February 18, 2013 at 6:45 AM
2013 Projected Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Opening Day Age: 22
Development Needs: Kurcz’s secondary offerings are on the inconsistent side and he can also be very heavily fastball-dependent during his outings. The breaking ball operates 75-81 mph, showing varying break. In the upper reaches of its velocity it has more of a power break, where the rotation is tight and crisp. Kurcz can either freeze batters or get swing and misses when snapping it off, but doesn’t hold the look with much frequency. The offering gets loopy and slurvy in the lower reaches as the righty tends to wrap his wrist during the release, causing it to spin to the plate. Kurcz also mixes in an 82-85 mph changeup, but doesn’t feature it all that often in sequences. The pitch does show arm-side fade and he has consistent arm speed when throwing it, with the potential to round into an average-to-better pitch at his disposal if the pitcher develops enough trust to use it more. The lack of overall crispness with the secondary offerings presently forces Kurcz to heavily lean on his fastball. Despite the ability to over-power opposing batters with the pitch, his command is presently only fringe-average-to-average, and works too much in the upper tier of the strike zone in stretches.
2013 Outlook: Kurcz is an intriguing arm within the system. He was on the young side for the Eastern League last season and despite some ups and downs, he showed that his stuff was capable of getting upper level hitters out. However, he’s limited to the bullpen, which puts a return to Double-A to start 2013 as likely considering the abundance of relief arms the organization has in front of him slated to fill out the Triple-A roster. Kurcz’s main goal will be to develop more consistency and trust with the secondary stuff. He’s able to get by in Double-A, but when he does take the step up to the next level, the more polished hitters are more apt to take advantage of the mistakes he does make elevated in the strike zone. The progress he makes with his secondary stuff this year will be important in proving that he isn’t going to ceiling out in Triple-A.
Development Needs: There isn’t much overall growth left with Pena’s stuff and he’s essentially a two-pitch pitcher. While he dabbles with a slider and changeup, they aren’t as effective as the fastball and curve. The change has the most room for improvement, but he tends to tip the pitch off due to slowing his arm down when delivering it. As he takes the next step up the ranks, it’s going to become more and more important to mix up sequences and become less predictable. Pena throws strikes with his fastball, but he also needs improvement with the amount of quality strikes he throws as his heater tends to grab too much of the plate at times. So far, this hasn’t been a problem against the more inexperienced hitters of the low minors, and the quality of his curve has also kept them at bay. However, he’s going to have to become finer with his fastball going forward since his stuff doesn’t project to miss a high amount of bats. Pena’s stuff profiles with the ceiling of a left-handed reliever and it’s likely he moves towards that role in the upper minors.
2013 Outlook: Pena is ready to take the step up to the Carolina League after spending last season getting acquainted to professional baseball in the South Atlantic League. His polish and profile point towards the left-hander making a relatively smooth transition to High A. Much of Pena’s work this season will center on becoming more consistent and finer with his command. If he is to continue to succeed once he gets to the upper minors, improvement here is a must. The eight-team Carolina League will be a good test since hitters will become familiar with Pena quickly. He’ll need to execute more consistently in the lower tier of the strike zone and won’t be able to get away with as much deception. I see Pena being able to meet the challenge of High A and at some point in the season being in the mix for a promotion to Double-A. It will be here that he’s going to be presented with his biggest hurdle as a professional. For now, Pena is on a forward track, with much of this year being about showing that his stuff is capable of getting a crack in the upper minors.
Photo Credits: Mickey Pena by William Parmeter; Aaron Kurcz by SoxProspects, LLC.
Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen