First Pitch: A Few Cases of Increased Velocity, and the More Important Skill
Today I wrapped up the West Virginia Power 2012 season recap. The three lowest levels in the farm system are now complete, which covers a lot of the young pitchers in the system. It also covers a lot of the guys who fall under the “projectable frame” category.
You might see that term used a lot. When a pitcher has a projectable frame, it usually means that the pitcher is tall and skinny. The idea is that the pitcher could add velocity to his fastball as he fills out his frame. Mix in a low effort throwing motion, and it becomes more likely that the pitcher could start throwing with higher velocity down the line.
It’s hard to predict who will add velocity. The biggest example is Stephen Strasburg. He went from undrafted out of high school, to a guy who sits in the upper 90s out of college. It’s also hard to predict when the velocity increase will take place. It’s not like you draft a guy and the next year he goes from upper 80s to mid-90s. Chris Archer of the Rays didn’t see a velocity increase until after three or four years in the minors (when he was in the Cubs’ system).
The Pirates have seen no shortage of “projectable pitchers”. Without looking, I’d say that 40% of their draft picks have been right-handed pitchers who either weigh under 200 pounds and throw mid-to-upper 80s, or over 200 pounds and already throw 90-93. That 40% figure might be low.
The focus on projectable arms raises the question: how many of those arms have actually added velocity? I think there’s a more important skill, which I will get to in a minute. However, I wanted to review a few cases of velocity increases that I noticed while doing the recaps for the lower levels. Note that this list doesn’t include guys like Clay Holmes, who have been sitting 90-93 since they were drafted. It doesn’t include guys who have hit a high figure in a shorter outing or a bullpen session, but work lower in the game. The focus here is what the players have done in the game.
Tyler Glasnow - Glasnow, a 2011 5th round pick, was hitting the 90-93 MPH range when I saw him in Spring Training. In his final start with State College he touched 96 MPH. Not only has he seen a velocity increase this year, but his numbers have been strong throughout the process, with a great season in the GCL, and a strong debut in State College. He’s 6′ 7″, 195 pounds, so there could be more velocity coming from the right-hander.
Bryton Trepagnier - The right-hander was taken in the 41st round of the 2010 draft. He’s a typical projectable pitcher, at 6′ 5″, 180 pounds. In previous years he was working in the mid-80s, eventually jumping to the upper 80s. This year he was sitting 92-93 MPH with his fastball in the GCL, and carried that velocity over to State College at the end of the year. He had good results out of the bullpen in the GCL, but struggled in limited time in State College at the end of the season.
Kevin Kleis - Kleis was in the upper 80s with his fastball the last two years, after being taken in the 27th round of the 2010 draft. The 6′ 8″, 225 pound right-hander saw that velocity increase to the 91-94 MPH range at the end of the year in State College. He did lack control of his pitches, leading to a 4.38 BB/9 ratio.
Nick Kingham - There were reports that he hit 95 prior to the draft in 2010, although he didn’t do much of that in 2011. He was hitting 95 more frequently in 2012, although he still sits 90-93 for most of his outing.
Dovydas Neverauskas - He was touching 95 MPH frequently this year, sitting in the 92-95 MPH range. I’ve seen him hitting 94 in previous years, although his velocity was consistently touching 95 over several starts, according to one American League scout who was following him.
Added velocity is great, but it is far from the most important thing a young pitcher can gain. The most important thing a young pitcher can gain is fastball command. The Pirates have plenty of arms that can consistently sit 94-98 MPH, but profile as organizational arms because they lack control and command of the pitch. The big example here is Stetson Allie, who can hit triple digits, and is now holding a bat.
Looking at the above list, Kleis would be a great story if he could go from a 27th round pick to a real prospect. Upping his fastball to the 91-94 MPH range helps, especially with his huge frame. But he’s not doing much without control of the pitch. The same goes for Neverauskas, who was consistently hitting 95, but struggles with control issues.
The pitcher needs to command the fastball, and needs to know how to pitch. The biggest spotlight as far as “projectable starters” goes lies on Zack Von Rosenberg. The Pirates gave the 6′ 5″, 205 pound right hander a $1.2 M bonus in 2009. He was the first of the projectable pitchers (Quinton Miller was the first big bonus prep pitcher in 2008, but he already had decent velocity). Von Rosenberg threw 89-91 MPH, but there was hope that he could eventually add to that fastball and look like a first rounder a few years down the line.
That hasn’t happened. Von Rosenberg is still 89-91 MPH with his fastball. However, the key to success isn’t added velocity on his fastball. The key for Von Rosenberg is fastball command. What has plagued him the last two years hasn’t been a lack of velocity. It’s that he’s leaving the fastball up and flat, lacking command and struggling to attack hitters with the fastball. Adding velocity to the fastball might help a bit, but it’s not going to solve the problem.
Von Rosenberg is a guy who throws an above-average curve and changeup. If he had good command of his fastball, he could make it to the majors, even at 89-91 MPH. If all he does is add velocity to his fastball, he would still have work to do to reach the majors.
It’s good to see some of these guys adding velocity. The Pirates have their pitchers throw every day to build arm strength, so I’m sure more examples will emerge. Added velocity provides a better weapon for a pitcher to use, and might allow the pitcher to get away with a little bit more. But whether you throw upper 80s, low-to-mid 90s, or touch 100 MPH, you’re not going to get far without commanding the fastball. And if you can command the fastball, you’ve got a chance to reach the majors, even if you’re throwing 88-91 MPH.
Links and Notes
**If the Pirates are going to do anything in this wild card race, now is the time. Tomorrow the Cardinals and Dodgers start a four game series, which means one of them is going to start winning games. Meanwhile, the Pirates start a four game series on Friday against the Cubs, followed by three at home against Milwaukee, three on the road against Houston, and four on the road against the Mets. This would be a perfect time for them to go on one of their hot streaks, winning every series in a row for a few weeks.
**The Pirates lost 2-1 to the Cincinnati Reds.