Both players fit the mold of a Joe Jordan pet pick: advanced college left-handers with a good feel for pitching, a nice ceiling and the potential to rocket through the minor leagues. Who wouldn’t love an arm like that in his system?
Both Hultzen and Bradley have been written up in excellent reports from Orioles Nation Director of Scouting Don Olsen, but I’d like to provide my perspective and compare and contrast the two here.
Note: All grades given fall on the traditional 20-80 scouting scale, with a “50” grade representing an average Major League tool. A “60” grade represents an above average (or “plus“) tool, and a “70” grade is a well above average (“plus-plus“) tool.
University of Virgnia | LHP | 6′ 3″ 200
Danny Hultzen’s stock has risen considerably over the 2011 season, as he’s used his deep arsenal and a new-found bump in velocity to dominate the college competition. Reports this season have had the lefty sitting 92-94, touching 95-96, rather than the 88-92 range in which he’s lived for most of his college career. I’ve seen Hultzen several times before, but what I was looking for specifically in Friday’s outing were signs that the velo bump was real and would translate to pro ball. Essentially, I wanted to see if Hultzen’s fastball was a pitch I could project as plus in the Major Leagues, which was the one criterion holding me back from declaring him a future ace.
I caught Hultzen on one of those rare nights where his command of and feel for his secondary pitches was inconsistent, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, allowing me to see his fastball get truly tested. Hultzen labored in the first inning, trying to get a feel for how his arsenal would play on a humid, overcast evening that was not particularly conducive to pitching well. Though his fastball sat in the 92-93 range in the first inning, touching 94, he was having trouble spotting it. The slider also faltered, and after an error by SS Chris Taylor and a few hard hit balls, Hultzen was in a 5-0 hole (3 ER) after 39 pitches in the first inning.
Seeing a crooked number be posted in Hultzen’s name has been a rare occurrence this season, but, to his credit, Danny settled down nicely after his rocky first inning to cruise through 6 scoreless innings. His pitchability, control and demeanor on the mound are his greatest strengths, and part of the reason scouts believe his stuff plays up. Watching Danny work, one has very few doubts that he will turn into a good Major League pitcher.
The question is, how good will he be? Unfortunately, the plus fastball I was looking for did not appear. After laboring in the first inning, Danny settled into a more modest 90-92 MPH groove, occasionally reaching back and hitting 93-94. This velocity is consistent with reports of some of his more recent outings and where I believe he’ll ultimately sit as a pro, when he pitches on four days rest over a long season. His frame and left handed delivery just don’t bode well for holding down mid-90s velocity late into games and over the course of 200 innings. Still, his command/control, polished change and slider, and advanced feel suggest that Hultzen could take a fast track to the majors and settle in nicely as a solid mid-rotation starter, with the ceiling of a fringe front-end pitcher on a division one team.
Georgia Tech | LHP | 6′ 4″ 225
Jed Bradley is not the nearly finished product that Hultzen is, and he doesn’t come with the track record of college success that Hultzen does, but in a strange way that all may be a point in Bradley’s favor. Bradley has gotten through his college career relying on his heavy, sinking, low-to-mid-90s fastball. Rather than using command, deception, and depth of arsenal to dominate hitters, Bradley has simply let his fastball do its work, mixing in the secondaries to keep hitters honest. Bradley has taken a step forward as a complete pitcher this year, and his results are finally starting to match the stuff that scouts have known was there.
The first things one notices about Bradley are his excellent pitcher’s frame and effortless delivery. Everything comes easy for Bradley, and he’s the type of pitcher you can project as a 200+ IP workhorse who will maintain velocity deep into games and deep into the season. His fastball is often described as a power pitch because, while at 90-93 MPH the pitch doesn’t carry plus velocity, it comes with powerful downward action, boring down on hitters. He can locate his fastball well, and has good feel for the pitch. He has already increased his velocity from 85-87 in high school to 90-93 in college and still comes with a bit of projection left. Ultimately, I see the fastball as a plus pitch in MLB.
The downside to having a quality fastball is that Bradley hasn’t focused as much on developing his change up or slider. Both pitches have taken strides this season and have the potential to become above average offerings once he refines them as a pro. Of course, this means he has more to do development-wise than Hultzen does, but down the line I see the potential for a plus fastball, plus change up, and above average slider, while Hultzen may reach MLB without a single plus pitch. Some scouts have claimed to have seen Bradley’s slider flash plus, but I’ve yet to see it. The pitch tends to get loose and swoop, and Bradley does not command it well. Because of his clean mechanics and easily repeatable delivery, however, I believe he’ll be able to tighten the pitch up down the road.
In Bradley you see less of a finished product, but still an advanced college lefty with the ability to induce ground balls with both his fastball and change up and the chance to step into the front of the rotation on a division one team.
The choice between Danny Hultzen and Jed Bradley largely comes down to what a drafting organization values. It’s very tough to pass on a polished lefty who throws in the 90s and shows advanced feel for two secondary pitches, and Danny Hultzen has accordingly shot up draft boards this summer to become a potential top 5 pick. Jed Bradley comes with more of a developmental agenda, but, in my opinion, carries slightly more upside. Bradley has the advantage in frame/delivery, projection, and fastball, and, coupled with his solid feel and command, that’s enough for me to give him the slightest of edges in this debate. Both pitchers would make for defensible picks at 1:4, and, as deep as this draft is, there might be as many as eight to ten others who merit entrance to the discussion. Ultimately, who Baltimore selects with its first overall pick lies in the hands of Scouting Director Joe Jordan and his national cross-checkers.