In many ways, Noah Song is the very definition of a sleeper.
Generally, a sleeper is a player/pitcher who has high potential but has been overlooked for one reason or another. With many prospect sleepers, those reasons can be mechanical (batting stance/pitching delivery), sample bias (playing in a cold-weather prep area/playing outside a major college conference), cosmetic (height/weight) or something deeper (head case).
Song doesn’t really fit in any of these categories. His 6-4, 200-pound frame is nearly ideal for a starting pitcher. He does not have any glaring delivery problems. He didn’t play for a major conference, but his elite performance has tampered down those concerns. He’s definitely not a head case—the Navy wouldn’t have accepted him to pilot school otherwise, but therein lies the crack in his armor. Song played brilliantly for the Naval Academy for the past four years:
|Noah Song – Navy||IP||ERA||WHIP||K||BB|
…but he still owes the Navy another two years. As of right now, Song would have to report to the Navy in just a few months, putting the 22-year-old’s professional baseball career on hold for 24 more months for flight school. Understandably, that is what chased many teams off when evaluating the right-hander during the 2019 MLB Draft. That could change, however. During President Barack Obama’s administration, athletes could get a waiver to continue their professional athletic careers. So far, that has not been the policy of the current administration, which has not leaned one way or the other on the topic other than to say that he’s looking into the situation and four or five years was too long. However, it was former Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, who changed the policy in the first place. He has since left the administration, leaving the door open for a reversal.
Of course, none of the above would really matter if Song wasn’t talented. I mean, who cares if Song has to wait to start his career if he isn’t good enough to potentially have one? In fact, Song is so talented, the Red Sox picked him in the fourth round despite the fact he might not get to really start his pro career until 2022. Had Song not had such a dark cloud hovering over his career, he would have likely been a compensatory round pick.
He’s showing as much in Low-A, having yet to give up a run in 11 innings, surrendering just four hits and walking two while striking out 15. How’s he doing it? He’s got elite velocity, with a fastball sitting 95 and reaching 98. There is already buzz that his plus slider has gotten even better as a professional and so has his sweeping curveball. Still not much word on his middling changeup, which could be a difference-maker should it develop.
There is talk—because of his potential for a shortened career, and his repertoire being fastball/slider heavy with good-but-not-great control—of Song ending up as a high leverage reliever. I’m not buying it. He has the tools for a mid-rotation starter and the potential to be more. It would be a waste for the sake of expediency for the Sox to develop Song for the pen. Even a win-now President of Baseball Operations like Dave Dombrowski has to see a starter’s profile when he looks at Song. I also don’t think an organization would risk such a high-round pick on a guy who couldn’t start and had career complications.
Speaking of which, I’d also bet on the side of Song getting his service time waived. This is purely speculation on my part, but it seems like the better Song performs in the minors, the more pressure it puts on our government to allow exceptional talents to earn a better life.