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Chat: Doug Thorburn

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday July 02, 2015 3:00 PM ET chat session with Doug Thorburn.

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Doug Thorburn: Thanks for joining me on Pitcher Resurface day, with 3 SP's already having made their 2015 debuts with an early slate of Fern, Cain, and Moore. Who's ready to talk some baseball?

froglegs_jackson (westeros): How is it possible for Chris Sale to improve each season? Is he an an alien?

Doug Thorburn: He might just be an alien, so take everything with grains of Martian salt. The big difference this year has been the fastball, which he is actually throwing harder than in the past five years and which he is using as a punchout pitch more often than in the past, with spectacular results. Velo + command = improvement

neilar (portland): It's kinda weird that Taijuan Walker is a fastball/spiltter guy now, right? His curveball and cutter were touted at various times.

Doug Thorburn: It's interesting but I wouldn't call it weird. A lot of pitchers morph their secondaries over time, and a common scenario is for pitchers with exceptionally loopy breakers to make an adjustment once they learn that pro hitters can see those things coming from a mile away. The nice thing about the split is that it's thrown with FB arm action, so pitchers can adopt / mask the pitch relatively easily.

Apologies for the slow response time, everyone. I am on the road and my connection is shaky, so please bear with me!

markwilkins07 (KS): Thoughts on Chi Chi Gonzalez's performance so far?

Doug Thorburn: Pitching way over his head. The command is not as good as the walk rate suggests but the bat-missing skills might just be as rough as the K rate suggests, and I expect him to be hit hard (and soon) with a harsh dose of reality.

Jason (MPLS): Please rank, or tier, these under 24 year olds under the the assumption they would be 3B in the near future: Next year, and in 3 years, or in any way you please. 3B: Bryant, Machado, Sano, Gallo, Rendon, Franco, Lamb, Arenado, Baez, and Seager.

Doug Thorburn: IRL and down the road (say 3-5 yrs), gimme Machado, Bryant, Rendon, Arenado, Sano, Gallo, Franco, [gap] Baez,Lamb, Seager. In fantasy you can flip Machado and Bryant. Man, 3B is gonna be stoked for the foreseeable future.

Dude (Not work): How would you compare Michael Kopech, Anderson Espinoza, and Yadier Alvarez? If you could only pick one, who would you take?

Doug Thorburn: I haven't seen enough of these guys yet to make a fair assessment. Good research opportunity, though, so thanks for pointing me in that direction.

Alex (Anaheim): Is there a favorite in the AL East right now?

Doug Thorburn: I don't know if there is one, but I have been onboard the Blue Jays train since before the season and I'm still hanging out in the dining car. That offense is just too sick, and they have the horses to swing a trade if they are looking for balance, but the whole division is exceptionally thin on the mound right now (particularly considering the doubts surrounding Tanaka lasting til the playoffs).

Jairo Diaz (not the majors): I was mentioned as a potential closer in COL. What the hell happened to me?

Doug Thorburn: That's kinda damning praise considering the flotsam that Colorado has used in the CL spot. Relievers are fungible, and Diaz only had one productive year under his belt from the minors on top of a handful of questionable ones. He has fallen back into the questionable pool this season, with 23 K and 23 BB in 33.0 IP in the minors.

Nick (LA): Thoughts on Fernandez's mechanics today? Looks like he's showing the ball to 2B to me and the elbow action scares me. Am I just worrying about nothing or is there legitimate concern?

Doug Thorburn: I will have more on all of today's debuts - Fern, Cain, and Moore - in the next edition of Raising Aces, likely out Mon. Had a Dr. Appt with the new addition today, so missed the live show, but it's at the top of my priority list for when I get home.

Dave (Boston): Hey Doug, Pursuing both Degrom and Shelby Miller in a dynasty league. I respect your pitcher mechanic evaluation so I was wondering if you could share some thoughts on these two - trying to see who is a better bet to stay healthy over the next few years. Thanks!

