Last Tuesday, I ventured to Johnson City, Tennessee to take a look at the Danville Braves against the Cardinals' rookie ball affiliate. Starting on the mound for the D-Braves was Alec Grosser, a right-handed pitcher who was taken by the Braves in the eleventh round of last year's Amateur Draft out of T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia. Although Grosser was ranked by Baseball America as their 159th-best prospect for the 2013 draft, part of the reason that Grosser fell to the Braves was due to speculation that he'd attend college at George Mason University. Nonetheless, the Braves were able to ink Grosser to become a professional with a bonus of $400,000 that was well above slot value. Although the eleventh round of the draft isn't traditionally a place where many legitimate prospects and future Major Leaguers are selected, Grosser was quickly identified as a name to keep an eye on in the Braves' system due to his projectability, raw stuff, and athleticism.
Physically, it's clear that Grosser is not presently at the ideal weight for a starting pitcher of his height, but it's also easy to project more additional mass on his athletic frame, and thus, an enhanced ability to pitch late in games and develop and sustain velocity. Grosser is officially listed at 6'2" and 190 pounds, and this appeared to be a fairly accurate listing, although it wouldn't surprise me if he were a tick taller than his listed height and a tick under his listed weight. Currently, Grosser is wiry and lithe, especially in his upper half, with a frame that could easily accommodate an additional 20-25 pounds of weight. His lower half is a bit more defined, with long legs and the potential for a prototypical starter's lower body with strong legs that create drive to the plate. Grosser also displayed impressive athleticism (he was a two-sport star in high school, also quarterbacking his football team), with quickness off of the mound on fielding tries. Although Grosser doesn't presently have the frame to consistently go deep into outings with effectiveness, it's easy to project him adding the requisite size to develop an adequate frame for starting, and his impressive athleticism will only aid him.
Grosser's delivery and mechanics aren't the most conventional, especially for a starting pitcher, but I don't ultimately believe that it will bar him from starting if his development continues on such a path. From the windup, Grosser begins shaded to the first-base side of the rubber from a wide, athletic base. He takes a subtle rock step with his left foot to initiate his delivery, gently picks up his right foot to turn it sideways, and lifts his left leg and drives to the plate. Grosser doesn't generate much momentum with this delivery, but it is quiet and smooth, and he has solid balance throughout the mechanics of his delivery. Grosser releases the ball from a lower-than-usual arm slot, a shade or two below three-quarters. In my viewing, Grosser did a decent job of repeating his release point despite its unconventional nature. You can get a sense of Grosser's delivery here in a video I took of him facing Cardinals hitter Casey Grayson, which ended with a nice backdoor slider for a strikeout.
From the stretch, Grosser's mechanics are nearly identical to those utilized in his windup. Even with a runner on first base, his leg lift wasn't noticeably abbreviated and generally allowed him to generate the same amount of drive toward the plate that he does from the windup. Now, of course, this does slow down his time to the plate a bit, but Grosser's times from the stretch weren't poor, coming in around 1.30, give or take a few hundredths of a second, on fastballs, and closer to 1.35-1.40 on off-speed and breaking pitches. This is a little slower than an optimal delivery to the plate from the stretch, but it isn't ultimately something that I believe will impede him greatly in controlling the running game. Here's a brief video of Grosser from the stretch.
Overall, I think Grosser will be able to utilize the same framework for his mechanics from the windup and the stretch as a starter in the future, despite their relative unconventionality. There's some deception in his delivery, as he doesn't feature a pronounced arm circle and he partially obscures the ball and his arm behind his body during his delivery. With this, hitters are unable to easily time Grosser and must pick up the ball quickly as it leaves his hand from a relatively funky arm slot. Although he doesn't generate as much momentum as I normally like to see with the first steps of his windup, Grosser's strong legs generate considerable drive to the plate, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him begin to create even more leg drive as he matures physically and grows stronger.
