September 22, 2011
Prospects Will Break Your Heart
2011 Minor League Awards: Pitchers
Best Tools: Utility y Projection (Starters)
Fastball: Carlos Martinez (Cardinals)
TCF: Martinez can dial it up to elite velocity levels, consistently working in the plus-plus range and reaching back for triple digits when necessary. The pitch doesn’t just ride to the plate on the back of velocity; the fastball has late life and explosion, making it even more difficult to square up. With refined command, the offering will stand above the rest, regardless of the role it is deployed in. It’s a monster pitch, an 80-grader in the making.
Curveball: Dellin Betances (Yankees)
TCF: There are quite a few high-end curves in the minors, so the talent pool was deep and the decision was difficult. When polled, lefty Matt Moore’s power curve received more votes (it was close), but Betances had more fervent support, with one source calling it “a career-defining pitch.” It’s a long season, and this particular source has been in the sun for too many months without respite, but hyperbole aside, the pitch is legit. Coming from the arm of a man standing close to 6-foot-9, the tumbling knuckle-curve presents depth that hitters struggle to track, as the vertical dive is extreme and sharp. The command isn’t there yet, which limits Betances’ curveball’s overall effectiveness for now, but it’s still a plus pitch when it’s loose, and when Betances owns it, it’s plus-plus offering full of nastiness.
Slider: Christopher Archer (Rays)
TCF: The sex appeal of the slider often finds its platform in relief, where in bursts it can show velocity and violence, a perfect companion to a max-effort fastball. That’s not to say that slides aren’t prevalent in starters’ arsenals; sliders are often easier to learn, easier to throw for strikes, and good breaking balls to attach to lower arm slots, making them common at all professional levels. At present, the major leagues feature numerous starters with quality sliders, but the minors can’t share in that boast, as the list of pitchers that feature well above-average slider projection in their skill set isn’t long.
Working alongside a very strong fastball, Archer’s two-plane slider shows velocity and sharp tilt, with scouts throwing 70s on its future. Archer might wind up in a relief role, as his command isn’t very sharp, and the ferocity of his arsenal in bursts could make him a late-inning force at the major-league level as soon as 2012. When trolling for opinion on the subject, Archer received as many votes as Jameson Taillon, and given the present grade on the pitch (60/65) and the grade at maturity (65/70), he seemed like a good selection for the award.
Changeup: Miguel de los Santos (Rangers)
TCF: It would have been easy to go with Julio Teheran here, as his changeup grades out very high (65/70) and complements the rest of his arsenal better than his competition for this award. However, having seen the relatively unknown Miguel de los Santos since his first instructional league, I’ve had a front-row seat for a pitch that might just be the most exceptional secondary offering in the minors (if judged in arsenal-isolation). I’ll explain: Changeups are successful for several reasons, mostly due to the deception offered from the fastball, both in terms of velocity separation and arm speed/action. Pitchers who can throw off-speed pitches with the same arm speed and action as their fastballs will offer this deception, keeping hitters from recognizing the pitch early and pushing them out in front as they see fastball from the hand and time their actions accordingly. The best changeups offer the aforementioned deception while also offering movement, either in the form of fade/run (away from opposite-side hitters) or vertical movement (like sinkers). Miguel de los Santos brings both to the table, throwing the changeup as if it were his fastball while also channeling his inner Fernando Valenzuela by inducing screwball action on the pitch. Seriously, it’s the nastiest secondary pitch I’ve seen in the minors, persuading cartoon swings and bewilderment regardless of the level of competition. On the back of the changeup, de los Santos has missed 324 bats over his last three seasons (197 IP), spanning the Dominican Summer League to Double-A. The rest of his arsenal suffers from spotty command and inconsistency (curve), but the changeup is an easy 70-grade pitch, and will eventually push the 23-year-old Dominican to the majors.
Command/Control: Robbie Erlin (Padres)
TCF: With two full seasons under his belt, this diminutive lefty has logged 266 innings of professional work and has walked only 34 hitters in the process. That’s not normal. The control is obviously near elite at present, as Erlin shows a preternatural ability to throw strikes. The overall command component isn’t far behind; he has location ability with his entire arsenal, though he does suffer when he misses his spots; Erlin only has solid-average “stuff,” which doesn’t allow for much wiggle room in the face of poor execution. I hate comps, and yet I’m going to propagate a casual comp often applied to Erlin based on his feel for command and game intelligence: Cliff Lee. It’s probably better served as Cliff Lee-lite, but regardless, the comp isn’t as sensational as it sounds, and if Erlin can continue to refine his command without losing his present stuff, Cliff Lee-lite should find himself in the Padres’ rotation at some point in 2012.
Best All-Around Tools (Utility y Projection)
Matt Moore (Rays)
TCF: It’s not a very difficult case to make. Moore has two plus-plus pitches, an improving changeup, improving command, and the on-field production to buttress the glowing scouting reports. The Rays barbequed the lefty, taking a slow and low approach to cultivate Moore rather than the high-heat method better suited for his high-heat talent. Regardless, the 22-year-old will be ready for the bright lights of the big-league rotation out of the gate in 2012, and should emerge as a premium arm without much stumble. His collection of pitches and improving polish could (and should) make him a bona fide top-of-the-rotation arm, assuming that the Rays don’t turn down the heat on his development.
