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  • Twins Draft Preview: Tyler Kolek

    In each of the past two seasons, Twins pitchers have ranked dead last in the majors in strikeouts. They're on track to do so again this year.

    It's no coincidence that they've been extremely bad at preventing runs during that time. In today's MLB environment, where strikeouts are rapidly climbing league-wide, a "pitch-to-contact" staff profile doesn't fly.

    To their credit, the Twins seem to recognize this, and have recently made concerted efforts to add more power arms to the organization. In next Thursday's draft, they might have a chance to bring in the best high school power arm... ever?

    Who is this guy?

    Earlier this month, Baseball America's John Manuel put Tyler Kolek's triple-digit fastball in perspective: "According to scouts we talked to, he is the hardest-throwing high schooler of the draft era."

    The right-hander generally works in the upper-90s with a heavy heater that touches 100 MPH "with regularity" and has been clocked as high as 102. That's pretty much unheard of for an 18-year-old kid, but Kolek hardly looks his age. At 6'5" and 250 pounds, he is absolutely massive and is often described as country strong, owing to the fact that he grew up working on his family's cattle ranch.

    The numbers that Kolek put up against prep competition as a senior this year at Shepherd High School in Texas are downright silly. In 60 1/3 innings across 10 starts, the fireballer yielded three earned runs (0.35 ERA). He faced a total of 219 batters, allowing only 23 hits and eight walks while striking out 126.

    Kolek figures to become the second high school hurler from Texas to be drafted among the top five in as many years, joining Kohl Stewart who of course went to the Twins at No. 4 in 2013.

    Why the Twins will pick him

    As mentioned before, the Twins have developed a clear focus on adding power arms to the system and you could hardly ask for a more powerful arm than this one. Kolek is considered by many scouts to be a better prospect than Stewart was a year ago, so if he falls to No. 5, the Twins are going to need to look very hard at him.

    Several teams reportedly have Kolek pegged as the best pitcher in this draft, and he's in the discussion to go first overall. It's awfully tough to pass on the upside of a potential ace who is already throwing this hard as a teenager.

    In addition to buzzing in at an insane speed, his fastball has pretty good sink so there's a belief that he should be able to pile up ground balls along with strikeouts in the pros. If he can stay in the zone, that would basically make him the ideal starter, and his big frame will hopefully equate to greater durability since he needn't rely as much on his arm to generate velocity.

    Why the Twins will not pick him

    Kolek's upside is as immense as his build, but there are plenty of concerns.

    First of all, the fact that he's throwing 100 MPH at this age raises questions about his long-term outlook. Generally speaking, pitchers have a limited velocity peak, and very few are able to maintain a high-90s heater over a period of 10 years or more, especially as a starter.

    If Kolek is using up all the gas in his arm at such a young age, it's possible his velocity could already start declining by the time he's ready for the majors in (hopefully) three or four years. That would be a bummer.

    It'd be easier to stomach if the righty had stand-out secondary pitches to fall back on, but those are all considered works in progress. His curveball and slider have been inconsistent and he has basically never needed to throw a changeup while blowing away high school hitters.

    An unpolished arsenal is hardly rare for a prep pitcher, but it leads to more uncertainty, and the Twins already took on their fair share of that last year when they selected Stewart. This time around, they might be more apt to go in on a college pitcher like Aaron Nola, who would be slated for a much quicker rise to the majors.

    Speaking of college, Kolek has a commitment to Texas Christian University. He likely expects to go in the Top 3, so if he drops to No. 5, the Twins might have a tough time enticing him to sign. There's no way they're using this pick on him unless they're absolutely certain they can bring him aboard.

    At the end of the day, Kolek's huge potential and historical rarity may overcome any such cautionary signs should he drop all the way to five. However, that scenario seems unlikely anyway, as all four teams in front of Minnesota have shown interest.
    Comments 29 Comments
    1. AM.'s Avatar
      AM. -
      He seems to have the highest upside of anyone in the draft. If he falls to the Twins, I hope they select him, to make it three straight years of snagging "highest upside." That's what you should be doing with these picks.

      If he is gone, my vote, which counts for nothing, is Nola. He has a lower ceiling, but not really that much lower (although a different way of getting there), and to me seems like the risks are considerably lower with Nola.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by AM. View Post
      He seems to have the highest upside of anyone in the draft. If he falls to the Twins, I hope they select him, to make it three straight years of snagging "highest upside." That's what you should be doing with these picks.

