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May 31, 2008

Future Shock

Bearing Down on Phillippe Aumont

by Kevin Goldstein

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In between a ridiculous amount of time making draft calls, and heading out to Wrigley to do a couple of video hits with the great folks over at MLB.com, I was able to get in another in-person viewing of one the Midwest League's top pitching prospects on Thursday night, as Seattle's Phillippe Aumont took the hill for Wisconsin against Kane County. This time, I got to double-dip on professional opinions, as I sat with two of the top talent evaluators in the business.

The 11th overall selection in last June's amateur draft, Aumont is as raw as they come. As a French-Canadian, Aumont's exposure to scouts was primarily limited to showcases and Team Canada outings, but his size, velocity, and potential was good enough to earn a nearly $2 million bonus. The Mariners took it slowly with their prized prospect, starting him in the bullpen and throwing him 40-50 pitches every five days before moving him to the rotation. His ERA was a perfect 0.00 before the move, and while he's finally been touched up a bit, it's only been a bit, as he currently has a 1.50 mark in 36 innings while allowing only 23 hits, walking 11 and striking out 35.

His third start of the year on Thursday night was his best on a statistical level, but how did the scouts feel about it? Let's take a closer look. To repeat from previous 'Bearing Down' columns, a quick primer on how I track pitches. This is not how teams do it or anything official, this is just how I keep track when I have access to gun readings. Basically, each notation has three pieces on information: TYPE-VELO-RESULT. Under Type, FB is fastball, CU is curveball, is slider; CH is changeup; Velo is simple enough. Under Result, 'b' stands for ball, 's' for swinging strike, 'c' is a called strike, 'f' a foul ball, and 'x' is a ball in play. So, an 81 mph slider taken for a strike is SL81c.

First Inning

Shane Keough: F93c, F94c, F94b, F94c = strikeout
Certainly a good start. The first thing one notices about Aumont is his size. When you think about a tall, teenage arm, you expect skinny and lanky, but Aumont is anything but that. Sure, he's six-foot-seven, but he's also beefy (in a good way) with a thick torso and tree trunks for legs. He started out throwing nothing but fastballs, and it's a very good pitch that has explosive late life, and that he locates well in the lower half of the zone. I ask one scout if Aumont's low three-quarters arm slot bothers him, and he replies, "Sure I'd like it high, but he's like six-foot-a-million with a ton of sink, so it doesn't bug me much at all."

Johnathan Johnston: F93c, CH85f, SL76c = strikeout
It's our first look at Aumont's secondary stuff, and it's a bit of a mixed bag. The changeup is a rudimentary pitch at best; it doesn't feature much in the way of velocity separation or movement, and his arm slows down significantly on the delivery. I'm calling the breaking ball a slider for the purposes of this exercise, but it's more of a slurve; it's a downright strange pitch to figure out. With his arm angle, it's impossible to throw an effective curveball, and while his pitch gets very good spin and break, he really slows it down and batters get a very long look at it. So why doesn't he throw the pitch harder for a true slider? "I just wish he gets after that pitch with the same conviction as his fastball," said one of the scouts. "Right now, he just slows down everything and floats it up there."

Larry Cobb: F93f, F93b, SL74f, F94b, F93f, CH84x = F-9, deep
The two hittable pitches? The slider and the changeup. Still, this was a 1-2-3 inning that Aumont breezed through on 13 pitches and 10 strikes.

Second Inning

Dan Hamblin: F92c, F90b, CH82x = F-8
Great pitch; miss; hittable change

Corey Brown: F92f, SL74c, F94b, F92s = strikeout
The fastballs really have a lot of life, and when they're not getting hammered into the ground, they're easily capable of being true swing-and-miss offerings.

Greg Dowling: CH82b, F92f, SL75s, F93x = 3-1
The slider plays up a little at this level when he throws it for strikes, because it throws batters off. Nobody is convinced that will happen as he moves up.

Third Inning

Michael Lissman: F91x = 6-3
In between innings, and stretching into Lissman's brief plate appearance, there's a discussion about Aumount's 'twitchiness'--he shakes his arm and shoulder before going into his motion pretty much every time. That's the kind of thing that can scare the hell out of a scout. "The last time I saw something like that was when a guy in college who usually throws in the mid-90s suddenly couldn't get out the 80s," noted one. Some quick discussions with others in the scouting area confirm that it's just an idiosyncratic thing. He does it all the time, and when Seattle asked him about it, he didn't even realize that he does it. Move along, nothing to see here.

