With their third-round pick, I once again expected the Mets to draft a player from the collegiate ranks, and once again the Mets surprised me. Instead, they selected Max Wotell, a prep southpaw from North Carolina. It’s another very interesting pick in what’s shaping up to be an unconventional and unpredictable draft from Tommy Tanous and company.
Wotell has an ideal frame for a high school pitcher. At 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, Wotell has the sort of athletic but still lanky body scouts love to dream on, a pitcher you can easily imagine gaining muscle as he ages without letting his size become unwieldy. Considering that he currently throws 89-91 and tops out at 93—above average velocity from a lefty—the thought of him adding another couple of miles-per-hour when he fills out must be awfully enticing to the Mets brass. As it is the velocity is nice; with a little bit extra, his fastball could be a true weapon.
Which is a good thing, because I’m not sure what to make of his curveball. On one hand, it’s a perfectly cromulent pitch: he gets tight spin on the ball, and it’ll show some nice break. I don’t think it’s far away from being average, a good enough pitch to consistently get lefties out and maybe keep righties off balance enough. I’m not sure it has the potential to be much more than that unless he makes some significant changes to his delivery. Right now he throws from a low three-quarters arm slot, which can often make it difficult for pitchers to get on top of a curve to provide the pitch with more drop. Instead, he might have better chances at developing a slider, which will have more tooth to it and could be more successful. That said, the curve is a good enough pitch that I’d hate to see him scrap it.
I haven’t seen a changeup from him, but he gets that magical rubber stamp from scouts, who say he shows a good feel for one.
He’s an interesting high school pitcher already, and we haven’t even gotten to what makes him most interesting of all: his mechanics. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a delivery out of the windup quite like Wotell’s. He starts off on the right side of the rubber, then lowers his hands, twists his torso away from the hitter, and then plants his striding foot down, before shifting his back foot to the left side of the rubber. Now he begins the delivery in earnest drifting forward as he raises his hands again for separation, before driving toward the plate. And boy does he drive. He takes a monster step that almost takes a bunny hop for additional power and distance halfway through. He definitely doesn’t cheat himself of any stride, and that’s a great thing, taking some stress off his arm. And he gets some nice torque with his torso. His delivery is a cross-fire delivery; in other words, he does not drive toward the plate in a straight line, requiring him to throw across his body, something that can impact command. He keeps his gloveside firm throughout, perhaps too firm--at a certain point the arm can interfere with his delivery’s normal path, potentially having an impact on command.
With so many moving parts, I do worry about his delivery’s repeatability. I have surprisingly little problem with the delivery itself—the shift across the rubber and the twist in his torso offers plenty of deception to disrupt the hitter’s concentration, and in truth they don’t impact his actual delivery, which technically doesn’t begin until his hands separate. But every extra step is something else for which he needs to nail the timing, and I’m just a little concerned that at some point the extra work will get in the way. To his credit, I don’t see any evidence of a struggle to maintain tempo. But should something go awry in the future, a chance might be necessary. I am extremely interested to see how his command holds up as a professional.
As for the arm action itself, I’m not crazy about it. Love the high hand separation, but the ball’s path out of the glove is not direct; instead it circles way down low to generate power before setting into a definite arm grab. In other words, he’s tensing his elbow’s tendons too early, and this often precedes Tommy John surgery. Steven Matz, for instance, had an obvious one in his delivery when he was drafted. From there, he pronates his elbow too late, stressing his shoulder. The arm works quickly but not without effort, and I’d call him a moderate-to-high injury risk.
As for a projection, right now I see more of a reliever, due to my concerns about his breaking ball and the way his arm works. But the build, the arm strength, and the possibility of a four-pitch mix means the Mets should and will give him every chance to start, and if they can clean up the arm action, calm down the delivery, if necessary, and improve his offspeed pitches, he could be a number three starter, maybe even better depending on how he develops. He’s a bit of a wild card.
I'm not sure what his signability is. He has a commitment to Arizona, and I really don't have a clue how strong that commitment is. After looking over who they've drafted so far, I'd expect the Mets to offer slot, and maybe a hair beyond if necessary, but I wouldn't expect much more than that.