Shelby Miller (Cardinals)
Martin Perez (Rangers)
TCF: Perez is a frustrating prospect; the 20-year-old will flash three 60+ pitches and 60+ feel, only to watch his command wane and secondary offerings stumble. At his best, the Venezuelan southpaw’s fastball will work in the 92-95 range, and he reaches back for 96 with a smooth and easy delivery. His changeup projects to be a 60/65 pitch with excellent deception (thanks to the smooth and easy delivery/action) and good fading action. His curveball is also a future 60/65 pitch, with lots of depth and a tight rotation. His command is a work in progress, as is his secondary consistency, but the total package presents a remarkably high ceiling. Perez will pitch in the bigs at some point as a 21-year-old, and if he finds the necessary refinement in his craft, he could become a number-two starter on a championship level team. Some scouts have mentioned the arsenal similarities to a young Jon Lester, only more slightly built and—I’m assuming—a lot more Venezuelan.
Atlanta Braves: Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino
Pittsburgh Pirates: Jameson Taillon, Gerrit Cole, Luis Heredia
Cardinals: Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, Tyrell Jenkins
Padres: Casey Kelly, Robbie Erlin, Joseph Wieland
The Most Ridiculous Story of the Season: Julio Teheran’s prospect stock takes a hit because he wasn’t exceptional in his major-league debut.
TCF: On May 7, Teheran received an unexpected call to the majors, tapped to make a spot start despite being only 20 years old and having very limited experience above Double-A. At the time, Teheran was widely viewed as a top arm in the minor leagues, possessing the illustrious distinction of a top-of-the-rotation ceiling. Teheran was legit. However, after an uneven performance in his major-league debut that saw the young Colombian allow three runs in 4 2/3 innings, a few prognosticators [read: prognostihaters] took to their soapbox to proclaim Teheran as overrated, the omnipresent twin distinction associated with most top-of-the-rotation ceilings. While the majority of respected voices maintained perspective, the shine from the national eye was still subdued, as the top arm in the minors didn’t translate to the top arm in the majors. Fans can be fickle, and perceptions are formed in photographs of the moment, but Teheran’s brief major-league exposure only exposed his present qualities; it didn’t erode his future possibilities. Teheran is still legit.
The Best Story of the Season: James Paxton was worth the wait.
TCF: In the supplemental first round of the 2009 draft, the Toronto Blue Jays selected a Canadian southpaw and attempted to woo him back to Canada with the promise of Molson in a can and digital copies of “Strange Brew.” After failing to agree to come to terms with the Jays, Paxton was ruled ineligible to return to school (Kentucky) because of indiscretions that occurred during the negotiation process (Boras’d) and opted instead to spend his 2010 season pitching for the Grand Prairie AirHogs, an independent team in the American Association. Re-entering the Rule Four draft in the summer of 2010, Paxton fell to the fourth round; his on-field inactivity (four starts for the AirHogs), pedestrian showing in those four starts, and financial demands choked his value. Taking negotiations with the Mariners into the spring, Paxton eventually signed for about $940,000 and was set to make his professional debut (sorry, AirHogs) with Clinton in the Midwest League.
Why is this the “best” story of the season? Because Paxton proved to be worth the wait. Over 95 innings and two affiliate stops, Paxton ended the season with 131 strikeouts, finishing his tour of duty at Double-A. His performance in the Southern League, which only amounted to 39 innings, was nothing short of dominant; he missed advanced bats, limited damage on contact, and showed improved command after the promotion. His delivery is fluid with long levers, generating easy plus-plus velocity from the left side. As his command of his fastball improved, the effectiveness of Paxton’s secondary arsenal also improved, using his slurvy curve as a quality out pitch and showing an enhanced feel for the fading changeup. The arsenal, the body, and the delivery are there to develop into a mid-rotation starter, and given the polish Paxton showed in 2011, another step forward in 2012 could put him in Seattle before his 23rd birthday.
The Least-Reported Story of the Season: Trevor Bauer is unique; throws a 500-pitch bullpen session.
TCF: Because of his uniqueness, Bauer can throw an unlimited amount of pitches without injury or agitation. To prove the validity of the uniqueness, Bauer tossed a 500-pitch bullpen session just days after signing his major-league contract, which included a signing bonus of $3.4 million. Because of the aforementioned uniqueness, the D’backs weren’t concerned with the gross pitch totals, stating that Bauer’s uniqueness allows him to throw an unlimited amount of pitches without injury or agitation. In addition to the 500-pitch bullpen session, Bauer also tossed a javelin, participated in a dart competition, and used his right arm as a trebuchet to throw coins into a nearby fountain. It was a remarkable display of uniqueness. *
*The preceding paragraph is a joke. I assume you know this, but somebody won’t get it and I’ll have to offer an explanation, so there you go.
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Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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