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July 12, 2013
The Situation: After 82 starts, 447 minor-league innings, and four seasons as a top 10 prospect across two organizations, Jarred Cosart will make his first major-league start. He draws the Tampa Bay Rays and defending AL Cy Young winner David Price.
Background: Cosart was a 38th-round selection for the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2008 first-year player draft, signing for late-second-round money out of Clear Creek High School (League City, TX). A two-way Missouri commit, Cosart immediately switched to the mound full time when he entered the Phillies system.
A pure arm strength guy when drafted, Cosart entered the system as a project for the developmental staff. He responded well early on and quickly established himself as one of the more interesting arms to follow in the minors. After an impressive first year of full-season ball as a 20-year old in the South Atlantic League, Cosart continued his deliberate ascension, advancing to the Florida State League the following year with High-A Clearwater before being packaged along with Jonathan Singleton and two others in a trade to Houston for Hunter Pence.
Cosart spent the bulk of 2012 in Double-A, showing well in a brief stint at Triple-A Oklahoma City over five starts to close out the year. The no. 5 prospect on Jason Parks’ Houston Astros Top 10 Prospects list entering 2013, Cosart has enjoyed a solid first half in Oklahoma City, punching out over a batter per inning while boasting a 2.48 groundout-to-air-out rate and holding opponents to a cumulative .213 batting average through his 17 starts, prior to being called-up to the Big Club.
Scouting Report: Cosart’s game revolves around his plus-plus fastball, which sits in the mid-90s and can climb to the upper 90s at times. His curve is a second potential plus-plus offering, showing depth and bite while living in the 78 to 82 mph range. The changeup is a fringy third pitch, generally grading out as below average, though it has its moments.
While the raw stuff can be eye-popping, it tends to play down due to problematic mechanics. Cosart has some violence to his delivery, coming with a hard head jerk through his release, leading to inconsistent execution. Additionally, he throws across his body, creating tough angles but also making it difficult to work both sides of the plate and causing command issues with his curveball, in particular. Scouts have also indicated that the ball can be easy to pick up out of his hand, though that has been less of an issue in 2013.
Physically, Cosart is what you look for in a starter, with a strong build and medium broad 6-foot-3 frame. His struggles to command his offerings, as well as the inconsistent nature of his off-speed, could lead to a future as a shut-down late inning arm. In a rotation, the command issues likely limit him to a mid-rotation ceiling with back-end production more probable.
Immediate Big-League Future: The Astros lose nothing by giving Cosart every opportunity to stick as a starter in Houston, and that’s where he’ll begin his career. While the walk rate is already in troubling territory (Cosart averaged 4.8 walks per nine through his Triple-A stint this year), his heavy groundball rate should help to partially quell concerns until opposing lineups make it an issue. Make no mistake, however, big-league hitters are going to subject Cosart to more strike zone scrutiny than he has ever faced, and if he does not find a way to more effectively pound the strike zone, his move to the bullpen could come sooner rather than later. —Nick Faleris
Fantasy Impact: Cosart’s instant appeal in fantasy comes from the high strikeout rates he posted in the minors. His whiff rate jumped this year to the highest it has been since he was in A-Ball in 2010. While there are no guarantees that Cosart will continue to strike out a batter an inning, the potential for high strikeouts does give Cosart a good shot at value regardless of what else he might do in an Astros uniform.
The problem is just about everything else. As my colleague Bret Sayre has pointed out in multiple Stash List articles, Cosart does get some credit for putting up solid numbers in a tough PCL environment. However, the high walk rate is going to translate badly to the majors. If Cosart’s problem in the PCL had been a prodigious home run rate, that would have been easier to explain away based on the circuit. But walks are walks; if Cosart can’t get the ball over the plate he’s not going to last long with the Astros.
A bigger concern is that Cosart could struggle and the Astros might decide to leave him up anyway. The team’s rotation is thin; it’s not difficult to envision a scenario where the Astros leave him in because they don’t want to go through another round of subpar pitching from an arm who isn’t a significant part of the future. Cosart could put up something like a 4.70 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP and simply linger in the rotation for the rest of the year. That won’t help in any format.
The final concern is with Cosart’s matchup today. The Rays offense is solid, and while they’re better against left-handed pitchers, they’re not slouches against right-handers either. Cosart is drawing a difficult debut assignment. His prospect cred can’t be questioned, but in terms of his fantasy value the best approach in all but the deepest of leagues is to take a wait-and-see approach. There are too many red flags in the short term to recommend a high waiver claim or significant FAAB bid. —Mike Gianella
Nick J. Faleris is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @NickJFaleris