      If he is gone, my vote, which counts for nothing, is Nola. He has a lower ceiling, but not really that much lower (although a different way of getting there), and to me seems like the risks are considerably lower with Nola.
      As far as I am concerned, sign this kid up. Would it really be a tragedy if five years from now his velocity dipped from 100 to 97-98? Give me upside here and the chance at a front line starter. #3 starters can be purchased in free agency, front line starters can't. Heck, we signed two #3 starters last off-season without breaking the bank and we had an offer for Garza (2 or 3 starter) that was the highest AAV offer, reportedly.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Fast fastball is not that hard to hit, if it is straight and if he doesn't have a breaking ball. I'd be ok with it, but I'm not sure just throwing hard is enough.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      A fast fastball is hard to hit though. Anything 96+ you can throw straight as an arrow, in the zone, and still miss bats.

      To be able to throw in the zone and still miss bats - that's the holy grail.

      If he falls, we have to take him.
    1. zenser's Avatar
      zenser -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      A fast fastball is hard to hit though. Anything 96+ you can throw straight as an arrow, in the zone, and still miss bats.
      I tend to agree with this with the exception of Kyle Farnsworth. His fastball is a straight as they come and he can get roughed up.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Kolek appears to be a polarizing potential draft pick...

      I think he's an arm surgery waiting to happen, but that kind of velocity is rare. That said, 80% of big league hitters can hit 97 and straight. He will need to add one more pitch to become a potential power closer. He will need to add two more pitches to become a potential dominant starting pitcher.

      I still lean to Nola because I think he has upside too. I think I would take Nola over Gordon though... maybe.
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      If he's there at #5, I can't see the Twins passing on him. I think Beede is the only pitcher that scares me more than Kolek but the Twins won't pass on him. But he won't be there either.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Cool article! Thanks willihammer.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Depends what kind of game you want to play. Today all we really know about Kolek is that he's a big, strong kid that can throw a baseball incredibly fast. Can he learn to control a curve, slider, change, etc? If not, he's a closer you took with the fifth pick in the draft. Can he maintain his incredible velocity without hurting his arm? His mechanics look good, but that kind of speed can wreck an arm in a hurry. If he becomes a mid to low 90's guy with not much for secondary pitches, what a wasted pick.

      Then you've got Aaron Nola, one of those guys with a smooth, easy whip-arm motion that looks almost like skimming stones on a Sunday at the lake. That guy will be in the majors within one year and pitch effectively for a decade, while Tyler Kolek struggles for at least a couple years to develop a slider, curve and change in the minors.

      If both guys are available I take Nola for a simple reason: time. If the Twins want to compete while Mauer is still near his peak, they need their young arms to get to the bigs as a group within a couple years. Nola would definitely be a starter in that frame. Kolek would not. Even if he could become the next CC Sabbathia, right now Tyler Kolek is a thrower. This team can't afford to wait for him to become a pitcher. Nola is a pitcher right now. Take the pitcher!
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      Kolek appears to be a polarizing potential draft pick...

      I think he's an arm surgery waiting to happen, but that kind of velocity is rare. That said, 80% of big league hitters can hit 97 and straight. He will need to add one more pitch to become a potential power closer. He will need to add two more pitches to become a potential dominant starting pitcher.

      I still lean to Nola because I think he has upside too. I think I would take Nola over Gordon though... maybe.
      From what I have read, his curve has nice bite to it but is inconsistent. Very few high schoolers have a good change up, but an average change up is probably not the hardest thing to develop and average would be fine with that kind of fastball velocity.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimbo92107 View Post
      Depends what kind of game you want to play. Today all we really know about Kolek is that he's a big, strong kid that can throw a baseball incredibly fast. Can he learn to control a curve, slider, change, etc? If not, he's a closer you took with the fifth pick in the draft. Can he maintain his incredible velocity without hurting his arm? His mechanics look good, but that kind of speed can wreck an arm in a hurry. If he becomes a mid to low 90's guy with not much for secondary pitches, what a wasted pick.

      Then you've got Aaron Nola, one of those guys with a smooth, easy whip-arm motion that looks almost like skimming stones on a Sunday at the lake. That guy will be in the majors within one year and pitch effectively for a decade, while Tyler Kolek struggles for at least a couple years to develop a slider, curve and change in the minors.

