This Week in Prospects (5/13/10)--A Special Ten-Pitcher Week, Featuring Three Royals and More!

Welcome to the May 13 edition of This Week in Prospects! This is a special installment that includes only pitchers. I’ve been busy the past two days, so the stats here are only through Tuesday, May 11’s games. Enjoy, and feel free to ask questions about these or any other players!

Hot Shots

Julio Teheran, RHP, Braves (Low-A)—There are few 19-year-olds with obviously brighter futures than Teheran. The righty has a good mid-90’s fastball and a plus changeup in the low 80’s. He entered 2009 with a poor curveball but tightened that up enough that it looks like a future out pitch as well. He commands all three pitches beyond his years.

The issue I had with Teheran entering the year (just one issue for a 19-year-old; that’s pretty impressive) was his strikeout rate; he had only struck out 84 batters in 96 innings in his career through 2009, including 28 batters in 38 innings last year. I felt that if the strikeout rate was good-not-great in the minors, it could be less than stellar as he moves up, limiting his ceiling.

Teheran has emphatically answered that question by K’ing 40 batters in 33 1/3 IP this year, walking just nine and posting a whopping 0.81 ERA in his first full-season assignment.

A truly special pitcher and potential ace in the making, Teheran is still pretty far from the majors, but is making as big a move up prospect lists as any pitcher. [...]

John Lamb, LHP, Royals (Low-A)—Another Low-A 19-year-old stud, Lamb has a strikeout rate almost exactly the same as Teheran’s: 40 K in 33 IP. He’s walked 16, however, and posted a 1.91 ERA, so his numbers aren’t quite at Teheran’s level.

Lamb’s stuff is also a notch below Teheran’s—88-93 mph fastball, average curve and change—but he’s considered to have excellent mechanics, while Teheran’s arm action concerns some scouts. Lamb looks like a future mid-rotation rock in the Jarrod Washburn/Ted Lilly mold.

Bryan Morris, RHP, Pirates (High-A)—One of many guys acquired by the Pirates when they dealt Jason Bay, Morris was once seen as an exciting young flamethrower with one of the best curves in the minors.

However, his stock dropped so far by the beginning of this year that he was pushed all the way down to 15th on Baseball America’s ranking of Pirates prospects, thanks to a 5.57 ERA and just 32 strikeouts in 73 innings last year (he even walked more than he struck out).

Well, Morris is rising again. Now a bit old for his level (23 in High-A), the big righty has an unbelievable 0.66 ERA, and his K/BB ratio has gone from 32/34 last year to 36/5 this year. He’s already struck out more batters in 40 2/3 innings than he did all of last season. Morris also hasn’t allowed a home run yet.

Morris has a 91-95 mph fastball, and, like I said, one hell of a curve. His changeup isn’t great, but it’s at least playable. Injuries are a major concern with Morris, who’s missed quite a bit of time in his minors league career, but if he stays healthy, look out.

Slumping Stars

Aaron Crow, RHP, Royals (AA)—You might think that Crow, the 12th overall pick last year, is doing fine, as he’s 1-2 with a 4.54 ERA in Double-A in his first pro experience.

You would be wrong.

First off, Crow is 23, so he’s about the average age for a legitimate Double-A prospect. He spent a year in independent ball after declining to sign with the Nationals in 2008, so he’s old for a first-year minor leaguer. In order to stay on par agewise, he pretty much has to be in Double-A.

Second, Crow has all sorts of issues with his peripheral stats. Where should I start? He’s only managed 21 strikeouts in 41 2/3 innings, which is just about 4.5 K/9, and he’s walked nearly that many hitters (17). Crow’s also allowed six homers already this year, including two multi-homer outings.

His issues came to a head in his last outing: 5 innings, 7 earned runs, a homer, four walks, no strikeouts.

Yikes.

It’s too early to start lowering the righty’s ceiling, but his transition to pro ball has been rocky to say the least.

Tim Melville, RHP, Royals (High-A)—Melville is sort of the opposite of Crow. His surface numbers are horrible, as he’s posted a 9.76 ERA, but his underlying numbers aren’t that bad. His K/BB ratio is poor (27/18), but it’s better than Crow’s, and that comes in 27 2/3 innings, so Melville’s at least getting some strikeouts. He’s allowed three homers, which isn’t ideal, but isn’t horrible either.

It looks like a lot of Melville’s start is just bad luck, although there’s a possibility something else could be wrong. It’s worth noting that he’s posted better than 1/1 K/BB ratios in his last three starts after failing to do so in three of his first four; perhaps he’s beginning to round into form.

Melville is also just 20, so unlike Crow, he can afford to struggle for a few months and take some time to fix his problems (walks, for one).

Kasey Kiker, LHP, Rangers (AA)—While we’re on the subject of walks, actually, let’s talk about Kiker. Maybe the 2010 Texas League has a curse on former 12th overall draft picks—both Kiker (2006) and Crow (2009) were picked in that spot.

Kiker, 22, excelled in AA ball last year, posting a 3.86 ERA and 120/66 K/BB ratio in 126 innings. He also only allowed nine homers.

