Injuries take toll on pitching depth of Draft class
The strength of the 2014 Draft class is pitching, as it's deep in both college and high school arms. The first three picks are expected to be North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon, Cathedral Catholic High (San Diego) lefty Brady Aiken and Shepherd (Texas) High righty Tyler Kolek in some order. The record for pitchers selected in the first round (20 in 2001) is in jeopardy.
But the 2014 Draft has proven just as vulnerable to the wave of pitching injuries that has afflicted big league stars such as Jose Fernandez and Matt Moore, as well as top prospects such as Archie Bradley and Jameson Taillon. Last Wednesday, East Carolina announced that right-hander Jeff Hoffman, a potential No. 1 overall choice, would be lost for the remainder of the season to Tommy John surgery. Three days later, Nevada-Las Vegas delivered the same news in regards to righty Erick Fedde, who had pitched his way into the upper half of the first round.
Hoffman and Fedde will see their Draft status take a hit, but the track record of elbow reconstructions is encouraging enough that both still could be first-round selections. In 2012, for example, Harvard-Westlake School (Studio City, Calif.) righty Lucas Giolito didn't pitch again after spraining the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow in March. He still went 16th overall to the Nationals and signed for $2,925,000, then made one two-inning pro appearance before requiring Tommy John surgery.
"I still think it's a good Draft, even with those guys going down," a scouting director said. "I think they could still go in the first round. They also might be available in the second."
Teams picking in the top 10 are suddenly scrambling to identify some alternatives now that Hoffman and Fedde are hurt. Hoffman would have made the obvious top three selections an obvious top four, and now there's no consensus on which pitcher is likely to be taken next after the Rodon-Aiken-Kolek trio.
"Guys are getting hurt and it's tough," the scouting director said. "A guy like Hoffman, he'd done everything he was supposed to do as a top-of-the-line Draft guy. It changes your perspective, especially this time of year. You might say there are four guys you need to see down the stretch, and then that four becomes six and then six gets stretched to eight, because guys are going down."
Hoffman and Fedde aren't the only potential first-round arms with health issues. Milton (Ga.) High right-hander Dylan Cease hasn't pitched since getting diagnosed with a small tear in his UCL in March. Rice righty Zech Lemond has been out since early April with elbow inflammation, and while he should return this week or next, he'll move from the rotation to the bullpen. Baker High (Baldwinsville, N.Y.) righty Scott Blewett has been sidelined for two weeks with shoulder soreness, and it's uncertain when he'll take the mound again.