Doug Thorburn: Pitchers who throw hard are naturally at an increased risk, so Miller and deGrom both get warning flags despite relatively sound deliveries. Miller was a much different pitcher mechanically last season and has gotten himself back on track this year (watch his head-butt during the follow-through, much more tame), but that inconsistency gives me pause. deGrom has shown more of a steady line of improvement, so I would lean that direction.

Shawn (Cubicle): Jose Fernandez, Miguel Sano, Doug Thorburn, what a day!

Doug Thorburn: Thanks, Shawn, but it is much too high of praise to put my name next to those badasses. It is a great day for baseball, no doubt, and yet another reason to feel lucky that we have MLB.tv - the 17-year old me is quite jealous, though he did enjoy listening to radio broadcasts over the internet back ion the day.

Behemoth (Scotland): Just wondered what you thought of Manny Banuelos's prospects in the longer term, and whether there's still a possibility of the pre-injury stuff coming back more?

Doug Thorburn: I think that he's going to need that stuff to come back if he is going to carve out an MLB career. I was high on Banuelos potential as a prospect, but the mechanical efficiency was already decent which put more of the onus on development of his stuff. If the stuff hasn't survived injury - pitch command in particular - then he is in for a tough road.

MeToo (HTown): Can you explain the official scoring of the Houston game last night, and specifically their pitching? I know you didnt score that game but how did Fields not get the win and Gregerson the save?

Doug Thorburn: The rules foir scoring W's are so ridiculous when the SP doesn't qualify, and it's basically up to the discretion of the official scorer to determine who gets the big W. That said, last night's game seemed pretty clear cut in that Gregerson shoulda had the save while Fields was the pitcher of record when the tie was broken, so that one really is a head-scratcher.

Lee (SoCal): Tyson Ross - worth going after from fantasy perspective? I think he might be undervalued given couple wild recent outings?

Doug Thorburn: Ross has been such a weird case this season. He has been startlingly consistent in the sense of ER per game, never really getting lit but never being dominant either, but his slider percentage has stayed insanely high while the walk rate has gone through the roof. I think that he was overvalued going into the season but that he is probably undervalued right now, though his lack of command could be a harbinger of doom rest of season. If his owner is willing to take 60 cents on the dollar from Ross' draft-day value, then I like it.

Sam (Baseballholics Anonymous Support Group): Your opinion of Steven Matz, long-term (on the hill, not with the bat). Go.

Doug Thorburn: His delivery is lacking in the power categories but his stability and repetition are legit. The combination could cap his ceiling, but but much of the focus has been on his injury history and I think that he has the mechanical baselines to inspire optimism in that department. Those with reasonable expectations will be more than happy with the return, but I don't consider Matz to have a Thor-like ceiling.

Mike (LA): Do you think Yordano Ventura's upside was last year, baseline between this year and last?

Doug Thorburn: The problem with comparing the two is that, stuff-wise, Ventura is a different pitcher this season. His velo is his calling card and Yordano is down a couple of ticks from last year, so the velo-related subtlety that masked command issues last year is no longer present. The upside is still the same assuming that he can rediscover his stuff of the past, but without the high-90s heat Ventura fails to stand out.

Matt (Wis): Have you heard that the O's have had gausman scrap his slider for a curve? someone mentioned it in a KLaw chat today but it was the first i had heard of it. I own him in a few dynasty leagues and their handling of him concerns me. why are they screwing with his repertoire in addition to shuttling him back and forth between AAA and the majors instead of bumping tillman or norris? I fear they're going to totally torpedo him.

Doug Thorburn: Personally, I'm not on board with some of the moves that they have made thus far with his development, and given the organizational avoidance of cutters I'd say that further pitch limitations 0 if true - have the potential to further lower his ceiling.

LucasDad (Monticello ): Does Bogaerts ever live up to the hype? Will his power and patience return, or is he more of a singles slapper now? Seems like he might become the Heyward of SS's.

