This article continues my series on prospects identified by position.
This time I'm looking at left-handed pitchers. I make no distinction between starters or relievers, as many times a pitcher's role changes from his minor league to major league experience.
There are certain qualities about left-handed pitchers that I have observed over the years. It is difficult to point to each of these as proven fact based upon any scientific studies. However, I abide by these when I evaluate players.
I usually give left-handed pitchers more time to develop command and control. As is the case with most pitchers, command is the last quality to fully develop. However, in many lefties it really does take longer.
Most hitters - especially power hitters - like to extend their arms. Their swing is a bit longer with more extension. A hitter that can fight off an inside pitch has very quick hands and wrists.
As a consequence, I look for pitchers that are willing to pitch inside - a quality that is difficult to master, but essential. It's important for all pitchers, but especially for lefties using breaking balls that “finish” over the plate. Any pitcher that can jam a hitter inside is usually very tough to hit. Probably more so if the pitcher is left-handed.
General Qualities Of Pitchers
There are organizations in baseball that place a premium on big, strong pitchers. The bigger and stronger the better, goes their thinking. I get that. However, there are small frame pitchers with amazing arms that are the equal or better than their bigger counterparts. Ron Guidry, Billy Wagner and Roy Oswalt were far from big and strong, just to name a few. So I don't eliminate pitchers based upon size.
For me, the first quality that makes a winning pitcher is his ability to throw strike one early in the at-bat. That has to be followed by throwing strikes and not going deep into counts.
The next crucial component in my opinion is a pitcher's ability to use both sides of the plate and change the eye level of the hitter by pitching up and down in the zone (up less frequently). Inside, outside, up and down. Never in the middle. The hitter owns the middle of the plate. Any hitter. Any size. At any classification in professional baseball someone with a bat in his hand can hit a fastball in the middle of the plate.
I want to see a pitcher take charge on the mound. He should own every at-bat, not the hitter. The pitcher has control. The pitcher knows what he is throwing. He knows what's coming next. The batter does not. The pitcher has the trump card. Good advance scouts pick up tendencies. Pitchers should not be predictable.
Against the opposition's best hitters, I want to see a pitcher primarily use only part of his repertoire the first time through the order. I'd like that third and fourth pitch ready in the arsenal for the next two to three times the hitter comes to bat.
In their prime, modern day pitchers that mastered the craft of changing speeds, changing eye levels and keeping hitters off balance included guys like Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, and Tim Lincecum, to name a few. The hitter had no idea what was coming next. Today, Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish and Adam Wainwright are a few full repertoire pitchers with the ability to change eye levels and impact balance pitch to pitch.
Some pitchers can make a living on one outstanding, unhittable pitch. Mariano Rivera has done it with a devastating cutter. He throws that pitch 89% of the time. But generally, I am looking for a guy that can throw four quality pitches for strikes-as a starting pitcher.
Relievers are totally different. In today's game, they have a very specific role. One reliever bridges to another. Generally a club will keep at least one long man to pitch early in games. It's usually someone that has been stretched out as a starter. The seventh, eighth and ninth inning guys tend to have power arms or a proven "out" pitch. In today's world of closers, beyond Mariano Rivera, I tend to lean to a pitcher like Tom Wilhelmsen of the Mariners. He just doesn't get enough opportunities. I like him because he throws strikes, has swing-and-miss velocity location and can throw an incredible breaking pitch to put a hitter away. He got roughed up badly in an outing recently, but that was because he couldn't throw strikes. It's absolutely essential to throw strikes away from the middle of the plate.
Finally, I want to talk about velocity.
Yes, I look at velocity. However, I look at how velocity changes from the first inning on. Like everyone, I'm interested in how fast a pitcher can throw the baseball. I'm more interested in where the pitcher throws the baseball. I have often said that pitching is like real estate - it's location, location, location. Velocity is best when the pitcher is smart enough to change speeds - take something off and add something. A straight 97 mph fastball will usually get pounded in the big leagues. A moving 89 mph fastball has a better chance of being beaten into the ground as a hitter hits the top of the ball while it sinks.
