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  • Twins Draft Preview: Tyler Kolek

    In each of the past two seasons, Twins pitchers have ranked dead last in the majors in strikeouts. They're on track to do so again this year.

    It's no coincidence that they've been extremely bad at preventing runs during that time. In today's MLB environment, where strikeouts are rapidly climbing league-wide, a "pitch-to-contact" staff profile doesn't fly.

    To their credit, the Twins seem to recognize this, and have recently made concerted efforts to add more power arms to the organization. In next Thursday's draft, they might have a chance to bring in the best high school power arm... ever?

    Who is this guy?

    Earlier this month, Baseball America's John Manuel put Tyler Kolek's triple-digit fastball in perspective: "According to scouts we talked to, he is the hardest-throwing high schooler of the draft era."

    The right-hander generally works in the upper-90s with a heavy heater that touches 100 MPH "with regularity" and has been clocked as high as 102. That's pretty much unheard of for an 18-year-old kid, but Kolek hardly looks his age. At 6'5" and 250 pounds, he is absolutely massive and is often described as country strong, owing to the fact that he grew up working on his family's cattle ranch.

    The numbers that Kolek put up against prep competition as a senior this year at Shepherd High School in Texas are downright silly. In 60 1/3 innings across 10 starts, the fireballer yielded three earned runs (0.35 ERA). He faced a total of 219 batters, allowing only 23 hits and eight walks while striking out 126.

    Kolek figures to become the second high school hurler from Texas to be drafted among the top five in as many years, joining Kohl Stewart who of course went to the Twins at No. 4 in 2013.

    Why the Twins will pick him

    As mentioned before, the Twins have developed a clear focus on adding power arms to the system and you could hardly ask for a more powerful arm than this one. Kolek is considered by many scouts to be a better prospect than Stewart was a year ago, so if he falls to No. 5, the Twins are going to need to look very hard at him.

    Several teams reportedly have Kolek pegged as the best pitcher in this draft, and he's in the discussion to go first overall. It's awfully tough to pass on the upside of a potential ace who is already throwing this hard as a teenager.

    In addition to buzzing in at an insane speed, his fastball has pretty good sink so there's a belief that he should be able to pile up ground balls along with strikeouts in the pros. If he can stay in the zone, that would basically make him the ideal starter, and his big frame will hopefully equate to greater durability since he needn't rely as much on his arm to generate velocity.

    Why the Twins will not pick him

    Kolek's upside is as immense as his build, but there are plenty of concerns.

    First of all, the fact that he's throwing 100 MPH at this age raises questions about his long-term outlook. Generally speaking, pitchers have a limited velocity peak, and very few are able to maintain a high-90s heater over a period of 10 years or more, especially as a starter.

    If Kolek is using up all the gas in his arm at such a young age, it's possible his velocity could already start declining by the time he's ready for the majors in (hopefully) three or four years. That would be a bummer.

    It'd be easier to stomach if the righty had stand-out secondary pitches to fall back on, but those are all considered works in progress. His curveball and slider have been inconsistent and he has basically never needed to throw a changeup while blowing away high school hitters.

    An unpolished arsenal is hardly rare for a prep pitcher, but it leads to more uncertainty, and the Twins already took on their fair share of that last year when they selected Stewart. This time around, they might be more apt to go in on a college pitcher like Aaron Nola, who would be slated for a much quicker rise to the majors.

    Speaking of college, Kolek has a commitment to Texas Christian University. He likely expects to go in the Top 3, so if he drops to No. 5, the Twins might have a tough time enticing him to sign. There's no way they're using this pick on him unless they're absolutely certain they can bring him aboard.

