Back in October, Baseball America surveyed scouts, scouting directors, and player-development personnel and determined the Cincinnati Reds had the best 2016 draft. You may remember our Wick Terrell mentioned this in November when the results were announced. As Wick alludes, the results are perhaps a bit premature, but it’s an encouraging sign for a franchise lacking in good news over the past couple of years.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to take a look at each of the Reds picks in the first 10 rounds of the 2016 draft to see what all the fuss is about. Next up is Alex Webb, the ninth round pick from the University of British Columbia.
I’m convinced the Reds drafted Alex Webb just so Joey Votto would have a new best friend. Webb attended the University of British Columbia and was awarded the NAIA Pitcher of the Year along with the 2016 CoSida Academic All-America of the year. He was an electrical engineering major and a rare two-time academic all-american. I can’t blame the Reds for drafting another intelligent, thoughtful Canadian — it’s worked out pretty well in the past.
Webb was absolutely dominant in college against relatively weak competition. He finished his senior year with a 10-1 record and 115 strikeouts compared to only 15 walks. He pitched three complete game shutouts, and went at least seven innings eight times.
After being drafted by the Reds, he was sent to Billings where he was primarily used a reliever. He picked up four wins in five relief appearances at Billings. Starters often don’t go more than four innings in Rookie ball, and Webb served as the first guy out of the bullpen in each of those wins. He put up great numbers in his time there, allowing just one run over 11.1 innings pitched with a 0.97 WHIP.
Webb advanced to Dayton in late July and was immediately put into the starting rotation. At Dayton he proved to be a pitcher with impeccable control who can expertly locate his fastball on both corners of the plate. He throws in the low 90s, and tends to throw his fastball a little too often. For instance, I counted 10 pitches before he threw a breaking ball in his first start. In fact, he appeared to throw a fastball 21 times in 26 pitches in the first inning of that game. However, he calmed down in the second and third inning and began mixing in his offspeed pitches more often. Here’s a look at Webb using a breaking ball to notch his first strikeout.
Webb has a big, muscular frame with bulky thighs. My favorite quote while watching him pitch was from the West Michigan Whitecaps announcer that said he’s “a very well built guy, particularly in the lower body”. Sometimes I think announcers say these things on purpose.
He works very fast and efficiently on the mound. This at bat perhaps sums up his approach and ability best. You can see he works the edges of the plate, finishes the batter off with a breaking ball, and the whole at bat lasts around 30-35 seconds.
Another great example is when he faced one of the Cubs top prospects Eloy Jimenez for the second time. The Cubs roughed him up in the first inning because they knew he liked to throw strikes early in the count. The first six batters only saw 11 total pitches. Jimenez swung at the first pitch and singled right up the middle, knocking in a run in his first at bat. The second time around, Webb gave Jimenez a steady diet of breaking balls, ultimately forcing him to ground out weakly.
Webb is the type of pitcher that grows on you. Early in this process I was worried he didn’t have the stuff to get big league hitters out, but after watching all three games I think there’s a lot of potential here. His numbers at Dayton are a bit inflated thanks to one bad inning against that very talented Cubs team. After he adjusted and started to mix in more offspeed and breaking pitches he easily handled them.
Webb projects as a #3 or #4 starter that’s capable of eating 180+ innings a season. In most franchises I’d expect him to reach the majors in 2018, but the Reds have gone through a staggering number of pitchers over the past few years and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a September call-up if the Reds are headed towards another sub-70 win season. He’ll likely start the year at Dayton, but move to Pensacola quickly.
All of that said, the real reason he’ll be successful is because he has some impressive luck on his side. You may have seen this double play on Sports Center earlier in the year, but if not here’s a look at one of the luckiest double plays I’ve ever seen.