Four more from the Arizona Fall League

Made up almost entirely of the top Double- and Triple-A prospects in baseball, including pitchers, the Arizona Fall League also includes some of the more polished draftees from this year’s class. The most famous already has been covered here and here. Not that I’ve exhausted the Strasburg theme, but today’s offering will cover the next four pitchers, in draft order, from the 2009 draft.

The following 2009 AFL pitchers were taken in first two rounds of the 2009 draft:

 1 Stephen Strasburg (WAS)
 7 Mike Minor (ATL)
 8 Mike Leake (CIN)
10 Drew Storen (WAS)
12 Aaron Crow (KCR)
36 Aaron Miller (LAD)
43 Bradley Boxberger (CIN)
44 Tanner Scheppers (TEX)
58 Andrew Oliver (DET)

Minor, Leake, Storen and Crow make the cut for this survey of AFL pitchers. Three things to remember about these AFL data:
{exp:list_maker}small sample sizes—imagine large error bars on everything
only two of the five AFL parks have PITCHf/x installed, compounding the sample size issue
it’s a hitters’ league{/exp:list_maker}
First order of business would be introductions, then we’ll look at numbers from the four blue chippers and their league-mates.

Crow lands

It took two drafts, but the Royals signed Aaron Crow after he spurned the Nationals and spent the year in Independent ball/limbo. Drew Storen was picked up by the Nationals with the compensation pick they received in return for losing Crow. More on Storen below.

Crow, who will turn 23 this week, is a tall right hander with a heavy sinker/slider combo. Of his two AFL starts only one came in a PITCHf/x park. We should see some more data flow in, as Crow is with the Surprise Rafters, who play their home games in one of the two PITCHf/x enabled parks.

In his only four innings of work at home, Crow mixed in a change-up and a fair helping of what appear to be four-seam fastballs. Crow’s fastballs worked from 89 to 95 mph while his off-speed pitches came in 82-87.

Despite the sinker, Crow’s 7.1 innings of work have not been marked by a large number of ground balls. His rate is a pedestrian .42, but the sample size is meaningless. Crow was a strikeout pitcher in college, especially during his third and final season, but has struck out only four AFL hitters so far.

Storen closing for Phoenix

The Nats farmhands help fill out the roster for the Phoenix Desert Dogs. Despite being without PITCHf/x for home starts, Storen, who is closing for the Dogs, has been seen by PITCHf/x five times, in Surprise and Peoria. Peoria, home to two AFL clubs, seems to have a different calibration than Surprise. Speed is the same, but there is about four-inches of movement to the catcher’s left that shows up in the spin data. It’s a mirage, but can make some sliders look like splitters if you’re not careful.

Storen’s arsenal includes at least five pitches. And, yes, he wants to close, not start. Fastball, sinker, change-up, slider and curveball (not all that different from his slider) are in the bag, and, maybe, a splitter (used in one game, perhaps). Considering his quick-looking path to the majors, I wouldn’t be surprised if Storen whittled down that list a bit. Three pitches should be plenty.

In a variety of saves and blown saves, Storen’s fastball has ranged from 93-97 mph, his change-ups all between 86 and 87 (he’s thrown only three), and breaking stuff anywhere from 81 to 89. The sinking two-seamer and change-up are reserved for left-handed hitters.

Angles of Leake

Mike Leake is a man of many arm angles. It makes pitch classification a little bit complicated, which I suspect hitters will also attest to. Leake is assigned to the Peoria Saguaros, where he is one of the smaller pitchers on the staff. He seems to have grown an inch, to 6-foot-1, since being drafted. He doesn’t throw hard, exceeding 92 mph only a handful of times, but has shown good control—as advertised. If he can vary the angle while disguising his pitches, that control will serve him well.

The lowest arm slot Leake employs generally produces a two-seam sinker, which has lots of action thanks to the angle. His most over-the-top selection is a curveball. The middle slot(s?) for Leake overlap a bit with the brackets, starting with a change-up and moving up to a four-seam fastball. His slider occupies most of the middle-range. He also throws a cutter, moves like a slider but with fastball velocity.

Leake’s curve comes in from 77-82 mph and the slider 83-85. Changes-ups are about the same—speed-wise—as the sliders, but with a lower bottom. The sinker/fastball/cutter group centers at 90 mph, with the sinkers getting the widest range (87-93).

Minor difficulties

Another pitcher named Mike is on the Saguaros, but Mike Minor is left-handed and 6-foot-3. Considered solid, not spectacular but projectable, Minor went early in the first round to the guffaws of many analysts.

Minor got the start in the AFL Rising Stars game. He left the mound with two outs in the top of the first, trailing 7-0. His club came back to win 8-7. Minor: two outs, seven runs; Others: 25 outs, no runs. Things should get better, as Minor had no walks in 14 innings for the Rome Braves (Single-A) but five walks in less than 12 innings for Peoria. Both sound off kilter, he’ll settle somewhere in between.

