Pitching prospects who might be keepers

When you go on a fishing expedition, you never know what you’re going to find. Last time, visiting the major league baseball pond, I found eight pitchers who had performed, in two consecutive seasons, well enough to satisfy my biased preferences.

Using PITCHf/x, I was able to go right after the guts of my bias—strike-throwing, bat-missing, groundball pitchers who don’t give-up home runs. That is asking a lot, but you just need to be average in each regard to make the grade. As we saw last time, that isn’t always a sign of quality. And we’ll see that again. here, albeit with a different set of metrics.

Given the lack of PITCHf/x in other professional leagues (with limited exceptions), I decided to visit several other fishing spots around North and Latin Americas. On my hook were four worms:
{exp:list_maker}strikeouts per 100 PA (K100)
non-intentional walks and hit batters per 100 PA (BH100)
Groundball rate (GB)
Home runs per fly ball + line drive (HRFL){/exp:list_maker}
The prey? Pitchers with above-average rates in each category in any minor league since 2008.

Tackling the problem

To find the right catch, I calculated a weighted average for each minor league pitcher in the last two seasons. For each pitching season in a given league, the pitcher’s performance was measured to league average for each metric. Weighted by plate appearances, these pitching seasons were aggregated to generate the final values across 2008 and 2009. To make the cut, a pitcher had to be at or better than average in each category.

The league averages were based on two seasons:

League PA K100 BH100 GB HRLF
Appalachian (Rookie) 49,520 22.0 8.0 0.516 0.062
Dominican Summer (Rookie) 173,573 19.9 10.6 0.459 0.026
Gulf Coast (Rookie) 65,574 20.5 8.6 0.498 0.036
Pioneer (Rookie) 47,749 21.4 8.7 0.503 0.067
Venezuelan Summer (Rookie) 36,516 17.1 8.4 0.519 0.041
Northwest (Single-A short season) 47,075 20.6 9.7 0.506 0.051
New York-Penn (Single-A short season) 78,479 21.6 8.5 0.486 0.042
Midwest (Single-A) 145,351 20.6 8.4 0.475 0.051
South Atlantic (Single-A) 158,692 20.9 8.0 0.491 0.053
California (High-A) 109,644 20.1 8.3 0.471 0.065
Carolina (A+) 82,796 19.2 8.7 0.481 0.060
Florida State (High-A) 114,654 19.2 8.4 0.469 0.048
Eastern (Double-A) 126,445 18.4 9.0 0.459 0.060
Southern (Double-A) 104,194 18.5 9.3 0.451 0.056
Texas (Double-A) 88,824 17.5 9.0 0.465 0.062
International (Triple-A) 133,501 19.0 8.2 0.445 0.064
Mexican (Triple-A) 134,863 13.3 8.8 0.472 0.058
Pacific Coast (Triple-A) 169,213 18.0 8.8 0.443 0.075

Here that is again, rolled up by level, in case you’re curious:

Level PA K100 BH100 GB HRLF
Rookie 372,932 20.2 9.5 0.485 0.039
Single-A short 125,554 21.2 9.0 0.493 0.046
Single-A 304,043 20.8 8.2 0.483 0.052
High-A 307,094 19.5 8.4 0.473 0.057
Double-A 319,463 18.2 9.1 0.458 0.059
Triple-A 437,577 16.9 8.6 0.453 0.066

Filling the bucket

Using a 700 PA minimum, 29 pitchers made the cut. Here they are, along with their scores for each metric (100 being the weighted league average, above 100 is “better” than average). Thirteen saw time in the major leagues in the past two seasons, which comes in handy for some ad hoc comparisons.

Roberto Ramirez

K100    101
BH100   140
GB      119
HRFL    117

Ramirez saw action in the majors back in 1998 and 1999. The numbers above come from the Mexican League, where strikeouts are scarce. Ramirez is no better than average, so in the land where the one-eyed man is king, Ramirez is at about one-third of an eye.

