There is nothing like the pop of a catcher’s mitt and a flashing triple-digit sign on the stadium radar gun to excite a crowd. But, as well all know, it’s not always about velocity.
There are a couple of interesting prospects in the minors off to fast starts to the 2010 season. Nither pitcher will light up the radar gun. And neither pitcher is a can’t-miss No. 1 or 2 starter, but both hurlers are interesting players to keep an eye on because of the extreme ground-ball tendencies that they’ve exhibited in their careers (however brief they may be).
The furthest away from the Majors is Joe Gardner, a pitcher in low-A with the Cleveland Indians organization. The right-hander was a third round draft pick out of UC Santa Barbara in 2009. If the early returns are any indication, the organization may have gotten a real steal with the 22 year old.
Gardner did not throw his first pro pitch until 2010 and he struck out 11 batters in 4.0 innings during his debut. All but one out came via the K, and that one other out was a ground ball. In his second start five days later, Gardner struck out “just” seven batters while allowing two hits in 5.0 innings. He also induced eight ground ball outs and did not record a fly ball out (for the second straight game). Last night, the streak ended as Gardner finally gave up a fly ball out (but just one). In five innings, he allowed two hits again and struck out another eight batters. He recorded six more ground-ball outs.
Gardner has recorded 42 outs in total this year: 17 ground-ball outs (40% of his outs) and 26 strikeouts (62%), It’s early but methinks low-A might be a little too low for this pitcher. (*That totals 102% thanks to an error on a ground ball, which was then negated by a GB double-play).
The second pitcher has much more experience than Gardner. Luis Perez, a southpaw in the Toronto Blue Jays system, is beginning his second straight year with double-A – although to no fault of his own. Perez had a respectable season in ’09 and lost his spot due to a roster crunch at the triple-A level, which saw six or seven triple-A vets make the squad.
Perez’ ’09 season included a 4.18 FIP and a ground-ball rate just shy of 57%. His strikeout rate did drop below 7.0 K% for the first time in his career. The lefty has not been missing as many bats as Gardner this season (11 Ks in 17.0 innings) but he’s allowed just two hits total in three starts. Double-A hitters have a .039 batting average against Perez. He’s allowed eight fly-ball outs this season and 26 ground-ball outs, good for 51% of his outs.
Perez’ ceiling is probably that of a No. 4 starter or long reliever. He’s especially effective against lefties, having held them to a career .189 average and 69% ground-ball rate, so he can always fall back into a LOOGY role.