As the spring high school sports season began, Frank Mozzicato was starting the short journey from East Catholic in Manchester to the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
The lefthander from Ellington was a solid prospect, for sure. Pitching for a strong program — East Catholic produced none other than UConn coach Jim Penders, whose son Hank was Mozzicato’s catcher this season — he figured to attract some Major League scouts to Greater Hartford this spring.
But the seventh player selected in the draft? No one saw that coming, even after Mozzicato drew national attention for a no-hit streak and became the toast of the state as he led his team to a championship. Mozzicato’s reaction: “Speechless.”
Draft analysts slotted Mozzicato is a late-first round prospect. As the MLB Draft approached Sunday night, the question was whether Mozzicato’s name would be called before the first round ended or if he would have to wait until Monday.
Yet Mozzicato was a prime-time pick. How did it happen?
That curveball: ‘You can either spin the ball or you can’t
In the age of spin rate, scouts fell in love with Mozzicato’s ability to keep batters guessing. Specifically, they loved his curveball.
Royals general manager Dayton Moore was effusive in his praise.
“He can really spin the ball, that’s one of the most incredible gifts that a baseball pitcher can have,” Moore said. “You can either spin the ball or you can’t. You don’t teach it. It’s an incredible gift, just like power and speed. You’ve got to draft it, and this guy had perhaps, in our mind, the best curveball in the country.”
And a lefthander with an elite curveball … who just turned 18 last month? The Royals were all in.
“It’s very difficult to teach,” assistant GM Lonnie Goldberg said. “He already has it. He can throw hard ones, soft ones, he’s able to manipulate. He’s able to command it.”
The makeup: ‘The whole package’
In Connecticut, we’ve heard and read about Mozzicato’s personality — he’s a supportive teammate and a good friend, enthusiastic, positive.
“Everybody loves Frankie,” UConn coach Jim Penders told Hearst Connecticut Media columnist Jeff Jacobs.
Everybody, including those employed by the Kansas City Royals. Scouts raved about Mozzicato, and not just because of his no-hitters, strikeouts, and state championship.
“The makeup is off the charts,” Goldberg said.
Moore said scouts raved about his makeup
“Personality is huge” Moore said. “Having fun, loving the game, loving his teammates. Loving his community, deep respect for the game, strong commitment to get better and be the best. … I love players with personality, players that express themselves, players that are going to connect with fans. Motivate fans, inspire fans to to follow this game, kids to play this game. Frankie fits all of that.”
About those scouts …
As Mozzicato garnered attention with no-hitters and strikeouts, the volume of scouts at East Catholic games steadily increased. Those scouts filed reports, talked to the decision-makers in each of those front offices.
Moore and Goldberg listened to the evaluations. Sifting through reviews of hundreds of players across the country, they looked for something that stood out.
“There’s no substitute to a scout, an evaluator, speaking passionately, intelligently, thoughtful, and in a very enthusiastic way about a player,” Moore said. “You know, Frankie was certainly one of those guys that our scouts just couldn’t stop raving about and talking about, again, the whole package.”
Said Goldberg, “The ability to hear the voices of your scouts, to know that when they call you and say ‘Hey you need to get in here as soon as possible.’ We ran numerous guys in, we saw him multiple times, and it just allowed us to feel more comfortable.”
The rise from a COVID-canceled season
Maybe all those mock draft were underestimating Mozzicato’s stock because, well, he seemed to come out of nowhere. Before his breakout senior season, Mozzicato last pitched as a sophomore because there was no high school baseball in Connecticut last year.
Mozzicato said he threw in the backyard with his brother Anthony, who pitches at Central Connecticut. He worked out, added weight and muscle that resulted in more velocity as he returned to the high school mound this year.
“It was a player that we didn’t have a ton of history with going into the year,” Goldberg said.
If Mozzicato had a strong junior season, he might have been on the radar of more scouts heading into this season. The book on him as his season year began? He would be a guy teams would monitor as he developed at UConn, a program known for churning out professional players.
But Mozzicato distinguished himself this spring. And it was a strong year for prospects in the Northeast — lots of players emerged as prospects after a season without baseball — so the area drew evaluators beyond the usual crop of regional scouts.
“There was constant traffic up in the Northeast and maybe in a typical year this kid may have fallen … a little bit,” Goldberg said. “But he got seen a lot, and he was doubled up a lot, and seen by numerous people because there was so much traffic up in the Northeast.”
Finally, the money
Given the slot money for a player picked late in the first round — in the $2.5 million range — Mozzicato was certain to choose the professional path over UConn. We knew the odds of him ever pitching for the Huskies were lower than his ERA.
So Mozzicato is a signable prospect. And signable for less than the $5.4 million slot value for the seventh overall pick.
For an economically-challenged franchise, that’s not insignificant. The Royals entered the draft with $10,917,700 in bonus pool money to spend on draft picks. By underpaying on the No. 1 pick, the Royals have more to spread among the other picks over 20 rounds.
“The value that a lot of players put on themselves economically, that it may be a wise strategy to not only look at taking the best upside player, pitcher available, but also be able to maximize what we can do later on with the other 19 selections,” Moore said “That’s a part of what we have to consider going forward.”
But … money aside, Moore says Mozzicato is hardly a reach at No. 7.
“Frankie is a pitcher that we have valued highly,” Moore said. “We’ve scouted him all spring and everybody that has seen him — very experienced evaluators, very qualified evaluators — love him. They love his personality, they love his energy, they love his work ethic. Just the excitement that he brings to his team … our guys fell in love with him.”