Friday, April 22, 2011

Weekly Minor League Breakdown: The Pitching Prospects

After looking at the hitting prospects last week I’m going to take the first look at the Rays pitching prospects today.

First I’m going to list the 29 pitching prospects I’ll post in the series over the year. Before taking wishes for additional prospects I should add, I wanted to point out that I’m following all of the other minor league players and especially the left off Bowling Green pitching prospects (namely C.J. Riefenhauser, George Jensen, Jimmy Patterson, Austin Hubbard, Steve Hiscock, Omar Bencomo and Nate Garcia) very closely. I’m going to add any of them when performing well over a bigger time frame.

  • AAA: Torres, Cobb, Gomes, Delaney
  • AA: Moore, Archer, Barnese, Cruz, Quate, Bush, Dyer, Fleming
  • A+: Colome, Thompson, Shuman, Suarez, Lobstein, Kelly, Koronis
  • A: Romero, Lara, Rodriguez
  • XST: Kendall, Bellatti, Spann, Havlicek, Partridge, Henderson, James

Overall Impressions

Before I say anything about this years’ performances you always have to keep in mind that the analysis has to be taken with a grain of salt as the sample size I’m able to look at is very small. Nevertheless I’m going to try to read something out of the performances thus far.

Before the minor league season started I was especially eager about the pitching prospects in the system. Especially the Biscuits rotation with Matt Moore, Chris Archer, Joe Cruz, Nick Barnese and Shane Dyer was supposed to dominate opposing hitters from the beginning. The top 15 pitching prospects pre season, however, haven’t done so well thus far. They’ve combined for an ERA of 5.74. Especially the above mentioned Biscuits prospects have a combined ERA of 8.17 in 54 IP. But, not all things are bad. The top 15 prospects have a FIP of 4.38 which is considerably lower than their ERA. Their BABIP (0.322) also suggests that they’ve been unlucky thus far and they strike out more than one batter per inning (9.3 K/9). Overall, while having hoped for a better start, the sample size still is very small and the stuff seams to still be there. Let’s give them some more time.

Pitching prospects stats overview

(Click at the image for a larger view)

As mentioned before, lots of the systems’ top pitching prospects have been hit hard so far. But, as for example Matt Moore and Chris Archers FIP and BABIP suggest, they have been recipients of some bad luck. I’m a bit more concerned about some of the other prospects: Can Alex Colome develop his secondary offerings in order to succeed at the higher levels? Does Braulio Lara show enough command in order to develop into a starting role? Will Nick Barnese and Joe Cruz manage the transition to AA-ball?

On the positive side, especially the new top duo knocking on the major league door has performed exceptionally well. Alex Torres and Joe Cruz have been unhittable so far in their first full seasons at AAA. Their counterparts in the AAA bullpen, namely Brandon Gomes and Rob Delaney (together with older pitchers like Mike Ekstrom (the cutoff date for me considering players as prospects was 1/1/94), Cory Wade and especially Dirk Hayhurst), make the major league pitching depth look extraordinary for this year as well.

In the lower minors especially Enny Romero and Alex Koronis have had great starts to the season. Romero dominated in his first 2 starts (9.2 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 13 SO) while having had a bit of a rocky start thereafter and Alex Koronis really looks promising in a starting role.

  • 3 prospects on the rise

1) Alex Cobb … He needed to show that he can pitch well in AAA as his stuff may lack a bit behind other Rays top prospects. But, he knows how to use it and his pitchability is Hellickson-like. I’m really impressed by his start to the season.

2) Alex Torres … While being a bit undersized his stuff is excellent. His fastball and change already are plus offerings with the chance of becoming plus-plus. The question mark was his command and control. So far, 3.5 BB/9 are okay. If he keeps this up he could be the next in line for a rotation spot in St. Pete.

3) Alex Koronis … Not a lot of people thought Alex Koronis’ offspeed stuff was good enough for him managing a starting role. And while you can’t say that he can be a starter after only 3 starts, he showed some promises. If he keeps up being that sharp (1.6 BB/9) he could make a name of himself as a starting pitching prospect.

3 prospects falling

1) Joe Cruz … 15.55 ERA, 16.4 H/9, 7.4 BB/9 … I know he’ll do better, but those numbers don’t look good.

2) Nick Barnese … Are his secondary pitches going to develop? If not, he could have real problems succeeding in AA and above.

3) Alex Colome … His last start was much better (especially his control), but for him in order to become a top starting pitching prospect he needs to show development in his command as well as in his change.

