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FanGraphs Scouting: Bird-Dogging Charlie Furbush

Bill Singer
Director of Pro Scouting
Washington Nationals

Mr. Singer:

I am writing you to report on a pitcher I recently scouted who may be of value to the Washington Nationals organization. The American League Central division is a very winnable race for the Detroit Tigers and the club should be looking for veteran help in July. One player of interest in the system, who may be attainable is left-handed, triple-A starter Charlie Furbush. The organization’s first call-up option from the triple-A rotation should be Andrew Oliver, leaving his fellow southpaw as an expendable item for the right price.

Background: A former Cape Cod League star in ’06, Furbush was drafted out of Louisiana State University in the fourth round of the ’07 draft by the Detroit Tigers. He has a solid start to his pro career but blew out his elbow, had Tommy John surgery and missed all of the ’08 season. After getting his feet wet again in high-A ball in ’09, Furbush blew through the minors in ’10, playing at three levels (A+, AA, AAA) and ranked second the minors in strikeouts with 183.

2011 Season: Furbush is averaging about 6.0 innings per start in 2011 after making 27 starts in 2010. This season he has a 3.48 FIP (2.91 ERA) in eight starts. Against triple-A hitters, he has a strikeout rate of 10.68 K/9. He’s struggled with his command but has shown solid control with a walk rate of 2.72 BB/9. Furbush has given up just 29 hits in 46.1 innings but hitters have been making hard contact against him and his BABIP sits at just .219. After giving up 21 homers in ’10, Furbush has seen batters go yard six times already this season.

Scouting Strengths: Although he doesn’t have a plus fastball, Furbush has been a strikeout machine in the minors thanks to his deception and unusual delivery. He throws with a low three-quarter to sidearm delivery, and hides the ball well. That causes his fastball to play up at times, especially when he works down in the zone. If he can command his fastball consistently, it will help his curveball and changeup. He does a nice job of pitching off his fastball. Furbush looks much more comfortable against left-handed batters and displays a tighter, more effective breaking ball to them; he may benefit from a true slider or a cutter.

Scouting Weaknesses: Furbush is not over-powering, but he has a solid three-pitch repertoire: 87-92 mph fastball, curveball, and changeup. None of his pitches rate higher than average. With the elbow surgery in his past, durability may be a concern but he has a solid pitcher’s frame at 6’5” 215 lbs. He did miss a year of development (2008) due to his injury. Furbush struggles with his arm slot and release point but these are all correctable issues with further experience and good coaching; his delivery doesn’t have much effort but it’s not smooth, which leads to command issues. He works up in the zone too much, and gets hard because his heater lacks life. He is a fly-ball pitcher so will benefit from a spacious park and/or good outfield defense. He needs to uses his changeup more often to right-handed hitters. Furbush needs to learn to command the inner half of the plate against right-handed batters.

Projection: Furbush hasn’t walked a lot of batters in the minors but his control is currently ahead of his command so expect to see his walk rates increase in the Majors as he faces more patient hitters. His strikeout rates will also likely fall but he’s shown an ability to get a solid number of ground-ball outs. He has the potential to pitch at the level of a No. 3 starter for a few years but is more of a No. 4 starter. He would provide excellent insurance for the Nationals’ starting rotation and could be used as a long man out of the bullpen in 2011. Furbush was probably hurt by the missed year of development but he could be a solid bullpen contributor at the MLB level with the potential to see his value increase if he can improve his fastball command and tighten up his secondary pitches.