Long-toss debate shakes up MLB draft

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

Prep right-hander Dylan Bundy, perhaps the top talent in one of the most loaded Major League Baseball drafts in years, has informed several teams not to select him because of fears they'll try to change his throwing program, a source close to Bundy told Yahoo! Sports.

And he's not the only one.

UCLA starter Trevor Bauer, also a potential top-5 pick, shares Bundy's concern about teams' reticence to allow long-toss sessions in which pitchers throw the ball on an arc up to 300 feet in order to build up arm strength, according to another source. About half the teams in baseball stick with a strict program that limits pitchers to straight-line throws at 120 feet, which Bauer and Bundy fear would affect their arm strength.

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Trevor Bauer pitched for UCLA in the 2010 College World Series and has emerged as a possible top-5 pick in the MLB draft.
(AP)

Bundy told the Pittsburgh Pirates, who own the No. 1 pick, and the Kansas City Royals, who pick fifth, that he'd prefer they not use their pick on him, according to the source. Seattle (picking second), Arizona (third and seventh) and Washington (sixth) all advocate long toss. Bundy's older brother Bobby plays for Baltimore, which chooses fourth.

The Owasso, Okla., native surged to the head of the high school class this year thanks to a fastball that reached 100 mph this season, a beyond-his-years cutter and the sort of mature approach scouts believe can land him in the major leagues by 2013. Bundy's ascent toward the end of the spring sent him to the top of at least one American League team's draft board, according to a scouting director, and Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein called him the top talent available.

Pittsburgh sent a cadre of evaluators to Oklahoma to talk with the 18-year-old and left with Bundy advising the Pirates not to select him. One executive asked the Bundy camp whether its demand for a six-year, $30 million major league contract – nearly twice what Stephen Strasburg(notes) received two years ago – was to scare teams off. The answer was yes.

It highlights a growing philosophical chasm in baseball, where long-toss advocates bring dogmatism to a game notoriously slow to accept change and the opposition wants to see some non-circumstantial proof it actually works. Half the teams in baseball are strict adherents to the 120-foot rule, which came into the game when doctors determined it was the best distance to rehab from Tommy John surgery, a nebulous idea in and of itself extrapolated to healthy arms.

There have been no studies on long toss' effects – good or bad – nothing beyond anecdotal correlations and verbal testimonials. Some of the best arms in baseball, including Tim Lincecum(notes) and Dan Haren(notes), are long-toss supporters. The Texas Rangers instituted a long-toss program in their minor league system, and in addition to a major league roster loaded with young power arms, they now have among the deepest caches of top-end pitching prospects in baseball with Martin Perez(notes), Robbie Erlin, Neil Ramirez, Joe Wieland and Roman Mendez.

Bundy and Bauer swear by the supposed benefits of long toss – increased arm strength, bigger radar-gun readings and a greater ability to throw more pitches – and worry that if a franchise cuts them off from long toss, it could lead to diminished velocity and injuries, the sources said. Bundy last year threw 181 pitches in one day, the sort of number that horrifies teams. Bauer regularly has exceeded 130 pitches this year, a problem for others but, he contends, a safe workload for him.

Bauer could go ahead of Gerrit Cole, his UCLA teammate and early frontrunner for the top pick along with Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon. Bauer's long stride, slight frame and unique delivery draw Lincecum comparisons, and teams don't want to miss on another Lincecum after letting him slip to the 10th pick in the 2006 draft. In 109 2/3 innings this year, Bauer has struck out 167, walked 32, allowed 57 hits and posted a 1.40 ERA.

Bundy was even better against Oklahoma high schoolers. Over 71 innings, he struck out 156 and walked five. Only twice did Bundy's pitch count exceed 90 this season, his workload cut due to worries teams might balk at him because of injury concerns.

Turns out it's the other way around.