Packy Naughton, that is. The 23-year-old left handed pitcher (currently at A+ Daytona) drafted in the 9th round out of Virginia Tech in 2017 wasn’t in my top 10 prospects list, but that might change with the mid-season update this summer if he continues building on the solid foundation he’s laid so far. Here’s how he’s been pitching this season compared to several other Reds pitching prospects, some of whom I had ranked higher than Naughton at the beginning of the season, like Tony Santillan and Vladimir Guiterrez.
As a matter of fact, Naughton was just named to the 2019 Florida State League All-Star roster and will play in the game June 15th in Jupiter, FL.
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) May 24, 2019
Some of these pitchers have higher strikeout rates, but the notable thing about Naughton is his very low walk rate (4.8%), which had been dropping precipitously from his debut 2 years ago, after his time at Virginia Tech (7.9% in 2017). And, if you think perhaps he’s just getting lucky, he’s doing all this with a .344 BABIP. It does have to be said that Naughton is only at advanced A right now, and typically the biggest jump in the minors is from A+ to AA. That transition, I think, will see him face his first real test and I would expect some regression as he adjusts to hitters at that level. Despite his current success, there are a few caveats. I do have some concern that his pitching mechanics lend themselves more to a relief role than starting. Specifically, during his delivery I noticed he has a spine tilt that, at times, leads to inconsistency in his arm path (see video below). Is that something that will hinder improvement to his control/command? Additionally, a scout from 2080 Baseball who saw Naughton pitch in March of last year said that his fastball tends to end up belt high sometimes, and that his curveball often failed to drop out of the zone.
Currently, he is relying on two pitches that are average to above average: his fastball and a change-up. So, there are some things he still needs to work on/refine with his mechanics and pitch locations, and at age 23 and still being at Advanced A, it may be wise to temper enthusiasm about Naughton, as it seems as likely the Reds decide he would be better out of the bullpen.
All this to say, Naughton is worth keeping an eye on. If he can improve/refine some of his secondary offerings, and with his decent control, I believe there is potential for him to be a back of the rotation starter. But even if not, being a reliever doesn’t have the negative stigma that it used to have, with long relievers playing a more central role now than in previous years.