I WAS STANDING at home plate Feb. 24 at Buford High School in Georgia watching right-hander Dylan Lesko, the top qualifier in the 2022 MLB draft, arguably the best qualifier in years. The scouting director of the midway through the first round selection stood next to me and asked, “What are the chances this guy will get to us?”

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At the moment I have confidently kept him in the top 10 of picks, and there is a chance that he will enter the top 5. “Unlikely,” I said, then paused. “But, I mean, he’s a cutter, you never know.”

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He chuckled as he recognized. “Yeah, we chew them up and spit them out, just like runners.”

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Two months later, Lesko underwent surgery on Tommy John. Now he is predicted to come out in the middle of the first round.

ABOUT THE SAME At the time Lesko retired early with a sore forearm, the prospect immediately behind him was seriously considering cutting his own high school season short.

Brandon Barriera, the senior left-hander I ranked 13th in my April draft pick, was a “famous scout”—local, state, and national scouts and the media have known his name for years. As a freshman, he played in the 90s at American Heritage, a prominent south Florida school that produced Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer and Red Sox top prospect Triston Casas. I saw Barrier serve four times last summer, and this spring he had some high-profile matches against pro players that attracted dozens of scouts.

On April 12, six days after the game in which Lescaut was injured, Barriera notified scouts that he would make two more starts and then take a break for the rest of the season to prepare for July. if he doesn’t sign). The Barrier will still compete in all team events, he said, but will actually miss one start in the regular season and playoffs (which could mean as many as five extra starts). No amateur pitcher has ever made such a specific decision before.

“I do what’s best for me,” Barriera told Sportzshala last month. “You see all the Tommy Johns this year, even for the college guys, they were so close. You have to ask yourself if it’s worth it.”

While Lescaut’s injury certainly weighed him down, Barriera said the decision was not purely reactionary. “I thought about it for a while,” he said. “I didn’t come up with this one morning. Every night I sat with my parents and talked until we came to an agreement about it.”

A number of sources I spoke to believe the Barriera will be an early domino to encourage more pitchers to take their future into their own hands, just as college football players skipping bowl games have become practically the norm. Running backs only have as many hits as they can take, pitchers only have so many quick balls in the tank and we don’t know what that number is, so they have to be well timed.

With pitchers throwing more at a younger age, and with incentives to throw almost year round, this exhaustion problem won’t go away. I asked an NL grandmaster how much he would pay for a magical algorithm that would tell him about the next five years of a pitcher’s health. His answer: “All we have.”

DURING A TALK WITH scout about prep pitchers, he told me to look at the track record of the prep pitcher who gets the biggest draft bonus and compare how many of them were voted best in class a few years later. As someone whose job it is to cover the MLB draft, even I was shocked by the results.

If we start from 2016 (who is the best in the class of 2017 is still a question) and go back 10 years to the class of 2007, then the pitcher with the highest bonus will actually be the best pitcher in the class…one day . And, indeed, you might argue that the answer is zero.

This difference depends on who you consider Lucas Giolito or Max Freed (two top pitcher prep bonuses in 2012 – Freed got $3 million to Giolito’s $2.925 million) as the top pitcher. In spirit, let’s do the math, as the top two performers also got the top two bonuses, and they’re almost equal on both accounts.

But in most years, it’s not even particularly close. The next best comparison is Jameson Tylon, who received the highest pitcher conditioning bonus in the class of 2010, $1.25 million, compared to the next closest pitcher. Tylon was considered one of the best prospects in recent years, selected second overall between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. He showed it in the big leagues, but was easily surpassed in career value by Robbie Ray (17th-highest prep bonus in the 2010 draft) and Noah Sindergaard (24th).

You can take a few lessons from this, but the most obvious one is that pitcher development (especially with teenagers who sit in the mid-90s) is still incredibly difficult to predict. In fact, the idea of ​​any club betting $6 million on knowing who is the best in the group seems unnecessarily risky.

Confidently drafting and picking the best high school pitcher in the draft when you can just pick a college pitcher or any position player seems like sheer arrogance. Some teams (and not just the usual numbers-crazed teams you think of) have told me that under no circumstances will they pick a high school pitcher in the top 10.

If you take this 10-year sample as representative of the demo circle from which all teams now select high school players, then if you want to bet like that, then there is a 10% chance that you are right (Fried/Giolito in 2012) and 60% You’re Wrong: Casey Kelly (2008), Jacob Turner (2009), Cole Stewart (2013), Tyler Kolek (2014), Colby Allard (2015) and Riley Pint (2016).

So, if many of the world’s best player scouts feel like they’re flying blind with set-up pitchers when the stakes are high, is it really surprising that a set-up pitcher can’t take risks at a key moment in a game? their career? Shouldn’t the pitcher be given the same grace as risk-averse teams?

FOR JUG like Barriera, another playoff appearance won’t get him up for the draft board. Anyone whose opinion mattered had already seen him perform several times over the past year. In fact, Barriera’s scouting record hasn’t changed much in over a year, which is also quite rare for such a young pitcher.

Interested teams have gathered for Barriera’s last two starts and the reports have been positive, as they have been throughout the spring. He has four pitches headlined by the pre-90s fastball, as well as a slider, spinball, and changeup that showcase above-average and plus potential, as well as components to showcase an entry-level team. Barriera’s substitution was rarely used in high school games and not needed in shorter demonstrations, but some scouts turned down spring outings, claiming it was his best serve. It’s also notable that his twist ball (a somewhat new pitch that hit 3,000 rpm) and slider (with a sharp break at 0:16 below) are shaped differently from each other, which is rare for a pitcher preparing for hard throws.

The Barriera topped out at 98 or 99 mph this spring, depending on which weapon you were looking at. When I asked if he wanted to hit 100 mph, he said yes almost before I had finished asking the question, despite the fact that speed is the single most predictable factor in future injuries.

“I think about it like I’m two guys, a split personality,” Barriera said of the dichotomy of staying healthy while looking to increase his speed long-term. “On the hill, I rely on muscle memory and attack instinctively. Whether it’s before the game, just playing ball, or after the game, doing recovery, I’m a completely different guy, thinking about things and analyzing the process. You must separate them.”

The end of the high school season didn’t mean that Barriera stopped pitching. The same draft models that use empirical data to keep teams from picking pitchers early in the draft also become more confident when a pitcher comes with more robust advanced pitch-tracking and sports science data that Barriera can continue to collect in in the nearest future. months.

I spoke to him after seeing a private bullpen in May, his first since closing. The serving sequences were triggered by his personal serving coach, Nick James, and each serve’s key data was measured by a Rapsodo device. Together, the pair hit short pitches in the early 90s, playing 40 or 50 pitches in total at a private facility called The Hangar.

Obviously, it was a lot less stressful than the playoff game for American Heritage, but even such a tough game comes with some risk of injury, which means real money risk. If a player drafted midway through the first round performs surgery on Tommy John right before the draft, he would need a bonus of approximately $5 million to a bonus of approximately $3 million. And that signing bonus is even more important for pitchers—given the risks of pitching compared to playing on the field, it’s also more likely that an elite pitcher will only get paid well once in their career.

Over the past two years, I have estimated about 10 aces in the major leagues at the start of the 2021 and 2022 seasons. For this part, we also worked on the definition of ace, which can take many directions, but something I learned while working for the Braves a few years ago was that no matter how you define ace, about half of the them was Tommy John. operation. The rate is much lower for smaller starting pitchers. In my opinion, the explanation is that surgery does not necessarily ruin an ace’s career, but the less talent you have, the more it will affect your future. Those smaller pitchers who have had surgery may never…