(Photo via the UCSB Baseball page, seen here, @UCSDbsb)
Although late draft picks are risky long-term bets, some players pan out for teams. Two Division II players from USCD signed with teams in 2017. The Rays selected UCSD pitcher Kyle Goodbrand in the 36th round of the draft, and the Mariners signed outfielder Jack Larsen to a free agent contract. What do both players offer?
After pitching 14 2/3 innings as a freshman at Saddlebrook College, Goodbrand threw 50 innings with Irvine Valley College during his sophomore year. Unfortunately, his velocity topped out between 90-91 mph, and he carried a 5.76 ERA with 37 strikeouts during those innings. What changed during his junior year at UCSD?
Justin James, an assistant coach at UCSD, wrote an article illustrating the positive influence of the Driveline program, which focused on increasing stamina and improving health. The program boosted the max velocity of UCSD’s pitching staff. Goodbrand’s velocity improved to 92-96 mph with his fastball during games, which helped the righthander post a 2.32 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 72 innings. Goodbrand’s 1.03 WHIP in 2017 was good enough to place third in his league and 30th in Division II. During the CCAA Tournament, Goodbrand went 3-0 with one save, a 1.08 ERA, and 18 strikeouts in 25 innings, which led to a CCAA All-Tournament Team appearance.
While he can struggle with locating sliders and changeups, keeping the velocity increase can help his cause in the minor leagues. During 26 2/3 innings pitched with Princeton (Rookie Ball), Goodbrand increased his strikeout-to-walk ratio (36 strikeouts to six walks) out of the bullpen. Not every aspect of his future is bright, as an 85% left-on-base percentage and a fly ball tilt (30 fly balls to 16 groundballs) contributed to a 4.27 FIP (3.04 ERA) in 2017.
Jack Larsen hits from the left side, and he uses a discerning eye at the plate. Even as a freshman at UCSD, the outfielder walked 26 times and struck out 28 times in 156 at-bats. As a senior, he earned more walks (56) than strikeouts (50) in 229 at-bats, which contributed to an impressive .497 on-base percentage. He continued the momentum and patience in rookie ball, as he drew 33 walks to 33 strikeouts for a .472 on-base percentage in 109 at-bats for the AZL Mariners.
Luckily, he also added some power to his game as he matured. Although he only hit one home run and slugged .321 as a freshman, his power ability could have been hampered by a wrist injury during his senior year of high school. As a senior at USCD, his home run total grew to 15 and his .668 slugging percentage (1.165 OPS) more than doubled his slugging percentage from his freshman year. During the CCAA Tournament, the left-handed batter hit five home runs in five consecutive games. In his short stint in rookie ball, he legged out three triples and hit three home runs to post a .541 slugging percentage. Although his OPS slipped (1.013) some from USCD, Larsen’s ability to find extra bases in the minor leagues illustrates that his numbers weren’t just propped up by Division II pitching.
Monitor if the Rays system keeps Kyle Goodbrand in the bullpen in 2018. Keeping his elevated strikeout-to-walk ratio from 2017 will help his chances for another promotion. Continue to track his fastball velocity to see if he can hold the gains from UCSD, which should lead to swings and misses. Improving his control on breaking balls will also help him hold his strikeout-to-walk gains, and monitor his fly ball to groundball ratio in 2018.
With more hitting success and patience, Jack Larsen could receive a promotion sometime in 2018. His ability to draw walks bodes well for more at-bats, and earning more extra-base hits will keep his OPS elevated while allowing him to hit in the middle of a minor-league lineup. He hit in the top three of the order for 23 games started in 2017 (batted third 14 times), and his plate discipline warrants RBI opportunities. Continuing to hit line drives (21%) should help when his .425 BABIP normalizes.