The prospect of the week: Alex Torres

  • How acquired? Scott Kazmir trade (from Angels)
  • Born: 12/8/87
  • Position: SP
  • B/T: L/L
  • '11 MiL team: Durham Bulls (AAA)

It really was a coin toss between Alex Cobb and Alex Torres. But, in the end I’ve decided to take a deeper look at Alex Torres. For him in order to become a legitimate starting pitching prospect in this pitching heavy organization he has to show some progress. He especially has to show some progress with his command and control. If he doesn’t, prospects like Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Chris Archer pass him really quickly and he has to look for a starting gig in another organization or move to the pen.

Kevin described his stuff pretty accurate in the Rays Prospect Guide for ’11:

He's listed at 5-10/175, but don't let the slight frame fool you. Torres generates a ton of life on his 91-93 mph fastball, leading to weak contact and groundballs. He has a very deceptive delivery that adds to the effectiveness of a change-up that's already a plus pitch, and he's shown good feel for his curveball, a potential third plus pitch.

He, however, also pointed out the question marks of Alex Torres. Can he repeat his deliver on a consistent basis, thus limiting his walks? Can he hold up in a starting role despite his smallish frame?

Thus far, he showed some promise with his control again, after lowering his BB/9 numbers from 4.9 in ’09 to 4.4 in ’10, he now – albeit after only 3 starts – at 3.5 BB/9. And his stuff looks better than ever. He has been hittable by independent league pitching (4.9 H/9), he strikes out a whopping 15.8 K/9 and his FIP (0.78) sits nearly as lower as his ERA (0.59).

If Alex Torres can keep this up and continue to show some polish and thus that he in fact is a major league starter, he seems to be the next starter in line. And … looking at Jeff Niemann’s struggles (fingers crossed that he’ll turn it around) a callup for him could come rather sooner than later.


The stats from StatCorner and FanGraphs provided above are excluding the stats from the previous day. I preferrably use 3 sources for the stats. Click on each stat for its explanation:


  1. What do u think of Shawn smith in xst?

  2. I'm rooting for Smith, been through a lot. Hard to believe he's been around since the 2008 draft. I would guess he goes to Hudson Valley, but it could be Princeton. He was at Princeton in '08, GCL in '09, and missed '10. Can't add anything on his stuff since he hasn't pitched but 35 innings in 3 seasons. Nice size for a leftie, and still young at 20 this year. At this point I think he qualifies as a super-sleeper, not many people even know he exists (outside of friends/family of course).

  3. Back to BurGi's article, does anyone think Torres will stick as a starter? I'm trying to think of short (5'10" or less, if he's that tall) LH starters with success off the top of my head. First one I thought of was Ron Guidry, but he's even listed at 5'11".

  4. LHP Josh Satow is not on your "watch list." Think he won't go any further than Charlotte?

  5. @Anon: I first want to see something from Satow above A+ before adding him. There seems to be a reason why Fleming moved up to AA and Satow went back down to A+.

    @Bricho: I don't know much more about Smith than Doug said above. I'll follow him and take a wait and see approach with him

  6. The first "short" pitcher whose name popped into my head was Bobby Shantz who was listed at 5'6". Of course, he pitched in the 1950s when players were shorter on average. Still, he had a successful career being much shorter than average even then. It is true that after he turned 30 he was used more in relief than as a starter.

    At about the same time, Whitey Ford and Ed Lopat, both listed at 5'10" were also successful. They were, however, much nearer the average.

    On the other hand, more recently Billy Wagner carved out a fine career as a hard throwing reliever. He is listed as 5'10". I think he was moved to the bullpen because of concerns over his size. That may be Torres's fate as well, but the Rays are not bound by convention, so maybe not.

    There are some recent successful starters listed at 5'11" (Lincecum, Pedro). Would that one inch be that important to their mound success?

  7. It does me good to see someone older than me around here! To answer your question, I don't know. It shouldn't matter, but the fact we have to go back so far to find them sort of indicates that it does matter. It makes sense that the wear and tear on a starter is easier on a larger pitcher, so you see the smaller guys in relief roles.

    Saw an interesting article about Wagner in the off season. Sounded like he would have been a competitor even if he was 4'10", hard life growing up.

  8. I did find one other more recent 5"10" pitcher who had a pretty decent career, although he was essentially done after age 31. According to BB-Ref, Mike Hampton was that height.

    But I do think that your fundamental point remains. One has to look very hard to find any examples.

  9. I went through the 100 active wins leaders, only one lefty listed at less than 6': Wandy Rodriguez of the Astros at 5'11".

  10. Maybe Torres could be a special case Doug? After all, lefties don't generate much velocity (several exceptions), and it seems that if a lefty would get good velocity, he would be a bigger one. Just a thought.

  11. For whatever reason size is more a factor for a RHP than a LHP. Note: Scott Kazmir and Johan Santana

  12. Any more news on the pitchers in XST.

  13. I haven't heard anything from XST, unfortunately. I'd especially like to know what the timetable is on returns for Lobstein, Morrison, etc but info is very hard to come by.