SoxProspects News

August 13, 2012 at 7:15 AM

The Book: Evaluating the arms


Over the course of the last handful of seasons, there has been a drop off within the Red Sox minor league system when it comes to starting pitching. Looking at the past couple of drafts, there has been a push by the organization to bring in more arms, with the goal being to develop pitchers who can project at the major league level as starters during their rise up the ranks. The organization typically gives the pitchers every chance to prove they can start, using the role to refine their arsenals while being stretched out as a starter as well. 2012 has been an interesting season when it comes to the development of the higher profile arms within the system. Let’s take a look at how things stack up as the season enters the final weeks.

Moving Forward

Level: High A
Age: 22

Assessment: After getting my first look at Barnes during the 2011 Fall Instructional League, it was clear that he was polished entering the system and had the type of stuff to project as a starter. Possessing a heavy fastball that sits 93-95 mph and can touch up to 97-98 mph occasionally, he has the ability to both over-power opposing hitters and also pitch with the offering to both sides of the plate. I saw a below-average 87-88 mph changeup down at Fall Instructs, but when seeing him during my early June scouting swing through Salem the pitch had progressed into an average offering. I feel it can round into a solid-average-to-better pitch for him. Barnes showed much better arm-speed and feel for it to create depth, clocking at 85-87 mph. The curve is presently an inconsistent pitch and can be loose, but he produces hard wrist snap when staying on top of the ball. I see the crispness of his curve as key to him continuing to miss bats when he hits Double-A and beyond. Barnes has worn down a bit during the mid-summer, but that can be expected from a player in his first full season as a pro. He has the makings of a solid third starter at the major league level, who can push towards a second starter if he further hones the consistency of his release point. While there is always the potential for regression, I see Barnes as being ready to contribute sometime in 2014 and the top pitching prospect within the system by a wide margin.

Level: Low A
Age: 20

Assessment: I missed seeing Owens at this past Fall Instructs to build the initial base heading into the 2012 season, but was able to catch him in Greenville during my trip in early June. Two things jumped out when scouting him. Owens is raw and needs to add weight to his frame. Presently, he is very much a thrower. He is inconsistent with creating downward leverage to command his fastball, but I clocked him at 91-93 mph into the fifth inning of the outing and liked how the heater came out of his hand. The ball gets on top of opposing hitters quickly. With physical development, especially in his lower body, Owens can add some sitting velocity and better maintain the consistency of his velocity from outing-to-outing. It’ll be very important as he progresses to High A to clean up the finish of his delivery to begin improving his command, or more advanced hitters will have an easier time hitting him. Owens throws two variations of his curveball. One is a tighter 74-76 mph curve and the other a slow, loopy 66-69 mph version. I don’t see much with his slow curve and feel he should focus solely on sharpening the harder one. He can snap it to create depth and teeth. His changeup is a work in progress and tends to float across the plate. He presently lacks consistent arm-speed and slows his body down frequently. Owens is a projectable arm, who is a loose thrower. The latter being something I look for in projecting future starters. There is a lot of room for growth with his stuff, but also plenty of margin for error with his projection given the lead time here. My gut feel is there are a few bumps to go in the early career, with Owens having a solid chance to enter the equation at the major league level as he approaches 24-25 years old.

Level: Double-A
Age: 23

Assessment: In what was an extremely difficult 2011 in High- A for Britton, I happened to catch him at his very best. That day, he consistently stayed on top of his 92-94 mph fastball to command it well and frequently topped out at 95 mph. Britton also showed a tight, biting curveball that more often than not straightened opposing hitters up. It is always interesting when you see a prospect at their best in what turns out to be a year in which they took a step or two back. The potential stands out, but the question of whether it can actually be reached stands out equally. I don’t see Britton as a long-term starter. His fastball command is inconsistent as he has trouble repeating his delivery multiple times through a lineup and he doesn’t have a lot of trust in his changeup. Britton now works a slider into sequences to go along with his curveball, which has helped him miss more bats. He profiles more as a late inning reliever in my eyes. Can he continue to start and potentially make starts at the major league level early in his career? Absolutely, but I feel that over the long haul the shorter one-inning outings will allow him to repeat his delivery better and focus on his fastball/breaking ball combination to get key outs late in a game.

Level: Double-A
Age: 23

Assessment: Spending all of 2011 in Low A, the large-framed righty took the next step and started the 2012 season in High A. I caught Workman during my swing down through Salem in extended action after seeing him the past two spring trainings. Sitting 91-93 mph and topping out at 95 mph, his fastball shows better life in the lower tier of the zone than when elevated. The command of the offering can be inconsistent though due to an inability to keep his arm in slot. Workman has a jerky delivery and also some extra effort. He is not the loosest of throwers. Also mixing in a cut fastball, curveball, and changeup, the cutter is the most refined of his secondary offerings. Showing late break to his glove-side, the 89-90 mph offering misses bats and gives him a pitch to create deception off his fastball. While showing he can snap off his curveball, Workman tends to wrap his wrist when throwing it and fails to stay on top of the ball. This causes his curve to roll to the plate and lose bite. Workman has a good arm and an arsenal that can develop into one that can get big league hitters out. Due to the effort in his delivery, I see him ultimately best-suited for a late inning reliever role at the major league level. His stuff diminishes when he goes multiple times through a lineup, especially when he has to labor in an inning. Workman will likely continue to track as a starter in the upper minors until he is close to being big league-ready before being converted.

