What would it look like if there was a pitcher capable of throwing the ball extremely hard with no idea of where the ball is going? Orioles pitching prospect Tanner Scott is as close as you can get to an answer to that question.
The Orioles added Scott to their system in the sixth round of the 2014 draft from Howard College in Texas. As he was out of the junior college ranks, he was just 19 years old when he was drafted and is only 23 now.
Given that Scott is a lefty who can throw a fastball 100 miles per hour, the fact that he fell to the sixth round says a lot. If any idiot could look at him and see, “This guy’s going to be the next elite big league reliever,” he wouldn’t have fallen so far. Scott fell to the sixth round because he isn’t perfect as a prospect.
You don’t have to watch Scott for very long or peer very hard into his statistics to understand what his problem is. He can’t consistently throw strikes with that laser fastball. Sometimes, he can’t even get close to the strike zone. I watched him throw a warmup pitch all the way to the backstop on Saturday night. A pitcher who completely misses the catcher when there’s not even a batter in the box has command problems.
Merely calling the issues with Scott’s command “problems” is underselling what is going on. The O’s had Scott in action at the Double-A level this season before a surprise September call-up. Scott pitched 69 innings for the Baysox and in that time he walked 46 men. That’s a BB/9 of 6.00.
What’s amazing is that this is actually a decrease compared to last season, when, across 64.1 innings between Frederick and Bowie, Scott walked a total of 57 batters. That takes a special lack of command.
However, it’s not all bad for Scott. He has also been a strikeout machine at every level of the minors where the Orioles have sent him. That includes this season in Bowie, when he struck out 87 batters to go along with those walks. He struck out fully 30% of the batters that he faced in Bowie. That’s high enough to get your attention.
Watching either of the two Scott outings since his surprise call-up give a good idea of both how he walks so many batters and why he strikes out so many. Along with his flamethrowing fastball, Scott throws a slider that has swing-and-miss potential.
A batter is going to have a bad time if he has to both be prepared to swing at a 98-100mph fastball and an 88-89mph slider. That is, assuming that fastball can be thrown for strikes. MLB-level hitters are going to be more patient than any that Scott has seen before.
Scott was actually used by the O’s as a starter in Bowie this year, although he generally only pitched three innings per start. This appears to have been an attempt to give him more of an opportunity to pitch in order to work out his command issues rather than any hope of his being a starter.
The whole “throw strikes” initiative hasn’t quite come to fruition just yet. Scott will have some more time to work on that this fall as he’ll be sent to the Arizona Fall League for a third consecutive season. Past AFL stints haven’t made a huge difference yet. Maybe the third time will be the charm.
For an example of a lefty who succeeds in the big leagues with nothing but a fastball and a slider, look at former Oriole Andrew Miller. The 2014 trade deadline acquisition didn’t really learn how to throw strikes until that very year. Before that, his best walk rate, going all the way back to his debut in 2006, was 4.46 per nine innings.
Miller was a failing starter for a lot of that time, but even once he was moved into the bullpen, it took until his third season there, at age 29, for him to really start getting elite results. Scott has some work to do to have a hope of succeeding in MLB at all, let alone at Miller levels. Still, the taming of a wild lefty can be done. Whether it can be done by the Orioles is a question still to be resolved.
It’ll be interesting to see whether the Orioles continue the short start business into next season. Scott would seem to be ticketed to move up to Norfolk after holding Double-A batters to a 2.22 ERA there - that despite the command problems. The O’s will be crossing their fingers and hoping they can polish Scott into a late-inning reliever of O’s bullpens into the future.