Consistent reduction in velocity from inning to inning could mean fatigue, injury or poor mechanical execution. That's why I look at inning-to-inning velocity as a key indicator of a pitcher's ability to continue on the mound.
Finally, a bit about the catcher. The catcher is the most important position player on the field in my opinion. Even more important than the shortstop or center fielder. The catcher is the shepherd to his pitcher. He controls the flow of the game. He sets the pace, the tone and the repertoire. A good catcher knows every opposition hitter's tendencies, holes in his swing, strengths and weaknesses. A good catcher knows his pitcher's abilities and inabilities. That's why Yadier Molina is so great. He knows his staff. He knows the opposition. Not to mention the gun he has for a throwing arm. And that's why Trevor Bauer made such a horrible first impression in Phoenix. He shook off Miguel Montero over and over in Bauer's first outing as a member of the Diamondbacks. Montero is a very good defensive catcher. Bauer couldn't restore the damage that had been done.
Impact Left-Handed Pitching Prospects
Tyler Skaggs - Diamondbacks
Jerry Dipoto doesn't get the credit he deserves for trading Dan Haren to the Angels for lefties Patrick Corbin, Joe Saunders, righty Rafael Rodriguez and the player to be named later - the third lefty, Tyler Skaggs. What a fantastic trade. Skaggs is going to be an extremely important part of the rotation because he can command his pitches. He had a great start against the Rangers and will likely be in the rotation full-time by next season. His best pitch is his 11-to-5 curveball that he commands very well. That, more than a 93 mph fastball is his “out” pitch. He has superb mound presence for a young guy. If he really develops his changeup as a “go to” third pitch, he'll be even better.
Tony Cingrani - Reds
What more does he have to prove? He had an outstanding major league debut where he threw 33 innings and gave up only 25 hits. He walked nine while striking out 41. The opposition hit .212 off him. His ERA was 3.27 with a WHIP of 1.03. Ah, the luxury of starting pitching. The Reds have it. Cingrani will be back when Leake leaks or Cueto goes down again or something else happens. I really, really like Cingrani.
He can throw the fastball at 92-95 mph and complement that pitch with an average to below average slider and changeup. Both pitches still need work, but he can be very tough to hit because he moves the ball around. He's long and lean and that arm gets in the face of the hitter quickly.
Max Fried - Padres
The Padres selected Fried out of high school in the first round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. That means they (and we) have to wait a while. But when he's ready, he'll make an impact. He is a full repertoire pitcher with a nice velocity fastball that can set up his breaking balls very well. He has command and control at the young age of 19. He's currently pitching well at Low-A Fort Wayne, and he should progress quickly. The Padres need him badly. His fastball and curve are his main two pitches. Not a true power pitcher, he can bring the fastball at 94 mph, but fool hitters with the curve and change. He could ultimately be an ace if his secondary pitches develop.
Andrew Heaney - Miami Marlins
Heaney is not a guy we hear much about. He's currently pitching well at High-A Jupiter. He's got a complete repertoire with a very good slider that works off a competent, but not overpowering fastball in the low-to-mid-90s with movement.
He's a smart guy with an ability to get hitters out. Now 21, Heaney is a product of a good Oklahoma State baseball program. Keep your eye on him. The Marlins need him in the rotation and he'll move quickly. He has collegiate experience which has helped him advance. He knows how to pitch.
Danny Hultzen - Mariners
Sidelined by a rotator cuff issue in April, Hultzen is currently disabled and hasn't pitched since April 19th. I have concern. If healthy, he's got excellent mound presence and enough ability to warrant his No. 2 overall selection in 2011. Be warned about Hultzen. Other than the rotator cuff issue, he has been known to lose command quickly, as he did following a promotion to Triple-A last season after dominating and throwing Double-A strikes. I still like his future, if he can prove to be healthy.
