Pitching stats not as important in AFL
Mechanics, repertoire key for scouting in hitter-friendly league
It's very difficult to evaluate pitching in the Arizona Fall League. In general, pitchers are tired in October.
Unless the pitcher suffered an injury, most pitchers have logged a full workload of innings either in college or professional baseball during the season. Fatigue and soreness must be considered when evaluating Fall League pitchers.
Many scouts assigned to the AFL concentrate on pitching mechanics, as opposed to results. Pitchers capable of throwing strikes and repeating a clean delivery are highly prized. Command, control and the depth of the pitcher's repertoire are all factors to be evaluated as a pitcher works from outing to outing.
With the first overall selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected flamethrowing right-hander Gerrit Cole.
Following his brief instructional league introduction to professional baseball, Cole has been pitching in the Arizona Fall League for the Mesa Solar Sox. Cole has turned heads with his high-velocity fastball, solid secondary pitches and his ability to miss bats and strike out hitters.
Cole started the AFL's Rising Stars Game for the West. While it wasn't a particularly great game statistically for the California native, Cole did show the arm strength and high-quality pitches that should someday catapult him to the top of the Pirates' rotation.
Cole has been known to throw his fastball at least 100 mph, but it's his slider and outstanding changeup that will cause hitters some anxious moments. When he tries to throw too hard, Cole's fastball straightens out a bit. If he misses location and elevates that pitch, as was the case in the Rising Stars Game, he will get hit. However, when he mixes the changeup and a solid slider with the fastball, Cole is a much more difficult pitcher to solve.
He'll miss bats and rack up the strikeouts. It will take some time to learn pitch sequencing and when to add and subtract from his repertoire. For now, however, Cole has shown the arm strength and potential that justifies his lofty selection in the Draft. Better pitch location and command will come in time.
Cole's mound opponent at the Rising Stars Game was the second overall pick in the Draft, University of Virginia's Danny Hultzen. In fact, when the Seattle Mariners selected him, Hultzen was in the Virginia locker room, sharing and celebrating the moment with his teammates.
The warm and engaging Hultzen is looking forward to pitching in spacious, pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. His style of pitching seems very well suited for his potential home park.
Hultzen is rather advanced in developing his repertoire. He has the capability of using an above-average mid-90s fastball or low-80s slider on any count. Add to that his Major League-average changeup, and Hultzen has the arsenal to attack hitters by changing speeds and eye levels with smart, advanced pitch sequencing. He knows his velocity limitations and he doesn't overthrow the fastball.
Hultzen has a slight dip in his delivery that serves as a trigger to solid mechanics. He uses his entire defense without constantly looking to strike out hitters. That's an extremely mature approach for a young pitcher new to professional baseball.
Hultzen appears to be a perfect fit as a mid-rotation starter for the Mariners, slotting behind Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda. He will need some time in the Minors to gain confidence and refine his approach. For now, Hultzen looks to be capable of pitching in the big leagues in the very near future.
Terry Doyle is a righty in the Chicago White Sox organization.
Doyle presents an interesting starting pitching option for the White Sox. He is a control pitcher with a quick-paced, solid delivery and an ability to manage his game very well. Doyle pitched over two classifications in 2011. He started 11 games at Class A Winston-Salem, where he compiled a 2.84 ERA. Moving to the Double-A Birmingham club in the Southern League, Doyle threw 100 innings over 15 starts. He walked only 22 and struck out 73. His command and control will advance his career. He is the type of pitcher who can be trusted to take his starts at least three times through the lineup.
Doyle throws a low-90s fastball, but his bread and butter appears to be a full repertoire including a very solid slider, a low-80s curve and an effective changeup.
Doyle projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter who can work following a higher-velocity power pitcher. He has the type of delivery and mechanics that could cause the opposition frustration working quickly and changing speeds consistently.
Anthony Bass pitched for the San Diego Padres this past season. He started one game, but worked 33 total innings late in the season.
Bass is a power pitcher. From the stuff he has shown in the AFL so far, Bass appears to have the ability to close out games. He can throw his fastball consistently in the high 90s with movement. In addition, he has a very serviceable changeup that alters the bat speed of hitters. If he spots the changeup properly, it is a very effective pitch for Bass.
Best suited at the back end of the bullpen, Bass appears to pitch best when he collects his thoughts and doesn't try to get too much steam on the fastball. When he overthrows, he loses command easily. Keeping his velocity in check and within his capabilities will be crucial to his future success.
Milwaukee Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress threw a pitch at 101 mph in the 2010 Rising Stars Game. He appeared again in this year's game, touching 99 on the radar gun.
Jeffress seems to be making some improvement and adjustments in his command. That will be the crucial aspect of his future. If he locates pitches and throws strikes, with his arm strength, he should be able to close games for the Kansas City Royals or another interested club.
Jeffress has begun throwing an effective 81-mph curveball much more frequently. Rather than relying solely on his high-velocity fastball, Jeffress is mixing in that knee-buckling curve that makes the fastball even more effective. He is keeping hitters off balance pitch to pitch.
Cincinnati Reds prospect Brad Boxberger is a righty reliever with outstanding potential. He can work late in games, showing the ability to close.
Boxberger is a power pitcher with the control to throw strikes. At times when he doesn't properly finish his delivery, his pitches straighten out. Most of the time, however, Boxberger can command his mix of mid-90s fastball, high-80s slider and wicked low-80s changeup on any count. That flexible and fairly deep repertoire is a plus component for a relief pitcher. Rather than relying upon raring back and throwing heat every pitch, Boxberger is using finesse as well as power to change hitters' eye levels. It's working.
Even though the AFL is a hitter's league, it includes pitchers with the ability and potential to succeed in the big leagues. Once they are fresh and rested, those pitchers noted above, and others like them, will make an impact for their respective organizations.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.