On Wednesday night, I attended a minor-league game between the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and the Kane County Cougars in low-A Midwest League. With both teams not offering much in the way of position players, the most attractive aspect of the game was the pitching match-up between Brewers righty Eric Arnett and Athletics southpaw Ian Krol. A first-round pick last June, Arnett signed for a bonus just south of $1.2 million, while Krol fell to the seventh round due to signability concerns and an incident that had him suspended from his high school team. He ultimately received near first-round money ($925,000).
On the surface, that looks like two pitchers who were equally good, with a slight edge to Krol for the two fewer hits allowed and extra whiffs. In fact, things couldn't be further from the truth, as Krol was by far the more impressive pitcher, and Arnett, while having his best line of the season, is still a far cry from the pitcher Milwaukee drafted last June.
The first thing to understand for context is that the Kane County offense, which in all fairness has been beset by injuries, is downright horrendous. In its 10 games, Kane County has managed just 17 runs, while batting .186. That's why Arnett's line looked good, as opposed to his actual ability. Last year at Indiana University, Arnett's fastball sat at 91-94 mph while touching 96; last night, he was 89-91 with a couple of 92s and 93s thrown in. His 81-mph slider had good, albeit a bit slow, break, and much of the problem has been with Arnett's mechanics. He's anything but direct to the plate, as his leg kick comes around in a semi-circular motion, bringing his body with it. This causes him to lose leverage and creates inconsistent landing points. His command and control suffered as well, with the free-swinging Cougars bailing him out of several jams. It was difficult to watch at times, as Arnett was clearly frustrated on the mound, slamming his glove into return throws by the catcher, stepping off the mound and looking at the sky at times, and just pitching with anger. It's far too early to make a judgment call here, but he hasn't been right all year, and it's certainly a concern. It's not like his stuff isn't good, it's just not as advertised, and one has to wonder if a move to the bullpen, where he could tick up the velo on both his fastball and slider, isn't the answer if his struggles in the rotation continue.
Krol, on the other hand, was a joy to watch. He doesn't have anything close to Arnett's velocity, sitting at 88-91, but his accuracy with his pitches is outstanding, as he uses both sides of the plate effectively and works up and down. His curveball is another plus pitch that he can drop into the zone for strikes or bury as a chase pitch, and he has no fear in using it at any point in the count, including on a 3-2 pitch to first baseman Chris Dennis that led to the final out in the sixth—Dennis nearly swung out of his shoes. Krol also flashed a solid changeup, and while it's a bit of a cliché—and not the kind of thing some parts of the stat community like to hear about or accept—Krol is just a battler. He goes after hitters without fear, and he's the kind of pitcher who could get better when he moves up and has a more polished defense behind him.
If there's one negative in Krol, it's just what he's not. I absolutely adored watching him pitch last night, but at the same time, what can he be in the end? There's no doubt in my mind that it's a big leaguer, with the floor of a long career as a situational reliever, but at the same time, I don't see the ceiling as more than a fourth starter. Despite all of the control, pitchability, and competitiveness, he's still a low three-quarters slot guy with average velocity and two good, but not killer, secondary offerings. As someone else put to me when discussing his ceiling, how many pitchers with that combination are a third starter or better? The answer is zero, and it's not as if Krol is so special that he can be that one outlier. Still, I don't want to end this on a bad note. I can't wait to see Krol pitch again, and I can think of few other teenage arms that I'd place a bigger bet on as far as simply getting to the big leagues. He's just not a star, and that's fine, as so few are.