Doug Thorburn: It's amazing how often we (collective) underestimate the difficulty of transitioning from AAA to the majors, particularly for hitters. Stuff plays at any level, but the ability to respond to advanced command and pitch types is not universal. Bogaerts has all of the raw tools to be a solid MLB hitter, but any slap-tastic approach that is seen now could easily be his reaction to how he's being pitched, meaning that he will need to make some adjustments before discovering success at the highest level.

cracker73 (Ohio): Do you have any thoughts on Cashners's performance so far, and for the rest of the season?

Doug Thorburn: I've got a bunch of thoughts on Cashner, who has both upped the K rate (which I saw coming) and been lit like a Christmas tree (which I didn't see coming) this year. He has the stuff to dominate, especially considering the arm-side movement and raw velocity of his 2-seam fastball, but his lack of velocity spread and inconsistency of secondaries is crushing his potential. I still think that he takes a major step forward, but that improvement may not come this season.

markwilkins07 (KS): Outside of Giolito, what minor league pitcher are you most excited to see in the show?

Doug Thorburn: Urias is the easy answer here, but he has been so different each year of his development - mechanically and stuff-wise - that I am eager to see what he brings to the show. An even bigger question might be whether the Dodgers promote the youngster based on merit or whether they wait for sake of his development, because what I have see is a volatile pitcher who is still learning how to convert his body into a baseball-throwing machine.

Dave (Boston): Robert Stephenson seems to have turned his season around the last 4-5 weeks. Any word if he made adjustment, if something clicked, or just small sample size noise?

Doug Thorburn: I haven't watched Stephenson yet this season, so I can't say for sure if anything changed. However, a simple return to past efficiency (his 2013 delivery was better than in 2014) would go a long way, and in particular the high-momentum pitcher needs that extra burst to the plate in order to maximize his timing and repetition. My guess would be that he has rediscovered that level of momentum, butI would obviously have to watch some MiLB footage to be sure.

LucasDad (Monticello ): Adam Brett Walker. Minor league homerun beast with verry little shot at succeeding in the majors, or, a future useful hitter at a corner or DH in the majors? Anyone strikeout that much and walk that little still succeed? Is he a True Two Outcome guy K/hr? Twins homers seem to think he can be good simply based on AA hr output.

Doug Thorburn: HR's are fickle when looking at translations, particularly when jumping from AA to the majors. Plenty of guys in AA have a legit fastball but lack secondaries and/or command, and mistake hitters can go nuts at that level. But when the mistakes they see go down from one or two per game to one or two per week, a masher can turn into a smurf relatively quickly. I'm no hitting expert so Walker's ability to translate his game to the highest level is a relative mystery to me, but right-handed power is a desirable commodity at all levels so he will likely be given a few chances to succeed.

bobbygrace (D.C.): Have you had a chance to see Tyler Glasnow lately? In March 2014, you put a 35 grade on his repetition and gave his overall mechanics a B grade. Any changes since then?

Doug Thorburn: I haven't had a chance to see Glasnow yet this year, but yeah there was a massive gap between who he was and who he could be. Between the new baby (I'm the proud father of a 1-month old) and the chaos of in-season ball at the highest level, it might be a little while before I have the chance to catch up with the minors.

Shawn (Cubicle): Who's mechanics have taken the biggest step forward/jump back this year from the 2015 SP Guide?

Doug Thorburn: I will have to give this one more thought in order to have a better answer, particularly on the jump back side, but I have been impressed with the continued improvement of Trevor Bauer's stability and repetition as well as Shelby Miller's ability to shed the inconsistencies of 2014. Both pitchers still have work to do, but they are both young/advanced enough to endure the growing pains at the highest level without harming their long-term development.

cracker73 (ohio): Banuelos and Billingsley are scheduled to start today. What are your thoughts on them? Do they have any upside?

Doug Thorburn: I used to be higher on both, but I think that the upside is limited for Banuelos and Billingsley. Both pitchers are trying to rediscover past levels of effectiveness, and whereas Banuelos has time on his side, the lack of a track record and the developmental hurdles related to his injury cloud his future.

John (CT): So we're at the halfway point. Who has been the biggest surprise and the biggest disappointment for you?