Now, let's take a look at Grosser's pitch repertoire. Grosser's primary pitch is a fastball that presently sits from 91-93 mph. Grosser usually sat more at the upper range of this spectrum, with the largest percentage of his heaters showing up at 93. Interestingly enough, I didn't see a fastball from Grosser that didn't register in this two mile per hour range throughout his outing, and he was able to maintain this velocity through all four innings of work. It wouldn't surprise me to see his fastball tick up a mile per hour or two as he gets older and climbs the ladder; he's almost certainly going to add strength, especially in his lower body. In addition to the velocity, Grosser's fastball is lively, with noticeable arm-side run and a touch of sink that creates boring action in on righties. Grosser shattered a righty's bat in this outing with a pitch that moved from the inside corner of the plate down and in on the batter's hands, inducing an easy groundout. Grosser induced plenty of ground balls in this viewing, noticeably when he was able to work down in the zone. Interestingly, I saw Grosser cut a couple of fastballs in this outing to left-handed hitters, with motion that was less pronounced but to the opposite site of the plate. I'm not sure if this pitch will be part of Grosser's arsenal going forward or if it was even intentional, but it's worth pointing out. The biggest issue that Grosser had with his fastball in this viewing was occasionally leaving it up in the zone, and opposing hitters were able to square up fastballs that were flatter and elevated. Grosser's fastball velocity is above-average, but he doesn't currently have sufficient velocity to consistently get away with these pitches. This issue should improve with development and refinement, but it was a blip on the radar for me.
Grosser's second pitch is his slider, a pitch that generally clocked in around 81-84 miles per hour. Although his command and control of the pitch were sporadic in my viewing, this pitch has the highest ceiling of any in Grosser's repertoire, with sharp, dramatic two-plane break that has the potential to be a true swing-and-miss offering at the Major League level. At the end of the first video embedded above of Grosser from the windup, he froze the hitter with a backdoor slider with movement that was actually less than what I saw on the majority of his sliders on the night, but it was a perfectly-located and executed pitch. The best slider he threw all night was a devastating offering to a right-handed hitter (Cardinals OF Devante Lacy) that began by looking like a fastball and coming towards the hitter before buckling his knees and freezing him as it dove back over the plate and induced a beautiful backwards K. Grosser also induced his share of swings and misses with the pitch, especially to righties ahead in the count as the pitch began by looking like a strike and dove down and away off of the plate. Although this pitch has exciting potential and flashes brilliance presently, he showed some significant inconsistency with the pitch. He was unable to consistently locate the pitch and occasionally threw less deceptive, frisbee-esque sliders that were ineffective. Of course, this problem should lessen as he gains more experience; remember, he's only 19 years old and in Rookie ball. Despite its inconsistency, the slider is a pitch that offers plenty of potential and could play as Grosser's strongest when all's said and done.
Finally, Grosser ocasionally flashed a changeup in his outing for a third pitch. The best changeups that Grosser flashed were actually in between innings in warm-up pitches, as he only threw it a couple of times during the game and didn't locate either changeup well. The changeup's range is in the low-to-mid 80's, and displays some downward motion and arm-side fade. It's tough for me to really analyze this pitch when I didn't see much of it, but he did display the ability to throw some decent-looking changes in warm-ups with good shape and no discernable slowing of the arm action. Clearly, this pitch lags behind his fastball and slider, and needs considerable development and improvement as Grosser advances up the ladder. It could end up being the difference between Grosser being a starting pitcher in the majors or a reliever, so its improvement is something to keep a keen eye on. I'm going to throw a generic-looking grade on the pitch just because it did display good shape and a pitch that looked like it could be effective in warm-ups, but take that with a grain of salt as it was ineffective and poorly-located in the sporadic times it was actually thrown in the game.
To sum things up, with the obvious caveat that Grosser is only 19 years old and quite a ways away from the bigs, I believe that Grosser's potential plus fastball and slider create a solid base for a pitcher who could become a mid-rotation starter with development, especially of his changeup. Grosser's projectability and athleticism make me confident that he will make significant strides in the coming years. Reports on Grosser's makeup are also promising, with a scout remarking that he carries himself well and is a hard-working and mature player. Grosser hasn't been pitching and playing baseball as much as most pitchers in the minors, who concentrate themselves on the sport and put mileage on their arms playing the game year-round, so this should also be a positive for him as he has a fresh arm and has more opportunity to fine-tune his pitching skills as he works at it full-time.
If Grosser's changeup becomes a serviceable offering and the projection and development potential are realized, I could envision him as a fringe number two or a solid number three starter in the Major Leagues with the ability to generate a high number of ground balls and miss bats. Without a workable changeup, however, if he does make it to the bigs, his eventual spot could be in the back end of a bullpen. Of course, there's always the possibility that Grosser never pans out or makes it to the majors; the risk is high, as he's quite young and a ways away from realizing his potential. Nevertheless, Grosser is one of the most intriguing arms in Atlanta's system, and will be a player to watch going forward. He could find himself in Rome by the end of the season, and you may see his name shooting up prospect rankings this offseason.