His two best pitches are his 94 mph fastball and very deceptive changeup. It's the changeup that induces the swings and misses. How the injury impacts his future is yet to be determined, but I worry about shoulders.
Henry Owens - Red Sox
Owens is the real deal and should be looked upon as the successor to Jon Lester as the dominant lefty in the Red Sox rotation. He's still a couple of seasons away, but his good feel for pitching and his advanced maturity on the mound will help him advance in the system. He has three plus pitches in his fastball, curve and changeup. Tall and lean, Owens will depend more on location than velocity to retire hitters. I think he'll make an impact. He's quite a long way away, but he has the ability to pitch downhill and change the eye level of hitters.
The Next Group: A Tad Below Impact
Martin Perez - Rangers
Perez has experienced the issue of command problems, especially with his secondary pitches. If he can get settled into throwing strikes, he has a very deep repertoire of pitches that can get any lineup out. His changeup might be his best pitch. He also throws a curve and a low-90s fastball. Now major league ready in the eyes of the Rangers, Perez still has work to do. I've seen lots of his starts. I like his mechanics, but I really don't see that much upside remaining.
Justin Nicolino - Blue Jays
The Jays included Nocolino in the huge trade with Miami. It's a deal that I think is already haunting Toronto. Nicolino is a good pitcher with a bright future, but not as an impact starter. He has a high-80s low-90s fastball and an excellent changeup that he can work off the fastball. His curve is a work in progress and is probably his least developed pitch. His pitch sequencing is his bread and butter. He's a tall and lean guy that knows how to pitch.
Jesse Biddle - Phillies
Fans will be clamoring for Biddle as the season progresses. He's an outstanding full repertoire pitcher. He won't be a superstar, but he'll be very good as a rotation starter in Philly. I do worry about him falling behind in counts and then having to come in with a cookie. That could be a killer in that home park. His command is key - and it's improving all the time. He uses the entire plate and gets hitters out. A pitcher on the rise. He could be on the impact list. He doesn't overpower hitters, throwing the heat at about 90-93 mph, but he also has a good curveball. He uses the entire plate, and that's where he makes his living.
Robbie Erlin - Padres
All Erlin does is get guys out. Not fancy, not overpowering, just efficient. Erlin is a nasty, crafty guy on the smallish side. Although he was returned to Triple-A after a spot start with the Padres on Saturday, Erlin will get some quality starts in that spacious ballpark once he returns to San Diego. I don't like him as much for strikeouts as I do for controlling the opposition by giving up few runs and few walks. A fastball at 92 mph and very, very good curveball and a changeup make up his repertoire.
Drake Britton - Red Sox
Highly regarded by the Red Sox, Britton is currently pitching at Double-A Portland. He induces groundballs with a good sinking fastball, but is still working on his command. Once he can throw strikes consistently, he has a chance to help. Britton has a full repertoire of pitches but his mechanics need work. He throws a fastball that tops out at 94 mph and a curveball, slider and changeup as secondary pitches. All are quality, but the slider needs the most work.
Nick Maronde - Angels
Here's a sleeper for you. Originally a starter, Maronde has been moved to the bullpen by the Angels, but he has enough velocity and repertoire to start, easily. Maronde has a very strong arm, and can blow hitters away with a 95 mph fastball. It's his slider and changeup that I really like. Both are in development and those pitches could return him to being a rotation starter. Keep your eye on him.
Adam Morgan - Phillies
Morgan is flying through the Phillies system. In only his third season after leaving the University of Alabama, he is already at Triple-A Lehigh at age-23. The former third-round pick is scuffling a bit at the higher classification, but he has a nice ceiling. He is basically a fastball only guy, and that could hurt him, but his fastball is coming in now at 94 mph.
