Last week we looked at some pitchers from the first round of the World Baseball Classic and this week we will continue that by looking at some pitchers whose teams were eliminated from play in round two. The pitchers we looked at last week mostly we a little older and didn’t exactly have high upsides but in round two we were treated to several pitchers who, given some time, could be absolute studs in the big leagues.
Aroldis Chapman, Team Cuba
Chapman is a tall, lanky 21-year-old lefty with very little international experience for Cuba. Watching him pitch for the first time made my jaw drop. He throws from an almost 3/4 angle and has a very smooth delivery—yet his average fastball against Japan in the second round was clocked at 94.5 mph. You can basically count on one hand the number of lefty starters in the big leagues who throw that fast. If that was the only thing he threw he probably still could make it as a prospect, but he also has incredible movement on his slider. Chapman is generating nearly nine inches of horizontal movement with his slider. That would put him in the top 10 in MLB for slider movement. Here is a look at his movement chart.
That is the good news for Chapman, but he certainly has some warts as well. The most obvious wart is his total lack of control with basically any of his pitches. Against Japan he couldn’t locate any of his pitches and walked batter after batter. In round one, against less patient teams, he was able to get by with his great movement alone and get hitters to chase. Against more polished hitters he has to be able to throw the ball over the plate. You have to wonder if all of the movement Chapman is getting with his fastball and slider aren’t hurting more than they are helping at this point in his career. Also, when he didn’t get some close calls it looked like he pouted on the mound. If you are all over the place as a pitcher you simply aren’t going to get the borderline pitches and he needs to understand that.
Getting back to his stuff shows the second problem. Chapman threw only two change-ups all game and you can see the wide difference of movement in those two change-ups. Japan actually had a lot of lefties in their lineup, so those two change-ups represented almost 10 percent of all the pitches he threw to right handed batters, which is actually pretty reasonable, but he is going to need to make that pitch more consistent if he is going to be able to consistently get right-handed batters out. That brings up another point. With Chapman mostly facing Cuban hitters, who seem rather impatient at the plate, you have to wonder how much progression he is going to make. The Cuban league may be just fine for him as a 21- or 22-year-old but at some point he is going to have to face tougher competition in order to reach his full potential. If he were draft eligible, as a lot of 21-year-olds are, he would be a top round pick for sure. He definitely doesn’t compare favorably to David Price, who has somewhat similar stuff but possessed much better control even before he was drafted. But you just can’t teach lefty with an easy delivery and a 95 mph fastball.
Vladimir Garcia, Team Cuba
Chapman’s teammate Vladimir Garcia is another young pitcher on the Cuban staff. Garcia is a closer back in Cuba and, like many big league closers, features two pitches, a lightning fast fastball, and a slurvy curve.
Garcia’s ten fastballs averaged out to 97.5 mph with some solid movement. Normally when you see a pitcher throw that fast, they are throwing very over the top making the pitch very straight. Garcia’s fastball actually has MLB average horizontal movement to it. It is rather unclear how useful this is, as throwing at 97 mph is usually enough to get the job done, but it is possible that his extra movement would help out against some of the better fastball hitters in the majors. Garcia’s curve is around 83 mph, which is a relatively small speed differential, which I like if the pitch is mostly 12 to 6. However Garcia throws a very slurvy pitch with a lot more horizontal movement than vertical movement. If he was to make it to the majors I would like to see him either tighten up his curve or maybe add a change-up and use his curve less against left handed batters.
It also should be noted that while most of the other players on other teams were getting ready for their season to start the Cuban players were in the midst of their season so their pitchers should be viewed with that in mind when comparing them to other pitchers in the WBC.
Oliver Perez, Team Mexico
When I started this I was planning on not showing any pitchers who already were in the majors, but I just can’t help myself with Perez. Perez threw the maximum 85 pitches in his start against Korea and gave up three home runs in PETCO no less. Perez didn’t look very good in his first start in the WBC either ,and the Mets have to already be wondering about the big contract they signed him to this off season. During those negotiations Scott Boras argued that Perez was one of the games five best left handed starters. The problem with Perez is his inconsistency and bad Oliver certainly was the one who showed up for the WBC. Why is he so inconsistent? Looking at his pitch selection it becomes very clear.
Perez has a nice fastball, which he threw around 91.5 mph in the WBC and closer to 93 last year. In addition to the velocity it features plus movement both horizontally and vertically. Few pitchers in the game can claim their fastball as above league average in all three of those categories. Perez even had a very nice slider in the WBC that looked almost the same as his slider in 2008. He throws it around 80 mph with about six inches of horizontal slide to it and can keep it down in the zone with little vertical rise. This is exactly the type of slider I like which is a pitch you can start on the outside corner only to have it move down and away getting the hitter to chase. The problem with Perez is that is all he has. He threw exactly one curveball against Korea, and his curve moves basically the same as his slider only slower, and no change-ups. Normally he only uses his change-up about three percent of the time which means he continually relies on his fastball and slider. If one of those pitches isn’t working for him he has no where else to turn. He just has to keep throwing it hoping he can get the feel back. In addition, when hitters see only two pitches for three or four at bats during a game they are going to catch on. His margin for error is just so small. If everything is working he really can be one of the best pitchers in the game but if something isn’t it is down the tubes and that is exactly what we saw at the WBC from him.
Leon Boyd, Team Netherlands
Boyd was the closer on the Dutch team and he parlayed that success into a minor league contract with the Blue Jays. With the help of Bert Blyleven (can we please elect him to the Hall of Fame next year!) the Dutch advanced to the second round with their arms and Boyd is a great example of the kind of stuff that Blyleven had to work with.
Boyd is a sinker/slider pitcher who throws his sinker around 87 mph and his slider around 75 mph. You can see that both of these pitches are coming out with similar vertical movement so they can stick close together until the sinker moves in and the slider moves away to a right handed batter. What makes Boyd kind of unique is just how much horizontal movement that involves with a foot of movement in on his sinker and almost ten inches of movement away with his slider. This directly comes from his arm angle, or should I say arm angles.
There are a fair number of pitchers in the big leagues who will vary their release point from over to top to 3/4s or from 3/4s to side arm but there are very few who vary their release point from side arm to submariner. Boyd is willing to throw either his sinker or his slider from either arm angle which also is a little unique as a lot of guys who do drop down from time to time will usually have a preferred pitch from the lower angle. Despite Boyd’s lack of velocity he probably has enough movement and deception going for him to possibly make it as a ROOGY in the big leagues. That slider is probably not going to play against left handed batters which is why he threw only sinkers to the one he faced in round two. Against right handed batters with the funky arm angles and deception with his pitches it will likely be hard for them to quickly determine if the ball is going to hit him in his thigh or glide over the outside corner.
Next week, the finals of the WBC and a look at some really interesting Japanese and Korean pitchers. For a teaser check out Harry Pavlidis’ look at Yu Darvish.