Prospecting for the Mookie Betts of Pitching

Over the past several years, we have watched a number of hitters in the minors display good contact skills with average or below-average power be labeled with 45s and 50s only to burst onto the scene with an explosion of power they never showed any hint of previous. Mookie Betts might be the best example, along with guys like Jose Ramirez, who show up to the big leagues and announce themselves by mashing.  Naturally, prospect hounds, analysts, and the baseball community investigated how these guys went so overlooked (unless you were Carson Cistulli). It was surmised that contact quality mixed with good exit velocity and appropriate launch angles allowed hitters to maximize their output even without Aaron Judge levels of thump.

This investigation, however, is not a hunt for the next minor leaguer who will smash his way onto the scene, but rather a search for the pitchers who will try to stop them. With modern conditioning and institutions (read: Driveline) making it more possible than ever to gain velocity, one no longer must be naturally gifted a 6-foot-5 frame with easy 95 to be considered a prospect. Furthermore, with openers, bulk guys, firemen, and more, traditional pitching roles are going by the wayside.

This analysis attempts to seek out pitchers who possess above-average command or secondary offerings but lack the prototypical velocity grades we are seeing in today’s game. Identifying these pitchers would make them intriguing candidates for these high-intensity velocity training plans. While you may not find the next Luis Severino, you could uncover an explosive fireman reliever, matchup guy, or high-octane backend starter that pushes you closer to October glory.

The process for this analysis involved using the 2018 updated prospects list from THE BOARD, developed by Kiley McDaniel, Eric Longenhagen, and Sean Dolinar at this very site. I started by sorting for prospects who either currently have > 55 command or project for the same. This brought the sample to 85 pitchers. Next, I sorted out pitchers who have a present FB grade of > 55. Our sample now sits at 38 pitchers who have or project to have above-average command and an average-to-below-average fastball. Before diving into the next set of data, I wanted to provide some broader notes about this group. Notable pitchers with top 100–130 considerations on this list include Atlanta’s Kolby Allard and Joey Wentz, Miami’s Braxton Garrett, and the Angels’ Griffin Canning. There are 16 lefties and 22 righties. The Phillies lead the way with five of these guys, the Cubs and Rockies are tied with three each, and then the rest of the league has one or two on this list. Additionally, the average age of this group is 22.8 years old.

Now that we have our assorted pool, it is time to sort through this group’s off-speed arsenal. This part of the analysis was more subjective. I have attempted to group pitchers with similar traits that could fill a variety of roles. What follows is three tables of guys who could benefit most from additional velocity.

Elite Pitch Guys (70 Grade Pitch)
Name Pos Tm Age FB SL CH CMD
Eli Morgan RHP CLE 22.5 45 / 45 50 / 55 60 / 70 45 / 55
Logan Shore RHP DET 23.9 40 / 45 40 / 45 60 / 70 50 / 60

This first group features two right-handers with a current 60-grade pitch that projects for 70. Of the 38, these two are the lone members who feature a current 60 pitch. Of the two, Morgan has the higher upside based on his slider. Both have fastballs that sit around 90 mph, but additional velo training could push the value of these guys up a tier. Guys from this tier could be featured as openers or one-time-through-the-order relievers that rely on one elite pitch. The selling point of this group is that they have that elite pitch to lean on even without elite velocity.

Mid-to-Backend Starter Type (One 60 and 55)
Name Pos Tm Age FB CB CH CMD
Pedro Avila RHP SDP 21.8 50 / 50 55 / 60 55 / 60 45 / 55
Joey Wentz LHP ATL 21.1 45 / 50 45 / 55 60 / 60 45 / 55
Braxton Garrett LHP MIA 21.3 50 / 50 55 / 60 40 / 55 45 / 55
Foster Griffin LHP KCR 23.3 45 / 45 55 / 60 50 / 55 50 / 55

The next group features players with multiple 55-or-better future offerings, led by Padres righty Pedro Avila, who is rocking two future 60-grade pitches. Previously mentioned notables Garrett and Wentz also fall into this category. This group represents backend starter types who are useful during the season but less useful during the postseason. Additional velo here could push these guys into strong No. 3 starters or high-leverage multi-inning guys.

Kitchen Sinkers (High Secondary Scores)
Name Pos Tm Age FB SL CB CH CMD ARS
Griffin Canning RHP LAA 22.5 50 / 50 50 / 50 50 / 50 45 / 55 45 / 55 155
Peter Lambert RHP COL 21.6 50 / 50 45 / 50 50 / 55 55 / 60 45 / 55 155
Jose Lopez RHP CIN 25.2 50 / 50 50 / 50 50 / 50 40 / 50 50 / 55 150
Aaron Civale RHP CLE 23.4 45 / 50 55 / 60 40 / 45 45 / 50 50 / 60 155
Cole Irvin LHP PHI 24.8 40 / 40 45 / 50 50 / 50 40 / 45 45 / 55 145
Alec Mills RHP CHC 26.9 45 / 45 50 / 50 40 / 40 55 / 55 55 / 60 145
Cory Abbott RHP CHC 23.1 45 / 45 50 / 55 45 / 45 40 / 45 45 / 55 145

The last group of guys profile as backend starter types who live on off-speed stuff and have no margin for error with their fastballs. I identified these players by adding their FV non-fastball pitch grades together, noted as ARS in table (ARS = FCH+FSL+FCB). These guys walk the command and off-speed tightrope to end up as backend starters in the best case, or just middle-relief guys or up-and-down starters. Occasionally these guys become Kyle Hendricks, Tanner Roark, or Doug Fister, but these are exceptions and not the rule. Almost everyone in this group is older for a prospect, so the ceiling is limited, however, additional velo for these guys could turn them into more dynamic multi-inning relivers, bulk guys, or high-end No. 4-5 starters.

I should also note that all these guys fall into different buckets of age, level, and body types. Arguably, the most critical component of a prospect on this list would be targeting high-makeup guys who would be willing to experiment and acknowledge that they could use more gas to ascend to the next level. Some of these pitchers may be maxed out physically or unwilling to change what already seems to work. This analysis also looks past statistical performance, level, and even present pitch value a bit. What this analysis does do is identify guys who could rapidly improve with additional velocity due to advanced command and secondary. The margin for error is incredibly slim for this type of pitcher, but through intense training and velocity gains, pitcher X throwing 90-92 bumping to 94-96 with already above-average command and secondaries would vault them into a new tier of player. For teams looking to squeeze every ounce of value out of their farm system, this could be another way to target undervalued talent that has yet to be unlocked and developed.

We hoped you liked reading Prospecting for the Mookie Betts of Pitching by WAR Enthusiast!

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Dominikk85WAR EnthusiastpedeysRSox Recent comment authors
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pedeysRSox
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Would a guy like Merrill Kelly before he went to South Korea have been on such a list after the 2014 season?

Dominikk85
Member

Nice article. I always thought it would make sense for a team to draft good contact hitters with little power late and put them on a swing change and bat speed program because contact skill seems to be very hard to improve (albeit there are team working on it). And likewise command is hard to improve. Maybe it could make sense to draft a couple high 80s arms with good command and give them a velo program to get them to low to mid 90s. Of course we don’t know the long term health prognosis of those “boosted arms”, maybe… Read more »