This article is part of our John Sickels' Column series.
Three Double-A Pitching Sleepers
Here are three Double-A pitchers for your consideration. All three of these prospects entered '08 with significant question marks as well as significant potential, and all three of them have done enough in the early going this year to ease those doubts.
Anthony Swarzak, RHP, Minnesota Twins
Swarzak was a second round pick in 2004, out of high school in Fort Lauderdale. He's been rather successful as a pro, entering 2008 with a career mark of 33-23, 3.37 with a 423:137 K:BB ratio in 446 innings, including a 3.23, 76:23 K:BB in 86 innings in Double-A last year at age 21. Stuff wise, Swarzak's velocity has varied from the upper 80s into the 91-94 range. His curveball is very good, but his changeup has been inconsistent.
THE QUESTION MARK
There are two questions for Swarzak entering 2008: Can he improve his third pitch? And what about his makeup? Swarzak was suspended for 50 games last spring for violating MLB's drug ban, having tested positive for using a recreational drug. There were rumbles about Swarzak's emotional maturity before this incident, and this could have been a make or break issue for him. He came back after the suspension and worked hard to restore his reputation, but would he sustain that this spring?
Swarzak has been excellent thus far for Double-A New Britain, going 2-0, 2.08 in five starts with a 29:4 K:BB ratio in 26 innings. He's taken his stuff up a notch and improved the changeup, and his command has been outstanding. The suspension seems in the distant past now. Expect a promotion to Triple-A sometime soon, with a chance to see the Minnesota roster later in the season. He projects as a number three starter.
Daryl Thompson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Thompson was originally drafted by the Expos in 2003, an eighth-round pick out of high school in Mechanicsville, Maryland, where he drew comparisons to Oil Can Boyd due to his athleticism and plus velocity out of a shortish body (6-0, 180). His performance in the Montreal/Washington farm system was erratic; he was very effective at times, but had problems with durability and keeping his velocity consistent. Traded to the Reds as part of the Austin Kearns deal, he suffered a labrum injury and had to have surgery, sapping his velocity, but came back mostly healthy last year. His career record entering 2008 is 21-20, 3.87 with a 290:107 K:BB ratio in 356 innings, all at the A-ball and rookie levels. At his best, he can hit 92-94 MPH and features an impressive curveball and changeup.
THE QUESTION MARK
Thompson made 21 starts in the Florida State League last year and went 9-5, 3.77 with a 97:31 K:BB in 105 innings. But his fastball velocity was in the 87-89 range most of the time, well below his pre-injury standards. Could he regain his velocity and make a successful transition to Double-A in 2008? He also has a strong fly ball tendency that could hurt him at higher levels.
Thompson has been outstanding for Double-A Chattanooga, going 2-1 with a miniscule 0.57 ERA in five starts, with a superb 36:4 K:BB ratio in 31.1 innings, allowing just 20 hits. His command, which has always been good, has been stellar this spring, and he's pushed his fastball back in the lower 90s. He's still a fly ball pitcher with a 0.93 GO:AO ratio, but he's allowed just one homer thus far. Expect the Reds to be cautious with him and avoid a Triple-A promotion for awhile longer, but he could see Cincinnati in September and be a roster candidate next spring.
Matt Torra, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Matt Torra was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the supplemental first round of the 2005 draft, after leading NCAA Division I with a 1.14 ERA for the University of Massachusetts. Although he posted a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings of rookie ball work, he was shut down with a sore shoulder and had surgery to repair his labrum that autumn. He spent most of 2006 rehabbing, the came back last year and posted a 6.01 ERA with a 137:43 K:BB in 159 innings in the California League, going 12-10. It was two different seasons for Torra: he went 2-7, 8.82 in the first half of the year, but 10-3, 4.05 in the second half, with much better peripherals. When fully healthy, Torra features a 90+ fastball and an impressive curveball, along with fine command.
THE QUESTION MARKS
Was Torra's second half turnaround in '07 a harbinger of things to come this year? Or was it some sort of statistical fluke? Would he regain the 92-95 MPH fastball he showed in college? If not, will he show sufficient command to compensate? Torra has also shown lack of confidence on occasion, not trusting his arm completely after the injury.
Torra has been outstanding so far for Double-A Mobile, going 3-0, 1.74 in his first five starts, with an 18:2 K:BB in 31 innings, allowing 30 hits. He's been somewhat hittable and still hasn't regained all of his college velocity, but his secondary pitches have improved, his command has been terrific, and he's shown that his second half uptick last year wasn't a fluke. Expect Arizona to be patient with him, but stick him on your sleeper lists.
Article first appeared 5/1/08