The Orioles have a lot of good young pitchers. David Hernandez made his major league debut earlier this season, and top prospects Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz aren’t too terribly far behind. Toss in Jake Arrieta and Brandon Erbe, and Baltimore has as good a crop of pitching prospects as any organization in baseball.
But, for all the big time velocity arms that are on their way to Camden Yards, Brad Bergesen and his 89 MPH fastball has snuck into the team photo and is threatening to stick around. I’m going to go so far as to say he’s the best pitcher that most people have never heard of.
Bergesen is the classic kind of pitching prospect that slips through the cracks. A fourth round pick back in 2004, he worked his way through the minors with average stuff and no out pitch, leading to rather boring looking strikeout numbers, which is the main way pitching prospects get recognized. His minor league K/9, by year/level:
2005: Short-Season A: 6.8
2006: Low-A: 5.1
2007: Low-A: 7.0, High-A: 5.6
2008: High-A: 7.8, Double-A: 4.4
2009: Triple-A: 7.4, Majors: 4.1
Usually, a pitching prospect isn’t going to get much respect if he’s punching out less than a batter per inning, especially in the lower levels. Pitching to contact in low-A is usually a sign that your stuff isn’t major league quality, and when your fastball tops out at 92, the suspicion is confirmed.
However, the strikeout obsession has led to a lot of missed evaluations on groundball specialists, and Bergesen is proving to be exactly that. Pitch F/x shows that his fastball has similar amounts of vertical movement to some guy named Roy Halladay, so we shouldn’t be terribly surprised that Bergesen has a 54% groundball rate through his first twelve major league starts.
When you can command a sinking fastball and have an off-speed pitch to keep opposite handed hitters at bay, you can be an effective major league starter. Bergesen doesn’t have the same potential as some of the more hyped arms in the Orioles system, but don’t discount his strengths and write him off as a no-stuff guy who belongs in the bullpen. Command, sinker, and change-up – it’s the recipe for a solid back-end starting pitcher.
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