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Prospect Watch: Keeping The Walks Down

Posted By Nathaniel Stoltz On May 30, 2014 @ 10:00 am In Minor Leagues,Pirates,Prospect Watch,Rockies,White Sox | 5 Comments

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.

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Orlando Castro, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Profile)
Level: High-A   Age: 22   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 55.2 IP, 46 H, 18 R, 41/7 K/BB, 2.91 ERA, 2.77 FIP

Summary
While he’s not remotely physically imposing, this little lefthander knows what he’s doing.

Notes
Last year, Orlando Castro emerged on the fringes of the prospect scene with a stellar first half with Low-A West Virginia, putting up a 1.93 ERA and 63/6 K/BB ratio in 74.2 innings. He was basically a complete nobody before that, so his performance didn’t get him noticed by many other than Pirates diehards and K/BB leaderboard sorters, and a mediocre second half with High-A Bradenton did nothing to further his ascent up prospect lists.

Now, though, Castro’s doing it again, dominating High-A hitters by filling the zone and missing enough bats to stay interesting, and this second successful run commands a bit more attention. After all, Castro’s just 22 and he throws with his left hand.

Castro’s listed at 5’11” and 190 pounds, and size is certainly not a positive for him. As you might expect from a small lefty control artist, he’s not an especially hard thrower, though he works consistently at 88-91 mph, which isn’t particularly poor for a lefthanded starter. Castro throws both a four-seam and a two-seam fastball, the latter of which helps him get groundballs.

The Pirates tend to heavily emphasize changeup development over that of breaking pitches in the low minors, and so when I saw him in 2013, Castro used his 83-84 mph changeup far more than his big-breaking 73-76 mph curveball, but both pitches should end up average or better. The changeup is so advanced that he’s limited righties to just a .214/.245/.328 line this year, while his fellow southpaws have hit .257/.301/.314.

It all comes out of an extremely simple, eminently repeatable motion that allows Castro to hit his spots consistently. He’s not just a guy going out there and aiming for the plate–he moves and mixes his pitches and locations adeptly.

There’s certainly precedent out there for guys with this sort of approach succeeding in the bigs–take Tommy Milone, Jason Vargas, Dallas Keuchel, Jon Niese, and Travis Wood as a few examples of sub-90 southpaws with good pitchability and offspeed pitches. How he adjusts to Double-A hitters will be a big indicator of whether Castro will ascend to that status or become merely another organizational control pitcher. He’s probably about ready for that test, though, and I have a feeling he’ll do better on it than many think.

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James Dykstra, RHP, Chicago White Sox (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 23   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 51.2 IP, 59 H, 22 R, 44/7 K/BB, 3.83 ERA, 2.64 FIP

Summary
This sixth-round find has a polished arsenal and good control.

Notes
The brother of former first-rounder and current Triple-A slugger Allan Dykstra, James Dykstra became the highest-drafted player ever out of Cal State San Marcos last year, with his sixth-round selection trumping Johnny Omahen’s 35th-round slot quite handily. While his brother has walked more than he’s struck out this year, James has posted an eye-catching K/BB ratio of his own in his first extended minor league action, tacking on a 61% groundball rate as well. Above-average strikeouts, minimal walks, and an extreme groundball rate comprise a great statistical platform to build from, but Dykstra is 23, so he’ll need to move quickly to be taken seriously.

He has the stuff to make that jump, though, with a polished three-pitch mix that includes an 89-93 mph running fastball, a 72-76 mph big-breaking curveball, and an 80-84 mph sinking changeup. His fastball/changeup combination is solid, and both are solid-average pitches; the curveball flashes higher than both of them and could be a plus offering, but he’s not consistent with his usage of it. Sometimes he’ll fall in love with the pitch and throw it 50% of the time for an inning, while others he’ll abandon it altogether. Here’s a look at the pitch flummoxing touted Red Sox prospect Manuel Margot:

And here’s a look at a strikeout on the changeup:

With good size and athleticism, an easy delivery, and an interesting set of pitches, Dykstra has the upside of a good innings-eater at the big-league level. He’s not always consistent with his stuff and approach, which is both an obvious negative–consistency is, well, good–and a positive–he’s already pitching extremely well without consistency, so if he can tighten the screws further on his stuff, mechanics, and approach, he’ll adjust to new levels very well. He will need to move quickly due to his age, but this isn’t just a random college finesse pitcher beating up on inexperienced bats–the all-around excellent numbers are backed up by across-the-board solid attributes.

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Antonio Senzatela, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 19   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 55.1 IP, 57 H, 28 R, 27/13 K/BB, 3.90 ERA, 5.40 FIP

Summary
A teenager with easy velocity, Senzatela doesn’t have exciting numbers, but his upside is high if his offspeed pitches come around.

Notes
Antonio Senzatela has the highest walk rate of the three pitchers discussed in this piece, at (a still very good) 5.5%. He also has easily the lowest strikeout rate, a worrisome 11.5%. His FIP is an ugly 5.40, roughly double Dykstra’s and Castro’s. So why should we care about him? There are several reasons.

First, Senzatela turned 19 in January, roughly two months after Dykstra–who, mind you, is in the same league–turned 23. Comparing their performances doesn’t mean a whole lot–one would hope that Dykstra’s the more advanced guy, and he is. Senzatela has at least a couple of years before he needs to really get moving performance-wise; at this stage, the question is stuff.

And he has stuff. Or, at least, he has a fastball.

Three things about the above video:

1.) He hit 95 mph.

2.) He hit 95 easy.

3.) He hit 95 easy in the sixth inning.

When Senzatela first came out for warmups in the start I saw, I wasn’t expecting much. He looks shorter than his listed 6’1″ and heavier than his listed 180, maybe 5’11” 205 or so, and he employs a low-effort motion that doesn’t look like it should generate a whole lot of velocity, especially from a pitcher of that size. And yet, there it is. Senzatela works mostly at 90-94 mph and projects for above-average command due to the easy motion, which is a heck of a pair of building blocks for a teenager.

Everything else is a work in progress, which is why Senzatela doesn’t miss many bats. He throws a slider, curve, and changeup, all of which grade out as 30 or 35-grade pitches on the 20-80 scouting scale. The 71-75 mph curve is very soft and doesn’t have the big break required to make a pitch that slow work, the slider lacks bite, and the changeup doesn’t have good movement either, though it does have good velocity separation at 77-82 mph. Every now and then, Senzatela will flash up to fringe-average with his offspeed pitches, lending hope that he’ll take some steps forward in that department as time goes on. The curve, in particular, has some potential if he can tighten it up some, an adjustment that is quite common for pitchers at this developmental stage. All he needs is one of his secondary pitches to come around to profile as a good relief pitcher, and if the whole set can come up to average, he’ll be a good #4 starter. There’s some risk involved here because of the inadequacy of his current offspeed arsenal, but Senzatela’s easy velocity can’t be taught, and he has time to figure everything else out.


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