In the last post in this series we talked about the right-handed starting pitchers that were close to making the Majors. In this post, we take a look at the pitchers where ‘projection’ and ‘raw’ are the buzz words. We preview the 2010 campaigns for a pair of 2009 draft picks, a couple former high school picks struggling to make their mark and a more polished sleeper prospect.
Best prospect: Stephen Sauer
in review: Making his full season debut with Kannapolis, Stephen Sauer put
together a very impressive season going 6-5 with a 3.36 ERA. He was a
ground ball machine for the Intimidators with a 2.54 GO/AO rate, but he
wasn’t just a pitch to contact guy. Sauer compiled a good number of
strikeouts (7.80 K/9), to go along with impeccable control (1.20 BB/9).
What he needs to improve: Sauer is a polished prospect. He already has fantastic control of a low
90’s sinking fastball, he keeps the ball on the ground, doesn’t give
up home runs and strikes out a fair number of batters. He will need to
continue working on his changeup, however, to help combat left-handed
hitters, who hit .321 against him last year (vs. .271 AVG for right
What to expect in 2010: Sauer will probably be starting for Winston-Salem this year, although
he has an outside shot at starting with Birmingham. I expect him to
continue to put up excellent numbers and he may even improve from last
year where he pitched into some bad luck with a .364 BABIP. Defenses
usually get better as you move up through the minors, so that’s
something that should help Sauer.
What makes a successful season: Sauer was a little old for Kannapolis last year and he will need to
prove that he wasn’t just a man amongst boys, which will be difficult
for him to do with Winston-Salem as he will be similarly old (23) for that
league. Ideally we’d see him challenged against Double-A hitters, but I
don’t expect that to happen until at least midseason. In which case,
all you can ask is for Sauer to overpower the competition at High-A.
-Written by Jeff Buchanan–
2009 draft picks
2009 in review: Ryan Buch put together a very successful season at Monmouth and was rewarded by being drafted in the 8th round (253 overall) by
the White Sox. The reports on Buch suggested that
he struggled with control and this was particularly evident as he
walked 21 batters in 21 innings during his pro debut, to go along with 5
wild pitches and a HBP. He did show good stuff though as he struck out
29 batters (12.23 K/9) and gave up only 13 hits (.178 avg) despite a
fairly neutral BABIP (.294).
What he needs to improve: Control, control, control, changeup. In that order. Many think that
Buch will end up pitching out of the bullpen where his dynamite
fastball/curve combo should work very well, but if he can improve his
control and changeup, he has the potential to become a number three
What to expect in 2010: It’s tough to say without knowing where he’s going to start or what
role he’ll be employed in. As a reliever, he could really fly through
the system. As a starter, his control will likely hold him back to
begin with, but he has the stuff to overpower A ball hitters which
could facilitate a fast rise. Considering how deep this system is with
relief pitching, I hope Buch is given the opportunity to start.
What makes a successful season: I’d expect Buch to at least hold his own in Low-A, regardless of
whether he’s starting or relieving. He’ll need to be more consistent,
throwing the ball over the plate more often and hopefully taking a step
forward with the changeup. Improvements are more important for Buch
than results at this stage.
-Written by Jeff Buchanan–
in review: At 6’6″ 200 pounds you are going to be called “projectable” by scouts. This is a big reason why Heidenreich was drafted in the 4th round out of high school by the Sox. He signed for $200,000 and reported to Bristol where he made 16 appearances out of the bullpen. He pitched 22 innings, struck out 12, walked 12 and had a 4.50 ERA.
What he needs to improve: This is a bit of a cop out, but it sounds like a little bit of everything. His fastball velocity has improved in the past year (sitting in the low 90s, peaking at 95), but reports say his secondary pitches and mechanics need work. His walk rate last year is a concern, but he only walked 3 over his last 15 innings so maybe early nerves were to blame. It’s tough to judge on a small sample size obviously.
What to expect in 2010: The California native is the definition of a project so he will pitch in rookie ball again. The Sox may view him as a reliever, but they were probably just taking it slowly with him. Odds are on him being a starter this year because it’s standard practice to give better prospects, even those that project as relievers, starts so they can get more innings.
What makes a successful season: Heidenreich shows consistent velocity in the 90s, doesn’t walk the world and at least moderate improvement in other aspects of his game. Polish shouldn’t be expected yet, but a 4th round pick should be able to succeed in his second year of rookie ball.
In need of a big year
in review: Thought of as a high upside arm when he was drafted in the 2nd round in 2007, Griffith had Tommy John surgery in 2008 and as a result has thrown less than 100 pro innings. He put up decent numbers (3.86 ERA) in a dozen starts with Kannapolis to close the year, but he still has a ways to go to prove he is the pitcher people thought he could become. He dropped his slider to lessen the strain on his elbow, but his velocity (92-95) returned.
What he needs to improve: His secondary pitches. The fastball seems back to form and the slider was his best secondary pitch so improving his curveball and changeup are the keys to future success. His curveball has been extremely inconsistent so far, but can be a plus pitch.
What to expect in 2010: Griffith will likely start the year in Winston-Salem and considering it will finally be his first full season of pro ball, expectations will be somewhat high. He is only 21 so it’s not a make or break season yet, but if Griffith can’t improve his secondary stuff he is not going to make it. Regardless, his velocity and competent control should be enough to be solid for the Dash.
What makes a successful season: Griffith shows he is fully healthy, pitches the full season and shows more consistency with his curve. This should improve his strikeout rate, which was a low 4.7 K/9 in Kanny. He doesn’t need to set the world on fire, if all goes well that could be the goal in 2011.
2009 in review: Upchurch’s story is similar to Griffith’s without the injury. High school draft pick with a good arm and expectations that he hasn’t come near yet. The Alabama native repeated Bristol last year and did much worse than the year before. His K/9 dropped from 8.3 to 5.7, his ERA more than doubled (3.26 to 6.95) and he got hit much harder.
What he needs to improve: With a drop off in stats like that, it’s hard not to think about a possible injury. If that’s the case, he needs to get healthy. If that’s not the case, he needs to work on his consistency and show some of the form scouts believed he was capable of.
What to expect in 2010: It will probably be a third go at rookie ball for Upchurch, but that isn’t a death sentence for a 20 year-old. However, if he throws up another stinker of a year like ’09 more will begin to write him off. Upchurch has the stuff to be a good starter and control doesn’t seem to be the problem, but he has to show some sign of life.
What makes a successful season: Upchurch returns back to the form of ’08 and maybe even gets a sniff of full season ball. I’d be happy just to find out what the heck happened last year.
Gregory Infante put up good numbers in Kannapolis, but hit a wall after getting promoted to Winston-Salem. He BB/9 ballooned from 3.8 to 10. 10! That was in only 20.2 innings, but that’s still a boatload of walks. His control comes and goes to extremes, but when it’s on he is quite effective. Odds are he will start the year in Winston-Salem and try to re-harness his control. ’09 6th rounder Justin Collop has a similar story. Collop has three quality pitches, but struggled with his command (23 BB in 39.2 IP) in his pro debut.
The Sox have quite a few quality arms in the low minors. Buch and Heidenreich could wind up as relievers, but have quality pitches and bring it with good velocity. Griffith and Upchurch certainly have the ability to make it to the Majors, but for one reason or another that hasn’t translated on the field yet. Throw in lefties Charlie Leesman and David Holmberg and the Sox have a decent stockpile of good, young arms. It’s a nice change to have young pitchers with upside as opposed to the low ceiling pitchers we saw in the system a few years ago.