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2015 BYB community Tigers prospect #15: Edgar De La Rosa

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A big right-hander from the Dominican Republic, De La Rosa made huge strides at Advanced-A Lakeland in 2014.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest issue many people have with prospect rankings is how fickle they can be from year to year. A player may not be on anyone's radar one season -- or February, in this case -- then he becomes the hottest commodity in the farm system roughly six months later. Had he not beed traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, shotstop Willy Adames likely would have been the consensus top prospect in the organization this year. He didn't even get a whiff of our top 30 prospect list in 2014, but slid in as Baseball Prospectus' #94 overall prospect for 2015.

Another Tigers prospect who mades waves in 2014, though to a lesser extent, was right-handed pitcher Edgar De La Rosa. A massive player from the Dominican Republic -- he and Steven Moya have that description in common -- De La Rosa has been a slow riser through the ranks. He has always had the premium velocity that the Tigers covet, but the lack of consistency in his delivery and subpar secondary offerings kept him from fully realizing his mid-rotation potential. Not everyone has caught wind of the improvements he made in 2014 (which could be part of the reason why he's still here), but those that have are intrigued by what De La Rosa could provide for the Tigers in the future.

2014 statistics
Level IP W-L ERA WHIP FIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP
A+ 139.0 7-9 3.30 1.22 4.68 5.89 3.43 0.84 .252
Profile

The Tigers signed De La Rosa as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2009. He spent two years pitching in the Dominican Summer League, allowing a 5.01 ERA and 1.63 WHIP in 118 2/3 innings. He demonstrated enough improvements in his second season for the Tigers to bring him stateside in 2011, where he posted the highest strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.78) of his professional career. He also improved his hit and walk rates, earning a call-up to the New York-Penn League in 2012.

De La Rosa's slow progression through the minors continued in 2013, when he finally got his first taste of full season ball. He logged a career-high 120 1/3 innings, but allowed a 5.61 ERA with a subpar 1.90 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Despite the poor numbers, the Tigers challenged De La Rosa with an assignment to Advanced-A Lakeland in 2014. He responded with his best professional season to date, allowing a 3.30 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 139 innings.

De La Rosa's improvements were more than statistical. James Chipman of TigsTown noted considerable improvements ($) in De La Rosa's mechanics in 2014, resulting in a livelier fastball and improved secondary offerings. He shot up the team rankings at both TigsTown and MLB.com, landing in the top 20 on both sites. The Tigers took a risk by leaving De La Rosa unprotected in this year's Rule 5 draft, but his previous inconsistencies presumably scared opposing teams away from taking a flyer on the large right-hander.

Strengths

De La Rosa possesses a borderline elite-level fastball that sits in the mid-90s with potential for triple digit velocity in spurts. This isn't as uncommon in baseball as it used to be, but De La Rosa's big frame and smooth delivery make the high octane fastball that much better when his mechanics are right. He was previously criticized for his fastball staying too straight, making it easier for hitters to square up. Those concerns seem to have gone by the wayside after a 2014 season in which he allowed just 116 hits in 139 innings, the best rate of his career. He induced a lot of weak contact and missed more barrels, resulting in a 10.7 percent line drive rate.

The violent stuff that De La Rosa possesses is nice as a starter, but would play up to a greater extent than your average pitcher as a reliever. His fastball, already sitting in the mid-90s, would probably be a high-90s offering out of the bullpen. De La Rosa's command is going to keep him from being a top-flight MLB starter, but his premium stuff could make him a solid back-end reliever even without pinpoint control. The strides De La Rosa has made with his slider indicate that it could be a solid swing-and-miss pitch for him. Even if it doesn't reach that status, pairing it with a fastball like his helps it play up, especially when facing a few batters at a time.

Weaknesses

While De La Rosa made big improvements in 2014, he had a long way to go. Jordan detailed some of De La Rosa's faults prior to the 2014 season, when he ranked just outside our top 30 list.

He has trouble staying balanced after delivery, often falling off to the first base side of the mound, or even spinning in a circle after delivering the ball. Not only is that bad for fielding your position, but it's difficult to stay balanced and repeat your delivery/arm slot when your landing is so off kilter. For as hard as he threw (93-95), he was getting squared up relatively often. There were not a lot of uncomfortable at bats against him. He left his fastball up a few times, and it got pounded when he did. He had a slider at 81-82, but it didn't have much plane, and he couldn't throw it for strikes. The slider also lacked spin, and needed overall tightening. It was more of a vertical pitch than a horizontal one. He threw one changeup, by my count, which wasn't really a usable pitch at this point.

The biggest concern lies with De La Rosa's secondary pitches. He features a slider and changeup, and reports differ on which pitch is better. Chipman's 2014 report is the most recent first-hand evidence I have seen, and he grades the slider as a tick better, but both offerings are still below average.

As a big pitcher with high-octane stuff and a long history of mechanical issues, it's no wonder that De La Rosa has struggled with his command throughout his career. He has walked 200 batters in 518 1/3 career innings, a rate of 3.5 per nine innings. His 2014 walk rate was nearly identical to his career numbers, and he finished the season with a pedestrian 1.72 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He likely will never have great command, but improving his control enough to lower his walk rate to under three batters per nine innings could go a long way for him, especially if he continues to show enough life on his fastball to get hitters out within the strike zone.

Video

Video via TigsTown and MLB Farm

Projected team: Erie SeaWolves

De La Rosa did nothing in 2014 to warrant keeping him back at Lakeland for another season, but he was not dominant enough to skip Double A. Toledo's rotation is also getting crowded with Kyle Lobstein, Buck Farmer, Kyle Ryan, and Drew VerHagen all in the mix, so pinpointing Erie as De La Rosa's 2015 destination isn't difficult. As arguably the most hitter-friendly league the Tigers are affiliated with, it should be a good test for him. How De La Rosa handles the improved competition should tell us a lot about where his future lies. If he can continue to develop his secondary offerings and refine his mechanics, a rotation spot may be in the offing. If he falters, the move to the bullpen could come swiftly. He has the arm to pitch at the big league level; now, it's more a question of how he gets there.

★★★

New addition: Chad Green, right-handed pitcher

The only player left on MLB.com's top 20 Tigers prospect list not yet in our poll, Green is yet another large power arm from a big-time college program. Louisville's former ace put up a 3.11 ERA and 4.46 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 130 1/3 innings at Single-A West Michigan last season, numbers on par with the rest of that excellent staff. Like just about every pitching prospect in the system, Green's fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s with the potential for plus velocity in short stints. Unlike some of the others, he doesn't have a great secondary offering to fall back on yet. If he struggles to develop his slider and changeup at higher levels, he may be forced to pick one and move to the bullpen.