Pomeranz bolsters Draft stock in strong start
Ole Miss lefty may go off the board within top five picks
HOOVER, Ala. -- When Drew Pomeranz took the mound on Wednesday afternoon, there was more at stake than just wanting Ole Miss to do well in the SEC tournament.
The junior left-hander, just named SEC Pitcher of the Year, wasn't going to publicly talk about anything but his team and postseason play. Mississippi made it to Saturday in the tournament, and while it likely won't host a regional, it will play in one somewhere in the days just prior to the First-Year Player Draft on June 7.
Pomeranz kicking things off with a strong start -- seven shutout innings with just one walk and seven strikeouts -- certainly didn't hurt in that regard, but for the scores of scouts, scouting directors and general managers in attendance, they weren't concerned with that at all. They all wanted to see which Pomeranz would show up.
Would it be the dominant southpaw who looked to be cementing himself among the top four picks in the Draft over the first half of the college season? That Pomeranz had stuff plus pitchability all in a big, physical frame.
Or would it be the one who over his previous four or five starts had been ordinary, at best, at times, one who lost command and a few mph off his fastball? That Pomeranz had reports of a strained pectoral muscle, as well as questions about the loss in velocity, dogging him, leading some to wonder if he might tumble down Draft boards.
It was the former Pomeranz who was in attendance on Wednesday, resoundingly stopping any talk of a first-round slide, one that some thought was foolish to discuss based on his strong track record of success. At the same time, he answered questions about his health and his arm strength.
"It's not more of a pec thing; it's more my rhythm and timing have gotten a little off from having to slow down a little bit," Pomeranz explained before his start against South Carolina. "My rhythm's been a tick off all year, I've kind of been fighting that and that's probably the reason for my velocity being down. If I'm a hair out front, it's going to change a lot of stuff. I'm pretty sure I fixed it."
It certainly seemed that way as Pomeranz was touching 93 mph throughout his start. He only walked one and threw 78 of 111 pitches for strikes, a sign of much-improved command that was lost with his mechanics. Even with the struggles, few felt he would fall out of the first half of the first round. The strong start in front of that many decision-makers may once again cement him as a top 10 selection. That would by far make him the highest-drafted Ole Miss product in school history, easily beating Lance Lynn, the 2008 draftee of the Cardinals now in Triple-A Memphis, and Chris Coghlan, the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year taken in 2006. Both were supplemental first-round picks.
"It's an honor, especially with all the great talent that's come through here over the years, a lot of great players, including those two," Pomeranz said. "It's an honor to be thought of, I guess you can say thought of right now, as going ahead of them."
It's not that Pomeranz doesn't believe it will happen when all is said and done, but he's seen enough to know that there are no guarantees in this game. All he has to do is look at his own family to truly understand that.
Back in 2003, Drew's older brother, Stuart, was taken in the second round by the St. Louis Cardinals. In his first full season in 2004, when he won 12 games, he appeared to be one of the organization's better pitching prospects. But something happened on the way to sure stardom. The older Pomeranz never made it past Double-A, got released, pitched in independent ball and is now trying to make it back as a reliever pitching in Double-A with the Rockies.
"Having him go through it, I've seen the good and the bad," Drew Pomeranz said about his brother. "I've seen the good and the bad times through him. I've pretty much have seen every aspect of that. I got to hang out with him when he was rehabbing in Jupiter, [Fla.], I got to see what those guys do every day, how they live down there, the life of the Minor League player. It's a good experience to get to know that before you get into it.
"I feel like I'm more prepared than the average kid, because I've been talking to my brother since I was a freshman in high school, and I got to hear what it's like and all the things he went through. We're going to be doing the same thing at the same time, hopefully, in the next year."
While there is some concern over Pomeranz's arm action, the general consensus is that he'll be a quick-to-the-big-leagues type, with the chance to have three above-average pitches -- a fastball up to 93 mph with good movement, a curve and a changeup. The command has been spotty, not just when it completely deserted him, but there's hope that if he can clean up the delivery, that will be fine down the line.
And if that's the case, if he can move quickly through a system, like SEC lefty David Price did with the Rays and Mike Minor is currently doing with the Braves, all this worry about his "slump" will quickly become a thing of the past. To Pomeranz, he'll have his current home to thank for preparing him for all of that.
"You come here and face the best hitters in the country, guys that also go and play pro ball and move pretty fast through the ranks," Pomeranz said. "There are players like Gordon Beckham, who I played against my freshman year, who are already in the big leagues. You face those types of guys and it's a real learning experience on the mound. It helps to become a better pitcher when you're facing the best hitters in the country every day."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.