by Kiley McDaniel
It’s been awhile since we’ve last published something here at SaberScouting, but don’t worry, we’re still here, we just took a break after the draft.
The draft answers will be coming soon—we tried a high-tech way of bringing those to you and it didn’t really work out. You’ll see those answers soon, we’re just not sure if it’ll be the fancy or scaled-down version.
Also, in the rush to get out our draft content, I’m back-logged by about 10-12 Florida State League games with some legit prospect reports on the way.
I just saw Jeremy Jeffress a few days ago, and since I’m a sucker for the most recent new shiny object, I decided to tackle him first.
As you might guess, given his pedigree as a Dwight Gooden-comped first round pick, Jeremy Jeffress has loads of talent and that certainly describes what I saw in his last outing.
Jeffress also comes with off-field issues that some teams are concerned about, and there are, as you would expect, some rough edges to iron out on the field as well.
Come on in and take a look at the full scouting report and video, after the jump…
(Jeffress photo credit: West Virginia Power)
Here’s a look at some video I took of Jeffress at this outing.
Jeremy Jeffress, RHS, Brevard County Manatees (Milwaukee)
Pitch - Present/Future Grades
Fastball - 65/65
Curveball - 50/60
Command - 45/50
Physical Description - Listed at 6′0, 197, but looks lighter than that listed weight with a loosely-fitting uniform and thin build. Body looks more like a speed-based athlete, like a punt returner or center fielder than a pitcher. Square shoulders, slight build throughout with more strength than it appears and athleticism to burn. Comparison-wise is inbetween a 6′2 Ervin Santana and 5′10 Johnny Cueto as far as shorter and slim power righties.
Fastball - 65/65
Explosive at 92-95 mph throughout the game, hitting 97 when he wanted to, usually to get a K to close out an inning. Most of these fastballs are four-seamers and didn’t feature much movement, but the deception created by such easy velocity with a quick arm coming in at a higher than expected arm angle (see comparison with Verlander at right) allows it to sneak up on hitters.
[Note: It’s tough to see the easiness of the velocity in the video I took as it only shows him from the stretch when he’s fatigued; take a look at the two videos at the end of the report for a better idea.]
Despite a lack of downhill plane or sink on his fastball, the late life Jeffress gets with a fastball that seems to jump at hitters, along with effective command down in the zone, creates a good amount of groundballs, belied by the stats that say he’s solidly above-average in that regard this season.
Jeffress also had good command of his fastball: he only left it up with a purpose, and would come inside (always at least 94 when he did) and move it back outside and hit his spots. This command faltered later in the game, but that is almost expected with young power arms still figuring things out.
He also had what I call a mechanical cutter, because it appears to be purely a product of throwing across his body, a risky move mechanically, harmful to keep doing repeatedly, but a more effective pitch, similar to what some power pitchers like Kerry Wood tend to do.
This theory was backed up by the fact that the pitch appeared randomly later in the outing when he was getting tired, but just goes to show how electric of an arm he has; he almost gets dirtier when he’s tired, sloppier, and has a delivery with more effort. This pitch didn’t have much depth, but at 93 mph, it had plus velocity and plus late bite that could become a real weapon if he could learn to harness it effectively.
This pitch was disappointing in the first few innings as he focused on a fastball/changeup combination and showed no feel for a below-average spinner that hung up in the zone and backed up on him quite a bit. Jeffress’ curveball is an effort for him: he’s been tinkering with different grips, he has more effort in his delivery when he’s throwing it, he raises his arm angle a bit, and then jerks his head some to make room for his arm. But, he did find the pitch after a few innings.
Around the third inning, Jeffress found the feel and starting throwing it a little too much, but this shift was warranted as he showed a power hammer that flashed out-pitch potential. He threw a 78-81 mph bender with sharp late break and good depth that was short at times, but showed above-average potential.
Toward the end of his outing, he showed a more aggressive pitch at 82-84 mph that was about as hard as a curveball can be thrown with the same depth and more bite. I don’t know if the 82-84 mph plus hammer can be thrown throughout a whole start, or if it was equivalent to a 96-97 mph fastball effort-wise, but I know there’s a 60 curveball in the tank. He’s in between a 55 and 60 future grade on the curveball for me, as I’m projecting him to start, but I opted to round up in this instance since he showed 60 curve while still not having full feel for the pitch yet; that’s reason for optimism here.
Changeup - 50/55
Just like his curveball, Jeffress’ changeup has made strides since signing as a raw arm out of high school. It’s now a solidly average pitch that reminded me of Johnny Cueto’s changeup in that it comes from a high arm angle and doesn’t have much fade, but a good amount of late sink and loads of deception and confidence from a short power right hander that helps it play up.
As mentioned above, Jeffress relied on this pitch more early in the outing, and I noted next to each one that you simply couldn’t see it coming. And when you can’t tell the difference until it’s too late between 80-81 mph with sink and 92-97 without sink, that can get some goofy swings.
This pitch likely will never be an out-pitch and is much closer to average for me than above-average as far as movement goes, but a computer could grade pitches on movement (why haven’t the Pitch F/X gurus tried this?), and the deception for this pitch is outstanding, especially from the type of guy you don’t expect to see that from.
Command - 45/50
Here is yet another area where Jeffress has improved greatly since signing, and even from last season in the Sally League. I’ll cover the objective measures of this in the stats section, and this was the first time I had seen him in person, so I’ll stick to breaking down what I saw.
Jeffress was unhittable early in the game, and only gave up one hit (on a hanging curve) and one run (walk and steal before the hit) before the implosion happened. Suffice it to say that it isn’t normal for a pitcher to strikeout 10, walk 1, give up 4 hits, and manage to do that in only 4.1 innings, while giving up 6 earned runs. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that exact line had never been pitched before in baseball history.
