Grand Junction, Colorado —— Drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 25th round this summer, Derrik Watson didn’t have the best college career. Playing for two years with the NCAA Division I Murray State Racers, the St. Louis (??) native pitched to an 8.14 ERA in 33 career college games, and allowed 62 hits and 28 walks in just 42 Division I innings over those seasons. Those aren’t exactly the kind of numbers that usually get you selected, and yet the Colorado Rockies took a shot on him late in June’s MLB Draft, if for no other reason than his impressive raw arm strength.
I saw the long, lanky righty pitch for the first time on Sunday night as a member of the Grand Junction Rockies, and he’s a sight to see; Watson sat 89-93 mph all night long, and touched 94 mph, the hardest thrower and most raw arm strength trotted out by either team in my looks at their Pioneer League series this week. Watson gets great extension on his fastball, too, and has arm speed scouts drool over, so the velocity will continue to show up—and may even increase—despite the fact that he still has abundant room to add weight to his slender frame.
Not only that, but Derrik Watson has a little feel for some other wrinkles besides just a hard fastball, too. He appears to have thrown a cutter in his amateur days, and it looks like he’s brought that (or some variant) with him to pro ball, too, with an 84-87 mph offering different from his fastball but without enough hump to comfortably call a breaking ball (cutter, very hard slider, your mileage may vary). He couples it with a more ‘true’ breaking ball at 76-80 mph, too, and on Sunday night he was able to change speeds and bury a few of those when he got ahead of hitters.
More than anything, the best thing going for him—and no doubt the thing that attracted the Colorado Rockies at Murray State—is that incredible raw arm strength which is already manifesting itself as fringe-plus velocity. (Watson was reportedly touching 96 mph at points during his college career.) To that end, his story is a helpful reminder to those who break players down on stats alone; you can certainly get a good idea about a guy based on the quantifiable results of a season, but there are always things that go beyond a stat line and define a player more than simply walk rates or strikeout ratios. Nobody is saying stats don’t matter, and quantifiable college success would have made Watson more than a fringe arm at this point, but in player development, there’s no substitute for seeing a guy and weighing his raw tools out heavily alongside the outcomes of his past. In Derrik Watson’s case, that means understanding what he could be in the future, and not where he came from in his amateur career.
For Derrik Watson moving forward, it’ll be imperative that he nails down a consistent delivery and release point. His body and arm can sometimes get out of sync and create command issues that above-average arm speed can’t always overcome, and that won’t play at higher levels of pro ball. Command in and of itself is critical, too, as Watson can fall in love with his fastball (for good reason!) and thus must spot it well because at 94 mph, while certainly valuable, it will get hit hard if it catches too much of the plate.
There’s no question Watson is a raw project at this point, but it’s a shrewd move for the Colorado Rockies to scout and bring in a guy like this who may one day possess a plus-plus fastball. If they make a pitcher out of him in the meantime, well, that’s even better.
We captured some video of Derrik Watson during his outing on Sunday night for Grand Junction; here’s an open-faced (third base side) look at his pitching mechanics and arm action during that game:
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Interestingly enough, Derrik Watson is chronicling his own professional career on YouTube, which might make for a pretty cool series in the coming months. He’s only got one quick clip up so far, but check it out here and subscribe if you’re so inclined — will be very interesting to see more: