When the Astros first came out on the subject in February, they indicated that there were about 8 names being considered for the 1-1 this year. And in an interesting throw-away comment, they said that a High School pitcher was not on the list. At the time, this did not surprise anyone, as High School pitchers are the longest of longshots to make and dominate in the majors.
But, it does happen. (See Clayton Kershaw).
As our own Chris Perry wrote in an investigative article on this subject, highly drafted High School pitchers over the past 15 or so years are more likely to bust, and never see the light of day, than their college equivalents. There is one caveat to that conclusion though. Highly drafted high school pitchers are also more likely by a small percentage, to make an All-Star team.
None of this is counterintuitive. Because they have so much further to go to reach the show, more High school pitchers drop off along the way, either through injury, immaturity, or because they never reach their full "potential". It is extremely difficult to project 18 year olds into 24 year old bodies, taking into consideration years of minor league coaching vs. college coaching, etc.
In February of this year, the Astros seemingly benign throw-away comment about HS pitchers not being in the mix for 1-1 was not surprising then, or controversial. There was presumably no Lucas Giolito in this draft, a HS phenom with a "can't-miss" arm. But, right in their own backyard, a groundswell was beginning to take place.
Kohl Stewart was the quarterback for the St. Pius X (Houston) football team. In their last game of the year, against St. Thomas, Stewart suffered an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder when he was smashed to the ground. The injury was a compression, "jam" type injury and not believed to be serious. Nevertheless, it delayed his season on the mound as the ace of St. Pius' defending TAPPS State Championship baseball team.
Kohl rehabbed his shoulder and finally took the mound in late February. And the scouts were there. All of them. At least 25 at his first start., and a similar number or more at every subsequent start. Cleveland, The Cubs and Toronto seemed particularly interested. Kohl was throwing 96 from the first time out. His starts began with pitch limits, 40 initially, each start stretching him out further and further. Throughout the entire spring, Stewart just mowed down the competition. He took St. Pius back to the championship game by winning the TAPPS State semifinal over St. Thomas (revenge is always sweet!), posting the following numbers for the season:
8 Starts, Record of 5-1
40 Innings pitched
BA against: .099
Of the 131 Ab's against him, he gave up 13 hits, 12 of which were singles. And 1 double. The only game he lost was a 1-0 game to Concordia Lutheran of Tomball (featuring 2 major leaguers' sons playing for them) on an unearned run. The only earned run he gave up was to St. Thomas in the State semis, in the 6th, with a 3-0 lead. In his last 2 starts, both in the playoffs, he threw an 111 pitch complete game shutout, and a 120 pitch complete game 5-1 win over the Biggios, his highest pitch count of the year. His arm strength was where it had always been, touching 96 regularly with the 4 seam, plus a high 80's devastating slider. Both pitches are plus pitches by all accounts. Kohl also throws the occasional overhand curve and has a very nice changeup, although he hasn't had the need to throw the last 2 pitches that often. The fastball slider combination is more than most high school hitters can handle. In 2 starts against Cavan Biggio, Biggio went 1-6, a single, with 2 walks. I asked a scout what he was throwing in the 7th inning of the Thomas game, his fastball was still 90 after 110+ pitches.
Keith Law was the first analyst/prospect hound to put Kohl Stewart in the top 10 for this years draft, and he was ranked as the top High School pitching prospect in the country. As we have gotten closer to draft day, his stock continues to climb. On May 9th, Jim Callas at Baseball America had him going 4th to the Twins. In an article Callis wrote on April 29th for Baseball America, he was asked to rank the top 10 high school pitchers of the last 4 years, based on where he had them at the time of their drafts. He ranked them as follows:
1. Dylan Bundy
2. Jameson Tallion
3. Archie Bradley
4. Max Fried
5. Lucas Giolito
6. Kohl Stewart
7. Lance McCullers
8. Taylor Guerriri
9. Karsten Whitson
10. Trey Ball
On May 14, the local ABC affiliate in Houston ran a story on Stewart in which a 20 year MLB area scout with front office experience (unnamed) said the following about Kohl Stewart:
1. Could move to the Majors quickly
2. "Better than any college pitcher available in this year's draft"
3. Plus, plus stuff.
When I mentioned these statements in an email exchange with other, much more knowledgeable TCB writers (Anthony Boyer, Subber and CRPerry among them), the general response was that MLB area scouts tend to be effusive in their statements about kids they scout, as they are bonused based upon teams signing their talent. (Clint Eastwood take note: Phenom pitchers don't just show up outside your hotel room throwing 96, waiting to be taken directly from throwing peanuts at minor league games, to throwing at Atlanta's Fulton County stadium with all the owners watching!) And my esteemed colleagues points are well taken, and bear paying attention to. But, WHAT IF THOSE (the scouts) STATEMENTS ARE TRUE?
In the interest of full disclosure, I must say this. I have watched every start Kohl Stewart has made since he was throwing 93 on a San Diego scouts' gun when he was a 16 year old sophomore, through now. I have met the young man, and know his parents. When Kohl was coming back off of rehab, his father and I both noted that Kohl STILL gets most of his velocity with his magical arm, and still doesn't use his tree-trunk like thighs to full advantage . Mark Stewart opined that he may still have another 3 mph to be gained from more pushoff. Kohl is a hyper-competitive young man, interested in winning, and in getting the most out of himself and his teammates. I know this because my son was the #2 starter in the St. Pius X rotation this past year.
Much has been made of the decision that awaits Kohl Stewart. He has accepted a scholarship to Texas A&M where he will be allowed to both play quarterback and pitch, as long as he is effective at both. Kevin Sumlin said this year on National Signing Day on the inking of Stewart: "The young man has an important decision ahead of him, and I have told him his scholarship will always be here for him, if he chooses to pursue his other dream of becoming a major league pitcher, he can always come back." Stewart's parents are both Aggies, as is an older brother. Kohl has many times talked about how he has always dreamed of being an Aggie. The decision he faces is difficult, and he said as recently as this past week that he has not yet decided what he is going to do. I can see him going pro, and if something doesn't work out, doing a Brandon Weeden. I can also see him going to A&M. If he is taken in the first 5 picks as seems more and more likely, how can he turn down a 5 million dollar signing bonus? More importantly, what if he is taken FIRST in the draft, by his hometown team? Luhnow has said it won't happen, but that was 4 months ago. Brian Smith at the Chronicle has said the decision is down to 4 or 5 players, and Stewart is not on the list. But should he be?
So, loyal TCB readers, my question, as we approach the MLB Rule 4 draft on Thursday night, is this:
WHY NOT KOHL STEWART?