Screening for Pitching Prospects: A Recap
On Monday and Tuesday, I screened ten different minor leagues covering 120 teams and over 1,000 pitchers to develop a list of 48 pitchers (10 x 5 with two pitchers qualifying twice) with high K/9 and low HR/9 rates. I am in no way suggesting that these pitchers are the top four dozen prospects in baseball, but--after reviewing the names--I am confident that this approach was effective in separating the wheat from the chaff.
Interestingly, there were 16 LHP and 32 RHP. There is also a good mixture between pitchers drafted out of high school and college. From a team perspective, the Milwaukee Brewers lead the way with five of the 48 pitchers. The Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, and Texas Rangers each have four, while the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, and Houston Astros have three apiece. On the opposite end of the ledger, the Arizona Diamondbacks, Florida Marlins, Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, and Seattle Mariners have no representation whatsoever.
Homer Bailey and Yovani Gallardo were the only pitchers who made the lists for two different leagues. In their cases, it just so happened that they both pitched in the Florida State and Southern Leagues. There are other pitchers, most notably Matt Garza, who have succeeded at more than one level, but they may not have thrown the requisite 50 innings at each stop.
Twelve pitchers have graduated to the major leagues or had the opportunity to perform at the highest level.
PITCHER TEAM W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO Jered Weaver LAA 9 0 1.95 12 12 78.1 53 18 17 4 20 65 Chad Billingsley LAD 4 3 3.19 13 13 73.1 65 30 26 7 49 52 Edinson Volquez TEX 1 2 4.02 3 3 15.2 17 7 7 1 8 8 Matt Albers HOU 0 1 4.35 3 1 10.1 11 5 5 0 6 8 Jamie Shields TB 6 6 4.74 16 16 95.0 110 52 50 11 31 83 Mike Pelfrey NYM 2 1 5.48 4 4 21.1 25 14 13 1 12 13 Boof Bonser MIN 2 4 5.51 10 10 50.2 59 34 31 12 16 42 Carlos Marmol CHC 5 6 5.65 15 13 71.2 64 47 45 12 55 52 Rich Hill CHC 3 6 6.44 10 9 50.1 52 39 36 11 29 38 Dana Eveland MIL 0 3 8.13 9 5 27.2 39 25 25 4 16 32 Dustin McGowan TOR 1 1 9.78 12 1 19.1 27 24 21 2 18 19 Matt Garza MIN 0 2 11.74 2 2 7.2 13 10 10 2 4 7
Dana Eveland, Rich Hill, Dustin McGowan, and Edinson Volquez also had a cup of coffee in the majors last year. None of them have found their footing yet.
Jered Weaver is, by far, the most advanced pitcher among those who have made it to the bigs. He also has the best numbers and would make an easy choice for A.L. Rookie of the Year in a more normal year. However, 2006 may end up being known for the number of quality first-year pitchers it produced (Francisco Liriano, Jonathan Papelbon, Justin Verlander, and Weaver) in a manner similar to the 1983 NFL season when John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino all made their debuts.
There are several pitchers not listed in our screens who I would prefer over those who may have made the grade. That said, I am going to stick my neck out and choose a Top Ten from the pool of 48 pitchers. The following list is based on a discounted present value of the future returns (like they do in the financial world) of each pitcher's career. The closer the expected returns, the higher the value.
PITCHER TEAM COMMENTS 1. Jered Weaver LAA He's in the big leagues now and producing in a big way. 2. Chad Billingsley LAD Permanent fixture in the starting rotation for years to come. 3. Homer Bailey CIN Might have the highest ceiling of 'em all. 4. Philip Hughes NYY The total package. Stuff and command. 5. Matt Garza MIN From A to AA to AAA to the majors in one year. 6. Mike Pelfrey NYM Ultimate success will be a function of his secondary pitches. 7. Yovani Gallardo MIL He has matched Bailey at both stops this year. 8. Humberto Sanchez DET Can't leave him off the list but weight and elbow concern me. 9. Scott Elbert LAD Arguably the best LHP in the minors. 10. Brandon Erbe BAL Lights up the radar guns. Doesn't turn 19 until Xmas Day.
In due time, pitchers such as Luke Hochevar, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, and Andrew Miller might have something to say about who belongs in the Top Ten. (I didn't include pitchers who haven't completed 50 innings of professional ball in my objective or subjective rankings.) Weaver and Chad Billingsley will lose their rookie status so most prospect lists this winter will probably include at least a couple of the above first-year pros in their Top Tens.
Age. Stuff. Command. They all factor into prospect evaluations. But eventually it comes down to performance. In other words, when it's all said and done, you gotta deliver the goods. Potential is nice but actual performance rules once you get to the Show.