Trevor Clifton came into the organization as a 12th round pick in this year's draft, a BA Top 200 prep arm with a big, projectable fastball, ugly mechanics, and a murky signability status due to his commitment to University of Kentucky baseball. When you tell a reporter that you hate school, though, it's a pretty good sign that you're willing to figure things out. As expected, Clifton signed on the June 12th deadline for $375,000, and made his way to the AZL.
Not a ton here to work with, as Clifton has appeared in only 8 games since reporting to Mesa. What we have seen has been less than awe-inspiring, posting a 6.97 ERA and walking eight in 10.1 innings. The sample sizes are ridiculously small, so it's hard to draw many meaningful conclusions at this point, but a 7.0 BB/9 and a .310 BAA is, if nothing else, an inauspicious start to your professional career. These same tiny samples also flash a bit of the potential Clifton holds, however, as he's shown he can miss bats when he finds the zone, striking out 15 in those same 10.1 innings. Regardless, these numbers are little more than a curiosity at this point, as we won't really get a meaningful sample of game data for Clifton until next season, when he should get a more serious workload.
Clifton has a tall, wiry frame that's a bit reminiscent of a righty Sean Marshall to me, with a lot of height and really long arms that create most of the velocity for him. There's hardly any video at all of Clifton throwing to be found out there at the moment; the closest I found was an interview from March 2012 recorded by his high school that includes him basically playing catch. I don't know how much this reflects his actual pitching mechanics, but that all-arm, no stride, no weight shift throwing motion is ugly as hell:
Baseball America's report on Clifton from before the draft also emphasizes Clifton's slight frame and funky mechanics:
Some scouts call Clifton’s “ugly velocity” because of his mechanics, though it is consistent velocity. The thin 6-foot-4, 185-pounder has touched 97 mph and sits 92-93. Not everyone agrees about how much projection Clifton has, as some scouts say his frame is too thin to add much weight. He does show athleticism, which should help him make adjustments to his delivery with pro coaching, and hand speed, which portends more velocity and the ability to spin a breaking ball. He throws both a curveball and slider, with the curveball showing flashes of plus power at 80 mph. He has shown more confidence in his changeup, which has its moments.
All of this is reflected in the performance, as funky mechanics will usually manifest themselves in deception (strikeouts), wildness (walks), or both (Clifton). The hope is that as Clifton irons out his mechanics and matures physically that he'll add velocity and throw more strikes, in which case, he could start to move quickly.
Clifton, like most of the arms the Cubs have taken in the draft over the past two seasons, is more or less a lottery ticket, a power arm with potential that could easily amount to not much of anything. I would think this offseason is going to tell a lot about the kind of pace with which he's going to move through the system, experiencing his first full year as a professional athlete. Dan Vogelbach, for example, used his first full season of pro ball as an opportunity to remake his body, drop a ton of baby fat, and become more athletic (potentially to the detriment of his prodigious power, as Myles illustrated so well recently, but more on that later in the series). If Clifton approaches his career with the same seriousness, hitting the gym hard to add strength and fill out his frame, while working with organizational coaches to improve his throwing motion and achieve more repeatable mechanics, he could have a very nice future. He's already flashed the potential to miss bats at a very high rate, and the scouting report suggests the raw stuff has a lot of potential.
For now, the package of frame, mechanics, and walk totals add up to a likely bullpen arm at best, as he's going to have to improve his mechanics AND bulk up to successfully handle a starter's workload. As young as he is, however, with such a short professional track record under his belt, just about anything could happen, and there's a high rate of uncertainty about his future. Next season will reveal quite a bit, and I'd expect him to start 2014 repeating the AZL, with the potential to quickly earn a trip to Boise if he shows better command in the early going.