This article is part of our Scouting Pitchers series.
Let's look at two young starters in the NL Central. Gallardo is a hot prospect who arrived in Milwaukee sooner than expected and was one of the Brewers' most effective starters in the second half. Expectations will surely be high for him in 2008. Rodriguez took some steps toward establishing himself as a rotation starter in 2007 as he struck out 158, good for 10th among all big league lefties. The big story with him was his dominance at home (6-3, 2.94 ERA) and struggles on the road (3-10, 6.37). I use the standard 20-80 scouting scale to rate pitchers:
80 Outstanding (96+ MPH fastball, 88+ MPH slider, 82 MPH curveball) 70 Well above average (94-95 FB, 86-87 MPH SL, 80-81 MPH CB) 60 Above average (92-93 MPH FB, 84-85 MPH SL, 78-79 MPH CB) 50 Average (89-91 MPH FB, 82-84 MPH SL, 75-77 MPH CB) 40 Below average (86-88 MPH FB, 79-81 MPH SL, 73-75 MPH CB) 30 Well below average (83-85 MPH FB, 76-78 MPH SL, 71-72 MPH CB) 20 Poor (80-82 MPH FB, 71-75 MPH SL, 69-70 MPH CB)
I scout these pitchers personally, recording their velocity, pitch selection and motions by watching their games. Please feel free to post your comments below on these columns. I hope these scouting reports start discussions.
Milwaukee drafted the righthanded Gallardo (6-1, 209, Born 2/27/1986) with a second-round pick in the 2004 draft out of a Texas high school. He dominated all through the minor leagues, starting in 2005 in the Sally League (8-3, 2.74 ERA in 121 innings). Gallardo really broke out in 2006 as he led the minors in strikeouts with 188 between Class A and Double-A and finished third in ERA (1.86).
Gallardo opened 2007 at Triple-A and won eight of his 13 starts, posting a 2.90 ERA and finishing his minor league seasoning. He required just 380 minor league innings, comparing favorably to other prodigies drafted out of high school: Dwight Gooden, (269.2) Kerry Wood (279.2), and Rick Ankiel (307.1). Gallardo made his major league debut on June 18th by beating the Giants, and was put in the Brewers rotation for good by mid-July.
Gallardo allowed three earned runs or less in 13 of his 17 starts, and only an 11-run debacle in Colorado on August 8th prevented his ERA (3.67) from being even more impressive. His 101 strikeouts ranked sixth among all rookies, and fifth if you don't count the veteran Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Yovani Gallardo: (G/F 0.88) Rating: %Thrown: Fastball 60 55 Curveball 60 20 Slider 50 10 Changeup 55 15 Control 60 Delivery 50 Composure 65
Gallardo's overall package of stuff, command and composure are very impressive for a 21-year-old. His fastball runs from 91 to 96 MPH and he usually locates it well. Gallardo's curveball ranges from 73-80 MPH and is a good strikeout pitch: he can bury it in the dirt or dart it around the strike zone. Gallardo's 83-86 MPH changeup and 83-87 MPH slider are also quality pitches. They have similar action, which makes it hard to tell them apart.
Gallardo's control is also an asset, as he mixes his pitches well and moves his fastball in and out. He has a knack for pitching out of trouble, allowing just a .232 average with RISP. Gallardo tends not to miss over the plate when he does miss his target, which has helped build his reputation as a "natural." He appears to read hitters well and pitch to their weaknesses.
There isn't much not to like here. There is great separation between Gallardo's fastball and breaking ball, but less between these and his slider and change. Gallardo needs his good stuff or good control, and struggles when he doesn't have either. His motion is fluid, but he drops his arm enough to hint of future elbow troubles. The opposition might be able to run on his motion. Gallardo also tips off his changeup and breaking balls a little. Top pitchers tend to throw more ground balls than he does.
Gallardo already has everything he needs to be a big winner. All he has to do is stay healthy and refine his control, which won't be easy. Wood, Gooden and Ankiel were all outstanding in their early 20's, but ran into injuries and inconsistency. Gallardo is still an excellent bet to develop into a #2 starter.
The lefthanded Rodriguez (5-10, 160, Born 1/18/1979), formerly known as Eny Cabreja, was signed by the Astros as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 1999. He was not regarded as a hot prospect because of his small size and mediocre fastball. Rodriguez posted good totals in Class A from 2001 to 2004, winning 23 games with a 3.52 ERA and striking out 276 in his first 344 innings. Rodriguez found Double-A tougher in 2004, going 11-8 with a 4.48 ERA in the hitter-happy Texas league.
The Astros deemed Rodriguez ready after just eight Triple-A starts in 2005, and he predictably struggled at first, surrendering 40 earned runs in his first 50 innings. Rodriguez righted the ship in the second half, going 6-6, 4.44 in 79 innings to earn some work in the Division and World Series. In 2006, the lefty won nine games in the first half, but with a 5.07 ERA. Houston farmed him out to Triple-A and put him in the bullpen in the second half of what was an ineffective year (5.64 ERA).
Rodriguez showed flashes of dominance at home in 2007, as on July 6th when he shut out the Mets on four hits and a walk with eight strikeouts. But the Cubs lit him up for seven runs in his next outing. He finished the year 9-13 with a 4.58 ERA.
Wandy Rodriguez: (G/F 0.97) Rating: %Thrown: Fastball 55 60 Curveball 70 35 Slider N/A Changeup 50 5 Control 50 Delivery 65 Composure 50
Rodriguez' approach is uncomplicated, too much so for his own good. He works quickly as he moves his 86-91 MPH four-seam fastball and his 74-79 MPH curveball around. Rodriguez' curveball is his out pitch, and it has excellent movement. He wisely doesn't rely on it too much. Rodriguez' fastball has good velocity for a lefthander but is straight, and he has a hard time locating it low. He is a flyball pitcher, which explains the 39 dingers he has allowed the last two years.
Rodriguez needs to develop and throw a third pitch. I haven't seen a slider and have seen just an occasional 81-85 MPH changeup out of him. Two pitches aren't enough to support 200 innings unless they are overpowering, which Rodriguez isn't. Rodriguez' limited repertoire helps to explain his extreme home/road split. Since he works quickly, this helps him when he's rolling but works against him when he's being hit.
Rodriguez has good enough stuff and control to be a fifth or sixth starter, but until he expands his repertoire, don't count on him for more.
Trivia question: Of the top 10 lefties in strikeouts in 2007, just one began the season older than 30. Who was it?
Article first appeared 1/9/08