Early in the year, lefthander Jason Groome was one of the favorites to go first overall in the 2016 MLB draft. MLB Pipeline still has the hard-throwing young left-hander as the No. 1 overall draft prospect. Yet in recent weeks, questions about Groome's maturity and status have seen his stock slip, with a recent Baseball America mock draft dropping Groome all the way down to 14th. This opens up the possibility that he'll be available for the Detroit Tigers' consideration with the No. 9 overall selection. Whether the Tigers would, or could, meet his signing bonus demands is another question entirely.
Groome stands out as perhaps the finest combination of power and polish of any high school arm in the draft. He has velocity to burn, particularly for a lefthander, and already has a fine curveball to back up the heat. The 17-year-old produces that high octane fastball with a smooth, easy delivery, relying on a 6'6, 220-pound frame and solid mechanics. That frame and delivery impress most as the ideal combination to make Groome a durable, hard-throwing starting pitcher with consistent, repeatable mechanics.
John Sickels of Minor League Ball has nothing but glowing reviews for Groome.
Talent-wise he stands out as an outstanding prospect, a 6-6 lefty with a smooth delivery and a fastball up to 95-96 MPH; easy low-effort heat, as they say. He has a very impressive curveball. He has a change-up that is very good for a high school pitcher. He has no red flags with his command, his mechanics are about as good as they can be for his size and age, and his pitching instincts are as good as his stuff. There are no concerns about his make-up, either.
Minor League Ball had Groome going to the Atlanta Braves with the third overall pick in their recent mock draft.
ESPN's Keith Law watched Groome in person this spring and came away equally impressed.
At whatever effort level Groome was throwing on Tuesday, his delivery looked great, as he stays over the rubber a long time, takes a long step-over stride, and gets some extension over his front side. He threw strikes all day, and his command of the curveball was especially impressive and further along than his command of the fastball.
A GM on jason groome: "might be the best high school pitching prospect since clayton kershaw."— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 24, 2016
Just about everything you read about Jason Groome as a pitcher sounds the same highly positive notes. However, the Philadelphia Phillies already seem to have written him off in terms of their number one overall pick. MLB Pipeline's Jason Mayo seems convinced on that front.
...while many thought it would be a great story to take Groome, the local kid from South Jersey, the combination of risk involving high school pitching in general and some concerns about Groome's makeup have likely made the Phillies remove him from their list.
Since no specifics are offered to explain these recent whispers about his makeup or maturity, it's difficult to discern if there's any fire there, or if this is simply the smoke and subterfuge that surrounds any highly ranked prospect as the draft approaches.
In Law's opinion, Groome's maturity, or lack thereof, has nothing to do with the Phillies' decision.
The one interesting thing this is they appear to be out on Jason Groome, who is the local left-handed pitcher from Barnegat, New Jersey, who's one of the best players in the draft. I think the main thing for the Phillies is they just don't want to take a high school pitcher at the top.
The real issue with Groome, and the reason his draft stock may be rapidly plummeting, are likely the recent indications that he is unwilling to sign if he's picked outside of the top few spots in the draft. Reports have also indicated that his agent, Jeff Randazzo, has suggested a $4 million signing bonus for his client, which is exorbitant for all but the top few picks.
A recent switch in college commitment is also fueling the rumor mill surrounded the young lefty. Groome committed to attend Vanderbilt University back in 2014. Had he gone that route, he would be ineligible for the draft for the next two years (until after his junior season). That all changed in the past few days as Groome reportedly has de-committed from Vanderbilt, opting instead to attend junior college baseball power Chipola College in Florida.
The move would allow Groome to attend Chipola for one year and re-enter the draft in 2017 in hopes of being picked first off the board. In that position, Groome and his management can look for the highest signing bonus possible, and simply pass should he slip out of the top position on draft day. The question is whether that move is in response to his falling draft stock, or part of the reason teams are rumored to be shying away from him in the first place.
Groome was suspended for 30 days earlier this spring because of eligibility issues in New Jersey after transferring to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL for a semester. Because he hadn't officially changed his address during these transfers, Groome was ruled ineligible and served the suspension from the baseball program as a result.
As a result of all this, Groome's status is now a bit of a mystery. Certainly it's hard to envision a scenario where he ends up signing with the Tigers, even if he falls to them. The promise of a pitcher whose potential is drawing comparisons to Clayton Kershaw will make for a tricky decision for teams in the top 10. The Tigers may well get their shot at drafting him, but the odds of him signing on for the substantially smaller signing bonuses available beyond the top two or three picks seem low. Right now, it's anyone's guess.