Doug Thorburn: Biggest surprise: deGrom. I didn't know he was THIS good.

Biggest disappointment: Rendon. If only because I was hoping to see if he could repeat the offensive gains of last season, but instead his 2015 campaign has been derailed by injuries - which were the biggest knock against him as a prospect.

Jason (MPLS): Please rank, or tier, these under 24 year olds under the the assumption they would be SS's in the near future: Next year, and in 3 years, or in any way you please. SS: Bogaerts, Lindor, Russell, Correa, Baez, and Seager.

Doug Thorburn: So the same thing as the 3B question, but now at SS, eh? For IRL, gimme Correa, Russell, Lindor, Bogaerts, Baez, Seager. I think that Seager and Baez are off the SS list within 3 yrs tho. For fantasy purposes, and assuming those transitions, I would go ahead and flip-flop Bogaerts and Lindor.

Brian (CA): Another buzzy SP prospect is alex reyes. reports are he's reaching triple digits this season. Any feedback on his mechanics? lofty ceiling but does his mechanical profile suggest a pitcher who will continue to struggle with command/control?

Doug Thorburn: Reyes is big on power in his delivery but light on stability, giving him the classic pitcher profile that might look better in the bullpen if the consistency fails to develop. He has massive torque and above-average momentum, but mediocre balance and excessive spine-tilt cloud his ability to find a repeatable release point and thus clouds his future role.

ColeWhittier (Pasadena): Hi Doug, could you rate these 5 Ps for future? Any stand out above the others? Joe Ross, Vincent Velasquez, Raisel Iglesias, Matt Wisler, Michael Lorenzen. Thanks!

Doug Thorburn: Ross is an intriguing pitcher but his pitch selection is mirroring his brother's approach, including a high rate of SL's that simultaneously raises the injury risk and put the onus on his ability to bury the pitch. I really like Velasquez's delivery and the velo is legit. Iglesias is incredibly advanced for his age. Lorenzen has great stuff but was perhaps promoted before the command was honed, whereas Wisler holds the opposite profile of low ceiling but high floor. Long-term, give me Velasquez-Lorenzen-Wisler-Iglesias-Ross, but in the near-term I would go with Velasquez-Wisler-Ross-Iglesias-Lorenzen. Velasquez is above the others, and development will determine how the rest fall into place.

kcshankd (Cascadia): Thanks for chat. I have a 12 yr old that really likes to pitch. He has been working with a former big leaguer that emphasizes balance. "I'm tired of standing on one leg dad. I want to throw harder" Any advice?

Doug Thorburn: haha, it sounds like he is with someone who is emphasizing the best aspects. All kids want to throw hard, but in order to reach velocity ceiling first they must master the balance elements of pitching. This can be frustrating for young pitchers because they wake up every day with a different body that needs to be balanced. There are certainly tricks to throwing harder, but the best advice that I can give at this point is to focus on hitting spots above velocity or movement. The worst thing that can happen for his development is that he's TOO GOOD at a young age, because those pitchers tend to get abused even by well-meaning coaches. Throw more, pitch less, and let his physicaly development determine the best time to let loose the reigns.

Matt (Chicago): If you're Jed/Theo what approach do you take to deal with their SP depth issue-both on big-league club & throughout the org?

Doug Thorburn: The Mets are one of the few ballclubs flush with pitching, and though they have some up-the-middle intrigue, any team would be stoked to have a SS/2B with the upside of the Cubs' young stable. Arizona might also make for a solid match, and given the organization's track record of seemingly undervaluing their own assets, the Cubs might get away with a steal out of the desert that would make Tuco Ramirez proud.

Doug Thorburn: That's all for me today. Apologies for the slow connection and thanks to everyone for all of the great questions. Keep a look out for the next edition of Raising Aces, which will cover the returns of Fern, Cain, and Moore - they will also be covered on the next episode of the Baseballholics Anonymous podcast. And for the DFS enthusiasts out there, Fantasy Rounders is always here for your daily fantasy needs. Til next time


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