Instead of being promoted to AAA, however, Kiker’s repeating the level, and something is clearly wrong. The little lefty’s ERA is up to 5.22, and while his homer (1) and K (30) numbers are good (29 1/3 IP), there’s one terrible number next to them.

26 walks.

Kiker’s walked at least three batters in all six of his starts, including a disastrous 7 BB in 3 2/3 IP in his fifth start.

The lefty has a good fastball, although it’s not the mid-90’s, Billy Wagner-esque pitch it was in high school, and two plus offspeed offerings, but with walk issues like this, it won’t matter.

Maybe there’s an injury, mechanical issues, or something mental, or perhaps a combination of all three, but when a prospect’s command goes south this dramatically, you almost hope something’s wrong. That way, there’s something obvious to fix—if there’s no obvious problem other than the results themselves, after, all, what can you do to fix the results.

Given his small frame and the command issues, Kiker could be moved to relief very soon.

Sleeper Alert!

Rudy Owens, LHP, Pirates (AA)—Owens put up otherworldly numbers last year across both A-ball levels, most notably a 2.10 ERA and 113/17 K/BB ratio. Still, he didn’t get much press because he’s a soft-tossing lefty who survives by having exquisite command and changing speeds.

Occasionally, the thinking goes, this sort of player becomes Jamie Moyer, but usually, they just wind up being Jeremy Sowers, Bruce Chen, Zach Jackson, Scott Lewis, Graham Taylor, Chase Wright, etc.

Owens, now 22, has finally begun to catch people’s attention by posting a 37/6 K/BB ratio in Double-A in 33 2/3 innings, including firing six no-hit innings with 11 K’s on May 4.

Owens has a fringy fastball, but it’s not Moyer-slow—it’s in the high 80’s, occasionally scraping 90. He has a plus changeup that serves as his out pitch, as well as a playable curveball. This skillset has made Dallas Braden and Wade LeBlanc into solid pitchers, and now that Owens has kept his performance up in the high minors, it looks like his command and pitching acumen should carry him down a similar path.

Daniel Meszaros, RHP, Astros (AA)—I saw Meszaros pitch in short-season ball in late 2008, and I was blown away by his stuff. His fastball came in the 91-94 mph range, which is good but not exactly special for a righty reliever. His out pitch is a nasty high-70’s curve that he can throw for an early-count strike, put at the knees to freeze a batter with two strikes, or bury for a swing-and-miss pitch down and out of the zone late in counts.

I found out after I saw him pitch that Meszaros was a 48th(!) round draft pick. This was largely due to a horrific junior year of college, where he posted a 9.63 ERA because he was pitching through an injury.

His low draft spot gave Meszaros long odds of even making it to the next season in pro ball, let alone reaching the majors, but I wasn’t alone in noticing his dominance. He was the closer for Low-A Lexington to open 2009, but dominated there and was sent all the way up to Double-A less than a year after being drafted. He turned in a solid year there (3.36 ERA, 48/17 K/BB, 61 2/3 IP) and was sent back to Corpus Christ to open 2010 as the Double-A closer.

The 24-year-old righty has a 2.51 ERA and 19 strikeouts in just 14 1/3 innings. With his two plus pitches, he could be in Houston by season’s end.

Paul Smyth, RHP, Athletics (High-A)—Like Meszaros, Smyth is a low-drafted reliever (35th round, 2009) who impressed immediately upon coming to pro ball.

Smyth’s reason for being drafted so low is that he’s a sidearm pitcher who relies on a cutter/slider combo, throwing the cutter in on lefties and the slider away from righties. Without premium velocity or a conventional arm slot, Smyth was a draft afterthought.

The A’s have had success with sidearming righties with Chad Bradford and Brad Ziegler, so there’s no better organization for Smyth to land in. In 36 1/3 innings last year, he allowed zero runs (That sounds like Ziegler, huh? And that includes unearned runs) on just 14 hits, with a 44/4 K/BB ratio in the process.

Moved to High-A this year, Smyth finally was scored upon, but he’s got a 1.21 ERA in the Cal League, allowing just 11 hits and five walks in 22 1/3 innings, striking out 23.

You can’t deny the excellence of those numbers, and until they take a major nosedive, Smyth projects as a future big leaguer.

The Quadruple-A Special

Winston Abreu, RHP, Rays—The skinny righthander struck out 77 batters in 51 Triple-A innings last year.

Need I say more?

I will anyway. A 33-year-old reliever, Abreu has pitched sparingly for the Orioles, Nationals, and Rays, with a 7.31 big league ERA. He does have a career 38/19 K/BB ratio in 44 1/3 innings, which is solid, but ten homers in that span have undone him.

Abreu has a 90-95 mph fastball and an 81-86 mph slider. He uses them about equally. He also has a surprisingly effective changeup that he uses much more sparingly than the other two pitches.

A victim of some bad HR/FB luck in his brief major league stay, Abreu actually deserved an ERA in the 4.50 range. He deserves an extended shot to see if he can bring his AAA dominance to the majors.

Tags: Aaron Crow Bryan Morris Daniel Meszaros John Lamb Julio Teheran Kasey Kiker Paul Smyth Rudy Owens Tim Melville Winston Abreu

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