Bringing up the name Adrian Sampson won’t ring many bells across the baseball world. Most fans, including some that follow the Pirates, likely have never heard of the 2012 5th round pick. He didn’t receive an excessive signing bonus when drafted, and he wasn’t particularly effective in 140 innings in High-A last year. That all seems like it is about to change for the young Pirates right-hander.
The only ranking Sampson received from a major publication on their preseason prospect list was 27th in the system from Baseball America. He grabbed a handful of sleeper rankings, or high follow type remarks, but he could not crack most of the top rankings lists out there. In part this is a testament to the depth of the Pirates’ system, but at the same time, Sampson’s 2013 season that included a 5.14 ERA and 4.32 FIP certainly was a factor.
What is going on right now
It is still early, but Sampson’s age 22 season has started out with a bang. His 2.32 ERA is good for 3rd in the Eastern League, trailing only A.J. Morris for the Curve lead. He places seventh on the Eastern League leader board in WHIP at 1.17, only 0.23 away from the league lead. Sampson’s strikeout rate has dropped slightly from his career high 2012 form, hitting 6.96 K/9 with a 18.9% strikeout rate in 2014, but those spots still place him in the top 20 in each category for the Eastern League.
“Changeup was my big pitch last year, and I’m bringing it back to this year. It’s been good for me.” He said when asked what he is currently working on. “The fastball is always something you can work on. Pitching both sides of the plate, moving feet of the hitters, basically consistency of all the pitches and being able to throw them in any count, that’s what I’ve been basically working on all year.”
So where is this all coming from? One answer could be Sampson’s drastic drop in BABIP. His 2013 campaign saw a .332 BABIP, which was the 3rd highest mark in the Florida State League. Sampson’s first 42.2 innings in Double-A have yielded a .278 BABIP, the 13th lowest in the Eastern League so far. He has also taken a serious leap in LOB%, jumping from 65.8% in 2013, to 80.9% in 2014. The increase in ability to convert batted balls into outs, as well as an increase in stranded runners have clearly been contributors to Sampson’s strong start. He had his own take on his improvement from last year.
“I think the mentality coming into the games. It’s totally different from last year. Last year was my first full season, didn’t really know what to expect. This year I kind of have a grasp on things; have a good foundation from last year. And, coming in with way more confidence, that’s really helped me throw the pitches I want, and execute them.”
What the future holds
Going forward, Sampson is going to have to keep an eye on a few things. His 2.74 BB/9 rate is nearly double his output from last season at 1.41. The low BABIP is also likely at an unsustainable point, as the league average BABIP currently sits at .300. The difference in FIP and ERA, 3.40 to 2.32, clearly suggests that we are in for some regression from this impressive start. His past however, does suggest some sustainability and continued improvement. Sampson’s home run rate is currently the same as the level he reached in 2012, he has a solid strikeout rate to go along with a focus on groundballs, and his walk rate surely has a chance to improve.
Sampson believes his development, as well as where he wants to be at the end of the year, hinges on both a consistent approach, and understanding his stuff.
“I just want to be consistent. I want to be able to throw all the pitches when I have to. I want to be able to be a pitcher instead of a thrower. I want to know times to throw a certain pitch to get a groundball when I need to. Keep my pitch count down, three pitches or less outs, and few three ball counts. I just want to be able to throw the ball where I want to, and get a groundball when I need to.”
Will Adrian Sampson be a top 10 prospect for the Pirates going into 2015, or be an anchor on a major league staff? Unlikely. Does he have a chance to contribute at the major league level in some capacity? Absolutely. Consistency is going to have to play a key part in his continued development. He can’t revert back to his 2013 form if he wants that opportunity. 2012 and his strong start in 2014 suggest that he has the ability to be a Major League pitcher, he just has to continue on that path.