This is the second of my Oriole prospect breakdowns. This one is going to focus on bullpen prospects. My main reason for looking at the bullpen prospects is that I know we have a lot of bullpen prospects thanks to Andy MacPhail's decisions to ask for bullpen prospects as throw-ins. Currently only one of them has really developed into a MLB bullpen piece in Kam Mickolio. So now it's time to take a look at who could be the next bullpen pieces coming into the team over the next few years.
Now a word of caution about this breakdown. The minor leagues don't have pitch fx so I can't tell just how good their pitches are. Pitchers tend to try out new pitches while pitching so these tend to get hit up and inflate pitchers hits. However since most relievers tend to focus on two pitches this will be limited. Relievers typically have fewer innings so there is much more variance.
Anyway, sorry about taking so long with the write-up. Things came up. Bad news showed up about a classmate which made baseball seem trivial by comparison.
First up Bob McCrory:
Bob McCrory is a fastball-slider pitcher. He's been called up in 2008 and 2009 so we have some pitch fx data on him. He throws a fastball around 95 mph and a hard slider around 88 mph. Last year he threw a curveball although the movement was inconsistent. This year he's thrown a change-up which has similar movement to his fastball. The change seems to fade to the left a little more than the fastball (but not by much) and has more drop. Both of these are to be expected.
McCrory has had problems with his control at the major league level walking over 11 per 9 innings in 2008 and is currently walking over 7 per 9 innings. However, if given an extended look his walks should lower fairly dramaticly as the past two years his walk rate has been under 5 per 9 innings at triple-A. His strikeout numbers have typically been good only going below 7 this year at triple-A. Unfortunately in the small sample this year, he hasn't been striking enough batters out to survive, although this should rebound to some extent.
This year he has taken a step back exchanging some strikeouts for more control. Unfortunately he's given out more homers than he has ever before. Since he's had a very good groundball rate in the minors (52.4% this year) it's likely he's throwing meatballs down the plate in order to keep his walks down and getting smashed every so often.
I don't see him sticking at the major league level without either learning some control or developing a third pitch (a splitter would be a very good complement for his skills). As a sinker-slider reliever he should do well against righties but get dominated by lefties. Most likely he's triple-A fodder with good stuff but no control as major league players are better at hitting mid-90s heat.
Eddie Gamboa- A starter last year for the rookie level (Aberdeen?) he was moved to the bullpen this year and dominated. Unfortunately a large part of that domination was due to a lot of luck. In two of his three stops this year, Gamboa had a Batted Balls in play of .252 and .235 where the average tends to be near .300. As a groundball pitcher (52%) he should have an average much closer to the .300 than not. Ok, so he's not as good as he appeared this year. How good is he? He's been pretty good. His K-rate has been decent but not great hovering around 8 Ks per 9 at all stops this year including Double-A (very good sign). His control was very good until he hit double-A where it exploded in 12 appearances. This could very well be an adjustment period for him especially if he's been trying out a new pitch. Assuming his control gets better he could very well be in the majors soon, within two years. His walk rate will be the key indicator. He needs to keep it below 5 per 9 preferably in the 3 range to succeed.
He does have a reverse-platoon split dealing with lefties better than righties which suggests a fairly good reportiore (I'd guess he has a change or a cutter). Could be a pretty good reliever but unlikely to be a top set-up man without more strikeouts
Luis Lebron- ummm wow that's a lot of variation. looks like another Sarfate type. He tends to post K-rates over 10 but very high walk rates too. 2008 was a down year for him as he seemed to have lost his mechanics for a bit when he posted walk rates above 10 per 9 innings. His luck has varied year to year with a BABIP over .400 in 2008. This year he's been very lucky with his cumative BABIP of .211. He's a flyball pitcher though so his BABIP should be fairly low. What he's been very good at in his career is limiting the long ball even though he is a flyball pitcher. That's likely unsustainable. He'll likely get a chance to show what he has at the major league level due to his high K rate but he'll likely be our next Dennis Sarfate. He also has a reverse-platoon split doing better against lefties than righties. He's also been with the organization since 2005 so he'll need to graduate to the majors within two years. He has the potential to be a good set-up man but a lot will depend on his walk rate. If he can keep from regressing to his 2008 numbers he should be decent in the pen.
Josh Perrault- I'm not really sure why he's not in the majors right now besides possibly not being on the 40 man list. Maybe he's a soft tosser? He appears to have been signed as a minor league free agent last year and had been decent not great over with the nationals. This year he seemed to have turned it up a notch posting K rates in the 9.20s at Double and Triple-A. His walk rates have been pretty good coming in at 2.03 and 2.53 for double and triple-A respectively. The only bad news is that he's a flyball pitcher so he will give up a good number of homeruns. I expect to see him in the majors next year. Anyway he's off to the AFL. Between that and spring training I'd expect to see some learning but some success as well. If he wasn't heading to winterball I'd expect him to be in the majors right now.
EDIT: It may have to do with a swoon the last two months. In August he posted his highest FIP of the season. This could be some fatigue and probably just some mental exhastion as Norfolk fell out of the post-season race.
Ryohei Tanaka- He's a former Japanese minor leaguer who was picked up by the Orioles this past year. He's got some oddities though. He apparently started playing baseball in June, and I'm not really sure why unless he was finishing up his Japanese minor league season or had visa problems. It appears that he started out in the bullpen and then was moved to starting although that could be wrong. He only spent 13 innings as a reliever but dominated from that position although taht sample is too small to really discuss. As a starter he was below average with a 4.5 FIP according to minorleaguesplits.com (their FIP formula is different from fangraphs). However, a lot of this difference seems to come from lefties, and boy what a difference. His FIP against lefties is over 3 runs higher than against righties! 3 runs! Since he faced almost as many lefties as righties he got rocked as a starter where he couldn't control his severe platoon split.
Here are his lefty/righty splits
AVG BABIP WHIP BB/9 K/9 HR/9
So he goes from a dominant pitcher against righties to ...I can't even think of a good comparison. Basically in the majors he'll be restricted to a bullpen role against righties. He seems to have been streched out in order to get him more innings and practice. If he finds a way to make lefties simply good instead of Pujols at the major league level he should be a treat to watch in Baltimore
Also on a sidenote: I looked up Arrieta's stats and he has a low groundball rate. He may be another homer-prone Guthrie. That does not make me too happy.
EDIT: I forgot Jim Miller???
Jim Miller- Has an FIP of 2.87 which is rather impressive even for a reliever. A lot of his success is due to his ability to get infield flies which are caught almost 100% of the time. Unfortunately like a number of Orioles bullpen prospects he's a flyball pitcher. In the majors I would expect a number of his infield flies to diminish in the majors as players have better pitch recognition and better hitting skills. His strikeout rate has fallen this year with only a modest decrease in walks which is a step back. When he's called up to the majors he should be at the very least a decent bullpen cog. I would assume that his first year or so he would play for around a 4.0 ERA. Of course in his limited action in 08 he performed very well with a 1.17 ERA and a 3.39 FIP (fangraphs FIP formula) in limited action.