With an FIP a full half-run less than the South Atlantic League leader, to suggest that Rangers pitching prospect Cody Buckel excelled would be an understatement. Statistically, the young right-hander, whose pitching mechanics aim to emulate Giants Tim Lincecum, successfully utilized a four-pitch mix to overwhelm both younger and older hitters at the level. So why then was he only considered the 19th best prospect in the league ranking behind Colorado Rockies Tyler Matzek, who combined for a 6.22 ERA in 2011? The answer lies in Buckel’s upside projection, which falls below that of his higher velocity, bigger-bodied counterparts.
Video after the jump
In terms of sheer “pitchability”, Cody Buckel is the best I’ve seen at the South Atlantic League level. He combines plus athleticism for the position with clean, repeatable mechanics to allow for a very consistent release point. In person, Buckel is a pleasure to watch and his strong combination of baseball IQ and game preparation is easily apparent. When speaking to a Media Relations Assistant for the Hickory Crawdads who had previously interviewed Buckel, he mentioned the prospect had learned his curveball from none other than Barry Zito, a pitcher known for having one of the best in the game. Buckel is truly as complete a pitcher as one would hope to see.
When scouting Buckel in person, he delivered his best performance of the season allowing only one hit in 5 1/3 innings with a ten strikeouts and a single free pass. It was one of the quieter dominating performances I’ve ever witnessed and was surprised to return to my hotel to find a Twitter feed full of questions about Buckel and his double-digit strikeouts as I did not realize he had even had that many.
From a “stuff” standpoint, Buckel’s arsenal is deep, but falls a bit short in terms of projecting any one pitch as an above average offering at the big league level. With a fastball sitting at 89-91 MPH, touching 92, his small, lean frame does not project for much more in terms of velocity. For the pitch to be successful at upper levels, his quick, late arm side run will need to become even sharper, as will his overall command of the pitch. With so little margin for error due to his velocity, it’s difficult to project his fastball as more than an average offering at this point.
Buckel’s curveball was more of a big breaker at 73-76 MPH which added considerably more depth as the game wore on. At times, he had a tendency to wrap his wrist tipping the offering and the slower velocity left it a bit short in terms of swing-and-miss potential. At present, it’s a great change of pace to keep lower level hitters off-balanced, but needs additional refinement and consistency to project as a quality big league curve.
At 83-85 MPH, Buckel possessed a nifty little slider which featured movement more fitting of a “true” slider than I’m used to seeing. With quick, late drop, along with a touch of cutting action, the pitch will miss barrels and help his ground ball rate. Is it an “out” pitch? Probably not, but the slider creates a distinct third offering in terms of velocity range which allows him an advantage over most other minor league pitchers who essentially throw at two speeds.
Buckel’s fourth offering, a 79-81 MPH changeup featured strong velocity separation from his fastball. At times, Buckel’s arm action was excellent, but he did let up slightly on occasion causing him to guide the his changeup instead of simply throwing it. As with the rest of his arsenal, Buckel will need to develop more consistency. However, at 19, time is obviously on Buckel’s side and he likely has a few hundred more innings in the minor leagues before pushing a call up to Arlington.
As a prospect, Cody Buckel is certainly a good one – just how good is left up to how much projection a scout considers him to have. A safe projection is Buckel emerging as a back end starter with four average offerings and no real out pitch to speak of. If one buys into the Lincecum-esque mechanics and smallish frame not being a limiting factor in future velocity, then a higher projection is warranted. For me personally, my more conservative approach forces me to err on the side of caution as scouting double-A now affords me the opportunity to see a plethora of mid-90’s hurlers and better understand just how marginal 89-91 MPH actually is. Like a scout told me earlier in the year – “Just about everybody can touch 94!”
And while I don’t need to see those velocities to project Buckel as a future big leaguer, each tick on the radar gun leaves me more comfortable projecting a higher upside due to the greater margin of error top flight velocity allows.
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