Prospect Smackdown: Clayton Kershaw vs. Jacob McGee
Background and Intangibles
Kershaw: Kershaw was drafted in the first round in 2006, out of high school in Dallas, Texas. Picked seventh overall in the draft, most teams thought he was the best high school pitcher available. His pro debut in the Gulf Coast League saw him post a 1.95 ERA with a 54/5 K/BB ratio in 37 innings. Sent to the Midwest League this season, he dominated the circuit and then held his own after a late promotion to Double-A. Scouts praise his work ethic and competitive instincts, and he's definitely one of the top pitching prospects in the game.
McGee: McGee was drafted by the Devil Rays in the fifth round of the 2004 draft, out of high school in Sparks, Nevada. Scouts respected his arm strength and physical projectability, but he was considered raw and in need of improvement in all phases of the game. He pitched well in the Appalachian League in '04 after signing, better than people expected, then had a decent year in the New York-Penn League in 2005. He broke out in 2006 with an excellent campaign for Southwest Michigan in the Midwest League, thanks to improved velocity and better command of his breaking pitches, and led the league in strikeouts. He's continued his progress this year with another excellent season, and is clearly one of the best pitching prospects in the game.
Advantage: Kershaw had a higher profile as an amateur, but McGee has developed very nicely himself. Both have the proper competitive drive, and McGee has shown that he is willing to work hard and improve his game. Overall this looks even, Kershaw's greater amateur background being balanced by the fact that McGee had more to learn as he entered pro ball than Kershaw did.
Physicality, Health, and Tools
Kershaw: Kershaw is 6-3, 210 pounds, a lefthanded hitter and thrower, born March 19, 1988. He is athletic and usually repeats his delivery well, although occasionally his release point will slip which hurts his command. His fastball is consistently in the low 90s and can hit 95-96 MPH at times. His curveball is excellent, and he's made major strides improving his changeup. Kershaw should have three above-average to excellent major league pitches, and as he refines his command he should have a dominating combination of plus stuff and sharp control. So far he has had no major health concerns.
McGee: McGee is 6-3, 200 pounds, a lefthanded hitter and thrower, born August 6, 1986. He was 6-2, 180 when he signed in the 2004, so he's added an inch and 20 pounds to his body as he's filled out physically. This boosted his fastball from 88-90 in high school to 90-94 now, hitting 95-96 at times. His curveball has evolved into a plus pitch, and he continues to make strides refining his changeup. McGee should have three above-average to excellent major league pitches. His command has improved, enabling him to dominate minor league hitters. So far he has had no major health concerns.
Advantage: Kershaw and McGee are similar physically and have similar arsenals. McGee's control is better right now, but he's also a year and a half older than Kershaw. Neither of them seem to have excess injury risk, granted the risk is still there given their ages: the point is that their risk is likely no higher than the average pitcher their ages. Kershaw is probably a tad more dominating right now, but McGee's better control balances that. Overall this is about as close as you can get.
Performance and Polish
Kershaw: Kershaw went 7-5, 2.77 in 20 starts this year for Great Lakes in the Midwest League, with a 134/50 K/BB ratio in 97.1 innings. He allowed just 72 hits and held hitters to a .203 average. Promoted to Double-A, he posted a 3.65 ERA in 24.2 innings, with a 29/17 K/BB ratio. Obviously the K/IP and H/IP rates are extremely impressive, especially given his age, but his walk rate is too high right now. Although he needs to polish his control, in general he is far more advanced in all phases of the game than his age 19 cohort.
McGee: McGee made 21 starts for Vero Beach in the Florida State League, going 5-4, 2.93 with a 145/39 K/BB in 116.2 innings, allowing 86 hits and a .203 average against. Promoted to Double-A Montgomery in the Southern League, he went 3-2, 4.24 in five starts with a 30/13 K/BB in 23.1 innings. Like Kershaw, McGee posted very impressive K/IP and H/IP ratios at both levels. His control is better and he walked fewer guys. He's quite polished for his age (21) although not as advanced on the age/skill curve as Kershaw is.
Advantage: McGee and Kershaw put up very similar numbers in both A-ball and Double-A. Kershaw was pitching at a lower level than McGee in A-ball, but he's younger. Both acquitted themselves very well in the Southern League, with strong K/IP ratios, although McGee showed better command. Granted, he's older than Kershaw. Overall I think we have to rate this as even, McGee's superior command numbers being countered by Kershaw's youth.
Kershaw: Kershaw projects as a number one or number two starter at the major league level, assuming his command improves and he remains healthy. At age 19, it's still possible he could pick up a bit more velocity as he matures.
McGee: McGee, assuming his command continues to sharpen and he remains healthy, could also be a number one or number two starter. At age 21, he still has some physical projection left, although not as much as Kershaw.
Advantage: Given the difference in their ages, Kershaw has a slight advantage here, in the sense that his physical potential to be a dominating ace is probably a bit higher than McGee's.
I'd rate them as even on background and intangibles, even on physicality and stuff, even on polish and performance, and Kershaw having a slight edge on projection. Ultimately I think Kershaw rates just a hair ahead of McGee, simply because he's younger