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From left to right, Ben Jordan, Mitchell Stone, Austin Marozas and Jackson Rutledge look like they're ready to tip off for a basketball game (Photo by Bill Mitchell)[/caption]
—At 6-foot-9 and 254 pounds, lefthander Mitchell Stone (Deer Creek High, Edmond, Okla.) wasn’t used to being able to look his teammates in the eye, until he met Ben Jordan (West Carter County High, Olive Creek, Ky.), a 6-foot-9 righthander, last month in Chicago, where they formed one of the tallest pitching duos in baseball at any level. The two have reunited this week as part of the White Sox Area Code Games team, only this time with a few more teammates at their eye level.
Jackson Rutledge (6-foot-7 1/2 and 240 pounds) and Austin Marozas (6-foot-6 and 230 pounds) are also in Long Beach as members of the White Sox team’s pitching staff, and when the foursome stands together, they look as if they would be just as imposing as a front court for a basketball team as they are on the mound.
Pitching prospects, on average, have been getting taller with every passing decade and there are a handful of 6-foot-7 pitchers spread across the teams at this year’s Area Code Games. But the White Sox have four players listed at 6-foot-7 or taller all on the same roster. White Sox manager Clay Overcash said he has never seen anything like it, and the novelty is not lost on the players either.
“No, that has never happened,” Jordan said when asked whether he had ever not been the tallest player on his team.
“Maybe once when I was a freshman in high school,” Rutledge said. “But I am definitely not used to this.”
The quartet’s height makes for a sight to behold, but the players are far more than just a novelty act. Each is an intriguing prospect with high upside in his own right, and that has been apparent in Long Beach.
Stone worked three innings in the team’s opener on Saturday, touching 92 mph with his fastball and showing feel for his breaking ball while proving he has the athleticism to repeat his delivery. Jordan pitched an inning Sunday and touched 93 to go with a deep, sweeping breaking ball. Rutledge and Marozas both got their chance on Monday. Rutledge showed off a heavy fastball, with both sink and downhill plane, striking out four over two innings, and Marozas, throwing from a low, near sidearm slot, pounded the zone and presented a challenging angle for righthanded hitters trying to see the ball come out of his hand.
The velocity is there and the secondary stuff is advanced enough to make major league scouts take notice, but it is the upside and projectability that make them each such exciting talents. Although all four of the players boast present physicality, their unique frames and elite size make many believe that they are just scratching the surface of their potential.
“With guys that size, it is never really about where they are now. It is more about what they can become down the road,” Overcash said. “You have to remember, all of those guys are still young. They are still maturing and growing into their bodies. There is definitely more there and if they can learn to be athletic and repeat their delivery, the sky is the limit.”
That projectability comes with inherent risk, however. Despite baseball’s growing infatuation with tall, projectable pitchers, there is a reason that pitchers listed at 6-foot-7 and taller are still a rarity in the big leagues. Pitchers of that size, especially high school pitchers, generally have a difficult time repeating their mechanics, which can lead to command issues and noticeable fluctuations in velocity. This is a problem that, to their credit, all four players are acutely aware of and actively working to improve.
Stone is ahead of the rest of the group in this regard and it showed on Saturday as he was able to throw multiple pitches for strikes and keep the opposing hitters off-balance. If there is one member of the foursome that is a perfect example of how important it is for tall pitchers to be able to be consistent in their delivery, it is Jordan.
When Jordan’s body is, as he puts it, “synched up”, his fastball has touched 97 mph, as he did in his tryout for the Area Code Games. On Sunday, he wasn’t quite as sharp, something he readily admitted.
“It isn’t just about repeatability, it is also about athleticism,” Rutledge added, echoing a similar sentiment to what the other three had expressed in earlier conversations. “If you are athletic on the mound, then repeating the delivery over and over is a lot easier.”
All four are already good enough to attract plenty of attention from college coaches. Stone has been committed to Oklahoma State since 2014, Jordan committed to Kentucky in April, Rutledge committed to Arkansas a week ago and Marozas recently decommitted from Mississippi State and is looking at power conference programs. But improving their athleticism and consistency could make the difference for all four players between trying their luck against college hitters and hearing their names called early next June’s MLB Draft.
All four said their goal was to eventually pitch professionally, but for now, they are just enjoying their time in Long Beach and the added attention that has come with helping comprise the tallest pitching staff in the history of the event.
“I know I am a tall guy and there is sometimes added pressure that comes with that,” Stone said. “But hey, I like being big.”