A Tale of Projectability

We often hear about “projectability” with young pitchers.  The idea is that a tall, skinny kid will add velocity to his frame as he fills out and matures.  Often it seems that every tall, skinny kid has projectability.  However, not every player with projectability will end up throwing in the upper 90s.  It’s for that reason that top high school draft picks like Tim Alderson never see a velocity increase, while an un-drafted prep player like Stephen Strasburg can soar to the top of the draft ranks after three years in college.  There’s no real rhyme or reason to determining which players will succeed, and which will remain the same.  Overall, it’s a crap shoot.

Let’s go back for a second to the 2009 draft.  Here are three scouting reports, courtesy of Baseball America in their draft preview.  The names of the players, along with any identification hints, have been removed:

Player A:

A projectable 6-foot-6 righthander, (Player A) typically got off to a late start in high school baseball due to his basketball commitments, and his lack of baseball time sometimes showed. In a start at a showcase event in Florida last October, for example, his fastball was in the high 80s to low 90s and he showed poor mechanics and command. Scouts report that looked much better this spring, when he threw a no-hitter and his fastball has peaked at 94 mph. (Player A) adds a curveball and changeup that have been serviceable but need refinement. He has a lot of potential but might be a tough sign because of his relative inexperience and commitment to (College) pledge, so he could slide in the draft if teams don’t think they can sign him in the first three or four rounds.

Player B:

(Player B) has the kind of body scouts dream on. In 2005, (Player B) was a 5-foot-10, 125-pound shortstop. He’s sprouted up considerably since his freshman year and now stands 6-foot-6. Still rail thin at 165 pounds, he’s been pitching at 88-91 mph, but was up to 93 in the fall. He also showed great command in the fall, but has been inconsistent this year. His slider has looked sharp at times, but has also been inconsistent and he has a tendency to drop his arm slot when throwing the pitch. He’s a bit of a wild card in the draft. As a player who is still growing into his body and is relatively new to pitching, teams are baking on the projection with (Player B). Scouts and college recruiters reported that he seemed to be a bit overwhelmed with the attention he received this spring and think he may end up at college.

Player C:

(Player C) doesn’t light up radar guns like fellow (State) high school righthander (Teammate), but he’s a much more polished pitcher with an exceptional track record of winning at the prep level. (Player C) won state championships in each of his first three seasons, a 5-A title at (School) in 2006 and 4-A titles at (School) the last two years. He picked up victories in (School’s) first two playoff games this spring, boosting his career high school record to 40-6. He has advanced command of three solid pitches: an 88-91 mph fastball with good life, a curveball with nice depth and a changeup with deception. He has a 6-foot-5, 205-pound frame and a clean delivery, so his velocity should increase, especially when he stops playing shortstop when he’s not pitching. He did work in the low 90s more regularly late in the spring, and some area scouts prefer him to (Teammate). Both players have scholarships from (College) that they’ll likely turn down when they go in the first two rounds of the draft.

All three pitchers sound very similar.  They are all tall right handers who threw in the lower 90s at the time, and all had projectable frames.  So who are these players?  Player A is Detroit Tigers’ 15th round pick Mark Appel, who did not sign and went to Stanford.  Player B is Pittsburgh Pirates’ 7th round pick Trent Stevenson, who signed for $350,000.  Player C is Pittsburgh Pirates’ 6th round pick Zack Von Rosenberg, who signed for $1.2 M.

I mention Appel because tonight, while following Anthony Rendon’s 2011 debut (he went 0-for-4), a lot of focus went on the Stanford right hander.  That was because he was throwing a 96-99 MPH fastball, with a high-80s slider.  This is following a 2010 season where Appel had a 5.92 ERA in 38 innings, with a 6.16 K/9 and a 4.50 BB/9 ratio.  Tonight he pitched 5.2 innings, allowing two runs on eight hits, with a walk and four strikeouts.

It just shows how unpredictable the whole projectability tag can be.  Appel slipped to the 15th round, and wasn’t even signed by the Tigers.  Two years later he’s throwing in the upper 90s, and Jim Callis of Baseball America already has him as a top 5 prospect in the 2012 draft class.  By comparison, the Pirates spent just over $1.5 M on Stevenson and Von Rosenberg, who had very similar scouting reports.  Both players still have time to add velocity.  After all, just like Appel, they’re both entering their second season since being drafted.  The point is, if it were easy to predict, you’d think the Tigers would have thrown at least $1.5 M at Appel, or that some team would have drafted him much earlier.

The Pirates gave Von Rosenberg $1.2 M, hoping his projectable frame will eventually lead him to be an impact starter.

So what does this mean for the Pirates?  For starters, they have loaded up on young, projectable pitchers, which only increases their odds of finding a breakout player.  A lot of the focus goes to the high priced guys like Von Rosenberg and Stevenson, for obvious reasons.  However, as we saw with the difference between Strasburg and Alderson, the draft status of a player coming out of high school doesn’t guarantee future success.  Someone like Bryton Trepagnier, the 41st round pick by the Pirates in 2010, could just as easily become that breakout player as someone like Von Rosenberg.

Just like there’s no rhyme or reason with which projectable pitcher breaks out, there’s also no set standard on how soon a pitcher will see that velocity increase, if it ever comes.  For the Pirates, it could be Quinton Miller, in his third year since being drafted in 2008.  It could be Von Rosenberg or Stevenson, in their second pro year.  Or it could be one of the 2010 draft picks, like Ryan Hafner or Trepagnier.  Rudy Owens was a 2006 draft pick, signing in 2007, and saw a velocity increase at the end of the 2010 season, three years later.

If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that the Pirates need some of these prep pitchers to become breakout players.  Whether that’s the high priced guys like Von Rosenberg, or the sleepers like Trepagnier, the Pirates need someone to step up.  They spent a lot of money on three young players with top of the rotation stuff last year when they signed Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie, and Luis Heredia.  That trio made it so that the Pirates don’t have to rely on guys like Von Rosenberg realizing their projectable frame.  However, just because the Pirates don’t have to rely on the projectable prep pitchers doesn’t mean they don’t need them.  You can never have too many pitching prospects, especially ones who throw in the mid-to-upper 90s.  Hopefully we’ll see someone from the prep classes of the last three years reach that next level in 2011.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Anonymous

    As always, good comments. It IS a crapshoot. But a FUN crapshoot.


  • Anonymous

    As always, good comments. It IS a crapshoot. But a FUN crapshoot.


  • Anonymous

    Still need talent in your organization to make trades, Huntington not only has had very few pitchers that he could call up from the minors and rely on, in fact none, but he has had nothing from his minor league system that he could part with to make a big deal.

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