Justin Frash: F92s, F91b, F91b, F91b, F91b = Walk

Matt Ray: F91b, F91b, F90c, F90x = F-7
This is a brief control hiccup from Aumont, and all six of the consecutive balls where outside to left-handed hitters. These things can happen with teenagers, so it's not a major concern, but a bigger one comes up when one of the scouts in attendance asks, "What happened to the [ninety-]threes and fours?" Again, it's only Aumont's third start, but at 30 or so pitches, he shouldn't be running out of gas or anything, and there's not any visual signs of fatigue, so we don't really have a good answer for the velocity dip.

Shane Keough: F89x = clean single to CF, Frash to second
What happened to the 90s, even?

Jonathan Johnston: CH82f, SL74x = hit by pitch, Frash to third, Keough to second
This one just got away from him. On a cold wet night, it happens.

Larry Cobb: SL75c, F94x = 6-3
This is really nice to see: in a pressure situation, Aumont ramps it back up to his peak velocity and gets a much-needed out to end the inning.

Fourth Inning

Dan Hamblin: SL74b, F90s, F91b, F91c, SL75b, F91f, SL76s = strikeout
Another good thing to see, in that he both battles back from the 3-1 count, and has the confidence to use the breaking ball with the count full. Hamblin didn't see it coming, and couldn't adjust in time.

Corey Brown: CH83b, F92b, F92s, F93b, F92x = hard single to RF
This time he couldn't recover from the 3-1 count, and one of Brown's top skills is the ability to turn on a fastball, even a good one.

Greg Dowling: FB91b, F91s, F90f, SL76c = strikeout
This is Aumont's third whiff on the breaking ball, yet the scouts remain unimpressed by it. Again, it gets good spin, but one wonders how good it could be if he put some more oomph into it.

Michael Lissman: F93c, F90x = F-7
Another relatively clean inning for Aumont. The single by Brown would easily be the hardest hit against him on the night.

Fifth Inning

Justin Frash: F92c, SL74b, F91b, F92x = Infield single
I'd argue that this was actually an error by second baseman Edilio Colina, but an Aumont sinker generates another hard grounder.

Matt Ray: F91x = F5 popout

Shane Keough: F91x, F91f, CH84b, SL74c = strikeout
Again, a batter gets frozen on the breaking ball, which at this point almost works like a changeup for Aumont, as far as its situational usage.

Jonathan Johnson: F90b, SL74b, CH82b, F91b, F92b = walk
At one point during this at-bat Aumont outstretched both arms to the umpire, as if to say, "What do you want from me?" Even if he was getting squeezed, umpires don't like to be shown up, even moreso by teenagers.

Larry Cobb: F91x, SL79b, SL77b, F91x, F93f, F92x = F-9
Those two sliders may have been the result of an angry fired-up pitcher, but they were also the two hardest ones he threw on the night, and both scouts agree dthey were the two best ones he threw all night as well. As he went into the dugout, Aumont had a heated exchange with a coach, which could have been the result of his still being angry at the umpire, or being upset over the fact that he was told that he was done for the night in the middle of a scoreless game. That can be either a bad thing (insubordinate) or good thing (competitive fire) depending on your mood for the day.

Final Line: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K

Final analysis? Let's leave that to the scouts. "There's a lot to like, with the size and the velocity and the sink," said one. "He just needs a lot of fine-tuning, really. I'm not in love with the breaking ball, but he shows feel on how to spin the ball, he shows some feel for a changeup, but I'd like to see more consistency with his delivery and release point. He's going to get strikeouts and groundballs all the way up with that sinker, though."

Another scout was not as impressed. "That fastball is very heavy with a lot of sink, but the first thing I think when seeing him is that he's a reliever," he said. "It's a slurvy breaking ball, and the change needs a lot of work for him to be a starter. Also, the delivery and mechanics were far more consistent out of the stretch for me--just a lot fewer moving parts it seems. But he's aggressive and competitive, and those first couple of innings were lights-out."

Aumont was impressive to be sure, but he was more in the good category than great until he can come up with improved secondary offerings. For now, he's a big kid with a big arm and little more, but any team would love to have that as a starting point.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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