Lenny DiNardo

K100    105
BH100   135
GB      129
HRFL    144

DiNardo is one of 13 pitchers on this list with big league service time in the past two seasons. Split between starting and relief, DiNardo has a career FIP of 4.91 in 257 major league innings. The ground balls come with him to the Show, but he has walked more than he has struck out lately.

Arturo Lopez

K100    100
BH100   101
GB      106
HRFL    159

Padres fans may have some bad memories of Lopez. In 2009, over four appearances, Lopez finished 2.1 innings, allowing three walks and two home runs. He didn’t strike out a single batter. San Diego waived him, and the Mets claimed him, but I’m not sure why. His work in the minors has been in relief, casting a very cold shadow on his barely above-average qualifications for this list.

Bryan Augenstein

K100    102
BH100   161
GB      118
HRFL    145

Aha! A prospect. Augenstein made his big league debut in 2009, before his 23rd birthday. At various minor league stops, his FIP has ranged from 2.15 to 4.18—the latter coming in rookie ball. He’ll probably start in Triple-A in 2010, but his high-80s sinker should see more time in Arizona.

In his limited time with the Diamondbacks, Augenstein threw strikes (.597) and got ground balls (56 percent), and was just about average in homers per fly ball (8 percent). He didn’t miss bats, with just a .124 whiff rate. With his kind of stuff, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Brett Cecil

K100    124
BH100   101
GB      136
HRFL    115

Like Lopez, Cecil is just average in giving out free passes. Unlike Lopez, he’s done so as a starter and he’s posted solid numbers in terms of ground balls and strikeouts. He was good enough to be among the Blue Jays bevy of rookies that made their debut in 2009.

On the major league level, using the PITCHf/x metrics, Cecil was at or below average across the board. His fastballs averaged above 91 mph, and he threw some decent slider/cutters along with a change-up and a curve. He’s heading into his 24-year-old season, so we have ourselves prospect No. 2.

Alfredo Figaro

K100    103
BH100   122
GB      106
HRFL    144

We’re on a roll now, with legitimate prospect No. 3. Figaro got the ball from the Tigers a few times in 2009, and showed a good fastball (92+) and a very good slider. He was decent in terms of strikes (.541) and solid in whiffs (.227), but gave up too many line drives and too few ground balls.

Figaro will be 26 in July, so his time is coming. I suspect he’ll turn out to be a bit of a flyball pitcher, which could work out well in Comerica Park.

Mitch Talbot

K100    114
BH100   128
GB      118
HRFL    139

Talbot had a cup of coffee with the Rays in 2008, and was sent to Cleveland to complete the Kelly Shoppach deal over the winter. Talbot projects fairly well and has one of the best lines of this group of 29. We’ll see how that translates, but Indians fans should pay attention to Talbot this March.

Blake Hawksworth

K100    111
BH100   109
GB      106
HRFL    115

Trust me, there are 16 minor leaguers on this list. Hawksworth got the ball 30 times from Tony LaRussa in 2009, working 40 innings of relief for the Cardinals. His ERA (2.03) should be taken with a grain of salt, but his FIP is more reasonable (3.95). A starter in the minors, Hawksworth throws hard (93+ in relief) and has what may turn out to be a decent change-up. He’s not going to light up the world, but he does look to be a quality big league relief pitcher.

Eric Hacker

K100    104
BH100   124
GB      115
HRFL    144

Liberated from the Yankees, the career starter got his first taste of big league action with three relief innings for the Pirates in 2009. Hacker does look to have the makings of a back-of-the-otation starter. He was throwing a low 90s fastball/sinker, curveball and slider in relief, and he’s no sure thing to make it beyond the bullpen in the major leagues. He’ll turn 27 before opening day, so it’s getting hard to call him a prospect.

Jason Berken

K100    110
BH100   123
GB      101
HRFL    149

I promise, the next guy on this list has never pitched in the majors. But Berken was part of the Baltimore rotation for most of 2009, posting very pedestrian numbers. His FIP, ERA and xFIP all landed above 5. As his line above hints, he’s turned into a flyball pitcher (34.1 percent GB) who, while throwing strikes (.563), does not strike out battersl (.099 whiff). Berken makes this list, but I’m not high on him.

