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ChiSox 5th Starter Candidate: Clayton Richard

With Javier Vazquez now residing in Atlanta and Jose Contreras (achilles) likely on the shelf for at least the first half of the season, the Chicago White Sox entered the winter looking to fill two spots in the club’s rotation. One of those openings will at least temporarily be occupied by oft-injured Bartolo Colon, but the competition for the fifth slot remains wide open. Over the next few days, I am going to take a look at the candidates for the job: Clayton Richard, Jeffrey Marquez, Lance Broadway and Aaron Poreda.

Clayton Richard, LHP
Age: 25
2009 CHONE Projection: 140 IP, 4.86 FIP, 4.95 K/9, 2.96 BB/9
2009 PECOTA Projection: 110 IP, 6.13 ERA, 4.33 K/9, 3.27 BB/9

An 8th-round pick out of Michigan in the 2005 amateur draft, Richard was a relative unknown entering the 2008 season. The 6-5, 240 pounder was coming off of a fairly mundane 2007 campaign at High-A Winston-Salem, striking out just 5.52 batters per nine innings and allowing 3.29 BB/9 in 161.1 IP. His FIP was a shrug-inducing 4.05, though he did at least keep the ball in the dirt with a 57.3 GB%. That performance did not earn Richard a spot in Baseball America’s top 30 White Sox prospects, as BA likely viewed him as an aged college prospect who merely held his head above water in A-Ball.

In 2008, however, Richard passed through AA Birmingham and AAA Charlotte on his way to the majors. In 83.2 frames at Birmingham, Richard compiled a 2.96 FIP, with 5.7 K’s per nine, an improved walk rate (1.72 BB/9) and just 0.22 HR/9 surrendered. Bumped up to Charlotte, the southpaw posted rates of 6.75 K/9 and 0.82 BB/9 in 44 innings, good for a 2.93 FIP.

Richard made his debut with the South Siders in late July, and while his ERA (6.04) looks pretty grisly, the underlying numbers weren’t too shabby. In 47.2 IP, Richard posted a 4.10 FIP, punching out 5.48 batters per nine innings and walking 2.45 per nine. The former Wolverine used his 90 MPH sinker, 80 MPH slider and 81 MPH changeup to burn some worms, posting a 49.7 GB%. For his work, Richard was dubbed by BA as the 5th-best Pale Hose Prospect this offseason.

It’s difficult to get too awfully excited about a hurler like Richard, who misses few bats but attempts to off-set that tendency with above-average control and groundball tendencies. There are many pitchers of this ilk floating around major league baseball, some of whom will become successful starters while others will never quite translate their minor league success to the highest level.

Owners in most leagues will probably want to avoid drafting Richard, as his upside is fairly modest. CHONE’s projection suggests that Richard will at least hold his head above water in ’09, while PECOTA’s translation has “KEEP AWAY” written in bold, red ink. It remains to be seen whether the lefty’s sinker and savvy will be enough to stave off big league hitters every fifth day, but Richard has at least improved his standing in the organization enough to possibly get the chance.