The 2009 draft saw two big bonuses awarded to high school pitchers by the Pittsburgh Pirates. One bonus was for $1.2 M, going to sixth round pick Zack Von Rosenberg. The other bonus was $1.15 M, going to 8th round pick Colton Cain. The two pitchers are very different in many ways.
To start with, there’s the fact that Von Rosenberg is a right hander, while Cain is a left hander. That’s the simple difference. Then there’s the differences in their games. Von Rosenberg has what you call a projectable frame. At 6′ 5″, 205 pounds, he has some room to grow. With his loose throwing motion, if he adds some weight and muscle to his frame, he could easily be a candidate to add velocity. Currently his fastball sits in the upper 80s, touching 91 at times.
Meanwhile, Cain doesn’t have that projectable frame. At 6′ 3″, 225 pounds, Cain is pretty much filled out. He’s touched 94 MPH in the past with his fastball, although he ranges anywhere from the high 80s to the low 90s. Cain has less of a chance to add velocity. Since he is basically filled out, he’s throwing at his maximum potential. That’s not bad when he’s in the low 90s, but that range is pretty much his upside.
It raises the question as to what you prefer: a projectable pitcher like Von Rosenberg, or a “safe” pitcher like Cain? That’s one of many issues where the writers at Pirates Prospects differ. Some like the upside of Von Rosenberg, while some like the fact that Cain is better now.
The downside with Von Rosenberg is that a high 80s fastball isn’t going to cut it as a top prospect. We’ve seen that this year, with his 6.58 ERA in 94.1 innings. He does have a 7.8 K/9 and a 1.4 BB/9, but his big issue has been a very high 1.7 HR/9 ratio. Von Rosenberg has been hit around a lot this year, with 115 hits in 94.1 innings. He’s done well recently, although he’s still been prone to the long ball.
The upside with Von Rosenberg is that he has the potential to add velocity. That added velocity is no guarantee, but it’s also not an impossible goal. Plenty of pitchers see a spike in velocity in their late teens or early 20s. The most famous story is Stephen Strasburg, who went from being undrafted out of high school, to throwing 100 MPH as a college junior. Von Rosenberg might not touch 100 MPH in his career, but even if he can work in the mid-90s, that will help him tremendously. He’s got good secondary stuff, highlighted by his strong curveball, but he needs a strong fastball to set those pitches up.
The downside with Cain is that he is what he is. He’s not likely to add velocity, which means he will be a left hander who can throw in the low 90s, although that’s not really a guarantee. He was throwing in the upper 80s when I saw him last month, although that could be chalked up to fatigue and a dead arm. Right now, Cain’s upside looks like a number three starter, and he doesn’t have a chance of being a top of the rotation pitcher. He’s more of an innings eater, kind of like Paul Maholm right now.
The upside with Cain is that he’s more of a safer pick. A left hander who is capable of throwing in the low-90s, and touching 94 is a good thing to have. He’s displayed good control, and he’s been hard to hit, with 77 hits allowed in 96.2 innings this year. The Pirates have a talented pitcher already in Cain. Unlike Von Rosenberg, they don’t have to wait on something that might never come.
When it comes to your preference, it’s really a matter of how much risk you are comfortable with. Do you want the high risk/high reward guy like Von Rosenberg? If so, you’re taking a guy who, right now, doesn’t look like more than a back of the rotation starter, but has the potential to grow in to a number two or three starter, depending on how much velocity he adds to his fastball. Or, do you take the safer pick, going with Colton Cain? If that’s your preference, you’re going with a guy who looks right now like he could be a #3-5 starter in the majors, depending on how well he adjusts moving up the ladder. There’s no wrong answer. It’s all a matter of preference.