Dillon Tate, RHP UC-Santa Barbara
The closer for both the Gauchos and Team USA last year, Tate has rocketed up draft boards this spring after a so far successful conversion to starting that’s taken due to premium stuff and impressive physicality. He took the mound last Friday against the 12th ranked Oregon Ducks in front of 60 or 70 scouts and showed why he’s now in the conversation for 1-1, taking a no-hitter into the sixth and flashing dominant potential. Representatives from all thirty teams were rumored to be in attendance, but as two different scouts told me, 27 or 28 of those teams were very likely wasting their time.
Tate has a powerful, chiseled physique that looks a few pounds heavier than his listed 185. He showed strong athleticism and quickness off the bump fielding bunts, and worked between 1.31 and 1.46 to home on ten clocks out of the stretch. The stuff was as good as advertised, so let’s start there.
The righthander leaned heavily on his fastball-slider combo in this start, rarely deploying his change-up and sprinkling in only a couple curves. The heater shows as a potential double-plus pitch. He brought it in the 95-98 mile-an-hour range out of the gate before settling in at 94-96 into the middle innings. The velocity flagged to 91-93 as he tired, but this was only his third start of the season and given the body type it’s not hard to project room for stamina development.
He generates strong arm-side movement with the pitch, and that element played up a bit as the velocity settled down. While not as much a swing-and-miss offering at the lower end it presented as an effective worm-burner, still an easy plus pitch that was tough to track and square.
With a less-pronounced leg kick out of the stretch the velocity was also in the 91-93 band, and he did not reach back for more when he was in trouble. However since he didn't allow a baserunner into the sixth inning in this start it was tough to get a read on his true working velocity out of the stretch.
The real champion of the day was a slider that showed potential as a second 70 grade offering. He worked 85-87 with the pitch, manipulating nasty two-plane break to left- and right-handed hitters alike. He showed both the ability to bury it ahead and throw it for strikes, and he frequently worked it through the front door to freeze lefties. The ball disappears when he buries the harder version, it’s a true wipeout and he commands it well.
He utilized the change only sporadically in this start, and it was inconsistent when he did. He got on top of a couple at 83-84 that showed excellent tumble and fade off his fastball plane, but he also lost a couple well out of the zone up and to the arm side. The potential is certainly there for him to develop it into a legitimate, above-average to plus third pitch, but it presented as lagging behind his top-two on this day.
Mechanically there’s some effort to the delivery and it's higher risk in its construction, but he’s impressively controlled and balanced given the power he generates with a leg kick that eclipses shoulder height and a massive stride. His posture is tall out of the wind and he hides the ball well before releasing from a three-quarter slot.
There’s a whole bunch of length in his takeaway and approach to the release point, however, as he brings the ball back well beyond his right hip and down to knee height or below before making his push and firing his hips. It’s the kind of excess movement that can lead to command issues, and when he struggled later in the outing it was largely the product of straying off-line on the takeaway and losing his timing to the release. It was especially an issue out of the stretch in this start, but like I said, he was clearly tiring a bit by the time he ever made it to the stretch, so we’ll chalk the observation up to an incomplete for the time being.
He creates just a tremendous amount of torque when he fires his hips and launches off his back leg, and that in turn helps him generate outstanding arm speed to keep himself largely in synch. His front leg plant is consistently firm, and as a result he’s really able to catapult himself through the release and generate a good amount of extension. There’s potential for at least solid-average command of the arsenal with further refinement of his takeaway, and given the high-end stuff it’s more than enough to justify the hype.
One thing worth keeping an eye on this spring will be his pitch counts and stress. After overcoming suddenly shaky command and escaping a high-stress bases loaded situation in the sixth it sure looked like a logical endpoint for Tate's day, with 89 pitches on his docket at that point. But he was back out for the seventh, and after a quick 1-2-3 he again returned to start the 8th. He ended up throwing 112 pitches, with taxing innings in two of his final three frames after fatigue had already begun to set in. That's a less-than-ideal usage pattern for a guy in his third start of the season, especially after he previously worked exclusively as a reliever.
Kolby Allard, LHP San Clemente High School
Allard enters the spring of his senior year as one of the top prep arms in the country, checking in eighth on Baseball America’s pre-season draft board. He kicked things off last Thursday with a three inning showcase in which he overwhelmed his high school teammates, striking out seven of the ten hitters he faced. He worked primarily off his fastball at 91-93 and pinned on 92 for the vast majority of the outing, sprinkling in only a few curves that flashed good depth and hard 1-6 break despite uneven execution. He works off the first base side of the rubber and takes a deep turn, generating length and extension from a three-quarter slot. There’s some cross-body movement in the delivery, which you can see in his landing in this video:
Particularly into the third inning, when that video was shot, he was a bit inconsistent in his drive, landing with a pronounced toe point to the first base side and crow-hopping through his deceleration. He’s 17 years old though, so mechanical rough edges and imbalance are not a huge deal. The velocity was easy, which is a big deal, and he showed a relatively clean arm action, which bodes well (as well as anything, anyway) for healthy development. It’s an impressive starting package for a high school arm, and health permitting he looks like a very strong bet to go in the top half of the first round in June.
Cole Irvin, LHP University of Oregon
The former freshman All-American remains on a tight pitch count as he continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery 13 months ago. The 6’4" southpaw struggled with his command early in this one, routinely falling behind hitters in the first couple innings but managing to battle his way back into counts with a nice three-pitch mix. His mechanics are clean and repeatable though, hinting strongly at the potential for plus command and control with more post-surgery reps.
His fastball velocity wasn’t quite back to pre-surgery levels, sitting 86-89 though showing excellent arm-side run and sink. There’s a touch of deception in his release, and he showed the ability to work the pitch down in the zone effectively when he executed properly. It’s a potential plus pitch despite the lack of carrying velocity at present.
His change impressed as another potential 60-grade pitch at 79-80. It works well off his fastball, with a solid eight-plus mile-an-hour differential and exaggerated drop off the same plane. The curve showed true overhand 12-to-6 break in the low 70’s, but the feel wasn’t quite there in this start, as the pitch got loopy at times and did not show much more than average potential going forward. He has previously dropped a slider into the mix, but he did not on this day, presumably a planned element of his rehab process.
Despite being early in the process of rebuilding his arm strength and re-harnessing his feel for pitching, Irvin presented a nice package of pitch mix and the potential for a nice command and control profile. There isn’t a put-away pitch in his arsenal at present, but there’s more than enough here to dream on the high floor of a mid-rotation starter.
Conor Harber, RHP University of Oregon
A JuCo transfer, Harber came on in relief of Irvin in the fifth and overcame some sloppy defense behind him to continue a dominant run to start the season with five more scoreless. The outing ran his streak of shutout innings to 16 out of the gate. He’s now given up all of four hits in his three outings to date to go along with a tasty 17:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s listed at 6’2", though he appears more compact than that, with a piss-and-vinegar mound presence and mustache-mullet combo that rates as at least 70 grade. He worked off a hard, boring fastball that sat at 89-91 down in the zone, and he humped it up to 94 multiple times with runners on. He worked the pitch effectively to both sides of the plate and paired it with a nice hump of a curveball at 73-76 that buckled a couple knees.
Harber’s approach and delivery are both aggressive, and he utilizes strong athleticism (he was a two-way player in the outfield at Western Nevada Community College) to generate explosive downhill plane on his fastball. I didn’t see a full enough arsenal in this particular outing to project one way or the other if he’s got the goods to be a starting pitcher long-term, but he showed an awfully impressive foundation in this effort. He's very much a guy to watch this spring.