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August 25, 2000

Olympic Prospectus

The Pitchers

by Derek Zumsteg

Today: a rundown on the pitching side of things, but first a followup on yesterday's column discussing the hitters:

Outfielder Brad Wilkerson was a fine pick, and I was wrong to say he didn't hit doubles. I didn't locate any Double-A statistics for him for this year, but as several astute and polite readers pointed out, he's been hitting all kinds of doubles, 33 before his promotion.

I really like the pitchers on this team. It's saying something when Kurt Ainsworth is the tenth-best pitcher, as rated by raw KWH (which is (K^2)/(H*BB), an excellent measure of "stuff"), with a score of 1.6. There are five left-handers and seven right-handers, a good balance, and only Ryan Franklin gives up a lot of home runs.

I'm surprised that there are as many control types as there are: I would have given a lot of thought to taking the hardest-throwing low-control types I could have begged off the Marlins and Rockies. You think the fearsome Japanese could do anything about that? I'll give you a hint: Battling Bobby Wolcott is revered as a god over there.

It's unclear right now how the staff will shake out: of these pitchers, ten are currently starters, and the schedule only requires a four-man rotation.

Kurt Ainsworth

Age: 22
In 2000: Double-A (Giants)
Type: Power starter
Probable Role: Starter
Pick: Great

Kurt Ainsworth is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. He cooks with gas, throwing a low-movement 95 mph fastball and a 90 mph two-seamer that sinks, complemented with a nice changeup. On behalf of the rest of the country, I'd like to thank the Giants front office for letting him play. I hope the Pastaman doesn't pitch his arm off.

Ryan Franklin

Age: 27
In 2000: Triple-A (Mariners)
Type: Control starter
Probable Role: Starter
Pick: Good

With a fastball in the high 80s, Ryan Franklin is very good at changing speeds, hitting locations and setting up a batter, and has put together a great season in Triple-A. Franklin has a KWH of 4.2 and has struck out 22% of the batters he's faced this year. While he's given up his share of home runs, he doesn't put many runners on so it doesn't bother him too much. The tater tendency could be a problem, though, against a lineup as power-heavy as the Cubans are rumored to be.

Chris George

Age: 22
In 2000: Double-A and Triple-A (Royals)
Type: Control starter
Probable Role: Relief
Pick: Good

Another finesse pitcher. Chris George has struggled at Triple-A so far, but don't let that fool you: he showed a lot of promise at Double-A. George throws a high-80s fastball, an excellent changeup, a curve and a slider. He walks a lot of batters--12% of the ones he's faced--and that could be annoying when these teams start to play little baseball with the base stealing and the sacrificing runners.

Matt Ginter

Age: 22
In 2000: Double-A (White Sox)
Type: Power starter
Probable Role: Relief
Pick: Good

Matt Ginter has past relief experience and will return to that role for the Olympics. He throws a 90+ heater and a nice slider. His season line is similar to Kurt Ainsworth's in many ways, but Ginter is not, as far as we know, aided by the "super ligament". He would make a good Keith Foulke-type multi-inning closer. He hits twice as many batters as he gives up home runs to, which is just fine with me.

Shane Heams

Age: 24
In 2000: Double-A and Triple-A (Tigers)
Is: Power reliever
Probable Role: Relief
Pick: Decent

Shane Heams has shot up the ladder this year, most recently getting lit up in nine relief appearances for the Toledo Mud Hens after a stint at Double-A Jacksonville in which he did quite well. He's been known to throw fastballs exclusively at times when his control wanes. Heams is a real believer in the Three True Outcomes of strikeouts, home runs and walks: one of these three occurs in about 45% of all his matchups.

This was a surprising pick, one I hadn't heard rumored, but a good move in picking up an excellent and exciting-to-watch reliever. NBC, at least, should be pleased.

Rick Krivda

Age: 30
In 2000: Triple-A (Orioles)
Type: Control starter
Probable Role: Relief/spot starter
Pick: Bad

Well, he's experienced. Rick Krivda has had five cups of coffee in the majors and done little with them, but he has a long record of minor-league success. His selection is one of the two poor choices on the pitching side. Krivda is another control pitcher, but without any outstanding pitches. He has the second-worst KWH on the team at 1.12, which is still good.

