WTNYNovember 30, 2004
Pardon As They Relieve Themselves
By Bryan Smith

When perusing through scouting reports on prospects, you'll often read that starting pitcher prospects would make a great closer. I don't have enough time to make a full entry today, but I wanted to combine a few scouting reports and extra thoughts to get your opinions on the prospects of four top 50 pitchers moving to the bullpen. Normally I am greatly against this, but if it appears that the player simply will not reach his full potential in the rotation, making him the closer is hardly despicable.

The Win Shares leaderboards are hardly as dominated by starters as one would think, James' system recognizes relievers as important players too. If a player is better suited in relief, stretching his career out into mediocre 5-6 inning appearances is a bad idea. Today, I will attack four players: Scott Kazmir, Jose Capellan, Merkin Valdez and Denny Bautista. In the comments, please tell me your thoughts on these players, the idea of moving these players to the bullpen, and your idea of that philosophy in general. Let's go in order of how high I would rank them, starting with the ex-Met (sorry, needed that quick jab).

Scott Kazmir- First, for the proper scouting report on Kazmir, I give you what Rich Lederer wrote following his debut, in an article entitled "Great Scott". This sums up a lot of the thoughts I had when vieweing Kazmir myself:


The #15 overall pick in the 2002 draft, Kazmir was everything we had all heard and read. He threw 93-95 mph consistently and hit 96 and 97 on the gun on occasion. The lefty has an easy throwing motion, filthy stuff, and seemingly impressive composure for someone who is not even old enough to drink...He already has a major-league caliber fastball and slider and only needs to further develop his change-up (a pitch that he wasnt afraid to use Monday night) and improve his control to become known as the Kazmir Sweaterthe type of pitcher that will send opponents perspiring in anticipation of facing him.

For years, I was a seller of Kazmir, buying into the "poor man's Billy Wagner" hype a lot more than Ron Guidry, as Rich also suggested. His blend of height, power, and a lack of a third pitch cry for a move to the bullpen. But Kazmir did not have troubles when facing the Red Sox or Tigers for a second time, as relief-worthy starting pitchers sometimes do. The only negative is that during pitches 46-60, and then 61-75, Kazmir allowed respective OPS numbers of 1.423 and 1.311. Yes, this is an insanely small sample size, but if Kazmir flops at 45 like Pedro does at 100, maybe using him as a closer won't be so bad for the Devil Rays after all.


Jose Capellan- Not well known before the season, Capellan flew through four levels in 2004, finishing the season with the Braves. His HR/9 rates were amazing in the minors, a trait needed for a good reliever, but also a telling statistic for a starting pitcher. Using the wonderful MLB TV, I tuned in for Capellan's first start, and afterwards wrote this:


Like in the Futures Game, Capellan began the game throwing primarily fastballs. Its a great pitch, 96-99 mph, but without anything else caused some problems. In the first inning, Capellan allowed two hits, two walks and a run, pitches out of a bases loaded, one out jam. This was because Jose started to mix in his curve, a low-80s pitch with sharp, downward bite. Its a good pitch, and sees problems when he leaves it up in the zone. He finished the game well, retiring eight of the last nine batters he faced...With thick thighs powering his fastball, Capellan is reminiscent of the Bartolo Colon, Livan Hernandez type pitcher. After watching the Futures Game, I speculated Capellan may be best out of the bullpen, but I think he could have a Colon-like career in starting.

And then there is this comment I made after watching Capellan throw all of fifteen pitches at the 2004 Futures Game, in my game report entitled "Baseball's Crystal Ball".

The same wasnt true by Jose Capellan, the Braves prospect that seemed to dominate his inning despite allowing a hit to Wright. Capellan threw his fastball from 95-98, using it on thirteen of his fifteen total pitches. His curve was rather unimpressive, and though this might depress Braves fans, Capellan reminded me of a younger Kyle Farnsworth.

So, in the course of two months, I gave two drastically different comparisons for Capellan: Colon and Farnsworth. It seemed as I liked his curveball more the second time around, citing the bite, while acknowledging his tendency to leave it up in the zone too much. Expect Leo Mazzone to attack this matter quickly, and thoroughly. But still, this only gives him two real pitches. While it hasn't been talked about, could John Smoltz and Capellan switch roles in 2005?

Merkin Valdez- This is an odd example, because it is not an idea thought of by prospect evaluators, but by the San Francisco Giants themselves. Since the club was in the middle of a pennant race without a closer, Brian Sabean began to think of new ideas to find the player who would dominate the ninth inning. Matt Herges was not up for the role, neither was 2003 first-rounder David Aardsma. They hadn't yet thought of Dustin Hermanson, who would do the job fine in September. So, they brought in Valdez, who did a terrible job, and was almost immediately sent back to starting. But was Sabean onto something? Here were my Future Game thoughts:


El Mago threw the bottom half, throwing one of the easiest mid-90s fastballs that I have ever seen. It didnt look like Valdez was laboring at all, and he also threw a change and curve in his eight pitch stint. After retiring Fielder and Wright, Valdez was taken out to let the fans see Jairo Garcia, the As reliever that just finished storming threw the Midwest League.

