M's Low Minors Pitchers
Logan Gilbert

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At Bill James Online he had some ideas about low-minors pitching that I'm sure had eluded ALL of us:

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When looking at a pitching prospects, which is more important.  Strikeouts, or Strikeout to walk ratio?

Asked by: shthar

Answered: 3/1/2019

 Well. . .probably too general a question to answer.   But an exceptional strikeout to walk ratio at a low level (High A or below) often means less than you think it would.   Hitters at that level often can't deal with a changeup.   A young pitcher can get two strikeouts every time through the lineup by throwing a changeup a little bit outside.   You get to the majors, it doesn't work at all; it's just a ball.  You hope it's a Ball; you hope the batter doesn't step into it and paint the fence with it. 

Not just a changeup, but a pitcher at a low level has one thing, maybe a big curve, maybe a funky delivery; he can dominate with just one pitch.   Doesn't mean it will fly in the big leagues.

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Which is an interesting way to think about the division between AA and the low minors.  I mean, of course you always hear about the fact that high-minors batters don't have as much Trouble With The Curve, but I like this mirror-image paradigm that one pitch can mow um down.

That said, some class A pitchers fan 13 men per game and some do not.  Certainly you can compare them to each other.  James remarked that a big K:BB ratio means LESS than you think, not that it means NOTHING.  Here are a few M's minor leaguers with spectacular performance so far.

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LJAY NEWSOME

Has a hilarious 72:6 control ratio in 51 innings at high-A Modesto.  If I'm not mistaken, his 72 strikeouts leads minor league baseball.  Here is Statcast's scouting report on him:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 50 | Slider: 55 | Curveball: 45 | Changeup: 40 | Control: 70 | Overall: 40 

High school players taken in the 26th round of a Draft are easy to lose sight of. Newsome went that late back in the 2015 Draft out of the Maryland high school ranks and outside of his ridiculously low walk rates, wasn't really opening many eyes over the first two-plus years of his career. Back with Modesto in the Class A Advanced California League in 2019, some increased velocity has made some sit up and take notice of the undersized right-hander

Newsome thrives with plus plus command of a four-pitch mix. Velocity-wise, his fastball is average, though he's throwing harder than he has previously, in the 90-94 mph range. But it plays up thanks to his pinpoint control and good riding life. His changeup is below-average, but he plays it well off of his fastball with a little arm-side run and good late bottom to it. He manipulates his above-average slider in the zone and adds shape to it when expanding it late in counts. His curve doesn't have a ton of shape to it, but he can put it wherever he wants. He'll throw all four of his pitches at any point in the count to keep hitters guessing. 

Newsome's ceiling is limited given his stuff, but he pitches to his strengths and always sticks to his gameplan. At best, he could be a No. 5 starter, with more of a long or middle relief/swingman look to him. It will be interesting to see if his ability to pitch will allow him to have continued success as he moves up the ladder.

SAM DELAPLANE

He's sitting on a 48:11 ratio in 24 innings pitched.  He supposedly has "a deceptive delivery and strong command."  Statcast doesn't have a scouting report on this 24-year-old.  Fangraphs has him as a "sleeper arm" and sez

Delaplane has a 2700 rpm curveball and low-90s sinker, and he hides the ball pretty well and K’d 100 hitters in 60 innings at Low-A last year. Because he’s a cold-weather college arm, it’s a little more acceptable that he performed that way at 23, and we think he’s an interesting sleeper who might get pushed quickly this year.

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STEVE MOYERS

Is running a 54:7 ratio in 47 innings in the low minors.  At age 25 he doesn't rattle your cage like the other guys, but the point is that not every minors pitcher has a performance record like Newsome and Delaplane do.

Also note Ryne Inman with a 52:16 control in 37 IP at class A and Clay Chandler with a 49:6 in 52 IP on the same team.

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LOGAN GILBERT

Is the intersection of (1) performance and (2) scouting.  He's got a 53:9 ratio in only 36 innings between A and A+.  Fangraphs has him ranked #7, ahead of Kyle Lewis (!), Braden Bishop, etc and Statcast's scouting report is

We don’t typically project such a strong post-draft uptick in velocity for a college starter, but Gilbert was worked so hard during his junior year at Stetson that we believe the velo he showed last year was beneath what we’ll see with a more regimented workload as a pro. He was sitting 92-96 as a rising sophomore on Cape Cod, but often sat 90-94, and sometimes 88-91, throughout his starts the following spring. While we anticipate a rebound — and Gilbert has been 94-97 in bullpens and simulated environments this spring — college starters often experience a slight downturn in velo because they’re being asked to go every fifth day for five months instead of once a week for three and a half.

While there’s a wide array of potential outcomes for Gilbert’s fastball, his command, breaking ball quality, prototypical frame, and mechanical consistency have been stable. He at least profiles as a quick-moving backend starter, but could be a mid-rotation arm if the velo comes back, and he’s a good bet to be on our mid-year top 100 update.

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On the Mariners' site Gilbert is #6 (!), also ahead of Kyle Lewis, and gives him credit for a 4-pitch arsenal and a big fastball:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Slider: 55 | Curveball: 50 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 50 | Overall: 50

The two best draftees ever out of Stetson University are currently carving up hitters in the big leagues. Gilbert, whom the Mariners took in the middle of the first round after a slightly up-and-down junior season as he pitched through a bout of mono, hopes to be the next in line after Corey Kluber and Jacob deGrom. The right-hander didn't pitch at all in his first summer as a pro after signing for full pick value.

Gilbert has a strong track record of using a solid four-pitch mix and throwing them all for strikes. He showed just what he's capable of when 100 percent healthy while winning Atlantic Sun Pitcher of the Year honors as a sophomore, then being named a Cape Cod League All-Star that summer. He sat in the mid-90s, touching 97 mph on the Cape and then saw his velocity dip while he was sick, though it ticked back up closer to Draft time. He's gotten bigger and more physical this offseason, so don't be surprised to see some 70-grade fastballs in there in 2019. He can throw two distinct breaking balls, with the harder slider better than the curve, and can mix in an effective changeup as well.

With a history of throwing strikes, Gilbert could have plus control when all is said and done. He did something Kluber and deGrom didn't: get taken in the first round. Now it's time for him to get going towards catching them in the big leagues.

Enjoy,

Dr D

Comments

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And the list continues.  I've read a few different times that the M's farm has struck out the most batters of any so far this year but don't know exactly where they fall now.  Ljay and the others lead the way but they're a part of a culture that's starting to look really good for development.  McKay mentioned at one point something about how some days certain arms will line up the same day for different affiliates and 4 MiL teams will combine for 44K/5BB or similar.

I get what you and previously Bill were saying about strikeouts in the low minors.  It means less but isn't meaningless.  I certainly wouldn't expect a system full of pitchers to start doing it in AA if they never had before.

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