Two-year colleges are a unique opportunity for many students in this country. Some use it to lessen the financial burden of higher education. Others, like myself, need a fresh start after giving the four-year experience a go. For baseball players, it is a chance to improve deficiencies and play in front of Major League scouts. The three players profiled below had similar experiences over the last few years. After scarce playing time their freshman seasons at D-1 schools, they opted to transfer to community colleges where they could get more consistent reps and then hopefully sign with another D-1 school or get drafted higher than they were out of high school. This is the case for a trio of pitchers expected to go high in the 2017 draft: Brendon Little, Daniel Tillo and Nate Pearson.
Little is a local kid from Malvern, PA. After his strong high school campaign at Conestoga where he was one of the top pitchers in the state, he was drafted by the Giants in the 35th round. Because of the draft position and signability, he honored his commitment to North Carolina. After pitching only four innings his freshman year, he transferred to the State College of Florida, where he and his blazing fastball got the attention of many scouts. .
Tillo has a similar story to Little. During his senior year he decided to pursue baseball at the University of Kentucky over joining the Twins organization (39th Round, 2015) or being a two-sport athlete (was Mr. Basketball in Iowa his senior year) at another university. Unfortunately, he only pitched 7 1/3 innings last season. Like Little, he realized he needed more reps and wanted the option to enter the draft in 2017, so he went back home and enrolled at Iowa Western Community College.
Pearson, surprisingly was never drafted and ended up going to Florida International, where he would throw just over 30 innings last spring. Now, at the College of Central Florida, he has become one of the more unique names in this draft class because of his size and plus heater.
None of these players are expected to be first round picks due to their lack of competition and inconsistencies on the mound, but their physical traits (Little & Tillo southpaws and Pearson’s height) and plus velocity definitely boost their stocks. All three are expected to be drafted in the first five rounds, and the Phillies should consider one of the three to put a potential lethal arm in their system. If none of them can make it as a starter, they could all fast track to the big leagues as fireball arms in the bullpen.
Brendon Little, LHP, State College of Florida (JC) Manatee-Sarasota
6’2″, 215 lb
Previously Drafted: San Francisco Giants (2015, 36th rd)
Rankings (as of 5/21/17): MLB.com #35, Baseball America #34, ESPN #17
Lowered leg kick from high school, seems to have more control of body. Fastball sits comfortably 92-94 mph, has topped out at 97; above average life, gets some good cut on his two-seam at times. Overhand slot mechanics makes 12-6 power curveball a potential plus pitch; upper 70s, low 80s range velocity.
Follow through finishes a bit more upright than he should; leads to loss of command and potential future injuries. Arm angle tends to drop every now and then. Fastball at times seems like it is a bit flat. Does not have consistent feel for his changeup.
What the Numbers Say
2016 (Freshman) (North Carolina): 4 G, 4 IP, 4 H, 3 R (3 ER), 2 BB, 2 K
2017 (Sophomore) (State College of Florida): 15 G (all starts), 85.1 IP, 5-3, 2.53 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 133 K, 33 BB, 67 H, 3 HR allowed, .213 opp AVG, 8 WP, 14.03 K/9, 3.48 BB/9
Little has a very good two-pitch swing and miss combination between his fastball and curveball. The inconsistencies in his delivery at times, the lack of reliable third pitch and the loss of command of his pitches mean he will have a long ways to go if he wants to be a major league starter. Any team would have to tweak his follow through. If he can do that and develop an average changeup that he can go to on occasion to keep hitters off balance more, he has the makings of a back-end starter. With all these issues to fix, he will more than likely end up being a power reliever.
Daniel Tillo, LHP, Iowa Western CC
6’5″, 215 lb
Previously Drafted: Minnesota Twins (2015 39th rd)
Rankings: MLB.com #55, Baseball America #77
Throws from a 3/4 angle, gets good downward plane on his fastball; sits 90-95 mph, topped out at 97. Two-seam had a lot of good cutting movement. Low to mid 80s slider has 1 to 7 hook, tight spin, potential swing and miss pitch. Good athleticism, repeats delivery well.
Control and command of his fastball, lot of the pitches he was missing were in the dirt or run towards his arm-side. Has not developed a consistent use of his changeup, rarely used. Arm slot does get low. Had minor lat injury in April.
What the Numbers Say
2016 (Freshman) (Kentucky): 9 G, 7.1 IP, 13 H, 8 R (6 ER), 7 K, 5 BB
2017 (Sophomore) (Iowa Western CC): 9 G (5 GS), 44 IP, 5-1, 2.86 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 57 K, 15 BB, 32 H, 1 HR allowed, .196 opp AVG, 3 WP, 11.66 K/9, 3.06 BB/9
Tillo’s movement on his two-seam fastball could make him an effective ground ball pitcher. However, the potential of his velocity combined with the action of his slider suggests he will be more of a strikeout pitcher. His slider lacks consistency and he does not use his change-up enough to be a back-end starter in the pros. Seemed to struggle with executing his fastball to right-handed hitters, on track to be a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen. Has a chance to be more than that if he can command both sides of the plate with his fastball. Being a two-sport star in high school, Tillo’s athleticism will give him an advantage to work through the adjustments necessary to be successful.
Nate Pearson, RHP, College of Central Florida (JC)
6’6″, 245 lb
Previously Drafted: No
Rankings: MLB.com #38, Baseball America #30, ESPN.com #36
Gets good downward plane from his size and arm slot. Gives his fastball lot of late run and sink; ranges 93-97 consistently, had top velocity of 100 during fall session. Commands the bottom half of the zone well. Gets same positive arm action from his change-up as his fastball; change-up has good late fade. Slider has a lot of spin on a 10 to 4 plane, has makings of a plus pitch.
Landing foot location tends to be inconsistent and open. Curveball is a bit loopy tends to backup at times, maybe his worst pitch. Slider still inconsistent in location and gets slurvy at times. Control lacks on both of his breaking balls and to a lesser extent on his fastball and change-up.
What the Numbers Say
2016 (Freshman) (Florida International): 19 G (1 GS), 33.1 IP, 1-1, 2.77 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 33 K, 12 BB, 35 H
2017 (Sophomore) (JC of Central Florida): 13 G (all starts), 81 IP, 5-2, 1.56 ERA, 118 K, 23 BB, 60 H, 2 HR allowed, .194 opp AVG, 11 WP, 13.11 K/9, 2.55 BB/9
Pearson’s change-up has gotten better during the spring to the point where he now has at least a two-pitch arsenal that can be lethal out of a major league bullpen, perhaps even the makings of being a closer as he will get generate plenty of weak contact from his sinking fastball. The key for him to being a big league starter will be to establish his slider, which already shows the makings of a plus pitch. Even if that pitch becomes average, as long as he has command of his fastball and change-up, his athleticism and size should allow him to peak as a back-end starter.