Prospect Watch: Strikeout Leaders

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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Mike Recchia, RHP, Chicago White Sox (Profile)
Level: Double-A  Age: 25   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 2/1 K/BB, 1.80 ERA, 3.00 FIP

Summary
This independent league find has always been old for his levels, but he has legitimate stuff and deception.

Notes
Yesterday, Mike Recchia made his first career Double-A start (and appearance). He is 25 years old. Generally, players who don’t make it to Double-A by before then aren’t prospects, but Recchia arrives at the level with a statistical track record that is nearly beyond reproach. At the time of his promotion from High-A Winston-Salem earlier this week, he was pacing the Carolina League in strikeouts, with a 47/10 K/BB in 40.1 innings. Last season, he put up an 83/19 mark in 76.1 frames between Low-A and High-A.

If he’s been so dominant, why has it taken Recchia this long to reach baseball’s third-highest level? Well, it’s mostly due to one factor–he was undrafted out of Eastern Illinois in 2010. He signed with the Yankees and pitched in their system at both the short-season and Low-A levels for two years, but even though he threw fairly well (78/25 K/BB, 3.38 ERA in 96 IP) as a New York farmhand, his status as an undrafted reliever made him a low-priority player in the organization, and he was released before the 2012 season. At 23, Recchia drifted to Windy City of the independent Frontier League for that campaign. He was able to land a starting role with his new team, and immediately took the circuit by storm, leading the league in innings pitched, complete games, shutouts, and strikeouts (40% more than the second-place finisher!). That wasn’t enough to get him signed, but after five more dominant starts in the league to open the 2013 campaign (47 K in 31.2 IP), the White Sox (an organization that has a long track record of picking up Frontier League stars) brought Recchia back to organized baseball, and as a starter this time. Still, he was only assigned to Low-A as a 24-year-old; as I noted above, he’s pitched very well since, forcing his way to High-A last August and to Double-A after twelve High-A starts.

He’s certainly behind the age curve, but the great thing about pitchers is that good stuff is good stuff, regardless of age/level. Given his release by the Yankees and his indy league sojourn, one might expect Recchia to be a mid-to-upper-80s control/deception guy. He isn’t. I’ve seen him three times (twice last year with Low-A Kannapolis, and once this year with High-A Winston-Salem), and each time, he’s presented a solid four-pitch mix.

Recchia throws a 90-94 mph fastball that’s fairly straight but gets on hitters quickly. His offspeed arsenal revolves primarily around two breaking pitches, a low-to-mid-80s slider and a mid-70s 12-to-6 curveball. They’re very distinct from each other and are both solid offerings. Recchia also occasionally tosses a mid-80s changeup to lefthanders, but it’s more of a show pitch than a legitimate weapon, though it will flash some sink and fade.

Everything plays up due to the deception in Recchia’s motion, which features a very long arm action; he’ll also occasionally throw in a Ryan Dempster-esque glove flutter. You can get a good sense of how his stuff works here:

Given how long Recchia’s arm action is, you might think he’d have trouble repeating his release point and throwing strikes, but he’s an athletic pitcher who has good pace to the plate and a soft, easy landing, so he’s able to stay in sync better than one might expect.

It’ll be very interesting to see how well Recchia’s three-solid-pitches-and-deception act plays at the Double-A level. While he has a nice arsenal, none of his pitches stand out as clearly plus offerings, and while he throws strikes a nice amount of the time, he’s not really a control artist. That leads me to believe that his likeliest path to the big leagues is in the bullpen, where he might be able to throw in the mid 90s more consistently and his deception could play up in short stints. That’s not to say he should be moved to the bullpen just now; he’s never failed as a starter, and he deserves a chance to give it a go in that role at every level until hitters solve him. At the very least, he’s an excellent organizational arm, which is a heck of a positive outcome for an undrafted collegian who had to spend over a year in the indy leagues.

***

Matt Milroy, RHP, Miami Marlins (Profile)
Level: Low-A  Age: 23   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 39.1 IP, 25 H, 11 R, 50/9 K/BB, 1.60 ERA, 2.16 FIP

Summary
Milroy leads the SAL in strikeouts despite appearing more in relief than as a starter.

Notes
Recchia’s fellow Illinois native, Milroy was an eleventh-round pick in 2012 out of the University of Illinois. After working as a starter in short-season ball in his pro debut, he’s pitched in a swing role with Low-A Greensboro for much of the past two campaigns. Despite striking out over a batter per inning last season with the Grasshoppers, he was returned to the SAL for the 2014 campaign, responding with a dominant statline.

Like Recchia, Milroy’s old for his level, and thus his combination of older age and impressive production leads to inevitable questioning about the legitimacy of his arsenal.