    At the end of the day, Kolek's huge potential and historical rarity may overcome any such cautionary signs should he drop all the way to five. However, that scenario seems unlikely anyway, as all four teams in front of Minnesota have shown interest.
    Comments 29 Comments
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      Tobi, I admit the %s were just off the top of my head. Viola, Radke and Buehrle all spent time as aces and certainly there is much that exists between Clemens and Zumaya. Maybe replace Viola with Pavano or even just go with Buehrle and Clemens. Clemens had a career 3.12 ERA and lets steroid adjust it to 3.3. No denying Clemens was better but they both had a lot of success. Where is the cutoff point for the odds of just those two or bust? Would you take a 10% flyer on Clemens over 100% chance of a Buehrle? I know Clemens is rare but Buehrle's do not grow on trees, either. It was all for the sake of argument.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brandon View Post
      You have a better than average Earned run average with an average pitcher and a lights out bullpen. in 2010 we had 5 deep in the rotation. Liriano was the defacto ace. While he had ace peripherals, He had a 3.62 ERA and I would put that as a number 2 starter. but the others were 3 and 4 starters Pavano, Baker, Slowey, and I forget..... My point is we have Nolasco and Hughes, Gibson and Deduno and Meyer and May. Adding Nola to the mix is not a bad way to have too much pitching.
      .
      Here were the four teams that advanced past us in the playoffs in 2010:

      Giants - Lincecum (3.43 ERA), Cain (3.14 ERA), and Bumgarter (3.00 ERA)
      Rangers - Lee (3.18 ERA), Wilson (3.35 ERA)
      Phillies - Halladay (2.44 ERA), Hamels (3.06 ERA), Oswalt (2.76 ERA)
      Yankees - CC (3.18 ERA) and Pettitte (3.28 ERA)

      Look at the Tigers rotation now, that is what we are up against, so I am in favor of throwing players in the pipeline that may be able to match them down the road versus a deep rotation of #3 starters.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      "In general, pitchers that throw with velocity get more K's

      -More K's usually means better overall numbers"

      There is a lot of room in that general. I remember in a year the Giants won it they threw the fastball less than any other team and the velocity of their fastball was middle of the pack. That is going by memory and I don't know where to get the velocity stats but easy to go look at baseball reference for this year. I think you will agree that ERA is a much better value than strikeout totals. Best three teams for ERA are A's, Braves, and Giants yet they rank 17th, 4th and 14th in strikeouts. Top 3 teams for strikeouts are Dodgers, Indians and Yankees and their ERA ranks are 8, 20, and 17. I value control and stuff over velocity but I guess we can agree that the recent editions of the Twins have not had enough of any of the 3.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dantes929 View Post
      Tobi, I admit the %s were just off the top of my head. Viola, Radke and Buehrle all spent time as aces and certainly there is much that exists between Clemens and Zumaya. Maybe replace Viola with Pavano or even just go with Buehrle and Clemens. Clemens had a career 3.12 ERA and lets steroid adjust it to 3.3. No denying Clemens was better but they both had a lot of success. Where is the cutoff point for the odds of just those two or bust? Would you take a 10% flyer on Clemens over 100% chance of a Buehrle? I know Clemens is rare but Buehrle's do not grow on trees, either. It was all for the sake of argument.
      I think Kolek is probably a 5% chance at Clemens and 20% chance at a #2/#3 starter, another 20% shot at being a good closer. I will take that over a 100% chance at a #3 starter. The fact is we can sign a #3 starter. Our payroll is at $80M and we have a ton of young, talented, controllable players coming up.
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      Look at the Tigers rotation now, that is what we are up against, so I am in favor of throwing players in the pipeline that may be able to match them down the road versus a deep rotation of #3 starters.
      Here is what the Twins faced in the playoffs
      2010 - game 1 Sabathia (7.5 k/9 4.6 WAR season), Game 2 Pettitte (7.0 k/9 2.5 season), Game 3 Hughes (7.5 k/9 2.0 WAR season). Twins were able to score some runs off of Sabathia (Liriano was worse though) but Pettitte and Hughes shut down their offense.

      2009 - game 1 Sabathia (7.7 k/9 6.2 WAR), game 2 AJ Burnett (8.5 K/9 4.4 WAR), game 3 Pettitte (6.8 k/9 3.3 WAR). Pavano and Blackburn pitched well for us but offense never showed up.

