Some days, man. In addition to trading Anderson Espinoza for Drew Pomeranz, Dave Dombrowski spent yesterday signing the last three draft picks remaining from the first 10 rounds of the Red Sox’s most recent draft class. Of those, the most significant of the draft picks was certainly left-handed high school pitcher Jason Groome. The Red Sox were reportedly able to sign Groome to a signing bonus of $3.65 million, a little bit under $500,000 over the recommended slot bonus of $3,192,800. Groom is significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Boston just dealt away a highly regarded 18-year-old starting pitcher in Espinoza to plug a hole the size of Jon Lester in the starting rotation. That happened like eight seconds ago, so to turn around and insert Groome into the same spot left vacant by Espinoza is some pretty fancy slight of hand. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here. The point is, Boston signed Groome, and he’s supposed to be fantastic.
But let’s start at the beginning and work from there. The beginning, at least as far as the Red Sox are concerned, is the 2016 Major League Draft. Groome wasn’t the consensus top pick, but he was close. Baseball America had him as the best available talent in the draft. Baseball Prospectus’s own Chris Crawford had Groome first overall on his board as well, as did Perfect Game. ESPN’s Keith Law wasn’t nearly so high on Groome, pushing him all the way back to second on his draft board. The Red Sox had the 12th choice in the draft so Groome seemed certain to be picked by the time they got their chance, but as it turned out, he was available and the Red Sox, unaccustomed to seeing a potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher sitting there, snatched him up.
The Red Sox, unaccustomed to seeing a potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher sitting there, snatched Groome up.
It wasn’t just dumb luck that Groome was sitting there undrafted after 11 picks. There were reasons he was available. As a high school pitcher Groome had the ability to go to college and re-enter the draft in three years. Groome initially committed to Vanderbilt University but then just before the draft he de-committed and re-committed to a junior college in Florida instead. Doing this gave him the ability to re-enter the draft next season instead of waiting three years. For any team that drafted him, this meant Groome has increased his leverage in negotiations.
The other reason a 17-year-old almost-consensus top talent was available was because he possessed, as the scouting community terms, makeup issues. This is a nice and unspecific way of saying Groome is immature, kind of a jerk, or has done something illegal or at least morally wrong. As nobody went on record saying what the specific issues were, it’s likely one of the first two. Even so, these kind of things can be severe enough to spoil the pick, as in the case of Red Sox 2013 draft pick Jon Denny. Or they can be wildly overblown, as in the case of Nationals star Bryce Harper. The team was certainly privy to whatever issue(s) caused Groome to fall and they drafted him anyway. That doesn’t mean they are unimportant, just that in the organization’s estimation, they aren’t a deal-breaker, for whatever that’s worth. In time, the reasons Groome was drafted hopefully will out-shine the reasons he fell. The Red Sox hope so, in any case.
So what did the Red Sox see in Groome? For one thing, he’s 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds. You might not call that the exact ideal pitcher’s build, maybe an inch or two shorter would be preferable, but it’s close. Size like that has its advantages, and maybe most importantly, you can’t teach a player to get larger and stronger. Players have maximum sizes that they can reach based on their body type and Groome’s is maximum size is larger and stronger than most. That’s good when it comes to standing up to the rigors of major league pitching. The good thing about the height is that it provides extra downward plane on his fastball. Additionally, when you release the ball closer to the plate, it takes less time to get there, and gives the batter less time to react. It’s like additional velocity without the wear and tear on a pitcher’s arm. The danger is at that height it can be difficult to maintain consistent mechanics, but so far that hasn’t been an issue for Groome.
Groome isn’t just some physical specimen though. His fastball touches the mid-90s and with a player of his age coming out of high school, there is always the ability to gain strength and thus increase velocity once he enters a professional setting. There are high schoolers who throw hard and high schoolers who are tall and strong, and they typically get scouts excited about their potential, but the ability to pitch at the major league level requires more than size and velocity; it requires command, control, and stamina. Groome was ranked so highly because he has plus-plus secondary pitches including a curveball that is reportedly fantastic. He also throws a changeup that is supposedly a fine pitch but it’s the curve when combined with the fastball that makes his pitch mix so intriguing. Add that pitch mix and the good command that he’s shown and you get a dominating pitcher who struck out 77 batters against nine walks in 43 high school innings pitched.
The fact that teenagers still have much physical and mental maturation remaining makes teenaged pitching prospects that much more impossible to project accurately.
Pitching prospects are notoriously difficult to develop, so it makes sense to stock up and deal from depth when you have to, which the Red Sox did. You may recall TINSTAAPP, an acronym for There’s No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect. You could add to that and coin the acronym TINSTAATPP by throwing the word “teenaged” in there as well if you weren’t worried anyone actually pronouncing that would spit all over the unfortunate person sitting across from them. The fact that teenagers still have much physical and mental maturation remaining makes teenaged pitching prospects that much more impossible to project accurately. Drew Pomeranz himself was the fifth overall draft pick before bouncing through three different organizations. It wasn’t until his he reached his fourth team, the Padres, that he started to reach the potential for which he was drafted back in 2010. This uncertainty of projection applies equally to Groome and Espinoza.
Like Espinoza, Groome represents a single shot at the seemingly unreachable, that of a home grown ace-level starting pitcher. But Groome is not Anderson Espinoza, he’s a different person, a different pitcher. He is younger and has less experience. He’s left-handed. But for now, for the Red Sox, he’s not really any different. Just like Espinoza was, Groome is promise, he is projection, he is nebulously the future. One day he may step on the mound at Fenway with the weight of all his promise on his shoulders. Or he may be a trade chip to use before a deadline in seasons to come. That doesn’t matter now though. For now, the Red Sox have a badly needed starting pitcher in Pomeranz, and they have a new ‘future ace.’ It doesn’t particularly matter whether his name is Jason or Anderson. Either way. Hooray for the present. Hooray for the future.
Photo by Kelly O’Connor/www.sittingstill.smugmug.com