Milroy is mostly a fastball-slider pitcher. He works mostly at 89-93 mph with a touch of life, touching 94 on occasion, and he throws a lot of breaking pitches that will arrive anywhere from 74 to 87 mph. Obviously, it’s not the same pitch at 74 as it is at 87, but the lower-velocity offerings (let’s assume they’re curveballs) are slurvy rollers that aren’t well-differentiated from the harder sliders. Milroy will also occasionally throw in a changeup in the 83-85 mph range, but it’s not a major part of his arsenal.

He’s an athletic pitcher with a fluid motion, though his delivery is somewhat rotational and includes a pronounced “Inverted W”:

Milroy’s delivery should allow for solid-average command, which, combined with his two good pitches, might be enough for a future in middle relief. Due to his lack of a good curveball or changeup, he’s unlikely to remain a starting pitcher at higher levels, but there are positive attributes here that give Milroy a chance to be something beyond just a low-minors compiler.

***

Edwin Diaz, RHP, Seattle Mariners (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 20  Top-15: 7  Top-100: N/A
Line: 35.1 IP, 33 H, 17 R, 40/20 K/BB, 3.82 ERA, 4.02 FIP

Summary
Diaz dominated the Appalachian League on the back of one pitch last year; the strikeouts have held up in a promotion to Low-A, though his overall production has slipped.

Notes
Diaz is the one pitcher in this piece who comes with legitimate prospect pedigree, as a third-round pick in 2012 who led the Appalachian League in strikeouts last season with 79, along with a stellar 1.43 ERA. He’s also the only one who is somewhat young for his level–he and Milroy are at the same level, but Diaz is three and a half years younger.

He also has one key advantage over Recchia and Milroy, in that he already has a legitimate plus offering–a fastball that works at 90-94 mph, touching 95, featuring excellent running life.

However, Diaz’s inexperience manifests itself everywhere else. I saw him twice in the Appy last year, and he really didn’t have much other than the heater, tossing a hard slider and changeup that both graded out as little more than show pitches. His delivery also featured a significant back leg collapse that took away a lot of his leverage to the plate. Here’s a look at both outings of his that I took in last year:

At the Low-A level this year, Diaz is seeing these issues catch up to him, as his statline has regressed across the board. His strikeout rate is down 5%, his walk rate has nearly doubled, his ERA has nearly tripled, and his FIP is up a full run. Oddly, his fellow righthanders are pasting him at a .273/.406/.429 clip this year, evidence of his breaking ball’s failure to fool them (lefties are hitting just .211/.274/.316). Clearly, more polish is needed for him to step into the ranks of the better starting pitching prospects in the game. His projectable, lanky frame and natural arm speed are tremendous gifts, but Diaz will need more a far more diverse skillset to reach the #2/#3 starter ceiling some have given him. He has plenty of time to make adjustments, but if he goes too much further without a semblance of interesting offspeed stuff, he’ll start to project more as a reliever than a starter. It bears watching.




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Nathaniel Stoltz is a prospect writer for FanGraphs. A resident of Winston-Salem, NC and Wake Forest University graduate student, he frequently views prospects in the Carolina, South Atlantic, and Appalachian leagues. He can be followed on Twitter at @stoltz_baseball.

6 Responses to “Prospect Watch: Strikeout Leaders”

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  1. George says:

    You hear very often how you should take minor league stats with a grain of salt, and it is combination of scouting and stats which should be used to determine prospect status. There are plenty of examples, every year, of guys with very good minor league track records who could not make the necessary adjustments to major league pitching. Having said that, are there examples of the reverse? Or is it a square/rectangle scenario, where good ML players have good minor league stats, but having good stats doesn’t mean they will be a good player at the big league level? In other words, are there examples of players who are productive Major League players but who had (relatively) poor statistical results in the minors?

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    • Hendu for Kutch says:

      Hanley Ramirez is a guy who had amazing scouting reports but fairly pedestrian minor league numbers.

      In his only 3 full-season minor league years, he put up OPSes of .730, .804, and .720.

      Those aren’t bad per se, but it wouldn’t have forecast his first 4 years in the majors, either: .833, .948, .940, .953.

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    • Cicero says:

      Matt Holliday career .276/.353/.427 in MiLB in the same parks where Brad Hawpe was at .301/.390/.541 and Garret Atkins hit .317/.397/.476 and on his first trip to high A he hit .274/.335/.389 as a 20yo LF while 21yo SS Juan Uribe hit .256/.314/.410 and 22yo CF Chone Figgins hit .278/.358/.398 on the same team

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  2. Bruce says:

    Remember Clint Nageotte? Led the minors in K’s one year. Came up and couldn’t K anyone. Same story for brandon McCarthy

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  3. Charlie says:

    I expected to see Javier Baez.

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