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March 2, 2012 at 7:48 AM

2012 Prospect Previews: Watch List - Arms



Chris Hernandez
Position: Starting Pitcher
2011 Team: Salem Red Sox
2012 Projected Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Opening Day Age: 23

2012 Outlook:
Hernandez is set to make the jump to Double-A this season and take a turn every fifth day in the rotation for the Sea Dogs. This assignment will be a strong test for the lefty’s stuff. With a fastball that typically sits 85-86 mph, Hernandez will need to rely on his command of the offering to be successful against the more advanced hitters of the Eastern League. It will be important for him to spot his fastball consistently on the outside corner against right-handed batters to limit the amount of solid contact he gives up. Hernandez’s 83-85 mph cutter is his best pitch. He likes to use this offering to get under the hands of right-handed batters or run way from lefties. It is key that he buries his cutter inside enough on righties to keep it out of the middle of the plate and also give them something to worry about on the inside corner. He will not be able to frequently use his fastball inside against opposing right-handed batters. Hernandez’ low-80s changeup can be effective at this level, but his 76-79 mph curveball tends to roll during its approach to the plate and needs tightening to have enough depth to fool Double-A hitters. I see his stuff best suited in the role as a left-handed reliever with further harnessing of his overall command. This season serves as a challenge for Hernandez to fine tune his command and show he can get upper minors hitters out on a consistent basis.

Keith Couch
Position: Starting Pitcher
2011 Team: Greenville Drive
2012 Projected Team: Salem Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 22

2012 Outlook: After spending last season in the South Atlantic League, Couch showed he is ready to take the next step up the ranks and begin the 2012 season in High A. He utilizes a 90-92 mph sinking fastball as his primary weapon against opposing batters. Couch displays strong control of the offering, pounding the strike zone frequently with the pitch. The challenge during his placement with Salem will be to command the offering better and spot the pitch in the lower tier of the zone more consistently. He tends to leave his fastball up in the zone and in the middle of the plate a bit too often. Couch also leans on a 77-79 mph curveball to keep hitters off-balance. It is presently an average offering, but shows flashes of sharp, deep break. The consistency of this pitch throughout the season will determine whether he can induce enough swings-and-misses at this level to not have to rely heavily on opposing batters putting the ball in play to get outs. Couch’s changeup lags behind the other two offerings, often floating through the strike zone rather than dropping out of it. Learning better feel for this pitch is a need to continue along the path of a starting pitcher. Couch’s stuff will be pushed during his placement in High A, but I see him being able to adjust to the rise in competition in 2012. His ability to throw strikes will allow him to force hitters to hit their way onto base. His stuff points towards him being better suited as a reliever in the upper levels of the minors, but progress sharpening his repertoire this season will give him a chance to have it tested as a starter in 2013 with Portland.

Kyle Stroup
Position: Starting Pitcher
2011 Team: Greenville Drive
2012 Projected Team: Salem Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 22

2012 Outlook:
After battling weight problems and a knee injury his first two seasons in the organization, Stroup was finally able to get a full season of baseball under his belt in 2011. Standing 6’6’’, he has a solid frame for generating downhill leverage on the ball. Stroup’s fastball sits 91-93 mph and can top out at 95 mph when he is reaching for something extra. His heater shows downward finish and late life when in the lower tier of the strike zone. Consistently working down in the zone will be a focal point to work on during 2012 in High A. Stroup’s fastball can come in on the straight side when in the upper tier of the strike zone and be prone to being elevated. Both of his secondary offerings, a mid-70s curveball and low-80’s changeup, presently grade as fringe-average-to-average. Further polishing of these pitches this season is necessary to give him a repertoire that misses more bats as he gets closer to the upper levels of the organization. Positive signs of becoming crisper with his secondary stuff will show in improving strikeout rates. While Stroup may face some adjustments to begin the season with Salem, he has the potential to make solid strides this season as he continues to build experience. With a body built to withstand the rigors of a starting pitcher, the development of his arsenal will be a strong determining factor as whether he projects in that role in the future. 2012 is a year to push that development and show he is trending ahead of the competition in the Carolina League by season’s end.

Mathew Price
Position: Starting Pitcher
2011 Team: Rehabbing
2012 Projected Team: Greenville Drive
Opening Day Age: 22

2012 Outlook: Price returned to the mound last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in September 2010. He looks set to break camp with the Greenville Drive and begin his first full season in professional baseball. Price features a heavy 92-93 mph fastball that tops out at 95. His heater shows sinking action in the lower tier of the strike zone and looks capable of producing a lot of balls put in play on the ground when thrown in that area. Price does struggle with the command of his heater. Still building up after surgery, improvement should come as he regains feel for the offering, but he tends to over-throw his fastball and jerk his head off target. He may be prone to spells of wildness in 2012 at this level. Price showed solid feel for his 82-83 mph changeup during the Fall Instruction League. He creates similar arm-speed to his fastball and the offering fades down out of the strike zone. During the stretches Price is reeling in his fastball, I see him being able to utilize his change well to create swings-and-misses from the South Atlantic League hitters. His 79-82 mph slider looked behind his other two pitches during the early stages of his return to the mound. This season will be a better look as to how the offering is progressing. 2012 is a year for Price to build more stamina as he gets further away for surgery and continue with the repetition of sharpening his stuff.

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen

 
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