On The Level: 6-Apr-10

Welcome back to On The Level. This week’s offerings will be better in terms of assured level to begin the year and provide you with some very promising players to watch if you cheer for these teams or need to fill a hole on your fantasy league minor league roster. Since there is never enough elite pitching to go around, I’ll try to give you some real options at each level this week that could surprise with a big jump in production or role enhancement this season.


Dallas Keuchel – LHP – Houston Astros

Born Jan 1st ‘88 – 6′3″ 200 lbs – Drafted in the 7th round of the 2009 draft

You’ll notice that in many of my prospect analysis projects, I tend to lean towards ball players. What do I mean by ball players? I mean guys who eat, sleep, and love the game of baseball and therefore pay attention to all of the minute details that can make them better. LHP Daniel “Dallas” Keuchel is the perfect example of such a player. He leads by example, and despite not having the best stuff he continues to prove that he is as effective as any other pitcher out there. Most people who watch him pitch agree that he’ll have to pay attention to detail at an even higher level in order to be anything more than a long reliever in the majors, but the fact that he’s been willing to focus on details his entire career tells me that his ceiling may be closer to a #3 pitcher. I also tend to push him up a little because of how excited Astros brass seems to be about him and how dedicated they are to giving him on opportunity to shine as a result. Opportunity is the first necessity of proving yourself in baseball, just ask Garrett Jones and Randy Ruiz.

Fellow Call to the Pen writer Nathaniel Stoltz, who writes the This Week in Prospects column, had this to say about Dallas:

“He reminds me a bit of a poor man’s Dallas Braden, with the good changeup, mid-to-high-80’s heat, poor breaking pitch, and nice job controlling the running game. Still, Braden has a playable slurve and exceptional change, while Keuchel has a terrible slurve and merely average-plus change. He’s got to tighten those two pitches up if he wants to have a big league career.”

I entirely agree with this assessment, but believe that his competitiveness and leadership abilities are intangibles that will make him a bit better than Braden. His performance after the draft, in the College World Series, prove my point that he will find a way to get things done. As Stephen Goff of the Houston Astros Examiner stated:

“Leading up to the Draft, the Razorback ace put together a solid junior season. Ironically, Keuchel’s greatest success occurred after the Draft in the College World Series. It’s realistic to believe he may have been a higher pick had the College World Series took place earlier.”

Here’s why I believe in Dallas as much as I do. He throws first pitch strikes more than most n the minors and is able to hit the outside part of the plate on a very consistent basis. He also nails the bottom of the zone without missing high the vast majority of the time and gets a ton of groundouts as a result. I always tend to like ground-ball pitchers over fly-ball pitchers. His strike out pitch, a really nasty curve, is very repeatable and he’s willing to throw it any time in the count. He does have a ton of confidence in his slider, but it definitely needs work along with his change up – but then again, there are very few guys in LoA or HiA that don’t need to work on those pitches. With his work ethic and commitment, I definitely believe that he’ll get those two pitches to grade as slightly above average.

As far as weaknesses go, throwing first pitch strikes can get you into trouble if hitters know what you’re throwing and are aggressive right away. Also, if he’s not hitting the corners or getting the calls from the umpires on the edges of the plate, he can have some seriously horrible outings. Because he can’t overpower hitters, he needs to pitch a little like Kevin Slowey, with pinpoint accuracy. However, having said that I also believe he can add a few MPH on his pitches because he never ever focused on throwing hard growing up and he has such an easy delivery, so this weakness could be resolved in due time.

Overall, I expect great things from Dallas and think that he would have been chosen in the first 4 rounds if the College World Series would have taken place before the draft. If you’re ready to be patient and take a gamble on this pitcher, he will likely outperform expectations. If you’re a fan of the Astros, you have another name to add to the Ross Seaton, Tanner Bushue, and Jordan Lyles watch.

Daniel “Dallas” Keuchel Video (College World Series. Start at 4:30 if you want to skip to Dallas)

You can see from the video his nasty curve and the reason why he gets to many groundouts.


Heitor Correa – RHP – Philadelphia Phillies

Born Aug 25th ‘89 – 6′3″ 200 lbs – Signed as an international FA from Brazil in 2006

If you’re looking for a pitcher with an edgy attitude, Heitor’s your man. He was once suspended for the entire 2008 season for violating the team’s rules by using a banned substance. If you can live with the risk, this guy may give you substantial rewards. You have to consider his stats from 2009 with the knowledge that he missed all of 2008 and that he still was able to pull off 124 innings in 2009, not bad for a recovery season against higher competition. He wound up going 7-8 with a 4.13 ERA, a whip of 1.43, 2 complete games, and 89 Ks over 21 starts. Correa was also the second youngest pitcher on the Lakewood staff after Jason Knapp, so his stats also play up due to his age. That must be one of the reasons BA placed him 19th on their Phillies prospect list for 2010.

When you look at the fact that his splits indicate he had a 2.50 ERA over the month of May, 3.14 ERA over the month of June, 5.08 ERA over the month of July, and a 5.19 ERA over the month of August, you get what I mean in saying he tired over the course of the season. While this averages out to a 4.13 ERA, it’s more likely that he could have achieved something closer to 3.50 over the course of the season if he didn’t tire so much. The best pitch Correa uses is a breaking ball, but what wowed scouts when he signed as a 16 year old was that he was already hitting 94 MPH. He can still hit that as his ceiling with a fastball, but usually works at a very healthy 88-93 MPH. As with most young pitchers, he’s still learning to use his change up more often and it grades out as average at bast right now. He needs to learn to control his stuff a little more, but with some seasoning and experience he should be able to reach his potential as a #3 or #2 pitcher.

