Minor Matters: Unlisted Pitching Prospects Worth Knowing

Last week, I identified some hitting prospects that look like they are making the leap towards becoming a “top prospect” this year. There are also plenty of relatively unknown young pitchers who are putting together some impressive performances this season. None of these prospects look like they will make the jump to the big leagues this year, but all of them might find their way on to “top prospect” lists by the end of the year.

Of course, projecting young pitchers is not an easy thing to so. It’s likely that a couple of these guys will struggle as they wear down over the full season, while others deal with a serious injury later in the year. All of these guys, however, have a chance of being considered one of baseball’s top pitching prospects one year from now.

Nick Adenhart
RHP | Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
A few years ago, Adenhart was widely known among scouts as one of the top high school pitchers in the country. Then he blew out his elbow, fell to the 14th round of the 2004 draft, and spent a year recovering from Tommy john surgery. He has fully recovered and is overpowering Midwest League hitters this season.

YEAR	LVL	G	IP	H	R	ER	HR	BB	SO	ERA
2006	A	9	57.2	41	14	10	2	12	60	1.56

In each of his last four starts, Adenhart has pitched seven innings and struck out six or more batters. He’s only 19 years old, so the Angels may give him a full year in the Midwest League. If that’s the case, expect some gaudy numbers and plenty of recognition by September.

Eric Hurley
RHP | Texas Rangers
The Rangers’ “DVD” trio of pitching prospects (John Danks, Edinson Volquez, and Thomas Diamond) received a lot of attention last year, but Eric Hurley might actually be the most exciting pitching prospect in the system. Hurley led the Midwest League in strikeouts last year and he’s missing a lot of bats this year, too:

YEAR	LVL	G	IP	H	R	ER	HR	BB	SO	ERA
2006	A+	9	54.1	45	24	19	6	12	58	3.15

Offense is down in the California League this year; the league batting average is only .272 after hovering between .280 and .290 for much of last season. It’s still a relatively hitter-friendly league, however, and Hurley’s 58 strikeouts are second in the league right now. If he can stay healthy and continue to perform at this level, he might be considered one of the top ten pitching prospects in the minor leagues by the end of this year.

Chuck Lofgren
LHP | Cleveland Indians
Lofgren did get some attention for his 2.81 ERA last year, but his component statistics really did not suggest he would repeat that kind of performance. While he did manage to strike out nearly one batter per inning, his command was inconsistent and he walked over four batters per nine innings.

YEAR	LVL	G	IP	H	R	ER	HR	BB	SO	ERA
2006	A+	8	43.0	37	15	8	0	12	38	1.67

Lofrgen’s walk rate is down to a healthy 2.51 walks per nine innings this year, and the results (6-2 record, 1.67 ERA) are eye-catching. It’s important to recognize that he’s still quite young, however, and anything could happen over the next few years. Here is a list of all the players that have demonstrated comparable improvement in walk rates during the transition from Single-A to advanced Single-A leagues over the past five years:

Player		Transition	This Season
Dan Denham	2002-2003	7.88 ERA for Triple-A Buffalo 
Jeremy King	2002-2003	Spot starter for Double-A Trenton
Tanner Watson	2003-2004	Signed by Rockford of the independent Frontier League
Matt Sweeney	2003-2004	6.59 ERA as reliever for Double-A Reading
Ryan Sadowski	2004-2005	Giants organization; has not pitched this year
Chance Douglass	2004-2005	4.23 ERA as starter for Double-A Corpus Christi

None of these players necessarily matched Lofgren’s age and ability to miss bats, but even the important leap he seems to be taking in advanced A-ball is not necessarily a strong indicator of long-term success. He’s pitching well right now, of course, and this will almost certainly not be the last time you hear his name.

Kevin Slowey
RHP | Minnesota Twins
Slowey has only walked two batters all season long.
No, that’s not a typo:

YEAR	LVL	G	IP	H	R	ER	HR	BB	SO	ERA
2006	A+	9	54.1	33	15	8	1	2	70	1.12

Slowey has surrendered a bunch of unearned runs, and we know that’s a characteristic of ground ball pitchers, but he actually induces more fly balls and line drives than ground balls.

I think Slowey has a chance of being this year’s Chuck James, a guy with a deceptive delivery and outstanding strikeout-to-walk ratio who doesn’t get much respect because of his underwhelming stuff. James cracked this year’s top 50 prospect list at the Hardball Times, and he was a useful pitcher for the Braves until a hamstring injury put him on the disabled list earlier this month. Slowey is a polished pitcher and, like James, he could be promoted aggressively so that he has a chance to help out the parent club as soon as next year.

Andy Sonnanstine
RHP | Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Sonnanstine is arguably the most unique pitcher on this list; he struck out 10 batters for every one he walked last year but he didn’t get a lot of attention because he does not throw hard and he was older than many of the opposing hitters. It’s difficult to project Sonnanstine’s future because there are not many comparable pitchers.

The only other 22-year-old with a similar strikeout-to-walk ratio over a full season in Single-A during the past five years is Bobby Basham, who struck out 97 batters and only walked 9 for Dayton in 2002. Basham experienced shoulder troubles soon after and was never the same pitcher again. Sonnanstine, on the other hand, is continuing to pitch well for Double-A Montgomery:

YEAR	LVL	G	IP	H	R	ER	HR	BB	SO	ERA
2006	AA	9	54.2	53	24	21	4	10	48	3.46

His strikeout-to-walk ratio looks more realistic this year, but it’s still quite good; only six pitchers have finished the season with 4.8 strikeouts per walk in a Double-A league during the past three years. Sonnanstine threw a lot in college and also recorded more outs than any other Tampa Bay pitching prospect last year. He doesn’t throw particularly hard and doesn’t waste many pitches, so Sonnanstine could be a useful innings-eater for Tampa Bay in another year or two.

Donald Veal
LHP | Chicago Cubs
The Cubs pitcher who occasionally draws comparisons to Dontrelle Willis is now 4-2 with a 2.68 ERA for the Peoria Chiefs.

YEAR	LVL	G	IP	H	R	ER	HR	BB	SO	ERA
2006	  A	9	47.0	28	16	14	4	30	59	2.68

I’m not confident that he’ll finish the season with a winning record, because he’s allowing so many walks. He has a long way to go before really deserving “top prospect” status, but he’s going to get a lot of attention because the results look good, he can throw hard, he is left-handed, and he’s in an organization that always seems to need another young pitcher or two.

Michael Bowden
RHP | Boston Red Sox
This 2005 draftee has an unimpressive 2-2 record with a 4.50 ERA, but let’s dig a little deeper …

YEAR	LVL	G	IP	H	R	ER	HR	BB	SO	ERA
2006	A	8	32.0	32	19	16	4	8	46	4.50

There are a couple of details that suggest his season totals will eventually look very good. First, his FIP ERA (fielding independent ERA) is 3.04; nearly a run and a half less than his actual ERA. We know fielding independent measures are actually a better predictor of future ERA than actual ERA, so take that for what it’s worth.

Additionally, Bowden surrendered two home runs and seven earned runs over three innings in one start at Columbus over a month ago. Since that start, Bowden has a 3.38 ERA and has struck out 37 batters in 24 innings. If you are willing to weigh his more recent performances more heavily than that bad start over a month ago, then Bowden looks like he might already be the second-best pitching prospect in the Red Sox system.

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