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Mechanics Of Evaluation Series: Age, Part One & Age, Part Two
Be sure to check out part one of this article series.
Age Is Important, Except When It's Not
Along with college bat Colin Moran (20.68 draft day age), two high school players, righty Phil Bickford (17.91) and infielder Tucker Neuhaus (17.97), are textbook examples of very young players becoming big draft prospects late in the process. Bickford was the classic projection play as a lanky 6’4 pitcher with a clean arm, good delivery and average stuff that should get better. Mid-way through the spring, Bickford started hitting 98 mph pretty regularly at the same age as some of his peers were doing this, but fellow elite arm Kohl Stewart (18.66 draft day age) just did it six months earlier.
Neuhaus was also a solid player that took a step forward late in showcase season in an event in October, then another step forward early in the spring (February) before injuries kept him off the field until just before the draft. Many clubs complained they hadn’t seen enough of Neuhaus before the draft but the fact that he was making big jumps in ability and physicality quickly after turning 17, then again a few months later said a lot about what his career trajectory could be, once healthy. Consider what we know about a Neuhaus peer like Josh Hart (18.68), who made his jump forward around the same time (October), but at a more advanced age.
Two more players that personify exceptions to bluntly using draft day age are Hunter Harvey and Braden Shipley.
You can see Harvey (18.49) is young in the face, relatively undeveloped physically and somewhat raw in his delivery but has the elements scouts look for like clean arm action, ability to spin a breaking ball and athleticism. The principles of Jazayerli’s study suggest he’s less likely to reach his potential than a very similar but much younger player like Bickford (17.91). That may or may not end up being true, but Harvey shows some indications that he may be a player that develops a little later. In addition, Harvey didn’t go on the showcase circuit, so he has limited innings on his arm, suggesting better future health and dismissing some of his rawness.
Shipley (21.29) is a normally-aged college player but is simply another example of an exception more than many top high school players. Shipley was recently converted from infield to the mound, so while his age can still track to his physical development, there’s reason to round up in projections of his ability as he’s brand new to a totally new position, has the raw elements you're looking for and has made a lot of progress given his time.
Using this more granular view of talent with an example I'll delve into more detail about in the next part of the series, Tyler Danish, makes him look better as well. Danish was great and nearly identical last October (my first time seeing him) to how he was this spring. At that juncture, Danish was just turning 18 and was actually a little younger than average. In this situation, Danish was advanced for his age and simply was forced to wait until the draft happened. It’s worth noting Danish improved some in the interim, but he was already physically maxed-out, so his improvement was limited. He lost some relative value as many of his peers with more physical projection, like Neuhaus and Bickford, took big steps forward during that time.
It's worth quoting myself from part one of this article to hammer home this point:
"If you look at rankings of top high school underclassmen, you’ll rarely see very tall players in the top couple spots as arm speed, body control, velocity and athleticism often come to smaller, more compact bodies more quickly, then by age 18 or 21, those “famous” players fall back into the pack."
Combining this fact with age, relative experience and some other factors gives you a better idea of the factors on an individual that age is helping describe on a large scale.
In the end, it’s just odds. Guys will develop when they develop and, like breaking down mechanics and other injury indicators for pitchers, it doesn’t apply perfectly to every player, just like every rule has exceptions. Scouts’ job is to figure out who will be the guys that take big steps forward after the draft, but forecasting that is similarly identifying characteristics and playing the odds, with plenty of exceptions to rules. The point is that Jazayerli’s study points out a phenomenon that scouts are, as a group, now finally giving more attention and taking the opportunity to increase their odds of picking the best player.