Prospect Watch: Early Appalachian Standouts

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.


Reymin Guduan, LHP, Houston Astros (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 22  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 6/4 K/BB, 1.29 ERA, 3.97 FIP

Can you feel the heat?


Last year, I saw Astros righthander Jandel Gustave (whom I discussed here, for those curious) hit 100 mph twice in a start for the Rookie-Advanced Greeneville club–he’s still the only starting pitcher I’ve ever witnessed hit triple digits more than once. In part of my ensuing discussions with other prospect hounds about Gustave and his premium heat, I was told that the Houston organization had a lefthander a level lower who threw even harder.

Needless to say, when this year’s Appalachian League rosters came out, I made it a very high priority to see Reymin Guduan pitch. It turns out I didn’t even need to wait a week into the Appy season. Here are his four shutout innings from June 25, presented in full:

What semblance of name recognition he has stems from his velocity, so let’s get the obvious out of the way first: yes, Reymin Guduan throws hard. In this outing, he worked mostly at 92-94 mph for the first couple of batters before starting to sit more comfortably in the mid-90s. Overall, he worked mostly at 93-97 mph, touching 98 once. He’s the only lefty I’ve ever seen hit 98, and he’s the only one I’ve seen hit 97 more than once. No, it’s not quite the triple digits he’s been rumored to touch, but after seeing him, I find those reports entirely believable–he seemed like he was holding back a bit at times, maybe because he’s getting stretched out to start. He’s highly projectable physically, so I could definitely see him consistently sitting in the upper 90s, touching 100+, out of the bullpen in a few years.

So, he throws hard. That’s expected. The other thing that I expected was that Guduan is raw. After all, he’s a 22-year-old with a premium fastball from the left side, and he’s not even in full-season ball–heck, he’s not at Houston’s highest short-season affiiate–so something’s gotta give. It’s readily evident–particularly in the first half of the video–that Guduan doesn’t always know where the ball is going. He gets very good extension to the plate, but his delivery has a fair amount of effort in it, and he doesn’t finish his pitches consistently, especially from the stretch. He’s definitely more of a thrower than pitcher at this stage, but in the final two innings of his outing, he started to get in more of a rhythm and spotted the ball more consistently. It wasn’t like his results indicated a trainwreck–he only walked one and didn’t allow any runs–so while he clearly has rawness and consistency issues, he’s not so far in the woods as to negate the positives.

And the interesting thing about the positives is that…well, there’s more than one. Unlike Gustave, whose skillset in my viewing last year boiled down to “can throw the ball in the upper 90s over the heart of the plate” (which looks more damning in writing than I mean it, but still is undoubtedly limiting), there’s more to Guduan at present than his ability to light up radar guns.

First off, his fastball sinks. He threw several pitches during the game that I initially recognized as changeups because of the hard vertical action, only to look up at the radar gun and see the familiar mid-90s readings. On more than one occasion, he got a swing and miss on the pitch by getting it to dive under the bat, much like a changeup would. His height and high arm slot make him extremely tough to lift when he gets the ball down in the zone, and unlike a lot of young flamethrowers, he seems more than willing to work downhill with the offering.

Second, he’s got a solid second pitch already in his 82-87 mph power slider, a pitch that flashes some big sweeping bite and already grades out around average. It’s an inconsistent offering, but it could get to a plus grade in time, which would make him a wipeout bullpen option against lefties at the very least. The fact that he has a pitch with some swing-and-miss capability, of course, helps the fastball play up to its velocity readings (an area where Gustave has had a lot of problems, in contrast).

Guduan doesn’t really have much of a changeup–he threw a couple of pitches at 88-89 that might’ve been something besides oddly slow fastballs or overthrown sliders, but whatever they were, they weren’t playable at this point. It’s highly unlikely he’ll remain a starting pitcher as a result–just about everything in his profile screams “bullpen” anyway–but getting him extra innings as a starter right now to gain experience is a good idea, especially since he’s not in full-season competition. Guduan will likely be a full-time reliever by the time he reaches Double-A, but if he can make even moderate steps toward harnessing his stuff, he could end up as one of MLB’s more fearsome southpaw relief options.

Daniel Missaki, RHP, Seattle Mariners (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 18   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 15 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 17/2 K/BB, 0.00 ERA, 2.10 FIP

Not many teenagers have pitchability like this.

Here’s a backstory for you: Daniel Missaki was born in Japan, moved to Brazil at age 2, and ended up representing the latter country in the World Baseball Classic a mere fourteen years later, as the youngest player in the 2013 competition. Signed by the Mariners after the WBC, he threw thirteen innings in the Dominican Summer League last year, thus removing him from the spotlight, but now he’s popped up in the Appy at all of eighteen years and two months of age, and he’s got the most eye-popping numbers of any pitcher in the circuit. Small sample size, but still.

I saw Missaki’s second start of the season last night, as he came one out shy of a complete game. He went 8 2/3 innings on just 87 pitches, taking a no-hitter through 5 2/3 frames and only allowing two hits and a walk while striking out nine. And here’s all of that:

Now, it’s easy to take the fun backstory and current production and get all hyped up and think Missaki is a phenom. He is, in a way, but this isn’t the second coming of Felix Hernandez for Mariners fans. The fastest pitch Missaki threw in the above outing was 91 mph, for starters. That puts a damper on a pitcher’s prospect status pretty quickly.

Let’s start on that relatively low note. Missaki’s fastball comes in at 88-91 mph, and it’s fairly straight–you don’t see a lot of successful young righthanded pitchers whose arsenal starts with that. But there are a few positives about Missaki’s fastball. First, he held his velocity all the way through this long outing–he even hit 91 three straight times in the eighth inning, something that many pitchers who can touch 94-95 in the first can’t do. Second, he’s got some deception that helps the ball get on hitters quickly, using a slight hip turn and fairly high legkick to help hide the ball. Finally, though he’s (a possibly generous) 6’0″, he does have some room to fill out and add strength. He’ll never really be a power arm, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Missaki is more consistently in the 90-92 mph range, perhaps touching 93, in a few years. 90-92 touching 93 with stamina, deception, and control isn’t a world-beating pitch, but it’s around average. And that fastball might be Missaki’s worst pitch in the end.

Missaki throws three different offspeed pitches: a turbo fading changeup at 80-84 mph, a hard splitter at 82-85, and a slurvy curveball at 76-81. All three are well-differentiated and have at least average potential. The changeup is already better than average and is near plus already, a true rarity for a pitcher of Missaki’s youth. It has big fading action and good sink, and he sells it with terrific arm speed and the aforementioned deception. The splitter is inconsistent, but it flashes late downer action and is an interesting change of pace from the regular changeup. In this outing, Missaki turned to the change early and then started using the splitter more later on when hitters were sitting on the change. The curveball’s shape isn’t consistent–sometimes it’s a downer 11-to-5 pitch, while other times it’s more of a power slurve–but it always has quite a bit of movement on it given its upper-70s velocity. Missaki will need to get more consistent with the shape, but there’s no reason it can’t be an effective offering as well.

All of that comes from an easy motion that allows him to hit spots more frequently than most pitchers of his age, and Missaki could end up with above-average command as he gains experience. He clearly has very advanced pitchability and could move quickly if he can keep more advanced hitters off balance. Given that he’s not an overpowering or imposing pitcher, it will be very interesting to see how he fares against more advanced bats–how will hitters adjust to him, and how will he adjust back? If it all comes together, Missaki could slot in as a good pitch-mixing fourth starter.


Rafael Cordova, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 19   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 6.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 11/1 K/BB, 1.35 ERA, 1.12 FIP

A sidearming curiosity whom no one can touch…yet.

Rafael Cordova is 19 years old and owns a career 46/6 K/BB ratio in 60 innings, as well as a career 0.90 ERA–pretty snazzy, eh? Across his last two outings, he’s struck out ten batters in 4 2/3 frames while walking just one. That might indicate that he’s lightning in a bottle, an untouchable reliever who could zoom through the minors quickly, or at least, a guy to watch.

Well, I saw the one outing of his this year where he wasn’t dominant (June 20 vs. Bristol–two innings, one run, no walks, one strikeout). Even then, it wasn’t hard to see why a) he could dominate Appy hitters and b) he might not be much of a prospect:

Yep, the ol’ word that waves away any semblance of prospect status: “sidearmer.”

I bring up Cordova for two reasons. The first is, frankly, I didn’t have an obvious third person in the Appy League to write about for this piece. There were a few interesting position players I saw–including Cordova’s Princeton teammates Nick Ciuffo, Riley Unroe, Manny Sanchez, and Thomas Milone–but I like to see position players multiple times before writing them up, and no pitchers besides Guduan and Missaki have jumped out across my three Appy games. Cordova’s tied for sixth in the league in strikeouts despite being a reliever, and he’s pretty young, so putting him in context isn’t a bad idea.

The second is that Cordova got me thinking about this whole sidearming thing. While I was watching Cordova make his US debut in Princeton, Ben Rowen was making his third big league appearance for the Texas Rangers, throwing 3 1/3 innings of shutout ball. Rowen, another low-slot pitcher (though more extreme than Cordova), is currently averaging 79.2 mph on his fastball in the big leagues, mostly working at 78-80. Cordova, on the other hand, throws mostly at 88-90 mph from a low slot, but he’s a nobody.

That’s the funny thing about minor league sidearmers: they’re gunning for marginal big-league roles. Sure, every once in a blue moon, you get a Steve Cishek graduating to more of a substantial job than situational work, but you’ve got at least 50 Randy Choates for every Cishek. These sorts of pitchers are inherently fairly disposable, so in the world of prospecting, any minute flaw will cause an aspiring situational guy to be disregarded.

And, frankly, a lot of minor league sidearmers just aren’t very good. It happens often–you’re watching pitching of reasonable quality, and then time seems to stop so a team can bring in a guy throwing an 83-mph fastball and a 71-mph slider, with little idea where either pitch is going. As a result, the herd of sidearmers seems to be thinned more dramatically than more standard pitchers in the transition from, say, Low-A to Double-A–the gimmick can get guys out in short-season, but unless a sidearmer has a real weapon like Cishek’s slider, Alex Claudio’s changeup, or Rowen’s sink and control, he sticks out like a sore thumb even in a Low-A bullpen.

In that context, Rafael Cordova‘s actually pretty good. He’s 19 and works in the upper 80s, up to 90 mph, his motion isn’t unwieldy and clearly allows him to throw strikes, and he throws the Frisbee-est Frisbee slider you’ll ever see, a 72-75 mph pitch that seems to sweep sideways forever (see 1:11 in the video for the best example). It’s the standard sidearm one-two punch, except Cordova has a little bit more velocity, a little bit more break, and a little more of an idea of what he’s doing than most practitioners of his craft (especially teenage ones). He also has a changeup at 79-82 mph that is a usable third pitch, though he slows his arm down on it and will need to get more consistent with it for it to become a weapon.

Clearly, that’s enough for Cordova to befuddle hitters at this level, and he ought to get a shot to try this out in Low-A as a 20-year-old next year. Will it lead to a big league career? The line for these guys is razor thin, so…probably not. At the same time, relief pitchers can come from the strangest places (see: Rowen), so success for this sort of guy can’t be ruled out entirely if he can find some extra weapons over the next few years. Cordova should have more staying power than most sidearmers, but his future is likely as an organizational bullpen arm.

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Nathaniel Stoltz is a prospect writer for FanGraphs. A resident of Bowie, MD and University of Maryland graduate student, he frequently views prospects in the Carolina and South Atlantic Leagues. He can be followed on Twitter at @stoltz_baseball.

2 Responses to “Prospect Watch: Early Appalachian Standouts”

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  1. brett says:

    if we break down arm slots into 4 distinct arm slots….overhand – 3/4 – sidearm -submarine……at best cordova is between 3/4 and sidearm…but if i had to choose id say he was closer to 3/4….. while scouts might not love the arm slot i dont see Cordova labled as a ” sidearmer”

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    • Nathaniel Stoltz says:

      You could definitely say he’s low 3/4 if you wanted to–he doesn’t have the exaggerated bend and slot of a Brad Ziegler type. But it is an unnaturally low slot that’s going to lend itself to platoon splits.

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