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Collette Calls: Arms Race

Jason Collette

Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. He covers the Tampa Bay Rays at You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Towers of Power Baseball Hour Podcast on iTunes. He was selected as the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year by FSWA in 2013.

He has pitched 358 innings in his career. He has allowed just 318 hits, 16 home runs, has walked 100 while striking out 428. He has struck out at least 10 batters in seven different starts this season and after his latest win on July 24 he is 8-3 with a 2.00 ERA with 128 strikeouts and 34 walks in 108 innings of work. No, his name is not Matt Moore and no, he does not not throw 96. His name is Eric Surkamp and he is yet another pitching prospect for the pitching-rich San Francisco Giants organization whose name may or may not pop up in trade talks as we get closer to the trade deadline this weekend.

Surkamp was the 177th pick in the 2008 draft out of North Carolina State University. He was a starter all three seasons for the Wolfpack, but struggled with control even as his strikeout rate went from 7.2 to 7.9 to 10.5 K/9IP in his three seasons in Raleigh. He signed the same season he was drafted and threw just 17 innings that season for the two lowest levels in the Giants' organization. In 2009, he reported to Augusta, Georgia and went 11-5 with a 3.30 ERA striking out 169 and walking just 39 in 131 innings. In 2010, he took his talents to the launching pads of the California League and was 4-2 with a 3.11 ERA and 108 strikeouts and just 22 walks in 101 innings before going down with a hip injury that would require surgery and shut him down for the season. This season, his work has been incredible at Richmond in the Eastern League he has the best ERA of all starting pitchers in the league and is one strikeout behind Brad Peacock of the Nationals who was just recently promoted to Triple-A.

By his own admission, Surkamp is a four-pitch pitcher who throws a curveball, changeup, slider, and a fastball that sits at 87 and gets up to 90 mph on a good day. Being able to throw just two pitches consistently for strikes is a good skill for the lower levels of the minor leagues and one of the reasons Surkamp was so successful against the Low-A and High-A batters. That said, the fact he can throw all four of his pitches for strikes, along with the delivery he has, is what allows him to put up the kind of statistics that match the fireballers such as Moore and Peacock while throwing eight miles an hour slower most outings.

Of the four pitches, it is his curveball that has given batters a lot of trouble this season. He throws a spike curve (see picture) and John O'Connor of the Richmond-Times Dispatch tells us exactly how Surkamp utilizes his curveball (from earlier this season).

He delivers a slow one with a rounded break. Surkamp uses that early in counts. And he throws one that approaches the plate at a higher velocity and dives diagonally. Surkamp usually unveils that with two strikes.
The late break and Surkamp's command help his curve tame right-handed hitters as well as lefties. Surkamp starts the curve in the strike zone against a righty. It falls toward the hitter's back foot and, typically, below his swing plane. Of Surkamp's 41 strikeout victims, 36 are righties.

O'Connor used a lot of words while Surkamp's skipper used one to describe the pitch - "Devastating."

While this is not a video of that devastating curveball in action, it is one of Surkamp in game action so you can get a feel for his delivery (shot by MLBProspectPortal)

He has the size (6-foot-4) of a power pitcher, and he has the stats of a power pitcher in his minor league career but he lacks the velocity of a power pitcher. He has passed the first test jumping to Double-A and picking up right where he left off but the jump to Triple-A will be a bigger test. Frankly, it is surprising the Giants have not made the decision to move him up over the final few weeks of the minor league season to see how he handles it. It would be fantastic if they could do that before August 10th when I am slated to be in Omaha that day to catch the Stormchasers host the Grizzlies.

James Shields is not going to be dealt and it does not appear that Ubaldo Jimenez or Hunter Pence will be either. The biggest name on the market is Carlos Beltran, who cannot be offered arbitration after this season and that limits the type of prospect the Mets can demand in return. When the trade market is going to be dominated by relievers and lesser impact players, it's not the premier prospects that will be involved, but guys such as Surkamp who are at the next level. If he can hold up to the Triple-A test and lands in the right Major League stadium (hello, Citi!), he could be a very intriguing fantasy asset as soon as this time next season.

Speaking of Matt Moore, I had the chance to interview him on my local radio show this past weekend. Click here to hear the interview as he was quite insightful about his change in approach to pitching this season, and making note of who has helped him through that process. Moore also talks about what he is doing differently this season to help bring things all together.