Turning pro straight out of New Castle (Indiana) High School, forgoing a scholarship with the University of Texas, Ball has made prominent lists of future prospects such as MLB.com’s top 100 and top 10 left-handed pitchers along with Baseball Prospectus top 10 Red Sox prospects.
Why did the Red Sox pay him $2.75 million to sign and pitch?
Scouts say Ball is a three-pitch pitcher, featuring a fastball, curve and changeup. His fastball is his best pitch, scoring a 60 on the 20-80 point scale. That figures to be above average. Speed wise, he is hitting the low-90s with it right now.
His curve and change grade slightly lower than his fastball, but are still considered slightly above average at 55. As he readies for his first full professional minor league season, Ball will need to learn how to mix those pitches and keep the ball in the strike zone.
Boston could have selected Ball as an outfielder, but his pitching numbers for New Castle are the ones that catch your eye. In his senior year, Ball pitched in 10 games, won all six decisions, struck out a whopping 93 in 46 innings and had an ERA of 0.76.
If you do the math, that is 18.2 strikeouts-per-nine! The only possible downside you can glean from his high school numbers are the 13 walks in those 46 innings, a number that translates to 2.54 walks-per-nine. Scouts were concerned enough with his walk rate to give him a 55 score in the control department.
His write-up at Sox Prospects describes his motion as smooth and low-effort. As with all young pitchers, they also tell us that he did not start throwing his curve until his junior year of high school.
Ball did start a handful of games with the Red Sox team in the Gulf Coast League, considered a rookie league. Pitching seven innings over five starts, Ball found his stuff to be hittable for the first time of his career.
GCL hitters worked 10 hits and six walks in those seven frames, leading to a loss and an ERA of 6.43. Ball, however, did fan five.
Projected to be with the Greenville Drive of the advanced Single-A South Atlantic League before the year is over, Ball is going to have to learn to pitch to hitters that can actually hit at the level he can pitch.
The transition from high school to the real world is dramatic enough without throwing millions of dollars and the expectations of being a top prospect for a big club with it. As he starts his journey in earnest, keep an eye on those walk and hit numbers. Ball controlled his games in high school by keeping hitters from connecting, something that is not happening to that extent ever again.
How he handles that transition to getting balls hit off him will shape just how high his ceiling really is.
*All statistics courtesy of Sox Prospects.
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