Twins Throw Curveball With Draft Strategy
The Twins paid Enlow like a first-round talent, and they're hardly the only ones who viewed him as one. The righty had been ranked as the 29th-best player in the draft by MLB, and 33rd by Baseball America. Either because he slid on other boards, or because he already had a deal in place with the Twins, Enlow went undrafted through the first 75 picks, allowing Minnesota to land him after already adding three other prospects they coveted.
Putting all the pieces together, it looks like Enlow was the key target for Derek Falvey's front office all along. And when we take a closer look at the pitcher's defining traits, there's really only one way to spin this story.
The Unteachable Skill
Last week, Parker Hageman wrote here about one of the main hold-ups with Hunter Greene: his trouble with the curve. In short, while the fireballing phenom makes headlines for his hellacious heater, his breaking balls are lagging behind due to insufficient spin.
There is a growing body of evidence that a great curveball cannot really be taught. After a certain age, a fairly early one, your ability to spin the ball kind of is what it is. You either have it, or you don't. The subject gained national steam when spotlighted by Tom Verducci in a recent feature for Sports Illustrated:
So inscrutable is the magic of a curveball that it is accepted wisdom in the game that, while pitchers can learn to sink a baseball (with a two-seamer) and cut it (with a cutter or slider), they generally cannot learn how to throw a great curve. It is not a projectable pitch. Organizations have learned that if someone does not show an aptitude to spin the baseball as an amateur, it’s foolish to expect him to acquire the skill.
As it happens, this is Enlow's speciality. Twins scouting director Sean Johnson told reporters after the draft, "He may have I think the best curveball in the high school group ... He can spin the ball, which is hard to teach."
The Twins aren't alone in that assessment. MLB.com draft guru Jim Callis had named Enlow's as the best curveball in this class, describing it as "a 12-to-6 hammer in the low 80s." We see him break off quite a few here, and here:
In the recipe for a big-league starter, Enlow might already bring the most important ingredient.
Following the Leaders
I wrote earlier this week that Minnesota took a page out of the Houston Astros playbook from 2012 with their approach at No. 1 overall this year. But not until I looked closer did I realize the nearly identical blueprints.
Five years ago, Houston passed on a high school star widely heralded as a generational talent, favoring a prep shortstop with a lesser profile. They used the savings from that under-slot signing to lure a an underdrafted teenage pitcher away from his college commitment.
That pitcher? Lance McCullers. And wouldn't you know, he also happens to be known for his curve. In fact, he was one of the focal points of Verducci's aforementioned SI piece, which included this nugget from the Houston righty:
“I don’t view my curveball as complementary stuff. Whereas old school was more like, ‘No, establish the fastball, pound the heater and wait until they prove they can hit it.’ Well, what if I have two guys on and I’m trying to establish my heater, and he hits it out of the ballpark? You saw it in the postseason: Now it’s about pitchers challenging guys with their best pitch, and that means a lot of curveballs.”
By going against convention, the Astros ended up with one of the most successful draft outcomes in recent memory, reeling in McCullers and Carlos Correa who are now both key contributors for the best team in baseball.
The Big Picture
In essence, it looks like the pitching-needy Twins decided to bet on Enlow's curveball rather than Greene's fastball. As you might expect with this analytical new front office leadership, there is plenty of data to back up that mindset. Evidence tells us an 18-year-old kid like Enlow can add velocity and learn sink after joining the pro ranks, but Greene may struggle to round out his repertoire. There's also a case to be made that the latter carries more injury risk.
By making Enlow rather than Greene the featured prep arm in their draft class, the Twins also managed to net a potential star in Lewis with their top pick. It's a bold strategy, to be sure, and one that will open this organization up to a great deal of hindsight criticism if it flounders.
Then again, if the Astros worried about such things a half-decade ago, they might still be spinning their wheels instead of dominating the league.
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