Prospect Watch: Polished Hurlers

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.

In this installment, I’ll discuss three pitchers I’ve come across in A-ball who boast more polish than most at their level.

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Adam Plutko, RHP, Cleveland Indians (Profile)
Level: High-A   Age: 23   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 41 IP, 41 H, 23 R, 31/9 K/BB, 4.83 ERA, 4.86 FIP

Summary
Plutko gained plenty of prospect helium with a dominant run at Low-A early in the season, but he’s found the going tougher after a promotion to the Carolina League.

Notes
An eleventh-round pick out of UCLA last year who got a higher bonus than that draft spot implies, Adam Plutko was ranked as the Indians’ eighteenth-best prospect going into the season by Baseball America. He built on that notoriety by dominating the Low-A Midwest League in his first ten starts this year, putting up a 66/12 K/BB ratio in 52 2/3 frames (2.03 FIP), getting the 22-year-old righty moved up the the High-A Carolina League.

As his statistics indicate, Plutko’s found the going quite a bit rougher at the upper level. He’s still put up a solid 31/9 K/BB ratio, but he’s allowed six homers in 41 innings, generally earning his near-5.00 ERA. He’s lost a full twelve percent off his strikeout rate against more advanced batters.

I went to see him pitch when the Carolina squad visited Winston-Salem, and it wasn’t hard to see why Plutko has had trouble maintaining his exceptional production at the High-A level. None of his pitches grade out as even average offerings, and he’ll get hit hard when he comes in the middle of the plate:

Plutko’s arsenal includes an 88-91 mph fastball that touches 93, a changeup at 83-85, a slider at 78-81, and a slow curve at 71-75. With the fastball lacking significant life and just barely averaging 90 mph on a good day, it rates as a fringe-average pitch, between a 40 and a 45 on the 20-80 scouting scale; however, it’s his best offering. In my look, his slow curve appeared to be his best offspeed pitch, simply because it was the only one that had consistent movement; still, Plutko didn’t seem to turn to it much, only throwing it a handful of times. More often than not, the slider simply rolled rather than showing any sort of bite, and the changeup was flat, though Plutko did throw a couple of each that flashed near average.

That is, undoubtedly, a pretty damning evaluation of Plutko’s stuff. That said, there are some positives here. At 6’3″ and 195 pounds, Plutko has a good pitcher’s body, and he throws with an easy, repeatable delivery that allows him to throw strikes consistently. It’s no accident that his walk numbers are the element of his output that has best translated from Low-A to High-A, because control is his primary skill at this point. Plutko could project for 55-grade command in the future, which would go a long way toward making up for some of his stuff deficiencies.

Because he mixes four pitches that all are at least playable and can throw strikes consistently, Plutko isn’t a total nonentity just because his stuff is below-average. At the very least, he’ll likely make it up to Triple-A as a starting pitcher and having a Travis Banwart sort of career. The line between being a Triple-A lifer like Banwart and being, say, Kyle Kendrick or Jeremy Guthrie is a thin one, and Plutko’s chance of having the latter outcome depends on his finding an extra couple of gears with his stuff, whether they arise from velocity-based increases or movement-based ones. In particular, the changeup needs to improve if he’s going to hang in against MLB’s lefty swingers, and at least one of his other pitches needs to ascend to a reliably MLB-average level. If he can make some adjustments–and there’s time for that, as this is only his first full pro season–Plutko could emerge as a back-end starter at the major league level, but he’s not as exciting as his Low-A production would have you believe.

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Robert Gsellman, RHP, New York Mets (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 20   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 77 IP, 82 H, 30 R, 58/22 K/BB, 2.92 ERA, 3.63 FIP

Summary
Gsellman is armed with an ideal frame and three solid pitches at a young age.

Notes
Like Plutko, Robert Gsellman (pronounced “gazelle-man”) looks like a pitcher. He’s 6’4″ and probably somewhere around 215 pounds, and he employs an easy motion that makes it look like he’s just playing catch with his battery mate. Unlike Plutko, Gsellman hasn’t quite ripped Low-A hitters apart, though his statline is far from problematic. However, the biggest difference between the two is that Gsellman is two years younger and still has far superior stuff.