It's hard to give too much of a scouting report based on eight pitches, but I could quickly tell that Valdez was quite the talent. My feeling that he threw 'easy' is something that works well for a starting pitcher, because it means that he puts little stress on his arm. An innings-eater with a mid-90s fastball is a rare commodity, and one of the few that should not in anyway be subject to the move to closer. Also, since he threw two other solid pitches in such a short appearance, I'm convinced that Valdez has the versatility to be another Giant starting prospect. Jerome Williams, Matt Cain, Jesse Foppert and Merkin Valdez. Even Logan White might be jealous of that foursome.

Before getting to Bautista, let me say that this is when my personal account becomes less affective, and I will lean on Baseball America. I hate to do this, to simply regurgiate other's work, but for the purpose of discussion, excuse me just this once.

Denny Bautista- No matter how you look at it, this was the steal of the 2004 season. Jason Grimsley, a fairly-replaceable right-handed reliever, was a coveted attraction by the non-contending Baltimore Orioles. Somehow, Baird had enough leverage to demand Bautista, who the Orioles had stolen from the Marlins for Jeff Conine the previous season. Why they gave in, I'll never fully understand. I don't have too many thoughts on Bautista, but did offer this bit when placing Bautista in my preseason top 50 prospects:


No one impressed me more at the Futures Game than Denny Bautista, a huge right-hander that the Orioles acquired for Jeff Conine last season. Bautista, a cousin of Pedro and Ramon Martinez, throws a fantastic fastball that was the best of any pitcher at the Futures Game. His curveball was impressive as well, but I wont be shocked to see Bautista to become a reliever.

OK, so I saw it more than a year ago, and the talk keeps getting louder as Bautista moves up the ladder. While the U.S. Cellular Field radar gun was terrible during the 2003 Futures Game, I'll never forget Bautista's "heavy" mid-90s fastball. Even from my seats on the third base line, I was able to see the movement on Bautista's fastball, and how it troubled hitters greatly. According to Baseball America, Bautista has as many as four solid pitches, just none like that fastball. In his chat on the system, Will Kimmey kept reiterating that Bautista's future might be replacing Mike MacDougal. I hope they at least give him a chance to prove himself otherwise first.

OK, I just want to start the discussion here. If you have seen these players pitch, voice in. If you follow these teams, voice in. If you have opinions on moving pitchers to the bullpen, voice in. Hell, if you have any prospect-related question or comment, voice in. I'm just beginning the dialogue...

Comments

I would try them as starters until they prove they can't handle the workload. You might be risking injury due to more innings but otherwise I'd give them 1-2 year trials in the rotation to see.

I think that Capellan can be used as a reliever/spot starter to get him used to the majors. He fits in with the Braves not paying for setup strategy. The role that Juan Cruz played for them last year can be filled at no cost by Capellan. It also won't put 150 innings on his arm. In about three years once Mazzone has taught him a change to go with the fastball and improved curve the Braves can put him into the rotation if they choose.

I think Thomas Pauly would make an excellent closer for the Reds.
I foresee the Reds having Ryan Wagner-Richie Gardner-Thomas Pauly all at the backend of the bullpen in 2-3 years similar to the Lidge-Dotel-Wagner triumvirate in Houston a few years back.

Kazmir should not be put in the bullpen. All he needs is a changeup, he's too close to putting it together as a starter for them to waste his talent in the bullpen, in my opinion. I saw about 3 of his starts down the stretch and each time walked away impressed.

I think Capellan should be in the pen, I am not as impressed by his performance or tools as others it seems. I think his fastball is rather straight and he uses it way too much, leading to him getting bashed. I also don't think his curveball is that impressive.

Bautista is incredibly overrated in my opinion. He is just a big fastball and he doesn't really have much of an idea of where anything he throws is going it seems.

The Devil Rays and Royals aren't doing anything next year, so I see no harm in putting Kazmir and Bautista in the rotation for at least half a season to prove they can't make it as a starter.
The Cruz/Capellan comparison works well for me. He has nothing left to prove in the minors and I think he would benefit from the long reliever role Earl Weaver liked so much.
I think Valdez could use more minor league time. If the Giants can fill in their rotation on the cheap with Cain, Lowry, Williams and/or Valdez maybe they can sign someone to hit behind Bonds. Knowing the Giants they'll just pay for 3 Michael Tuckers.

I didn't see anything with Kazmir that would suggest a move to the bullpen was needed or would be needed in the future. His fastball and slider (which he seems to have two variations on) are major league ready and his change-up is coming along well enough right now. I'd prefer that he started the season in Triple A next year but he should be ok as a starter with the Rays out of spring training. His FIP/MFIP/DIPS (ESPN's non-park adjusted version) ERAs were 4.19/4.17/4.17. That .345 BABIP isn't likely to be repeated so he should be just fine.

Capellan got absolutely lit up yesterday in the Dominican Republic: 4 outs, 7 runs, 6 earned. That Farnsworth comparision looks to be pretty apt, because I'm guess that was fastball, fastball, fastball, another fastball, etc. Ouch.

you'd think the braves can do a better job with capellan than cubs would ever do with farnsworth. its too early to call him a bust.

Absolutely, wilt. I wasn't calling Capellan a bust, and I doubt Bryan was either. I don't think Farnsworth's a bust either, but you'll find plenty of other Cubs fans that disagree.

"I foresee the Reds having Ryan Wagner-Richie Gardner-Thomas Pauly all at the backend of the bullpen in 2-3 years"

Why on earth would the Reds take their two best starting pitching prospects and convert them into relievers? This isn't a pitching rich organization we're talking about.