Regression/Stuck in neutral

Level: Double-A
Age: 22

Assessment: After receiving mixed reviews during his first professional season in 2011, Ranaudo came into 2012 with some questions surrounding his status. Beginning the season on the disabled list with a groin strain, I gave him a couple of starts to get his feet on the ground before lining up a scouting opportunity towards the end of May. I came away from that outing rather unimpressed. Ranaudo started out of the gate strong, sitting 91-93 mph with his fastball and featuring a very tight 78-82 mph curveball. The curve showed deep break, with strong crispness. He easily snapped the pitch off, while also throwing downhill with his fastball. However, things unraveled very quickly in his third inning of work due to a messy delivery. Ranaudo had considerable trouble repeating it, consistently flying open early, which caused him to fail to finish his fastball and have trouble creating velocity. His changeup was also very flat overall, without much depth, deception, or trust throwing the pitch. He was a different guy than I saw in early 2011. The trend continued for Ranaudo over the next handful of starts. Reports into me from a couple of veteran scouts were also very similar and highlighted the regression of his stuff. He has gone backwards in 2012. Ranaudo was placed on the disabled list with “shoulder fatigue” in early July and does not look likely to pitch again with Portland this season. I saw the ceiling of a back-end starter when scouting him, with thoughts of a future reliever entering my mind.

Level: Double-A
Age: 22

Assessment: Having scouted Pimentel since he was a lean 18 -year -old in the New York-Penn League back in 2008, I’ve seen both his physical progression and the evolution of his stuff over the course of the years. Now with a much more filled out frame, although not all of it is good weight, Pimentel is capable of routinely dialing up his fastball to 95-96 mph and sits 92-94 mph deep into his outings. He shows excellent feel for his 79-83 mph changeup, but scrapped his curveball during 2011, a year in which his development took steps backwards, in favor of a slider. The slider ranges from 82-89 mph, showing sharp break in the upper reaches and loopy break in the lower reaches. He commands the pitch better than his curve and if he can progress with snapping if off consistently the offering can round into an average-to-better one for him. I put Pimentel in this category because he is stuck in neutral as a starting pitcher. His delivery is on the stiff side and he still has trouble repeating his release point over the course of his starts. This makes it tough for him to consistently command his fastball, with the crispness wavering from inning to inning. I feel a move to the bullpen is on the horizon, where Pimentel can focus on shorter, concentrated outings to repeat his mechanics. His stuff looks much better suited for this type of role and a move can help jumpstart his development.

New Faces

Level: Short-season A
Age: 21

Assessment: One of this year’s first round picks, scouting Johnson during his debut summer in professional baseball is about getting an initial base because he is logging shorter outings due to his heavy workload in college this past season. His fastball has operated 90-94 mph thus far and he shows polish in terms of repeating his delivery to throw downhill. Johnson also mixes in a curveball and changeup, which grade as about average offerings presently. He has the body and size to withstand the rigors of starting as a professional, but will also have to keep his body from getting away from him as he ages into his mid-to-late twenties. Next season will be a much better scouting gauge of Johnson when he is free from pitch restrictions and I get a chance to see how his stuff holds as he goes deeper into outings. My first impressions are that Johnson is a polished enough arm to begin 2013 in High A and that he is likely to track as a starter up through the ranks. He has the look of a potential back-of-the-rotation starter, who can log innings and be successful in the role.

Level: Short-season A
Age: 21

Assessment: Northeast Scout Ian Cundall recently profiled Light in our first report on the pitcher, and like Johnson, he is in the same boat when it comes to being on a pitch limit. Light is not as polished as Johnson entering the professional ranks, but has a live arm and a body that has room to fill out as he matures into his mid-twenties. He is capable of dialing up his fastball into the mid-90s and shows an average slider presently. Light will pitch in his early career as a starter to give him a chance to work on sharpening his arsenal and to see if he can stick in the role. The initial scouting opportunities have given the feel that he will eventually transition into a bullpen role, where his stuff can play up as a potential set-up man or closer with development steps forward. Light is an intriguing arm given the room for growth he has, but also has some volatility with his future projection. 2013 will give a much better look at Light and also serve as a chance to watch how he is progressing towards sharpening his secondary offerings.

Level: Gulf Coast League
Age: 19

Assessment: The organization made Buttrey a top priority in this year’s draft, selecting him in the fourth round, and inking him to a large over-slot bonus. The right-hander is presently raw entering the professional ranks, but possesses solid stuff that includes a 90-95 mph fastball, a tight high-70s curveball, and a developing changeup. Fall Instructs should be my first opportunity to scout Buttrey and begin to build the scouting base on him for the 2013 season. His large frame and arsenal lend clues that he has the package to develop into a power pitcher. Buttrey will face many of the same adjustments that young arms do early in their career. My initial scouting looks will be focused on gauging his delivery and how well he presently repeats it.

Photo Credits: Matt Barnes by John Corneau; Stolmy Pimentel and Brandon Workman by Dave Lentizi; Ty Buttrey by William Parmeter

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


 
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