      If both guys are available I take Nola for a simple reason: time. If the Twins want to compete while Mauer is still near his peak, they need their young arms to get to the bigs as a group within a couple years. Nola would definitely be a starter in that frame. Kolek would not. Even if he could become the next CC Sabbathia, right now Tyler Kolek is a thrower. This team can't afford to wait for him to become a pitcher. Nola is a pitcher right now. Take the pitcher!
      It is a supply and demand issue for me. The supply of pitchers with Kolek's upside is very low and too pricey for us. Every off-season you can get #3/#4 starters. I think drafting at #5 based on how quickly a guy will be here (or even using it as a tie breaker) is not the way to do it. Sign another Nolasco, Hughes, or Garza next off-season if we need something next year, plant a seed in the garden that could grow to be a front line starter.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I agree on not being worried about the next year or two....they have Meyer and May. I want the guy that will be great for 3-6 years at some point.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      I'd take Kolek over Nola in a heart beat here. For one, quickness to the majors means nothing when he's blocked by Meyer, May, Darnell, Hughes, Gibson, Gilmartin, and Nolasco. Berrios could be in the way too in a year.

      Second, it's said the fastball has a nice drop to it... It's not a straight fastball.

      Go with high upside. If he flames out, he flames out, but the reward is way too tantalizing.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      KLaw says the White Sox love Kolek.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      I agree on not being worried about the next year or two....they have Meyer and May. I want the guy that will be great for 3-6 years at some point.
      There is the risk and there is what is fun about baseball. Mark Buehrle would contradict that you need to miss bats or strike out people to be successful. Frank Viola would contradict that it is necessary to have a blazing fastball to strike people out. Nolan Ryan would argue that it certainly helps to have a blazing fastball. It is most likely that the #1 in the draft will not become a legendary player. Less likely that the #5 will . If you think Kolek has a 10% chance of being Roger Clemens, a 40% chance of being Joel Zumaya and a 50% chance of being a bust do you take him? Do you take that over Nola if Nola has a 20% chance of being Viola, 20% chance of being Buehrle, 30% chance of being Radke and #30% chance of being a bust? I agree that you do not look short term but risk reward is very real.
    1. laloesch's Avatar
      laloesch -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      KLaw says the White Sox love Kolek.

      I'm not even going to pick up the bong. Kolek is not going to fall to us. Zero chance of it happening.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dantes929 View Post
      There is the risk and there is what is fun about baseball. Mark Buehrle would contradict that you need to miss bats or strike out people to be successful. Frank Viola would contradict that it is necessary to have a blazing fastball to strike people out. Nolan Ryan would argue that it certainly helps to have a blazing fastball. It is most likely that the #1 in the draft will not become a legendary player. Less likely that the #5 will . If you think Kolek has a 10% chance of being Roger Clemens, a 40% chance of being Joel Zumaya and a 50% chance of being a bust do you take him? Do you take that over Nola if Nola has a 20% chance of being Viola, 20% chance of being Buehrle, 30% chance of being Radke and #30% chance of being a bust? I agree that you do not look short term but risk reward is very real.
      These are all good points, but you have to go off of history and the rules, not the exceptions.

      -In general, pitchers that throw with velocity get more K's

      -More K's usually means better overall numbers

      -Pitchers at 18 have a better chance to develop pitches than a pitcher at 21

      Regarding the odds bit, I think you are looking at Nola in a very favorable light and have a pessimistic view of Kolek. The career ERA's of Voila, Mark B., and Radke are 3.73, 3.81, and 4.22. For argument sake, you have a 40% chance at a #2 starter and a 30% chance at a #3 starter. Most reports have Nola's ceiling as a #3 starter. I would also argue something exists between Roger Clemons and Joel Zumaya and certainly, at a minimum a comp could be given to a closer that stays healthy
    1. drivlikejehu's Avatar
      drivlikejehu -
      He'll probably be gone, but I'm not crazy about him. I wouldn't take a pitcher at #5 unless I was confident he could be solid with a low-90s fastball. Too many pitchers throw hard as an amateur but can't hold it over a pro workload, or get hurt, etc.

      Of course, you hope for as much velocity as you can get, but ideally the prospect knows how to pitch and it's not an all-or-nothing situation.
    1. Brandon's Avatar
      Brandon -
      You have a better than average Earned run average with an average pitcher and a lights out bullpen. in 2010 we had 5 deep in the rotation. Liriano was the defacto ace. While he had ace peripherals, He had a 3.62 ERA and I would put that as a number 2 starter. but the others were 3 and 4 starters Pavano, Baker, Slowey, and I forget..... My point is we have Nolasco and Hughes, Gibson and Deduno and Meyer and May. Adding Nola to the mix is not a bad way to have too much pitching.

      I am going to be fine with whoever they pick but a little nervous with Kolek because of past experiences with pitchers like Hunt and there was a high schooler back in 2004 we drafted in the first round throwing 96 that imploded. I also like the idea of Gordon cause if nothing else it will be nice to see one of our top 5 prospects be a SS at some point.
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