      2006 - game 1 Zito (6.1 k/9 4.4 WAR), Estaban Loaiza (5.6 k/9 0.7 WAR), Dan Haren (7.1 k/9 3.5 WAR). Offense didn't really show up for us.

      2004 - Game 1 Mike Mussina (7.2 K/9 2.4 WAR), game 2 Jon Leiber (5.2 k/9 2.8 WAR), Kevin Brown (5.7 k/9 2.8 WAR), Vasquez (6.8 k/9 2.5 WAR). Twins beat Mussina and lost two extra innings games.

      In any event, it helps to have good pitchers but that doesn't mean they have to have 8+ K/9 rates. The Twins just need better pitchers period. If that's Kolek, fine. If that's Nola, fine.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      None of Buehrle, Radke, or Viola were drafted in the top 10. Heck, Buehrle slipped to the 38th round. They fell for a reason - the odds are stacked even more against the soft tossers. Play the odds, take the safe pick. Take the hardest throwers you can find.
    1. twinsguy14's Avatar
      twinsguy14 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      A fast fastball is hard to hit though. Anything 96+ you can throw straight as an arrow, in the zone, and still miss bats.

      To be able to throw in the zone and still miss bats - that's the holy grail.

      If he falls, we have to take him.
      . 96 mile per hour straight fastball means nothing without the threat of a secondary pitch to a hitter, some movement or deception.
      .
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      Kolek is tantalizing! There is no questioning that.

      With time, coaching, health, and a willingness to learn, he could be a Clemons comparable. Scouts and GM's have to decide on injury risk, coach-ability and projection. He could also be another in a long and forgettable line of prospects who threw hard and nothing more.

      The MLB draft is a huge crapshoot of hope and possibility.

      When you pick in this high of a draft slot, you have to determine dream possibility vs quality probability.

      I agree it's probably a moot point as he probably won't be there at 5 anyway. If, by chance, he is, and you want to go pitching, I think it's clearly between him and Nola.

      Hey, Nola isn't a soft tosser. And he's polished, playing in a top conference, with solid secondary stuff that has good potential. Being a "safer" pick doesn't mean poor or no projection. Kolek is tantalizing but scary. His upside is tremendous, but he's probably less polished than Stewart or Berrios. And an 18 year old that throws that hard scares me in regard to his arm.

      I want to say Kolek if available as the #5 pick should be someone who has scouting numbers that make you salivate. Win or lose, you take a shot on someone like that. I'm just torn at the thought of "what if" going both directions.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dantes929 View Post
      There is the risk and there is what is fun about baseball. Mark Buehrle would contradict that you need to miss bats or strike out people to be successful. Frank Viola would contradict that it is necessary to have a blazing fastball to strike people out. Nolan Ryan would argue that it certainly helps to have a blazing fastbal....
      Other than Buehrle, your examples had other pitches that made them special. Frank Viola did in fact have an excellent heater, clocked as high as 96, and as many of us recall, his circle change was truly sweet music to behold. Ryan had an amazing curve ball and a good slider to go with his historic fastball.

      However, I don't disagree with your point. Pitchers like Bruce Chen and Tanaka for the Yanks prove that you don't need big heat to be successful in the majors. Does Kolek have the ability to learn a couple plus secondary pitches? Unknown. Will his arm hold up throwing that hard? Unknown. When you ask those questions about Nola, you already have your answers. Nola is already a complete pitcher. His route to the majors will take less than one season in the minors.

      Others say that a quick timeline doesn't matter with the slew of star pitching prospects bubbling up from the Twins minor league system. I say you can't have too many top prospects, because most of the "can't miss" guys will find a way to miss. Guys that are mlb caliber are always valuable, whether it's in your rotation or as trading chips for that shortstop your team really needs. Take Nola, and you've got much more certain value than Kolek.
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