Five years from now, there will be dozens of new Major League pitchers succeeding in the Major Leagues with the same profile. Each will seem a surprise in his own right, discounted at some level in the Minor Leagues due to the perception of bad performance. They will be succeeding because their batting average on balls in play is lower than it has been in their professional career, and because they don’t walk many batters. They will not have been top 10 prospects, but they will be a steady presence on every Major League roster, a set-up man, a middle reliever, a fourth starter.
They will each throw a sinker. This week, I have used a sample of sinker pitchers to show that this subset of pitcher is underrated by current prospect evaluation techniques. This is because too rarely we realize, while scouts agree the player has very limited further upside, improved defenses at higher levels should yield better results. Today, with the lessons learned this week, I want to turn the attention to the future. I have culled the minor leagues and found 10 players, who I present alphabetically, that I think could be the next generation of Major League sinkerballers.
In the interest of saving space, I’m going to tell you about almost all of them in a paragraph, because this type of pitcher has very specific similarities. These guys, of course, all have very good sinkers around 90 mph, and have been carefully selected due to consistent high groundball rates. Their breaking ball is solid, but it could certainly be more consistent. They struggle against left-handed batters, and as a result, future success – especially in a rotation – is contingent on an improved change-up. And all of them have given me reason to believe that their BABIP will come down at some point and, with it, their H/9 and ERA.
Please note that groundball percentages and BABIP numbers come from Jeff Sackmann’s incomparable Minor League Splits site. Also, some of these players now have their college splits available, if you click on the red number on their Career Stats page. A great tool keeps getting better.
Kyle Allen, 20, New York Mets
Level BB/9 K/9 HR/9 GB% BABIP Low-A 3.7 8.0 0.6 55.0 .289
The youngest of the ten, Allen also has one of the best change-ups, which led to a .508 OPS against left-handed batters. His defense was pretty good for him this year, so if he can cut down on the walks and tighten the slider, watch out.
Randy Boone, 25, Toronto Blue Jays
Level BB/9 K/9 HR/9 GB% BABIP AA/AAA 3.0 6.4 0.5 53.6 .320
I do hope the Blue Jays give Boone a chance, as he’s really located well down in the zone since leaving University of Texas. He does have a nice breaking ball, and doesn’t figure to get more polished. Should be the first starter called up this season, if you ask me.
Shane Dyer, 22, Tampa Bay Rays
Level BB/9 K/9 HR/9 GB% BABIP Low-A 2.8 6.8 0.3 58.1 .360
Really a good representation of players on this list. He didn’t allow any home runs, but Tim Beckham’s Bowling Green defense let down that entire pitching staff. If things get any better on that front this year, Dyer is going to surely cut down that 10.7 H/9.
Stephen Fife, 23, Boston Red Sox
Level BB/9 K/9 HR/9 GB% BABIP A-/A+ 1.4 8.9 0.8 55.5 .317
Assuming his days of a sore shoulder are behind him, my favorite player on this list. Still has sink on his fastball up to 93 mph. Fife was a late bloomer at University of Utah, but has shown all three pitches to be plus at times. His defense in High-A wasn’t very good, and I expect him to fly up the Boston prospect rankings this season.
Jason Godin, 25, Kansas City Royals
Level BB/9 K/9 HR/9 GB% BABIP A-/AA/AAA 4.2 7.4 0.3 60.0 .356
Godin came back slow after a facial fracture ended his season short in 2008, but he’s shown signs of really making good on that fifth round choice in 2006. I truly believe the Royals should be aggressive with Godin, who has a career 58.9 groundball percentage. The tools to be a viable Major League reliever all seem there to me.
Liam Hendriks, 21, Minnesota Twins
Level BB/9 K/9 HR/9 GB% BABIP Low-A 2.0 8.4 0.4 57.5 .354
Hendriks missed 2008 with a broken back, but didn’t show any signs of injury in his 14 starts last season. Instead, all he showed was some bad luck. Hendriks was a choice of Australia’s last World Baseball Classic team, and is more advanced than the Twins handling has shown. An assignment to Fort Myers, with a quick trigger to Double-A, should be in the cards. Note: fellow Australian and Cubs prospect Ryan Searle was a finalist for this article.
Luke Putkonen, 24, Detroit Tigers
Level BB/9 K/9 HR/9 GB% BABIP Low-A 2.8 6.9 0.2 56.9 .318
Putkonen was not known for his fastball movement at the University of North Carolina, and had a 1.52 GO/AO in his final year there. But he has reinvented himself as a sinker pitcher, and had a fantastic year in the Midwest League. There’s no semblance of a third pitch, so I think he’s a reliever in the end, but he could be a good one.
Stephen Sauer, 23, Chicago White Sox
Level BB.9 K/9 HR/9 GB% BABIP Low-A 1.2 7.8 0.3 56.3 .363
This guy managed a 3.36 ERA in Kannapolis because he was so good at limiting home runs and walks, but look at his BABIP! His hit rate seems to have scared off prospect evaluators, as he’s not listed as one of Baseball America’s top 30 White Sox prospects. But his sinker has always been good (2.64 GO/AO at ASU) and his slider is average enough. With a good change-up, Sauer can be just as good as Jon Garland ever was.
Kyle Waldrop, 24, Minnesota Twins
Level BB/9 K/9 HR/9 GB% BABIP A+/AA 2.5 5.0 0.2 60.1 .322
I’m not sure about this one, but Waldrop’s groundball numbers were just so good. They were good before he had Tommy John surgery that cost him the 2008 season, but they were never above 60%. This is a guy that has had to reinvent himself since he was a first-round pick, and with that pedigree, should be given a chance to succeed with the organization. He seems to have the savvy to be able to do just that.
Trey Watten, 23, Milwaukee Brewers
Level BB/9 K/9 HR/9 GB% BABIP Low-A 3.9 6.5 0.6 56.7 .329
Watten is still pretty new to pitching, but his arm strength landed him a spot in the seventh round of the 2008 Draft. His debut season went well, but his defense just didn’t do good enough work. He’s the rawest player on the list, but if the command and change-up come along, his athleticism could make him the best.