Jeffress was cruising to a standard top prospect outing of, say, 7 innings, 5 hits, 1 earned, 2 walks, 11 strikeouts when the wheels fell off; there were a few things at work here.
First, it was raining, and while you can’t read too much into one outing, Jeffress gave up a couple baserunners, hit two batters, had a defensive miscue behind him, and it all snowballed on him and in the span of about 15 minutes; he went from dazzling the crowd and dominating on a picture perfect evening to leaving with a hung head and a 7-run deficit in the pouring rain with fans ducking for cover.
I said above that Jeffress was commanding his fastball well to the corners and down in the zone, he kept his solid change down in the zone, and he was burying his curveball more times than not while generally hitting his spots until he started throwing his curve too much and hitters sat on it. He certainly had above-average big league command early in the outing, and about 30 command once the snowballing had begun: what’s going on here?
Some question the starter profile for Jeffress due mainly to the issue, but the 3 pitches are there, and he wasn’t getting hit because he was going through the lineup the third time, he simply wasn’t the same pitcher he was the first two times through, and this has happened before. Check the linescore for his May 26th outing versus Daytona: 3 scoreless, then 9 runs in 2 innings, all with a 7 strikeouts and 1 walk. Sounds eerily similar.
This isn’t a lack of command, it’s good command, great stuff, and the thing many people question about Jeffress given his 50-game suspension last season for smoking pot; his head. He appears to be making strides to move away from that, but ultimately, does Jeffress have the mental ability to be an effective big leaguer? Check out the ERAs of each of his last six starts: 16.87, 0.00, 17.36, 1.29, 0.00, 12.46.
This is the type of guy that won’t be fast-tracked until at least two of those three high numbers aren’t on his recent game log, and just like with the feel for a curveball issue I touched on earlier, is this a lightbulb turning on one morning, a slow process, or something that never happens? It would be a shame if it was the latter given all the talent he has and all the progress he’s already made.
Jeffress has outstanding mechanics: a clean arm action, aggressive weight transfer, a quick power pitcher’s tempo, big time velocity without extreme arm torque but effective body torque, leads with a powerful yet controlled front side, keeps his elbow relatively low compared to his shoulder in the arm stroke…just all the good stuff you’re looking for. Similar to Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar, names you’ll see later in the article as well.
I can get my two points across in this section with just two simple tables, but I’ll one up that and actually include a short commentary on each:
This tells the story of Jeremy Jeffress’ 2008 season in prospect terms. The BB and K rate stats are both enough on their own to be very impressive, but both of them happening to the same pitcher in the same season is reason for excitement.
He also has improved his GO/AO rate, and that is purely a function of command, as he isn’t throwing a fastball with any more sink or downward plane, he’s just commanding the pitch better (down in the zone) and getting more weak contact and grounders. I can’t find the 2007 GB/FB numbers, but the 2008 rate is 2.18, well above-average.
Jeffress has gone from a raw thrower just out of high school with loads of potential to a young power pitcher with polish and upside, the tantalizing combo teams will pay through the nose for. If you want 2008 breakout seasons, Jeremy Hellickson is a good place to start, but Jeremy Jeffress isn’t far behind.
This table, if you look at the earned runs, tell the story of the mental battle Jeffress needs to learn how to win. If you look in the BB and K columns, you see the ability that will shine through in the big leagues if this happens. This is the thing Jeffress must fix to realize most of that remaining upside, and will also decide what kind of career he’ll have: minor league lifer that can’t stick in the bigs, or big league success of some type. There really isn’t much more to say, he’ll either do it or he won’t and it’s almost impossible to project without knowing him well.
This full package is somewhat similar to Johnny Cueto, but even moreso to the last FSL prospect I profiled, Jeremy Hellickson, just with less consistent command and two notches more velocity. The other differences are negligible other than Jeffress’ athleticism. Which one would I take? Good question. I went back and forth about 5 times while I was writing this and ultimately went with Jeffress because he’s got more stuff and more ultimate upside. That being said, I’m not totally sold on Jeffress’ ability to reach his ceiling and maximize his talent, while I am sold on Hellickson’s ability to do the same. I’ll probably change my mind a few more times this month.
Jeffress also elicits a projection to the bullpen from some that I just don’t see. His stuff certainly would profile and play up in the pen, but his command and consistency lapses aren’t due to going through a lineup multiple times as much as it is dealing with adversity, which may happen as much if not more in short stints late in the game as a reliever.
With a fastball that hits 97, a plus hammer curve, and above-average changeup, flashes of above-average command, a clean arm, efficient power mechanics, and groundball tendencies, Jeffress certainly has the complete package to be a frontline starter if he puts it all together. He has #1 starter potential if everything comes together and you can’t say that about very many humans on Earth.
If the stuff and command develop just a little bit and he’s an inconsistent guy with frontline stuff at the big league level, then that’s a solid #3 starter that would show flashes of a #2 starter for stretches, a Kelvim Escobar-like career path. I think that’s a likely outcome, and a big initial splash in the league like Johnny Cueto or Dontrelle Willis wouldn’t surprise me at all.
As for what Jeffress is right now, I’d say he’s a solid spare arm for one trip through a lineup at the big level, living off his fastball life and command, which would be a present group D swing guy with a projected role of a #2/#3 starter, a solid B group prospect overall.
See SaberScouting’s Scouting Tutorial for an explanation of this collection of odd jargon and numbers.
Adjusted Overall Future Potential: 58
Present Group: D
Future Group: B
Projected Role: #2/#3 Starter
MLB ETA: Full-Time in 2010
Overall Comparison: Somewhere in the Kelvim Escobar/Johnny Cueto/Ervin Santana continuum