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Minor League Matters: Left-Handed Pitcher Depth Charts

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They're baaaaaaaaack!

I figured I'd kick off my new position with the return of an old standby- the depth charts. Sure, they're a battle, but the people want them, so who am I to refuse. I am making one change- since there are so many pitchers, I'm only doing legitimate prospects. If you guys want information on either someone I miss or a filler player that may be at AAA or AA, feel free to ask in the comments. I like to think I'm very active in responding to those who show interest and I'd love to answer more questions.

As far as how I analyze pitchers- I have one rule. Commonly stated as TINSTAPP, it is a sabermetric-oriented abbreviation that means "There is no such thing as a pitching prospect". Even the best pitchers can flame out or lose control or get hurt (see Sleeth, Kyle). So even good players like Casey Crosby and Jacob Turner are not givens to pitch in the Major Leagues, nor are they givens to be starters. That being said, there are ways to evaluate which minor league arms have a better chance of making it to the big leagues barring injury. Things like evaluation of stuff and control really matter when it comes to pitchers- a guy with a 95 mph fastball will have a significantly easier path than a guy with a 90 mph fastball. And breaking stuff is a must have for major league starters. So you'll often see me reference scouting reports, especially when it comes to players in the low minors.

I rely on 6 numbers for minor league players. The first is FIP- much more accurate than ERA or any other indicator, FIP is a good way to tell if a good pitcher is playing in front of a bad defense. K/BB ratio and K/IP ratio can help tell how well a pitcher can control the ball and get strikeouts, respectively. BABIP (one of the greatest predictive tools ever) is also useful, and I also like to measure groundball percentage. Pitchers with a high GB% generally give up less extra base hits and combining a good groundball rate with a good strikeout rate is a great sign. 45% is average for major league pitchers, and Baseball Prospectus says that any pitcher with a rate above 50% can be considered a good groundball pitcher.


Now that I've gotten that giant explanation out of the way (and there's more clearer methodologies on the way) onto the charts!

MLB

Dontrelle Willis- 28 years old

2009 (MLB): 33.2 IP, 6.22 FIP, 17/28 K/BB, .51 K/IP, .297 BABIP, 52.3% GB%

Ugh. Trainwreck. Willis is a disaster, and the only good signs are his newfound "control" this year. It's all about the strikeouts- he's not much of a worm-burner (around league average- 2009 was an aberration)- and the walks (2009 was an aberration from his Marlins career, but not his Tigers one). My advice? Pray- 'cause the only other lefty "starter" we have above AA is Phil Coke.

AAA/AA

Andy Oliver- 22 years old

2009 (NCAA): 88.1 IP, 97/34 K/BB, 1.1 K/IP

The numbers aren't great- Oliver dealt with issues supposedly surrounding his retention of an agent. His legal issues over, Oliver should be fine to pitch. He's got a devastating mid-90's fastball with movement and a heckuva changeup. The big problem is that Oliver lost his curveball in 2009, and that'll be the key to his success. Without it, he's a left-handed Fernando Rodney clone- good change, good fastball late inning reliever. There's nothing wrong with that in a vacuum, but considering that Oliver is our best lefty starter above A ball, that would be a significant problem. He does also have a slider with potential, but it needs work. He's got to stick with one breaking pitch, and I'd try to get that devastating curve back. He's risk personified.

Jon Kibler- 24 years old

2009 (AA): 161.2 IP, 4.52 FIP, 87/68 K/BB, .54 K/IP, 47% GB%

Ugh. Kibler had a good amount of potential in 2008, when he was the Tigers Minor League pitcher of the year. But he pancaked in 2009, putting up a mediocre line and taking steps back in both control and strikeout rate. He's not getting groundballs anymore either- his rate in 2008 was a whopping 60%. He has an average fastball and curveball with an above average changeup, so it's possible that his underwhelming stuff is finally catching up to him. 2010 is a make-or-break year for Kibler- if he can post a 60% GB rate, he'll have a shot as a solid #4. But the odds are slim.

Duane Below- 24 years old

2009 (A+): 28.2 IP, 3.80 FIP, 38/14 K/BB, 1.32 K/IP, .281 BABIP 47% GB%

Below had Tommy John surgery last summer, so there's not exactly a ton of data on him. The 2007 Minor League pitcher of the year has had approximately 2 starts above AA and so I've bounced those numbers. What little I can find on Below's stuff seems to indicate that it is average in nature- so the numbers are probably inflated since he's an older guy dominating a lower level. There might be something here if the K rate can translate to AA, or he starts to get grounders, but after Tommy John, odds are he's an organizational player or maybe a middle reliever if everything breaks right.