Minor’s primary pitch is a four-seam fastball (90-95 mph), complemented by a change-up (80-85). He throws a curveball in the upper 70s, a few two-seam fastballs that run 88-91, and a slider/soft-cutter at 83-85.

Retroactive Review: Ace
Looking back at some of Justin Verlander's most interesting moments.

Summary of stuff

Click the headers to sort the columns. PFX_X and PFX_Z are spin movement, in inches, relative to a pitch under the influence of gravity alone. Negative PFX_X values indicate movement to the catcher’s left, positive to his right. Negative PFX_Z values indicate true sink, caused by topspin, positive are “rise” due to backspin. Pitches don’t actually rise, they just resist gravity a bit. Most sinkers just resist it less, and tail more, than a four-seam fastball.

Pitcher Pitch # MPH PFX_X PFX_Z
Crow Change-up 8 85 -9.2 3.1
Crow Sinker 29 92 -8.9 5.9
Crow Fastball 10 92 -7.0 9.3
Crow Slider 12 84 2.2 1.7
Storen Change-up 3 87 -9.8 5.9
Storen Curveball 5 84 4.2 -4.3
Storen Sinker 13 95 -9.7 6.2
Storen Fastball 29 96 -5.7 10.4
Storen Slider 28 86 -0.3 -0.6
Leake Change-up 32 83 -11.7 4.4
Leake Curveball 11 80 4.3 -4.0
Leake Sinker 82 90 -10.7 3.4
Leake Fastball 22 90 -5.5 5.6
Leake Cutter 5 89 -0.6 4.0
Leake Slider 16 83 1.3 0.5
Minor Change-up 33 82 6.6 7.7
Minor Curveball 10 78 -5.5 -3.6
Minor Sinker 8 90 6.1 8.3
Minor Fastball 77 92 2.7 9.2
Minor Slider 18 84 -3.4 4.3

Storen throws the hardest, and it isn’t just because he’s working in relief. Leake is the soft-tosser, relatively speaking.

Here’s how the four do in terms of strike (In Wide Zone and umpire calls).

  # IWZ B:CS
Minor 146 0.521 2.4
Leake 168 0.571 1.6
Storen 78 0.577 1.4
Crow 59 0.492 1.8
AFL 9821 0.510 2.2

Storen’s B:CS ratio leads the AFL (59+ pitches) and his IWZ is 14th. In limited work, Crow has thrown the fewest strikes, while Minor seems to be faring the worst overall.

The B:CS ratios above are heavily influenced by the swing rates below. First is overall swing rate, followed by swing rate out of the zone (Chase) and take rate in the zone (Watch).

  # Swing Chase Watch
Minor 146 0.418 0.214 0.382
Leake 168 0.435 0.250 0.427
Storen 78 0.359 0.212 0.533
Crow 59 0.441 0.333 0.448
AFL 9821 0.429 0.245 0.388

Crow did well in getting batters to chase pitches out of the zone. He’s tied for fourth in the league, just ahead of Strasburg. Storen’s Watch rate is second only to Michael Dunn’s.

Whiffs and total bases on balls in play (includes home runs) as SLGCON. Note, once again, this is a hitters’ league.

  # Whiff SLGCON
Minor 146 0.246 0.750
Leake 168 0.247 0.613
Storen 78 0.286 0.692
Crow 59 0.192 0.615
AFL 9821 0.232 0.618

None of these four are doing much in terms of suppressing extra base hits, or hits in general. Storen’s whiff rate is 14th in the league (75 “qualifiers”) and Crow’s is close to the bottom quartile.

The last batch of numbers is batted ball types. HR/FL% is home runs per fly ball + line drive.

  # GB% FB% PU% LD% HR/FL%
Minor 146 36% 25% 4% 36% 6%
Leake 168 35% 29% 0% 35% 0%
Storen 78 54% 38% 0% 8% 17%
Crow 59 54% 23% 8% 15% 20%
AFL 9821 44% 31% 6% 19% 9%

Minor’s and Leake’s line drive rates are third and fourth highest in the league. Storen is on the opposite (better) end, 10th lowest. Storen and Crow are just inside the top 20 in ground ball rate. Oddly, they’re also top 20 in HR/FL%.

All said, Drew Storen distinguishes himself, as he should. After all, he’s pitching in relief while the other three are getting through the order more than one time. Minor appears to be the laggard, but that’s a mostly subjective statement. And I’ll leave it at that.

References & Resources
PITCHf/x data from MLBAM and Sportvision
Pitch classifications by the author
All release points and speeds are measured 55 feet from the back of home plate

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Lucas A.
Lucas A.

Storen seems pretty intriguing.  Any chance he winds up getting the Nationals’ closer gig at some point this year?

Harry Pavlidis
Harry Pavlidis

Lucas – I’m guessing he’ll get there sometime this summer.

BTW, Crow pitched last night, got knocked around, but those numbers are not included in this post.

Ari Berkowitz
Ari Berkowitz

If you were Mike Rizzo and you had the 10th slot in the ‘09 Rule 4 draft, who would you have picked Storen or Crow?