Starters will always have more value than relievers, especially in the MLB Draft. Starters can always move to the bullpen later on–when you begin as a reliever, you have no margin for error. However, especially once we get to the fourth round of the draft and beyond, the best college arms available will basically all end up in relief. It is always better to have a late-inning reliever than to have a number five starter type–simply having the ability to start doesn’t mean anything. Brandon Koch may never start a minor league game, and that is absolutely fine.
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Koch, a right-hander listed at 6’1″, 205 by MLB.com, struck out an insane 15.9 batters per 9 innings in his junior year at Dallas Baptist, and he has the stuff to keep missing bats like crazy. His fastball reaches 96 MPH, and unlike Jake McGee, he has a blistering second pitch, a late-breaking slider that reaches 90 MPH. You look at that stuff, and you see a pitcher that will not see much time at all in the minor leagues–could the Rays call him up if they are contending in September? Since we are talking about the fourth round, however, Koch doesn’t come without concerns.
Brandon Koch’s strikeouts were accompanied by a 5.0 BB/9, and he was never below 4.7 per 9 in his three college seasons. That is something that you can certainly live with when he is striking out so many batters, but he needs to prove that he can continue that at higher levels. Even when he is around the zone, Koch’s slider is really only a chase pitch–the next step in his development is learning to spot it for strikes. Koch overused his slider in college, not trusting his fastball, which can occasionally straighten out and be hittable.
Koch may not move through the minors as fast as you would expect from a reliever with his stuff. He will likely start at High-A, and he may not make it to the major leagues until the end of 2017. At the end of the day, though, he is a project worth undertaking. We know how much the Tampa Bay Rays love reclamation projects like Joaquin Benoit and Fernando Rodney, but Brandon Koch is something different. The process will be longer, but the potential reward is six and a half years of a dominant major league reliever, not just one or two.
Koch is finally the Rays’ first pitcher of the draft, and he certainly isn’t the advanced college starter that most people expected to fit that description. Instead, Koch gives the Rays an electric arm who won’t deter them from signing any additional high-upside players that they target in the coming rounds. The hope is that he will be one of their primary late-inning weapons before long, and they are confident that he can become a major league contributor of some kind.
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