Gsellman is not an overpowering pitcher, working at a pedestrian 90-93 mph with his four-seamer. However, he also extensively utilizes a running two-seamer at 89-92, touching 93, and the latter pitch is already slightly above average thanks to its reasonable velocity and solid movement. Gsellman has only allowed two home runs all season and has had consistently strong groundball rates due to the downhill plane he gets from his size and the good movement on the two-seamer. With his easy motion allowing him to project for at least average command and these attributes giving him a shot to maintain >50% groundball rates, Gsellman could end up as a solid rotation contributor even without posting many strikeouts.

He’s not necessarily hopeless when it comes to bat-missing projection, however, because his curveball and changeup also grade out fairly well. In my viewing, the curve was the superior pitch, grading out as slightly above-average. It arrives at 75-79 mph with big 11-to-5 break. Gsellman didn’t seem to throw it for strikes much, preferring to bury it in the dirt, and he’ll need to demonstrate the ability to get called strikes with the pitch, but I don’t have any significant concerns about him making that adjustment at some point. Gsellman’s 80-83 mph changeup flashes good fade and sink and shows signs of being an average offering, though it was his weakest pitch (a 40) in my look due to his tendency to overthrow it and leave it up in the zone.

At age 20, Gsellman has years to figure out how to locate his offspeed pitches more consistently, and if he can, he should be able to miss a fair amount of bats. While he’ll likely never be a truly intimidating pitcher, his ability to throw strikes and keep the ball on the ground should make him a valuable rotation contributor in the Charlie Morton mold if he adjusts well as he ascends.

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Brady Lail, RHP, New York Yankees (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 20   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 92 IP, 101 H, 45 R, 88/16 K/BB, 3.82 ERA, 3.16 FIP

Summary
Lail’s solid cutter and control have allowed him to establish some prospect status.

Notes
We keep moving down in the middle rounds of the draft in this piece–Plutko went in the 11th, Gsellman in the 13th, and Brady Lail was an 18th-round selection by the Yankees back in 2012. Since then, though, he’s put up a 154/26 K/BB ratio in the low minors, including an 88/16 mark this year, and he’s not even 21 yet. That’s enough sustained success to at least perk up the years of Yankee fans looking for the next Chase Whitley or David Phelps.

What makes Lail a little more fun, given the organization he’s in, is that his best offering is the one that made Mariano Rivera famous.

A lean, wiry 6’2″ kid out of a Utah high school, Lail throws a four-seam fastball at 89-91 mph and a two-seamer that actually worked at 90-91 and touched 92, but he also extensively employs a sharp 87-91 mph cutter that comes in with surprising power. It’s easily one of the best cutters I’ve seen (with the caveat that you don’t see a ton of cutters in the low minors), rating as a solid 55-grade pitch. The two-seamer is an average pitch in its own right, while the four-seamer is fringe-average. Given that he’s got some projection left, it’s possible that Lail could add a tick or two and end up with three different 50-or-better heaters. These videos should give you a good sense of the various types of fastballs he uses:

Because he has a lot of different fastball looks, Lail didn’t need to turn to his offspeed pitches extensively the first time through the order in my viewing, but he worked them in more later, and both his 78-81 mph power curve and 83-85 mph changeup showed promise. The curve comes in hard and has short downer action, while the change flashes plus sink and fade but isn’t always consistent and doesn’t boast great velocity separation.

The cutter has helped Lail neutralize lefties (.262/.295/.378) more than righties (.289/.318/.418) this year, and given that he throws strikes and has five pitches that are all at least at a 40-grade level, he should remain a starter all the way up the chain.

If you want comps to dream on, Lail’s arsenal isn’t too far off from Jesse Chavez‘s or Mike Leake‘s, and if he can add some weight and prove he can shoulder heavy workloads, he might have a shot to emerge as a quality rotation contributor in that mold. That’s his ultimate upside in a best-case scenario, and there are many factors that could force him to fall well short of it, but you don’t see broad arsenals of this sort from many strike-throwing 20-year-olds, and that certainly provides some intrigue.



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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.


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Umpire Weekend
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Umpire Weekend

1. Jonathan Dziedzic
2. Chris Devenski
3. Kevin Ziomek

Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back
Member
Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back

Plutko’s got more polish in him than those three guys combined.

Yirmiyahu
Member

He has more polish, or more Polish?

Steve Dalkowski
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Steve Dalkowski

Alright guys. Get control of yourselves.

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