Matthew Long

K100    103
BH100   110
GB      109
HRFL    111

Long is in the White Sox system, just touching Triple-A last season. Despite being 6-foot-5, Long averaged only 90.7 mph on his fastball in the Arizona Fall League in 2009. The Sox must think something of him or he wouldn’t be taking up space in the AFL, but 2009 was the first decent season he put up since college (Miami of Ohio).

Against AFL competition, he continued to put up numbers that I like (.294 whiff, .551 strike, 48 percent GB). From what little PITCHf/x we do have for Long (127 AFL tosses), it appears his curve ball is the money pitch.

Marco Estrada

K100    100
BH100   115
GB      101
HRFL    126

Estrada has a little experience pitching for the Nationals the past two seasons, but he’s failed to put up the numbers I’m looking for. His whiff rate has been average, but otherwise—strikes, ground balls and home runs—he’s been poor. Estrada was solid in Triple-A in 2009, but he looks like a marginal member of this list. With average strikeout and ground ball rates in the minors, he doesn’t project well.

Jhoulys Chacin

K100    111
BH100   111
GB      126
HRFL    105

Chacin is another pitcher with big league experience, 11 innings for the Rockies in 2009. Fastball (92 mph), slider and change are his weapons, and the strike zone appears to be his enemy. With an abysmal strike rate of .397, Chacin still managed to miss bats (.392 whiff) and avoid getting hit hard (.458 SLGCON).

Sure, Chacin walked 11 guys in 11 innings, but he struck out 13! His 22nd birthday is this week, so keep your eyes on him. He’s flown through the minors as a starter, and should figure out how to throw strikes—in other words, don’t worry about the problems he had during his debut, think about the upside.

Jose Ortegano

K100    114
BH100   121
GB      101
HRFL    149

Ortegano is a 22-year-old lefty in the Braves’ system. Most of his work has been as a starter, including all eight of his appearances in Double-A. With that being the highest level he’s seen, the fact that he posted a 2.99 FIP is all that more impressive (despite the small sample).

Most of his ground balls came in 2008, so he may not be long for this type of list. Still, his strikeout and walk rates are very good and he’s managed to stay away from the long ball. The fact that he’s young and left-handed bodes very well for Ortegano.

Kyle Weiland

K100    111
BH100   105
GB      112
HRFL    160

Weiland, a Notre Dame product, has put up good numbers in the lower levels of the Boston system. He’s probably not close to the majors (2012?) and had some control problems in 2009. I’m guessing a repeat of High-A isn’t out of the question, but Double-A in 2010 seems more likely given his overall success.

Vin Mazzaro

K100    105
BH100   121
GB      116
HRFL    160

Mazzaro and his groundball tendencies made it to the Oakland rotation in 2009. Well, Mazzaro made it. Somehow, he turned into a flyball pitcher. This is despite the fact that he throws a 93 mph sinker. Perhaps it didn’t sink enough.

He did do one thing sinker-esque—pitch to contact (.170 whiff). His strike rate was just below average (.521) and his groundball rate well below (38.4 percent). Mazzaro pitched his best in June, after his call-up. He was done before September came around, ending the season on the 60-day DL with shoulder tendinitis. A healthy Mazzaro may look more like the pitcher we first saw in June. And his situation seems to beg for a full PITCHf/x follow-up.

Jonathon Niese

K100    114
BH100   109
GB      118
HRFL    120

The last of the major leaguers on this list, Niese has made eight starts for the Mets over the past two years. Just 23 years old, Niese has a shot at sticking around. He’s had so-so success getting ground balls (47 percent) in the majors and he’s thrown a lot of strikes (.574). He’s not missing bats (.145 whiff) and probably should continue his trend of throwing more cutters—his fastball looks to be the flyball culprit.


