Searching the Arizona Fall League for Rule 5 pitchersby Harry Pavlidis
December 08, 2009
Much has been made over the Arizona Fall League outings of Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen. And rightfully so.
But while the AFL is generally a showcase for each team's top minor league talent, not every player is a blue chipper. Many have put in a few years of service (even a stint in the majors) but find themselves left off the 40-man roster. For some, that also means Rule 5 Draft eligibility.
I haven't found a complete list of eligible players, although several team blogs and sites are keeping track on a per team basis (see References and Resources). Still, I was able to cull together a reasonable list of AFL pitchers who are, to the best of my knowledge, eligible for this week's Rule 5 Draft. This is by no means an exhaustive list, or even the "best of"—just a small sample of the pitchers I found in my search.
Randor Bierd - Boston
If Bierd is selected in the Rule 5 draft, it won't be the first time, as the Orioles plucked him from Detroit in 2007. He stuck it out for the year, giving this prospect some Major League exposure, but was traded to the Red Sox. A year later he finds him self out there once again.
During his minor league trek, Beird's walk rates have increased, but he's been a strikeout pitcher all along (9.2 K/9 in his minor league career, 8.1 in 2009 at Triple-A). I found that surprising, given he's a soft-tossing sinker baller. Not so surprising is the failure of these numbers to translate in the Major Leagues—Baltimore got him into 29 games and he gave up 4.7 BB/9 while striking out 6.1.
The team that takes a chance on Bierd will get a guy with an 88 mph two-seam fastball and a low groundball rate. He hasn't shown a particular ability to pound the strike zone (he threw 47.6 percent strikes in MLB, .48.9% in the AFL). Oddly, Bierd missed bats at a higher rate in his MLB stint (.22.6 percent) than his more recent AFL games (18.6 percent). His ground ball rate also dropped from a rather pedestrian 41% to 36%.
Mike Parisi - St. Louis
Parisi is another pitcher with big league experience. Pitching for the Cardinals in 2008, the righty from Long Island went down with an elbow injury, eventually undergoing Tommy John surgery. Now he's back, and he's got a cutter.
Parisi's bread-and-butter is a two-seam fastball that generally tails more than it sinks. It seems to be well complemented by the new cutter and his curveball. He's also developed into a groundball pitcher. His 57 percent groundball rate was in the top 15 of the AFL, and is a big improvement from the 42 percent he had put up in the big leagues.
Parisi just came back from his injury (he threw just 15.1 innings between Rookie ball and High-A in 2009) but worked enough this fall to show he was healthy. While his velocity was down a touch, he was working as a starter in the AFL, not a reliever, and he did get his four-seam fastball up to 95 mph when he used it—his 92 mph sinker and 79 mph curveball bracketed the 87 mph cutter.
Josh Wilkie - Washington
Speaking of groundball pitchers ... Wilkie tops Parisi with a 61 percent groundball rate that catches my eye (I'm a sucker for worm burners). Wilkie, another right-hander, Wilkie has no big league experience, but worked his way up to Triple-A in 2009. With one start in his career, he isn't exactly a closer (23 saves in 157 minor league games). Still, his walk rates have improved as he's aged and he strikes out plenty.
Wilkie's two- and four-seam fastballs are nothing flashy, averaging around 88 mph, and his primary pitch is a low-80s change-up. In the AFL, he threw the change 56 times, the fastballs 23 each and his slider 19. AFL hitters couldn't lay-off the change (swing rate of 60.7 percent) or hit it often (whiff rate of 38.2 percent). But, when they did hit it, they nailed it. His change gave up a SLGCON (slugging percentage on contact) of 1.091. He didn't give up many fly balls or line drives off of it, but three of four air balls were line drives half of all the air balls were home runs.
The good news is no one hit the fastballs or slider hard. Maybe he should throw them more. Then again, this sample is so small it's hard to be definitive. Despite this uncertainty, the 25-year-old from Tennessee could be an intriguing pick.
And the rest
Here are a few more 2009 AFL pitchers that may pop-up during Thursday's draft.
Tommy Mendoza - Angels
Carlton Smith - Indians
Sean Watson - Reds
Zachary Kroenke - Yankees
There are more, keep your eyes on the comments where I'll add more names as I find/remember them. Requests for PITCHf/x info on any of them, or other AFL prospects, are welcomed.
References and Resources
Much of my search started at Bucco Fans, who links to several Rule 5 posts, team-by-team. Lisa Winston also had a brief write-up at MLB.com (hat tip to View from the Bleachers)
PITCHf/x data from MLBAM and Sportvision
Pitch classifications by the author
More AFL f/x by yours truly
Storen, Mike Leake, Mike Minor and Aaron Crow
Pitch speed comparisons—AFL vs MLB
More on Strasburg
Various pitchers from AFL's opening day
Some Cubs farm hands
Harry Pavlidis admits he has a baseball problem. He is the founder of Pitch Info LLC, His pitch classifications power the player cards at Brooksbaseball.net. Feedback, questions and comments are appreciated - Email firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @harrypav