Since 2010 the Minnesota Twins starting rotation has averaged a velocity of 90 miles per hour, which has been the lowest velocity in the American League. In that time, they have struck out the fewest amount of hitters (14.8%), had the third-highest ERA (4.76) and second-highest contact rate (83.6%).
In efforts to improve in these areas the Twins selected Kohl Stewart, a fireballer out of a Houston prep school whose skill set are projected to eventually help the rotation out of the lowly doldrums.
Armed with a mid-90s fastball that touches 97, Stewart, a Texas A&M recruited quarterback, has mowed down Texas hitters for several years and has jumped up on scouts’ radars as of late. With a decent frame to grow into, the 18-year-old right-hander grabbed the Twins’ attention enough to make him their fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft.
Stewart knows that his mid-90s fastball is his centerpiece in his burgeoning repertoire. All pitchers know that they need to key everything off of their fastballs. Some have better fastballs than others. Stewart, however, is not the others. His fastball reaches 97 miles per hour – a velocity only a few arms are ever blessed with reaching. For the Twins, that’s just Glen Perkins who is capable of reaching that speed.
“There are days where you’re not going to have that pitch, but my fastball is a very comfortable pitch for me,” Stewart told reporters on his post-draft conference call. “I like to use both sides of the plate and work off my fastball. My slider is probably my second best pitch, with my curveball and changeup. I’m really comfortable throwing any pitch at any count.”
Of course, velocity means nothing without movement or location but Stewart is working on that.
Although Stewart says he feels comfortable throwing his fastball regularly and in any situation, it is the success of his secondary pitches that will help him become a starter in the major leagues. After all, two-pitch pitchers wind up in the bullpen – not the intended destination of a fourth overall selection. A starter needs three or more offerings in order to thrive. Currently, Stewart is a two pitch pitcher. Stewart has his plus-plus fastball and his plus-slider but he has also worked on developing a slower curve as well as a change-up. He has also tinkered with a sinker, something that keeps right-handers off-balanced.
“My slider is more effective right now, just ‘cause I started throwing my curveball just this year. My changeup has definitely come around. I’ve thrown that a lot more in the last year. And, I even have a little bit of a sinker just to give me something else to go hard in on righties. The sinker has kind of come to fruition, just in the last couple of weeks -- just throwing bullpens and messing around with some things.”
Overall, Stewart has clean and effortless mechanics. He does not possess any herky-jerky movement or any red flags like an inverted W arm action or any wasted lower-half motion that would put added stress on his suddenly valuable appendage. The mechanics, velocity and make-up are things that can be built upon.
Stewart, however, admits that there is plenty he needs to work on in order to become a successful major league starter. His slider, for one, is an area of his game he would like to improve upon. Scouts have called it a “wipeout” slider – one that has a ton of glove-side run for him – but ultimately does not look that appetizing to right-handed hitters as it disappears over the left-handed batter’s box.
“There’s a lot of things I need to develop. I need to work on throwing my slider inside to righties. Sometimes I let it get away, throw it too hard and it will go away to righties.”
No doubt that Stewart has a ton of promise but the fact he is a high school arm does mean he will produce the kind of return on investment like the collegiate counterparts like Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray do. A 2010 study in the Wall Street Journal found that high school pitchers taken in the first round tended to command more of a bonus than the college brethren, who were also able to realize their potential much swiftly.
That doesn’t mean Stewart has anymore likelihood of becoming Todd Van Poppel or Dylan Bundy as it does anymore than a found quarter on the ground coming up heads over tails. Twins General Manager Terry Ryan made it clear what they are looking for when they make a selection, and it has little to do with the current status or statistics. The scouts are looking for the skills, tools, body, competitiveness and attention that will project well for the draftee when they are 22 or 23 years old. The scouting department loves Stewart’s makeup and his athleticism. Those two qualities mean more long-term than his current talent alone.
The Twins are investing in the long-term future with their number one pick. Stewart can potentially give them a front of the rotation arm that can miss bats which has been desperately needed in Minnesota for a long time.