Krivda may be a good pick to start on the off days clearly marked on the schedule and denoted by the term "Italy". I don't think they'd bring him if they didn't see him as a starter.

Roy Oswalt

Age: 23
In 2000: Double-A (Astros)
Type: Power starter
Probable Role: Relief
Pick: Great

Another propane-fueled young arm. Roy Oswalt has a fastball clocked as high as 97, a good curve, good ratios in the low minors and has been just amazing at Double-A. 124 strikeouts with only 20 walks is amazing enough, but he's allowed less than a baserunner an inning and rarely gives up the long ball. I'd start Oswalt, no question, but I'm not running this show.

Jon Rauch

Age: 21
In 2000: High-A and Double-A (White Sox)
Type: Power starter
Probable Role: Relief
Pick: Good

Jon Rauch is tall at 6'10" and a big guy at that, so he should intimidate on the mound. He supposedly doesn't throw as hard as, say, Ryan Anderson--Rauch hits the low 90s--but he's been doing something right. He started the season in high A ball, where his KWH was over 4.5; he wasn't walking anyone while striking out a batter an inning. Promoted to Double-A, in equal time he's been nearly as effective: his KWH is now 3.78 and his ratios are almost unchanged. That's a real good sign.

C.C. Sabathia

Age: 20
In 2000: Double-A (Indians)
Type: Power starter
Probable Role: Starter
Pick: Great

I'm hoping that the NBC coverage of the Olympics features video-game-like enhancements, so we can see C.C. Sabathia "on fire!", get unlimited turbo and have flame trails on his fastball. Sabathia throws a mid/high-90s fastball, depending on which scouting report you read, and a nasty curve. He's a big kid, like Rauch (Sabitha is 6'7" and listed at 235 pounds; Rauch 6'10" and 230). Unlike Rauch, Sabathia walks a fair number of batters.

Bobby Seay

Age: 22
In 2000: Double-A (Devil Rays) (Pan Am Games veteran)
Type: Power starter
Probable Role: Relief
Pick: Okay

Bobby Seay was the other beneficiary of the Travis Lee Emancipation Proclamation, if you remember those halcyon days. He's not consistent: he's got a fastball that John Sickels reported can be 95 and then 89, and moves and then doesn't. Seay also has a curveball he doesn't control well and a great changeup he doesn't use. He has good ratios, but this year was good at home and shelled on the road.

Seay could be a huge boon to the team, or a huge liability and get left in the outback to become the first Survivor 2 contestant, not that he needs the money. He will likely relieve, which he did last year when he had a great save in Game Four of the Pan Am Games against Brazil.

Ben Sheets

Age: 22
In 2000: Double-A and Triple-A (Brewers)
Type: Power starter
Probable Role: Starter
Pick: Good

Last year, Ben Sheets was in the short-season California League after college. This year he started in Double-A, was promoted, and now seems quite comfortable in Triple-A. He's not the strikeout pitcher Oswalt or Rauch is, but 56 whiffs in 72 innings in his first go-round at this level is nothing to scoff at, and he's still not giving up too many hits, homers or offering complimentary passes to first base. Sheets will almost certainly be in the starting rotation.

Todd Williams

Age: 29
In 2000: Triple-A (Mariners) (Pan Am Games veteran)
Type: Proven closer
Probable Role: Closer
Pick: Bad

Another holdover from the Pan Am squad. Picked because he's a "proven closer", Todd Williams leads all active minor leaguers in saves and has set a PCL single-season record this year.

That aside, Williams is the hardest selection to justify. His KWH, for instance, is 0.65, lowest of any selected player. Sure, the team needs a bullpen, but at a certain point ability and talent should become more important than role. This is a roster spot that could have been used to add another Tim Young-type.

Tim Young

Age: 26
In 2000: Triple-A (Red Sox)
Type: Left-handed specialist
Probable Role: Relief
Pick: Good

Baseball America's report on Tim Young says he's got a funky, sidewinding delivery that's made him a left-handed specialist. This jibes pretty well with his line: he's been in 30 games, but has only six saves. Young has been brutal on opposing batters this year, not allowing many hits, not walking many batters and whiffing 27% of people that set foot in the batter's box. He has had a couple of short stints in the Show, with the Expos and Red Sox.

Still to come: probable lineups and comments on the overall team composition.

Derek Zumsteg can be reached at dzumsteg@baseballprospectus.com.

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