March 7, 2012 at 8:00 AM
Position: Starting Pitcher
2011 Team: Salem Red Sox
2012 Projected Team: Salem Red Sox/Portland Sea Dogs
Opening Day Age: 22
Strengths: Britton is a lefty with a very live arm who features a fastball that sits 92-94 mph and tops out at 95 mph consistently. Showing late life and hop when he is locked into his high ¾ arm slot, his heater explodes on opposing batters to cause a lot of late swings. Britton’s fastball plays up in all tiers of the strike zone. A loose thrower, he generates his velocity via an easy, low energy-expending delivery. When paced properly, his mechanics are smooth and balanced. Britton’s main secondary offering is a 75-79 mph 12-to-6 curveball. Although inconsistent commanding and creating hard snap with the pitch during stretches of 2011, he is capable of producing tight, deep break with it and shows strong feel in the pressure points of his fingers for snapping it off. He can create the type of break that causes opposing batters’ knees to bend or weakly wave over the top of it. His curve has the potential to be a plus-to-better pitch at the major league level. Britton also worked on throwing a harder version of his curve last season, with the idea of developing it into a power slider. The work focusing on keep his hand on top of the ball when throwing it helped him get back to throwing his curve from his ideal arm slot. The slider comes in at 82-85 mph and is developing into a pitch he can use in sequences to give hitters a similar look to his fastball to prevent them from sitting on it. Britton’s ceiling is as a middle-of-the-rotation starter or late inning reliever.
Development Needs: Britton’s fastball command was his Achilles' heel last season. For the majority of the year, he struggled to throw to spots and showed fringe-average command of the pitch. Britton is capable of feeling his fastball, but needs work maintaining his release point during his delivery. He has a tendency to release the pitch early in his motion and not fully finish his delivery, which causes it to sail up and away or stay high in the strike zone. Britton’s pace tends to drive this issue. He can be too deliberate and slow in the beginning of his motion, which causes him to speed up towards the end and lose balance, landing too early when releasing the ball. Work becoming more consistent throughout his motion will enhance his command and allow him to follow through to create consistent downward leverage or to spots on the corners. He worked far too often behind in the count causing him to either walk batters or groove fastballs in hitter’s counts. Things became mental for Britton during last season's struggles as well. Learning how to relax on the mound and focusing on execution are keys to battling through times of difficulty. He has solid makeup on the mound, but allowed himself to get rattled when things weren’t going well for him and came apart during outings. Britton’s low-80s changeup is presently a below-average offering and behind the other pieces of his repertoire. He shows little trust in the pitch, rarely working it into sequences. He ultimately may end up projecting at the major league level in a relief role, where he does not have to log through six or seven innings of repeating his delivery and can air his stuff out as a power arm to get 3-4 outs.
2012 Outlook: Britton is most likely to return to High A to start the season, where he can get his footing at a level familiar to him. This assignment will help him ramp things back up, without the initial pressure of adjusting to a new league. Britton has excellent stuff. His struggles with his mechanics hindered him considerably in 2011. With work ironing things out starting in spring training, he has a strong chance to get back on track with Salem in 2012. Positive signs will show in reduced spells of wildness and a drop in the hard contact made against him. Steps with his fastball command can lead to a promotion to Double-A around the mid-point of the season. Britton has the potential to get locked in early in the season and have that carry him on a wave for the rest of the season. While his delivery was messy and out of whack last season, his work is more in the form of tinkering. All through his struggles of last season, he still had his electric stuff and it is the type of arsenal that has strong major league potential. 2012 is a season for Britton to trust that stuff and focus on executing his delivery. By season’s end, I see him being back to tracking as a power arm with the potential to be ready to contribute at the big league level in mid-to-late 2013.
Position: Starting Pitcher
2011 Teams: Salem Red Sox/Portland Sea Dogs
2012 Projected Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Opening Day Age: 22
Strengths: Growing into his body the last couple of seasons, Pimentel has filled out his frame and improved the strength in his lower body. His fastball has benefited, seeing an uptick in sitting velocity to its present 92-94 mph. Pimentel can reach back during starts to hit 95-96 mph and live in those reaches during shorter bursts. His heater shows late finish in the lower tier of the strike zone and jumps through that area when he is keeping on top of the pitch. Opposing batters have trouble making hard contact against it when he is spotting up with the pitch. Pimentel’s 78-82 mph changeup is his best offering and presently grades as a plus pitch. Showing excellent feel for the offering, he is capable of throwing it at any point in the count. His change fades off the table inward on right-handed batters and he can also throw it harder with bottom dropping action. When Pimentel sets this pitch up with his fastball, it misses bats frequently and can be unhittable due to the practically identical arm-speed with which he throws it. It projects as a devastating out-pitch at the major league level. Built to handle the rigors of life as a starting pitcher, Pimentel’s stamina has been improving and his stuff holds together deeper into outings. His ceiling is as a third/fourth starter or eighth inning reliever at the major league level.
Development Needs: Pimentel started the 2011 season with Portland, but was demoted to High A due to a lack of command of his entire arsenal. Especially struggling with his fastball command, he was hit hard and often. Pimentel’s delivery is still on the rough side. He has yet to find consistency locking into his high ¾ release point and wavers with it at times from pitch-to-pitch. This hurts his ability to spot his heater down in the zone and also makes it tough for him to snap off his 74-79 mph curveball. Pimentel lands stiffly on his front foot causing his arm to drop. This makes him unable to finish through his delivery and his fastball stays flat up in the zone. Without being able to spot the pitch around the plate, Pimentel either falls behind early in the count or grabs too much of the middle of the plate where opposing hitters can do damage. His changeup suffers because there is little opportunity to throw it. Advanced batters also take the pitch because they are zoned in on the upper tier of the strike zone. Pimentel needs work being more fluid with his delivery to command his fastball better and use it to get ahead of hitters more consistently. Improvements with the fluidity and smoothness of his motion will also help him throw his curveball better. Pimentel drops his wrist often and wraps around the ball. His curve goes through stretches of being loopy and sloppy. While it does show plus potential when he produces strong snap and throws it in the upper reaches of its velocity, he may be better served working on converting the pitch to more of a power slider.
2012 Outlook: Pimentel will get another crack at Double-A and break camp with Portland at the end of spring training. As his second year on the 40-man roster, this season is important for him to show progress at this level after taking a step back in 2011. Pimentel has solid stuff, highlighted by his fastball velocity, plus changeup, and ability to snap off a breaking ball. Development of better command is the key to him being successful in 2012 and continuing to track up through the system. Still learning how to handle his increase in strength and body growth, it was not unexpected to see Pimentel struggle initially with reeling things in. The adjustments he can make this season smoothing out his delivery will drive more success. If he is still having trouble with the fluidity of his motion, it will most likely be another season of inconsistent overall command. When Pimentel is commanding his heater well, his secondary offerings are tough on batters. More consistency from outing-to-outing this year is a strong sign that he is harnessing his delivery and getting ahead in more counts. The progress his curve makes this season will be a good tell as to whether he will continue to track in the role as a starting pitcher at the big league level. Pimentel has the potential to take solid steps forward in 2012 after a year of growing pains. I see him putting things together at this level this year and being ready for Triple-A in 2013.
Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen