Prospect Watch: High-Ceiling Teenage Arms

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.

This time around, I bring you tales of three teenagers who really stood out in recent viewings.

***

Brent Honeywell, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 19  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 10/1 K/BB, 0.00 ERA, 1.58 FIP

Summary
Honeywell already looks like a steal with the 72nd pick in the draft.

Notes

As the 72nd pick in the 2014 draft, Walters State CC freshman Brent Honeywell was considered something of an overdraft. A cursory look at his pre-draft rankings on major outlets reveals that he was considered more of a fourth to sixth-round talent. He still got $800K to sign, slightly more than the allocation for his draft slot, so it wasn’t like he was a budget-minded pick. Dispatched to Rookie-Advanced Princeton, Honeywell has promptly laid waste to the Appalachian League in his first eight pro innings. He’s allowed just three of the 27 hitters he’s faced to reach base while striking out ten of them.

Honeywell has also generated some buzz because he throws the almost-extinct screwball, which he learned from former Cy Young winner Mike Marshall. The prospect of seeing a highly-drafted kid who throws the rare pitch was too much for me to pass up, so I made the two-hour drive up I-77 to Princeton and saw him do this:

I’ve been out seeing five games a week or so for about two calendar years now, so I’ve seen several hundred pitchers across the short-season, Low-A, and High-A levels (with a couple of upper-minors games). In that time, I’ve seen plenty of bigtime pitching prospects–Alex Reyes, Tyler Glasnow, Lucas Sims, C.J. Edwards, Alex Meyer, Erik Johnson, Sonny Gray, Eddie Butler, Luke Jackson, Christian Binford, and A.J. Cole, to name a few. And yet, it is this relatively unassuming, projectable teenager who earns the distinction of being the first pitcher I’ve seen who throws three present above-average pitches.

And, y’know, he’s projectable. And a teenager.

Honeywell boasts a very solid four-pitch mix. His fastball sits at 91-93 mph and touches 94, grading out as a 55 on the 20-80 scale, and it comes out easy from his clean, repeatable motion. The famous screwball comes in at 76-77 mph and flashes bigtime fade at times, rating as a slightly above-average pitch, but it’s actually upstaged by Honeywell’s more conventional changeup, which comes in at 80-82 with almost as much fade as the screwball, but more sharpness and deception. He’ll throw the change and screwball to both lefties and righties, and as the video reveals, they overmatch hitters at this level. He also has a curve at 76-77 mph which isn’t bad either, though it’s his weakest pitch, grading out as a 45.

Honeywell isn’t especially big–his listed height of 6’2″ might be an inch generous–but there’s projection left in his 180-pound frame, enough that he might be able to pick up maybe one more tick on his fastball as he matures physically. He has the potential to have four above-average pitches at maturity, and he could end up with above-average command as well thanks to his pitchability and mechanical consistency. That gives him a chance to be a real impact arm, potentially even a #2 starter, and even if he falls short of that, he could still end up a very valuable pitch-mixer.

While he may have initially been thought to be an overdraft, Honeywell is quickly looking like he actually was a steal. There’s no comparison between his stuff and that of first-rounder Foster Griffin, whom I profiled in my last piece, and that’s not a knock on Griffin. This kid is seriously impressive, and it’ll be fascinating to see how far he’ll go before he finds hitters who have any clue how to hit him.

***
Julio Pinto, RHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 18   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 20 IP, 12 H, 5 R, 10/11 K/BB, 1.80 ERA, 4.81 FIP

Summary
Pinto has two above-average offerings at age 18.

Notes
Buried in the Astros’ data leak of two weeks ago was this sequence of rather low-grade intrigue:

10/17/2013

KC expressed “mild” interest in Jimmy Paredes as an inventory type player.

10/18/2013

[David Stearns] emailed [Royals assistant GM] Dean Taylor asking for either Christian Binford or Julio Pinto.

10/22/2013

KC said no to Binford or Pinto and responded with Ogando or Diekroeger. We said no.

The reason why I bring this up is that, in October 2013, there was a huge disparity in the perception of the two pitchers the Astros proposed as returns for Jimmy Paredes. Christian Binford was ranked as Kansas City’s 10th-best prospect in this year’s Baseball America Prospect Handbook, and that was typically where he slotted in on most other Royals prospect lists. Julio Pinto, on the other hand, was not only omitted from BA’s top 30 Royals prospects, he didn’t even make BA’s organizational depth chart, which featured 68 players. It seems quite odd that a team would ask for either another team’s tenth-best prospect or their (to be generous) seventieth-best prospect, and that the other team would then reject receiving an intermittent big leaguer in exchange for the latter low-grade farmhand.

Instead, all this means is that the Astros’ scouts knew about Julio Pinto before Baseball America did. It’s hard to fault the great BA crew for that, because coming into this year, all Pinto had done in pro ball was throw 54 1/3 decent innings in the Dominican Summer League. Even now, if you looked at his production, you’d see a kid with more walks than strikeouts in Rookie ball. Why would you give a fringe big leaguer up for that?

It took me all of one batter’s worth of watching Pinto to understand.

You see, Julio Pinto is 18 years of age, and yet he has two above-average pitches. He throws a lively fastball at 90-93 mph, touching 94, and he has a big-breaking curveball that arrives at 70-76 mph. Both pitches are extremely tough to hit when he finishes them, and indeed, he’s only allowed three hits in the ten innings (across two outings) I’ve seen him throw.

The young Venezuelan is already a strapping presence on the mound. He’s every bit of his listed 6’3″ and is probably 15-25 pounds thicker than his listed 185, though he has some projection left. He’s a fiery, intense kid who sprints out to the mound every inning and can really get on a roll when he channels his intensity into attacking the zone, though his emotions do get the better of him at times. Still, he’s an intense competitor who hasn’t backed down from the challenge of pitching in Advanced Rookie ball as an 18-year-old straight out of the DSL.

Pinto certainly has his raw points. His 82-84 mph changeup needs a lot of work, grading out as just a 30 pitch at present. That’s not a real indictment of its long-term potential, because the pitch is about where you’d expect for a pitcher at this stage of development, but clearly there will need to be a lot of improvement there if Pinto is going to be a big league starter. While his delivery is sound, he does go through stretches where he loses his release point and gets around the ball, causing his stuff to lose its crispness and his command to waver. To his credit, he’s pulled himself out of stretches of getting around the ball to finish strong in both outings I’ve witnessed, so he shows the ability to make in-game adjustments. His stamina could use a bit of work, too, as he generally goes from throwing 92-93 touching 94 for his first inning or two to 90-92 touching 93 later on–again, nothing uncommon for a pitcher this young, but still something he’ll have to get straightened out at some point.

Even considering his rawness on those fronts, Pinto already has more above-average skills in his toolset than many touted hurlers his age. He’s got the potential for two plus pitches in the long term, and he could end up with an average changeup and decent command as well, making him a potential impact starter in the Yovani Gallardo mold. The Astros might not be the only team who wants to give up big-league talent to acquire him in the next couple of years.

***

Carlos Salazar, RHP, Atlanta Braves (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 19   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 10 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 13/7 K/BB, 2.70 ERA, 3.51 FIP

Summary
Salazar shows big raw stuff, highlighted by a plus changeup, though control problems have held him back so far as a professional.

Notes
The Braves’ third-round pick last year out of a California high school, Carlos Salazar threw well enough in the GCL to get a 2014 Opening Day assignment to full-season Rome. That…didn’t quite work out, as he pitched to a 10.60 ERA with 38 walks in 35 1/3 innings across ten starts. That got Salazar sent down to Atlanta’s Danville affiliate in the Appy League and moved to relief work, and so far, his results have steadied at the lower level (small sample caveat, of course).

Salazar reportedly was up to 96 mph in his time in full-season ball, so when I got the chance to see him throw two innings, I fully expected to see some velocity. He delivered on that front, actually slightly less than expected, working at 92-94 mph. What was less expected was this:

Throwing a changeup with ridiculous fade,16-17 mph of speed separation, and good arm speed isn’t something you really expect to find in a guy with a history of wildness, but there it is, an out-and-out plus offering to go with the above-average fastball. Salazar also spins a fringy curveball in the 72-75 mph range that has some potential but lags well behind the fastball-change duo.

Salazar was generally around the plate in my viewing, but when he missed, he missed badly. He hit the backstop (which is a fairly deep backstop) twice on the fly in two innings and also uncorked a wild pitch in the dirt. He has a Jordan Walden-esque crow hop to the plate and tends to fly open in his motion. There isn’t a ton of wasted motion aside from that, so he can repeat the motion a fair amount of the time, but he’s prone to cascades when it doesn’t sync up. It’s anyone’s guess how well he’d maintain his velocity throwing in a more standard fashion, but if he could retain his arm speed without the crow hop, it might be worth trying to eliminate it if he continues to have these issues into 2015.

In any case, the big plus is that Salazar is a teenager with an above-average heater and changeup and a workable curve, and he’s finding the zone more now than he was a couple of months ago. With his stocky build, he’s not really a projection guy, so his path to the big leagues will depend on his ability to find mechanical consistency rather than physical maturation. If he can throw strikes at a reasonable rate, he should at least be a poor man’s Fernando Rodney, and if the curve comes around, he’d have some interesting potential as a starter. For now, he’s a project, but a very interesting one.




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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.


15 Responses to “Prospect Watch: High-Ceiling Teenage Arms”

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  1. Connor says:

    5 games a week for 2 years and a graduate student? Sounds great to me. My lab partners would kill me though.

    Honeywell looks damn impressive. Did he have Marshall as a coach? Very retro delivery.

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    • Nathaniel Stoltz says:

      Well minor league baseball season and the school calendar don’t overlap much. There’s April and the first week of May, and then like the last two weeks of the season. So it doesn’t really affect much.

      Marshall is related to Honeywell somehow (I think he was his father’s cousin). I don’t know how formally he was ever a “coach” for him, but I know he’s the origin of his screwball.

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  2. Reese says:

    After just 8 innings, in Adv Rookie ball no less, you’re ready to declare Honeywell the steal of the draft?

    Small.
    Sample.
    Size.

    Considering every other Fangraphs writer has that tattooed on their chest, it’s surprising to see such an overreaction here.

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    • Pirates Hurdles says:

      Well SSS applies to statistical analysis, the report on Honeywell is based on scouting. Apples and Oranges.

      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • That Guy says:

      I guess we have to find some teenage arms that have 2000 innings then.

      *rolls eyes*

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    • Nathaniel Stoltz says:

      I’m just telling you what I saw. He’s got a heck of an arsenal for his age, and the scant statistical evidence we have backs up that it’s playing well. But my enthusiasm is based entirely on the former–I see plenty of guys in the Appy with big numbers who aren’t prospects at all.

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      • Ballfan says:

        I think that is why your posts mean something

        reporting what you see rather than what a stat line says

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        • Nathaniel Stoltz says:

          This is FanGraphs. I assume the majority of the readership here can click “Leaders” and sort through things, noting who’s producing and who isn’t. Contextualizing production with scouting/video analysis is where I can actually provide something of value to this community.

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    • Reese says:

      The author is typical of the Internet culture of trying to hype up the next big thing, because no one remembers if you miss badly on a prediction.

      A more weathered, mature-voiced writer would have said “Honeywell is showing strong early returns for the Rays and is a credit to their scouts who found this potential underrated gem.”

      Instead, the author chose to drool over a 3 inning stint he saw live. Those 3 innings were part of 8…count ‘em..8 total innings Honeywell has thrown.

      I will now enjoy tracking Honeywell thru the minors to see this “3 present above-average pitches” — which would make Honeywell a consensus Top 50 prospect mind you and a #2 MLB-level pitcher.

      Hyperbole is in full bloom.

      -5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Joe Curious says:

    Would have that Alec Grosser would get the mention over Salazar for Danville. 35 k’s and 10 bb’s in 27 innings. Overslot 11th rounder from last year.

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    • Nathaniel Stoltz says:

      Haven’t seen him throw, but have heard good he’s up to 95 with sink and a good breaking pitch. Would like to see him. Next week, if I’m lucky. If not, next year when he’s with Rome.

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      • Joe Curious says:

        Gotcha, makes sense, also lookout for Ozhaino Albies, just got called up to Danville from GCL. 17 year old from Curacao, he’ll always be the littlest guy on the field but is a plus runner that might have the arm to stay at short, great range, surprising pop, and just great feel for the game.

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        • Nathaniel Stoltz says:

          Funny, because the Danville squad’s also run a 6’5″ guy out there at short. It’s quite a sight.

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  4. WillieBloomquistButtCyst says:

    Teenage arms? Oh shit, my PO wouldn’t be happy if she found this article in my browser history.

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