Justin Wilson - Pirates
This is a very, very good pitcher. I've written a profile of him for MLB.com. He's working out of the bullpen, but if the Pirates wish to convert him, he has the stuff to start. When I saw him, he threw in the high-90s and reached 97 mph with ease. He also has a curve, a slider and a changeup - certainly more than enough command and repertoire to start.
Kevin Siegrist - Cardinals
I saw Siegrist in the AFL and I may rate him higher than most scouts or analysts. The Cardinals have converted him to the bullpen. He's has very good command and everything he throws seems to move. He's currently at Triple-A Memphis, after a recent promotion. I think the Cards have plans for him.
Enny Romero - Rays
Romero is pitching for Double-A Montgomery in the Southern League. He's with a pitching rich organization and he's doing well, making steady progress at 22 years old. He has started 11 games, but he's walking too many hitters. He has to work on his command, as his stuff is fine. They aren't hitting him. He has a fastball that touches 97 mph, and he is tall and thin with a curveball that can finish off hitters.
Blake Snell - Rays
Snell is still in Low-A ball, as he's only 20. Remember his name because he's one of those Tampa pitchers that has a chance to really dominate. Like Romero, Snell can bring the fastball - he hits 95 mph, a bit shorter than Romero. His slider is his second best pitch, right behind the fastball. Long and lean like Romero, these two are the big lefties in the system. Snell has work to do on his curve and changeup.
Daniel Norris - Blue Jays
Norris is a highly touted lefty in the depleted Blue Jays system. He is scuffling right now at Low-A Lansing in his age-19 season. His issue is - you guessed it - command. He's walking too many hitters and he's still learning how to pitch. He has a fine arm and he knows how to keep the ball down in the strike zone. He tops out at 96 mph, but he has a good curve and change to go with the heat.
Disappointing To Say the Least
Tyler Matzek - Rockies
Much has been written about Matzek since he was selected by the Rockies with their first-round selection in 2009. It seems like he's been around longer than his parts of four seasons. The problem? Command. This season alone, Matzek has walked 31 in 51 innings - far too many, but he still has potential. He has a fastball that he can bring from 91-95 mph, a very good slider, a curve and a less developed changeup. Matzek has a chance to succeed. Throwing strikes will be required.
James Paxton - Mariners
I have seen enough of Paxton to realize he won't help me on my fantasy teams. He's just too easy to hit and that trend has continued in 2013. He's pitching for Triple-A Tacoma where he's given up 58 hits in 50.2 innings. Too many. Add in the 22 walks and it yields a WHIP of 1.579. Paxton throws a very straight upper-90s fastball. The lack of movement is the concern. He gets clobbered when he's at 97 and 98 mph. He has a good curve and a not so good changeup. If he can't keep the ball out of the center of the plate he'll continue to get rocked.
Mike Montgomery - Rays
Once a gem in the Royals system, Montgomery continues to struggle to throw strikes. He, like Paxton, has trouble locating pitches. He is pitching at Triple-A Durham where his ERA is currently 5.27 with a WHIP of 1.756. Yikes! Montgomery's best pitch is his changeup, but he has to get the fastball to work if he wants to change eye levels and balance with his change.
Others to Watch
David Holmberg - Diamondbacks
Sean Gilmartin - Braves
Alex Wood - Braves
Eduardo Rodriguez - Orioles
Tim Berry - Orioles
Brian Johnson - Red Sox
Ismael Guillon - Reds
Luis Lugo - Indians
Scott Barnes - Indians
Tyler Anderson - Rockies
Jayson Aquino - Rockies
Casey Crosby - Tigers
Sam Selman - Royals
Chris Reed - Dodgers
Onelki Garcia - Dodgers
Adam Conley - Marlins
Jed Bradley - Brewers
Mason Melotakis - Twins
Nik Turley - Yankees
Mike Kickham - Giants
Adalberto Mejia - Giants
Felipo Rivero - Rays
Joe Ortiz - Rangers
Sammy Solis - Nationals
Matt Purke - Nationals
Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff and on MLB.com in the Voices section.