Lucas Giolito stands out in many ways. He's 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, and is also the top prep pitcher in the draft class of 2012. There's a chance he's the No. 1 overall pick next June, and is certain to be taken off the board in the top 10.
I've seen him up to 97 mph with his fastball, which sets up an above-average power curveball and a changeup drenched in promise. ESPN Insider's Keith Law wrote from the Area Code Games in August that Giolito's velocity "is easy to him and his delivery is built for starting; his command isn't there and he needs more consistency on each of his secondary pitches. But I don't think there's a better overall package among prep arms in the 2012 class yet."
The industry agrees. One scouting supervisor called Giolito "a contender for a top-10 spot in any draft. He's very, very good, and he's only going to get better. There is a lot to like."
Giolito is the complete pitcher, blessed with size, strength, a balanced delivery and a strong set of weapons, and if things go as expected, he'll continue to impress next spring and start his pro career in the ensuing months.
So, how does the Harvard-Westlake High School product stack up against the best prep pitchers of the past few classes? Let's address that.
Entering his senior season, Giolito doesn't quite measure up to the likes of the very best the past five classes has offered, falling short of first-round picks such as right-handers Gerrit Cole (No. 28 overall, New York Yankees, 2008), Shelby Miller (No. 19, St. Louis Cardinals, 2009), Dylan Bundy (No. 4, Baltimore Orioles, 2011) and Jacob Turner (No. 9, Detroit Tigers, 2009) as well as left-handers Tyler Matzek (No. 11, Colorado Rockies, 2009) and Clayton Kershaw (No. 7, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2006). The difference is the advanced levels of the offspeed stuff, and in the cases of Bundy, Cole and Turner, another gear with the fastball.
Jameson Taillon from The Woodlands High School in Texas also offers more velocity and a breaking ball with a higher ceiling, but Giolito has an advantage in command and control. Taillon, during his senior season, had bouts with walks, leaving his fastball up in the zone. He was still selected No. 2 overall, thanks to the potential reward of a 96-99 mph fastball and power curveball.
"Lucas is probably a step below Taillon, Bundy, Gerrit Cole and Clayton Kershaw" said one West Coast crosschecker. "He's a No. 1 or 2 guy down the line, though."
Like many high school arms taken high in the draft, Giolito offers projectable gifts; he's big and tall and figures to add velocity as he matures and makes adjustments. The fastball comes out of his hand so easy that it's not difficult to believe that as he gains strength and perfects his mechanics, he could end up sitting in the mid-90s and hitting 97-99 regularly.
Giolito's promise is his calling card when pitted against the top picks of the past five years. Only Taillon and 2007 first-rounder Phillippe Aumont brought comparable raw stuff to go with such a tall, strong frame. "That's the fun of the whole thing," an American League scout said. "We see what he is right now, but we have to ask what he is going to be in nine months when it matters more, and what might he turn into between then and his rise to the majors. We just don't know."
In other words, Giolito, who belongs in the conversation with the aforementioned pitchers, still has a chance to compare favorably with the entire group.
Delivery and Mechanics
This is where Giolito makes up some ground. As a prep pitcher, Cole drew a few comparisons to big-league closers and there were those that believed he'd end up in the bullpen because his delivery created some command problems, including a stiff landing leg. These concerns have since subsided, as Cole was the No. 1 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates this past June, but Giolito does not present such issues.
He reminds me some of Tommy Hanson of the Atlanta Braves and Anthony Ranaudo of the Boston Red Sox, both of whom fit the physical profile, and have somewhat similar stuff and/or mechanics as does Giolito.
"The easy fastball is what separates him from the rest of the class," the scouting supervisor added. "Otherwise he would be another arm strength prospect destined for the bullpen. That isn't the case, though, and it's because his arm works well and the ball jumps out of his hand."
The classes of 2009 and 2010 boasted loads of prep pitchers that warranted first-round consideration, and there appears to be at least one No. 1 or No. 2 starter in each crop since Kershaw in 2006. Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Jarrod Parker was the No. 9 overall pick in 2007, just two selections before the San Francisco Giants selected southpaw Madison Bumgarner.
Also starring from the 2009 class is left-hander Tyler Skaggs, drafted by the Los Angeles Angels and now in the Arizona farm system, and righty Zack Wheeler, the No. 6 pick (Giants) overall.
A year later the prep class was even deeper, including right-handers Karsten Whitson, Dylan Covey, Zach Lee, Taijuan Walker, A.J. Cole, Aaron Sanchez and Tyrell Jenkins. Many of these pitchers are considered frontline arms and a few of them have a shot to be aces at the big-league level.
I believe an arm like that of Lucas Giolito that possesses a mature approach, physical ability and clean arm action, has a great chance to be considered among the better arms drafted over the past five or six years. He'll need a big spring to prove it, however, and he'll have to show consistency.
Here's my quick-look ranking of the past three draft classes in terms of prep pitching, with Giolito's 2012 profile inserted, as if the draft were tomorrow:
1. Jacob Turner, RHP
2. Tyler Matzek, LHP
3. Shelby Miller, RHP
4. Zack Wheeler, RHP
5. Matt Purke, LHP
6. Lucas Giolito, RHP
7. Matt Hobgood, RHP
8. Chad James, LHP
9. Tyler Skaggs, LHP
10. David Holmberg, LHP
1. Jameson Taillon, RHP
2. Karsten Whitson, RHP
3. A.J. Cole, RHP
4. Zach Lee, RHP
5. Dylan Covey, RHP
6. Lucas Giolito, RHP
7. Aaron Sanchez, RHP
8. Mike Foltynewicz, RHP
9. Taijuan Walker, RHP
10. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP
1. Dylan Bundy, RHP
2. Archie Bradley, RHP
3. Taylor Guerrieri, RHP
4. Lucas Giolito, RHP
5. Dillon Howard, RHP
6. Tyler Beede, RHP
7. Joe Ross, RHP
8. Jose Fernandez, RHP
9. Daniel Norris, LHP
10. Robert Stephenson, RHP
Jason A. Churchill covers scouting, player development and the MLB Draft for ESPN Insider, as well as Prospect Insider where he's the founder and executive editor. He's served in similar roles for numerous publications since 2003, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. You can find Jason's ESPN archives here and follow him on Twitter here.