When looking through the Phillies minors for pitching help, two names stand out Phillipe Aumont, and Heitor Correa. One is usually drafted fairly early, while the latter is usually left behind, but both have similar ceilings, so draft away!


David Phelps – RHP – New York Yankees

Born Oct 9th, ’86 – 6′3″ 190 lbs – Drafted out of Notre Dame in the 14th round of the 2008 draft

This guy is one of my favorite sleeper pitchers in the minors. Not only will he someday where pinstripes and pitch in front of a potent offensive force, but he and Bryan Mitchell represent the future of Yankee pitching now that Joba and Phil are up for good – we think. The difference between Mitchell and Phelps is that the latter has been tested all the way up to HiA, while Mitchell has yet to throw a pitch as a pro. He was a Notre Dame Irish guy before he made it to the Yankees minors, and was one of two Irish pitchers to ever throw 100 strike outs (only happened 4 times before) with an ERA under 2.00. The only other player to accomplish this? Aaron Heilman of the D-Backs and formerly of the Mets.  Other notable Irish players in the minors: A.J.Pollock (ARI), Jeff Manship (MIN), Joey Williamson (COL), Kyle Weiland (BOS). The Irish are not only football oriented it seems!

After an outstanding start in ’08 in Staten Island, he headed to Charleston and went 10 and 3 there before being promoted to Tampa. When combining his LoA and HiA stats, Phelps reached 151 innings over his 26 starts, struck out 122 and walked only 31 while maintaining an ERA of 2.38. Not bad for a 14th rounder. Phelps has a 2 seamer (91-92 MPH) which pounds the bottom of the strike zone and a 4 seamer (92-95 MPH) that has some movement to it and is the main reason he gets ahead of hitters in the count.

The problem with Phelps is that although he’s be able to blow away hitters in the lower end of the minors, he hasn’t needed to keep them off balance. He simply used his power and got through it. Guys in AA and higher are much better fastball hitters and won’t let him get away with such a program as easily. His best 3rd pitch is a curve ball that is average, so working on adding to the quality of his change up and/or his slider should be his priority in AA. He does use the slider in key situations, but it’s a contact pitch, not a strike out pitch.

What really makes me believe that Phelps will do what is needed to get better is his unquestioned competitive attitude and teach-ability. All of the articles I read about him while in Notre Dame pointed to his demeanor being one that every team looks for in a player, a player who can be taught but trusts his stuff more than anyone else. His end year line of 38.2 IP, 32 Ks and only 6 walks, as well as a 1.043 Whip and 1.17 ERA in HiA tells me that he is more than ready for AA and should begin the season there.

His ceiling is entirely dependent on his secondary stuff. If he can get one of those, or two, to grade out as slightly above average, Phelps has a very real chance of being an Ace on the Yankee staff at some point in the 2012-2015 time range. He could make an appearance as early as mid-2011.


Ricky Orta – RHP – Seattle Mariners

Born Nov 6th ‘84 – 6′2″ 195 lbs – Drafted out of Miami in the 4th round of the 2006 draft

I you’re a Seattle Mariners fan, you witnessed the rise of David Aardsma seemingly out of nowhere and right into the closer role. That feat is no repeated easily, but I believe that after Brandon League, the heir apparent in Seattle for that role is Venezuelan Ricky Orta. Now, before you jump on me and say that it’s impossible to determine who’ll get a shot at the closing role and that Orta is well below others right now on the list of candidates, I entirely agree with that and don’t wish to disprove it. But, when I look through their minors system and assess their effectiveness against both lefties and righties, Orta stands out as the best candidate. It’s also the reason that Toronto and perhaps others didn’t feel Brandon League is capable of handling the role as he struggles against LHB who had a .270 average and .461 SLG against him in 2009.

Orta started out with the Mariners as a potential starter, but it was quite evident that he wasn’t going to be able to handle that role by the time he reached HiA, so the Mariners did what they do best and made him a reliever. The results were immediate as he lowered his ERA from over 5 in 2008 to 1.94 in 2009. He had 1 strike out per inning and maintained a decent 1.128 Whip while playing the entire season in AA. Orta did have some blister issues all season long which limited his innings in 2009, but he went to the AFL to add some innings and was placed on the 40-man roster by the Mariners thereafter.

So how does he get guys out? Two words: nasty slider. Sure, he can dial it up with a fastball and hit 95 MPH on the radar gun, but his slider makes knees buckle regardless of whether you’re a lefty or righty. His University experience in Miami, and early work in the minors, also tells us that he can handle 4 pitches which can help him out as a reliever. It allows Orta to bring one of those other pitches out when needed and adds to his strike out potential – a key when considering someone for the late innings.

He’ll get some AAA time to add to his experience, but Orta could help out any pen right now. Once he gets to the big leagues, I definitely expect him to increase his role very quickly and to gain the trust of managers. Some people believe he won’t be more than 7th inning material, but these are the same people who would have said David Aardsma was going to have little chance of making the pen in 2009, and his stats in the minors were much worse than Orta’s. If Aardsma or another RP falters, look for Orta to be the first brought up from AAA and I like his chances of proving me right. Draft Accordingly, and he’s an essential grab for those with deep minors and David Aardsma on their squad.

That does it for OTL week 2. I hope that if you do invest in some of these players or follow them as they progress, that you and the players enjoy some success! Thanks for reading and good luck as a fan or fantasy owner of these players! Next time around I will be focusing entirely on hitters to change things up.

Mat Germain – Call to The Pen: On The Level (OTL)Jays Journal

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Tags: Dallas Keuchel David Phelps Heitor Correa Ricky Orta

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