If you’ve made it this far, you’ve encountered a journeyman from the Mexican League, 13 pitchers with recent big league experience, and just three bona fide minor league pitchers. The final dozen are the newest to the levels of professional baseball that fall under the umbrella of the major leagues. In case you’re wondering, we’re going in ascending order of the identification number each pitcher has in Major League Baseball’s database. Back to the list, which I’ll make short(er) work of from here on.


Leonardo Gonzalez

K100    130
BH100   111
GB      112
HRFL    124

Gonzalez isn’t really new; he’s a veteran of five Mexican League seasons. He’s a starter who seems to have found his stuff this past two years. His line here is actually quite impressive, for whatever that’s worth.

Carlos Hernandez

K100    103
BH100   118
GB      107
HRFL    140

Another product of the Athletics system, Hernandez is listed as a 5-foot-11, 155-pound lefty. Danny Herrera, anyone? Okay, this kid is too tall, never mind. This is a 22-year-old who hit three levels in 2009, topping out with 3.1 innings in Triple-A.

Michael Pineda

K100    120
BH100   134
GB      102
HRFL    118

A tall right hander in the Mariners system, Pineda is a strikeout machine. He won’t turn out to be a groundball pitcher, but he could find himself in the major leagues. He’ll turn 21 in a couple of weeks, but he could be in Double-A next time you hear about him.

Zach McAllister

K100    102
BH100   143
GB      108
HRFL    126

Marc Hulet ranks McAllister third in the Yankees system. I can’t argue that. He’s 23 and just turned in an impressive 22-start campaign in Double-A. Like Pineda, he’s not a big-time worm killer, but he doesn’t walk a lot of guys.

Evan Anundsen

K100    100
BH100   115
GB      121
HRFL    134

Anundsen is a Brewers prospect, and he’s been solid in the low minors. He’s posted these numbers as a starter, the most impressive being this groundball rate. That makes up for the average strikeout rate.

Juan Nicasio

K100    122
BH100   128
GB      102
HRFL    133

Nicasio has a season in the Pioneer League and another in the Northwest League under his belt. He’s 23, so he should be moving up in 2010. He’s a strikeout pitcher, and his groundball rate isn’t truly impressive. But he could be someone to watch if he can get to Double-A by 2011.

Justin De Fratus

K100    104
BH100   140
GB      105
HRFL    156

De Fratus could show up in the Texas League some time in 2010, unless he stays on the full season at a level plane. It looks like he throws strikes.

Jarrod Parker

K100    118
BH100   110
GB      107
HRFL    126

Tuck Parker away for a year. He just had Tommy John surgery and will miss the season. He was Arizona’s first pick in 2007 and still looks like the real deal. First, rehab.

Wynn Pelzer

K100    107
BH100   103
GB      122
HRFL    113

Pelzer spent 2009 in the California League, where the future Friar made 27 starts with a 3.30 FIP. He’s a real groundball pitcher, but needs to get the walk rate down.

Stephen Sauer

K100    101
BH100   153
GB      122
HRFL    126

Another ground ball pitcher, Sauer also looks like a strike thrower. He’s not a strikeout pitcher, but I’ll still follow this White Sox farmhand.

Scott Diamond

K100    100
BH100   113
GB      115
HRFL    139

Diamond is southpaw in the Braves system. His strikeout rate doesn’t really cut the mustard, but he looks pretty solid otherwise. Googling him told me he’s a fringe top-20 prospect for Atlanta.

Richard Zagone

K100    119
BH100   107
GB      111
HRFL    101

We end our journey with MLB ID 543959 (we started with 133381) in the form of Richard Zagone, another left-handed starter, this time from the Orioles. Solid across the board, except for being the worst of the group in home runs per fly ball and line drive. Future LOOGY? We’ll see.

I almost forgot about the fishing metaphor

Perhaps we have to throw some back, and perhaps some will become nothing more than a fish story. But this exercise, exploring my own bias, was informative for me. I hope you found it the same, and entertaining as well.

References & Resources
Play-by-play data from MLBAM’s Gameday.

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