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February 13, 2009 at 7:47 AM

2009 Prospect Previews: Kyle Weiland and Mitch Dening

The third installment of the Prospects Preview series features another 2008 Draft Pick continuing his transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation, and an Australian import looking to continue his development in full season baseball.
Kyle Weiland

2008 Team: Lowell Spinners
2009 Projected Team: Salem Red Sox

Strengths: Weiland’s nasty sinking fastball is currently the strongest pitch in his arsenal. Topping out at 95 MPH, his fastball sits 92-94 MPH with late downward movement, darting through the strike zone and causing hitters to pound it into the ground when they make contact. Weiland routinely froze hitters with fastballs on the black and demonstrated excellent command of the pitch during his stay in Lowell last season. Because of his above average fastball command, Weiland is able to limit his mistakes with the pitch and avoid solid contact as a result. He effectively pounds the zone with his fastball, getting ahead of hitters to produce favorable counts that set up his off-speed pitches. Despite his somewhat unconventional delivery, the Red Sox don’t feel inclined to change things too much given the success he has had with it. As a former closer in college, Weiland made the conversion to a starting pitcher after signing with the Red Sox and demonstrated excellent stamina, going deeper into games last season while maintaining his velocity.

Developmental Needs: Weiland’s off-speed pitches need some more refinement and consistency. His curveball has plus potential, but sometimes he does not get enough snap on the pitch, making it miss high in the zone. When Weiland does snap the pitch off, it has a 9/3 break that straightens hitters up. His change-up is currently a work in progress and he did not feature it all that much in 2008. There is some good separation between the pitch and his fastball, giving it the potential to become a better offering in his repertoire. Weiland relied heavily on his fastball last season, throwing it as much as 80% of the time in some of his outings. As he progresses to higher levels within the system, he’ll have to work his secondary pitches in more to keep hitters from sitting on his fastball each trip through the batting order. Weiland held up well as a starting pitcher in Lowell, but he’ll still need to continue to work on his arm strength to hold up over the course of a full season of professional baseball.

2009 Outlook: Weiland is set to begin the season with the Salem Red Sox in their starting rotation. One of the main things to watch with him this season is how much he starts to work his secondary pitches into his outings and how consistent these pitches look. Weiland’s fastball should continue to play well at this level, especially given the way he can command the pitch and limit mistakes up in the zone. However, Weiland will have to keep hitters more off-balance and trust his change-up and curveball more at this level. Expect him to continue his bulldog approach of going right after hitters and challenging them with his stuff that impressed last season.. 2009 will provide a good first look at determining what kind of role Weiland may hold down the line within the Red Sox system. Red Sox personnel heavily scouted Weiland prior to the 2008 Draft and felt confident that they could convert him to a starting pitcher, so expect this role to continue for the duration of 2009 at the very least.

Mitch Dening

2008 Team: Lowell Spinners
2009 Projected Team: Greenville Drive

Strengths: Dening has a nice smooth swing and makes good contact at the plate. His ability to go the other way allows him to wait longer on pitches to get a good look to distinguish between them on their approach to the plate. Dening can turn well on inside pitches and showed some gap power in 2008, especially to right-center field. He can handle pitches up in the zone well for a left-handed batter and is capable of using an inside-out approach on tougher pitches in on his hands. In the field, he can play both corner outfield positions well, showing an above-average arm and good reads tracking the ball off of the bat. Dening always plays the game at full tilt and he is someone that teammates look up to because of his demeanor and the example that he sets. At 6’1’’ and 165 pounds, he has room on his frame to pack on some muscle as he matures to add more power to his game.

Developmental Needs: Dening does not currently have much power in his game and is more of a spray hitter right now. As he moves up the ladder, he’ll need to attack pitches more and drive the ball the other way rather than fighting off pitches on the outside third of the plate. Dening seemed to get fooled a lot on pitches down and away, chasing a good number of them and producing swings and misses. A lot of his work at the plate will center on the continued sharpening of his pitch recognition and hitting through the ball with more frequency. Dening’s overall aggressiveness hurt him in some instances, getting picked off or gunned down trying to take an extra base, but as the season went on in 2008 he ran into fewer and fewer outs. Red Sox officials feel confident that Dening will be able to add more weight to his frame to produce power, but it remains to be seen how that will translate into his game.

2009 Outlook: Dening is slated to play for Team Australia in the World Baseball Classic and will report to Spring Training in March. He looks likely to break camp with the Greenville Drive in one of their corner outfielder spots. One of main things to watch with the gritty Australian is how much progress he makes in driving through the ball. While his power potential is tied to his physical development, it’s a good indication that he’s making strides in becoming more of a hitter that attacks the ball. Dening should put the bat on the ball consistently and plug the gaps in 2009. Another key point to watch for is how often Dening drives the ball into the left-centerfield gap, indicating that he is more of a threat to hit the ball hard to all fields. 2009 will be a good test for Dening and should start to provide some clues about how this young hitter is going to evolve.