Prospect #8, RHP Dakota Hudson
Age At The Start Of The 2018 Season: 23
Drafted In The 1st Round Of The 2016 Draft
In conjunction with my friend Colin Garner over at The Redbird Daily, we present to you our combined list of the Top 30 Prospects in the Cardinals organization! Every other day for the next two months, From January 28th until March 29th, we will be presenting you with an exhaustive evaluation on each of the top 30 prospects in the organization starting with prospect #30 and counting down to prospect #1. This is our combined list, not our own individual lists. For additional information on how we came these rankings, CLICK HERE. Without further delay, we present...
AA FIP: 3.64 AAA FIP: 4.57
Kyle Reis (Prospect #8 On Personal List, Prior To Combining Lists With Colin Garner)
What I like about Hudson is the pace for which he's progressed through the system. That he's already made seven regular-season starts at Memphis during his first full season in the organization is delightful. He didn't exactly dominate, but he held his own while there. I can express loudly enough how impressive it is that he was able to make it to the Triple-A level so quickly. That's a big ask for a kid. Not only that, but Hudson went on to be the "go-to" starter for Memphis in the playoffs. That should give you some idea of how mature of a pitcher Hudson is. The organization certainly thinks pretty highly of Hudson.
The former first rounder was capable of making this difficult and challenging transition because he's the perfect mix of body type, command, and preparation. Mississippi State prepped Hudson exceptionally well for the rigors of professional baseball. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Hudson has a 6'5, 220-pound frame that most scouts and coaches would drool over. He's capable of carrying a heavy, and there isn't a reason to think he won't hold up, physically. While Hudson is still working on how to use all of his weapons best, he does command all of them very well.
As you know, I'm a big fan of pitching prospects that don't allow a high total of home runs. Hudson did very well in this area. The seven total HR allowed over 152.2 innings at the two highest levels in the organizations is a feat. But that's just how Hudson rolls. Hudson throws a heavy fastball with great natural sink, and it induces a lot of grounders. In 2017, 58% of the contact that he allowed was on the ground.
That's impressive, but it's also crucial for predicting major league success. Hudson will be a precious commodity if he continues to allow ground balls at this rate. There isn't a reason to think that it'll go down, either, as the groundball rate was an identical 58% at both Memphis and Springfield.
The real prize of Hudson is his cutter/slider. It's one of the best single pitches in the organization. What's even more impressive is that he's so skilled with the pitch that he can manipulate it to throw it as either more of a slider or more of a cutter. Now, these next two .gifs are going to look alike but they are technically two separate pitches. First, the slider:
Next is the cutter, from his collegiate days:
Like I said, it's basically the same pitch. You'll notice the cutter is tighter with more velocity and the slider is a little loopier with more bite. It's the most developed secondary pitch that he throws and when he learns how to fully use both variations, you'll start to see the strikeout totals come up.
The most underrated part of Hudson repertoire is his changeup. On a fun note, Hudson learned to throw the changeup while at Mississippi State from current Cardinals prospect Austin Sexton (who is an underrated prospect). It is Sexton's best secondary offering, and Hudson has shown the ability to throw it almost as well as Sexton can. It hovers around the average/below average mark now, but with a little refining, it could definitely be an average/above average pitch for the talented right-hander.
There are some that believe that Hudson is best suited for a role in the bullpen, but I think that you have to let him play out as a starter before you make that move. We'll talk about this more in just a minute, but Hudson had alarmingly low strikeout totals in 2017. Because of that, many believe that he's best served to move to the pen. The thinking is, it would be there where he'd be able to max-out with his effort, and that would help his strikeout totals increase. What I see is a player that is still learning to throw his changeup and cutter/slider efficiently in counts. I believe that he can be devastating when/if this happens. Putting him in the bullpen now, or at any point before September of 2018, will be extra detrimental to his development. Keep him in the rotation. Resist the bullpen urge. Let him develop.
There are two significant issues with Hudson that I am very worried about. I'm so concerned about these issues that it makes me rethink ranking him 8th on my list. First, Hudson was terrible against lefties in 2017. Lefties hit .290 with an OPS of .747 off of him during his 2017 campaign. He also allowed a .355 OBP against. That's a high total. That tells me that Hudson just isn't deceptive enough against left-handed hitters. Luckily, his slugging percentage against lefties of .392 indicates that there wasn't an extraordinary amount of hard contact against him. That tells me that there's hope for him. He'd do well for himself to introduce another pitch, like a sinker, into his repertoire to use against lefties that hit for contact or that might be considered "complete" hitters. He does throw a curve, but it's a weird, loopy pitch more often than not. With "swing and miss" hitters, the cutter/slider seems to be enough. You'll notice he does "work" with it here against Astros slugger Marwin Gonzalez:
The next big area of concern for Hudson is the lack of strikeouts. 96 strikeouts in 152 innings pitched is terrible. That's made even more alarming by the fact that Hudson's fastball and slider are good pitches. He isn't Matt Pearce. He's better than that. There isn't a world in which he should be putting up Matt Pearce's numbers. Again, I love all of the ground balls, but a strikeout rate of 5.7 coupled with the ground ball rate puts Hudson on the Seth Maness career path, and he's too talented of a pitcher to only be Seth Maness. He did have a K per nine of 6.1 over 114 Double-A innings. That's acceptable, but not ideal, for a pitcher who is throwing in Double-A less than one year after being drafted.
The other little area of concern that I have about Hudson is that he struggles to get into a rhythm early in a start. I haven't done the groundwork - and I'm not going to because I'm an ass - but it seemed like most of Hudson's control issues came early in his starts. It isn't uncommon for a pitcher with the stuff of Hudson to struggle with this problem. Still, it's something that he needs to clean up. I believe correcting this will go a long way to increasing his strikeout totals, as well.
One last thing and this is kind of a piggyback off of what I was saying about Austin Gomber in my write up of him. Hudson used to have a little quirk in his delivery where he'd separate his throwing hand from his glove during his wind-up. He'd then put the hand back into the glove before exploding to the plate. This is a delivery quirk that I want to find it's way back. I hate that it isn't there anymore. If the Cardinals were responsible for ironing this out of Hudson's mechanics, then shame on them. Any little bit of added deception without risk of injury is a plus. Hudson's is gone now, and it isn't doing him any favors.
If I'm comparing Dakota Hudson to anyone, it's Royals RHP Jesse Hahn. I think that is both his floor and his most likely outcome. Hudson does possess the natural stuff to be more than that. If he puts it all together, then you're talking about something similar to Colin McHugh.
As always, these articles can't be done without Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. They are equally as reliant on the skills of Cardinalsgif's and NChill17. It's a pleasure to do this list with my friend Colin Garner at The Redbird Daily.
Thanks For Reading!