A+/A/SS

Casey Crosby- 21 years old

2009 (A): 104.2 IP 3.18 FIP, 117/48 K/BB, 1.12 K/IP, .279 BABIP, 55% GB%

My mancrush on Casey Crosby should be more than apparent at this point. My question is how can you not like Casey? A 95 mph fastball with movement that tops out at 98 is his best offering. He's also got a curve that projects to be plus and an average looking change that needs work. But he's 21, just coming off injury and absolutely dominated in A ball. Sure, the injury history isn't good, but when you're a lefty that throws 95(!!!), it's hard for us prospect-watchers to not be excited. Crosby is probably a solid #2 starter but if that change develops, both Baseball America and John Sickles see him with ace upside.

Charlie Furbush- 24 years old

2009 (A+): 112.2 IP, 3.95 FIP, 94/33 K/BB, .83 K/IP, .314 BABIP, 44% GB%

Furbush isn't a groundball pitcher, which is unfortunate. His fastball tops out at 90, average for a lefty, and his change is average as well. He flashes a plus breaking ball (Sickles calls it a slider, though I've heard it's a curve as well) and either way, he's got some upside provided he can translate that good strikeout ratio to AA. His good command and feel for pitching should test him, but AA's the real test for Furbush- he's 24 and in A+ ball, so we can't really tell anything by the numbers.

Matt Hoffman- 21 years old

2009 (A): 40.1 IP, 2.86 FIP, 33/8 K/BB, .82 K/IP, .213 BABIP, 57% GB%

2009 (A+): 62.1 IP, 5.18 FIP, 32/21 K/BB, .513 K/IP, .326 BABIP, 47% GB

Oh dear. Those are two very different sets of numbers from Matt Hoffman. One line is stellar and one is... not. I can't find much on Hoffman as far as stuff goes (at least not that's in front of a paywall), but he seems to be a pitcher that can draw groundballs and get a fair number of strikeouts. His young age indicates that even if he hit a wall in A+ last year, he still has time to grow and develop as a player. The Tigers have moved him to the bullpen for the early part of 2010, so he'll join our growing rank of relief prospects for now at least, though I wouldn't be surprised to see him moved back to the rotation as players get injured or inning caps kick in.

Adam Wilk- 22 years old

2009 (A): 37.1 IP, 2.01 FIP, 34/5 K/BB, .91 K/IP, .232 BABIP, 44% GB%

2009 (A+): 36.1 IP, 2.73 FIP, 33/2 K/BB, .91 K/IP, .280 BABIP, 44% GB%

If only Adam Wilk had Casey Crosby's stuff... if he did, we'd hear more about him. Instead, he's a pitchability type- great command and feel for pitching, but with 5 average to mediocre pitches (4 seam FB, 2 seam FB, curve, cut fastball and change). His assets lie in that strike throwing- 36.1 innings is virtually worthless, but that 2 walks is freaking amazing. Don't expect Wilk to dominate in the future, but if he can transition to AA (preferably this year), he has the upside of a solid #4. I'm really looking forward to this one.

Giovany Soto- 20 years old

2009 (GCL-Rookie): 45.2 IP, 2.87 FIP, 37/20 K/BB, .81 K/IP, .273 BABIP, 54% GB%

Okay, so the sample is tiny and from the rookie leagues. That makes the numbers really weak. But if I was inclined to trust them, I'd love them. Soto's drawing groundballs and striking out a ton, and he seems to have continued that into his first two starts at West Michigan which is awesome. There doesn't seem to be much on his stuff, though I've heard it was only worth a late round selection. Still, keep your eye on this one. He seems to have at least some talent, and he's young and tiny, which means he's got room to fill out (which should improve his stuff).

Jade Todd- 20 years old

2009 (A): 16.1 IP, 4.75 FIP, 7/10 K/BB, .43 K/IP, .296 BABIP, 49% GB%

Todd is a 2008 draftee who had to sit out most of last year with a nebulous shoulder injury (seriously- I can't find much on it). He's not a bad little prospect- his fastball sits at around 90-91, which is right around average for a lefty. But his curve looks really promising and his changeup looks to be solid. If he has a good year this year, he could easily jump up prospect lists, but he's nowhere near ready for AA, let alone the big leagues. Give him a little time, but he could be a solid #3 starter or a nice little bullpen piece

Final Thoughts

The system isn't exactly stacked in lefty starters. But there's one really good one in Crosby, another with a ton of potential in Oliver and a ton of live arms in the lower minors. If one of these guys puts together a good season, we could have another stellar prospect to talk about. My breakout candidates are Jade Todd (seriously- great name), Adam Wilk and Charlie Furbush, and I'd love to see these guys do well this year.