reminds some scouts of Barry Zito(notes) in his prime. Skaggs' mom, Debbie, is the softball coach at Santa Monica High and a major influence on his development. Even though he has committed to Cal State Fullerton, Skaggs is considered signable.
Matt Purke, LH, Klein HS, Spring, Texas: Purke is consistently in the low 90s with his tailing fastball and he has a good feel for his changeup. His curve breaks well but is inconsistent. The only knock on Purke is his slender build, and the only hold-up to drafting him is that he has made it clear he wants a signing bonus over slot. Several mock drafts have him going to the cash-flush Yankees at No. 29.
Matt Hobgood, RH, Norco HS, Calif.: Built like Brad Penny(notes) and with a surly attitude like Josh Beckett(notes), Hobgood has intimidating presence and the stuff to back it up. His sinking fastball is consistently at 90 mph and his four-seamer can get to the mid-90s. His curve, though, might be his best pitch, breaking off the table at about 77 mph. Hobgood will need to learn a changeup. He dropped 15 pounds in the offseason, and his improved conditioning is evident in the fact that he throws harder in the late innings.
Chad James, LH, Yukon HS, Okla.: Like Matzek, Skaggs and Purke, James is a tall, lanky left-hander who throws in the low 90s. Like the other three, he probably won't last through the first round because so many teams love the prototype. His secondary pitches are just beginning to develop. James' commitment to Oklahoma State shouldn't be a deterrent. His brother, Justin, was a fifth-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2003.
Garrett Gould, RH, Maize HS, Kansas: Gould's stock rose throughout the spring because his velocity increased substantially in the last year and because he already possessed an outstanding curveball and a decent changeup. A few scouts have shied away because Gould has a somewhat violent delivery that could cause health issues later on. But just when a team is about to write him off, he changes their mind with that curveball that might be the best among high school pitchers.