DELAND, FL- Kyle Heckathorn entered the spring as a projected 1st-round pick and is currently ranked #33 overall for the 2009 Draft. The 6-6, 240 righty came into Deland Friday night with a matchup against Stetson ace Robby Donovan (ranked #231).
This was my first ever look at Heckathorn and I was dying to see him pitch. Unfortunately, he didn’t have his sharpest stuff. In six innings of work against Stetson, Heckathorn had a line of 6H, 4ER, 3K, and 2BB.
He began the game throwing 90-93 MPH in the first inning with a fair amount of run and sink on his fastball. He snapped off a couple of sharp sliders early (84-86 MPH), but soon after they began to hang. Heckathorn’s fastball was also up in the zone for much of his start and the velocity dropped down to the average range (88-92 MPH).
Most of the scouts in attendance were Florida area scouts who had never seen him before. There were also many crosscheckers in the same boat. From this outing alone, no one would have put him in the first round, but there is certainly a lot to be intrigued by.
First of all, the body. Heckathorn is large-framed with very strong legs. His upper-half is rangy and strong, but not overly thick. Heckathorn’s hands are huge, it looks like he’s holding a pill in his hand.
There’s obvious arm-strength and Georgia area scouts have seen him pumping mid- and high-90s in the past. At our 2007 Perfect Game 18u National Championship, Heckathorn threw 92-94 MPH and topped out at 96.
Heckathorn is not a quick arm guy, he’s more of a strength and leverage thrower. There’s actually a good bit if stiffness in his arm-action and his delivery. Heckathorn rocks back a little bit, then hesitates and drifts before coming forward. Because he’s so big and strong, I don’t think there’s much strain on his arm, but it’s not what I’d describe as smooth arm-action. It actually works like a bow-and-arrow the way he reaches back. Heckathorn releases at a high three-quarter slot and finishes online to the plate.
It seemed that the Stetson hitters were picking him up early and I could understand it watching his bow-and-arrow separation. Righthanded hitters in particular can see the ball out of his hand and it can make a 95 MPH fastball look like 90.
Heckathorn’s fastball command depended on where he was trying to throw it. He had very good command of the arm-side corner. But he was unable to throw low strikes with his fastball, which will be crucial to one day pitching in the big leagues.
My gut response upon this outing was that Heckathorn’s brightest future would be as a short reliever. If he can pump mid-high-90s for an inning and show the slider he flashed in the first inning, he’ll be very tough against major league hitters. He seems to get exposed when he has to locate and keep throwing breaking balls.
It’s possible he comes out later in the year and shows he’s a different animal, but that was my impression on Friday.
I should also note that he appeared to have developed a blister. In the bullpen, he was rubbing and pealing his throwing hand. I do wonder if that’s why his slider started hanging.
Heckathorn wasn’t drafted out of Ringgold High School (Ga.) in 2006. He figures to go early this year and I see the second round as a good possibility.
STETSON ACE RIGHTY ROBBY DONOVAN
It was a good pitching matchup to show up for. Stetson ended up winning 7-2 with Donovan getting the win and Heckathorn the loss.
Donovan has a much different body and delivery than Heckathorn. Though he’s almost as tall at 6-5, his frame is much more projectable at a mere 210. Donavan has some width to his shoulders and long limbs. He’s more solid in the core area and I project him another 15-20 pounds in his upper and lower halves by age 24.
Donovan came out early throwing 90-91 MPH with two and four-seam life on his fastball. With a clean arm-action and an athletic delivery, everything was smooth. His best pitch was his change-up which varied from 73-79 MPH. Donovan maintained fastball arm-speed and the ball just dropped. I graded his change as a future 60 pitch. At times, it was already plus, but just needs consistency.
Donovan didn’t look nearly as sharp with his breaking pitches. He threw only a handful of sliders (80 MPH) and curveballs (71-73 MPH). I thought the short-breaking slider had a chance to work as a third pitch in the big leagues, grading it in the future to a 40.
Where Donovan shined was in the poise and pitchability departments. He worked hitters well and located his fastball. He also got out of a bases loaded, no outs jam in the sixth. His body language was strong and determined as Donovan made big pitches in the clutch.
I do believe he has the capacity to get better, with his body-type and loose arm. Right now, his change is a solid-average pitch, his fastball a tad below average (was more 86-88 MPH as the game went on), and his breaking ball well below. But scouts have to be impressed with how he uses what he has. If and when the velocity and breaking pitch mature, Donovan could become a solid big league longman or back-end starter.
Donovan’s line for the day was 6.1IP, 4H, 1ER, 5K, and 4BB in getting his third win against one loss.
Donovan was selected in the 35th round out of Royal Palm Beach High School (Fl.) back in 2006. He’d pitched at several Perfect Game events, topping out at 86 MPH in the October, 2005 World Championship in Jupiter, Florida. Donovan has since gained about 15 lbs and the added strength surely contributes to his improved velocity.
I believe he has a chance to go inside the first five rounds in 2009.
Check back as I return to Stetson on Saturday to watch Kennesaw State’s “other” phenom righty, Chad Jenkins. We have Jenkins ranked #100 overall for the entire draft.