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Touch’em All: Top MLB Sally League Pitching Prospects

South Atlantic League All Star Pitchers

Mid way through July and about half way through the 2011 season we’re getting a much clearer picture of the top performers across baseball. So we’re hopping from league to league and taking preseason ranks, to date 2011 statistical analysis and scouting reports to task to see who who’s. Today we’re looking at the South Atlantic League affectionately called the Sally by minor league baseball aficionados. Let’s take a look at the pitchers causing hitters fits.

Jesse Biddle, LHP Phillies

Philadelphia PhilliesJesse Biddle LHP Phillies (19) – Jesse Biddle was a sneaky 1st round draft pick by the Phillies, as many teams didn’t get to see enough of him on the mound prior to the draft. Biddle, being from the local area gave the Phillies a scouting edge in this case since area scouts got to see him in the small number of starts he made as a senior. Biddle is a big lefty at 6-4 and already 225. So the frame is ideal. With a low 90’s fastball and plus make up I slot him in as the top lefty in the Phillies system and the #2 overall pitching prospect in the system as well behind right-hander Trevor May. Biddle still has work to do on his secondaries, figuring out if the slider or curveball will be his breaking pitch and refining an average changeup. The good news is that he has some serious talent to look up to in the Phillies organization in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, both of whom are “pay it forward” types. As a big lefty there are definitely mechanical issues that come hand in hand often with the high upside projection. So the high walk rate with 51 BBs in 95 IP is concerning, but the 94 K’s that come along with it show the upside. Even with the high walk rate his ERA is 3.10 with a 3.58 FIP. So he’s dominating hitters right now based on his stuff. When the command comes this is a high end front-line starter type.

Colorado RockiesEdwar Cabrera LHP Rockies (23) – Edwar Cabrera is without a doubt old for the level and has recently been moved up to the Advanced A California League (CAL). The promotion was well deserved and much needed for the lefty. While Cabrera is old for each level so far in his career its hasn’t been due to a lack of success. The reasoning is more in line with a very late International signing. He didn’t start Pro-Ball until 2008. But he’s been dominant at every level striking out well over a batter per inning. Despite being smaller in stature at only 6-0 and 180 he does have a lively Fastball in the low 90’s with good movement and power change-up that he commands well and sets hitters up with. If he can refine a curveball over the next 12 months he’s back end of the rotation material. The fact that he comes from the left side and that his K-rates are so high gives him significant upside though. But more than a mid-rotation starter is a long shot.

Nik Turley LHP Yankees (21) – Nik Turley is a big lefty out of the Yankees system. He’s been moved to the High A Florida State League after a strong run in the Sally. At 6-6 and 230 lbs, you can see the upside and downside in the frame. Reports have his fastball in the low 90s and a workable curveball with a progressing change-up. I was hoping to get a close up view of Turley, but the Tampa Yankees aren’t visiting Jupiter or PSL again this season. So it’ll have to wait until 2012. But with Turley’s low BABIP in the Sally I think it will take some time for him to adjust to the next level. His K rates have been nice and his command is above average. With 82 K’s in 82.1 innings and only 21 BB’s. The FIP of under 4.00 says the ERA of  2.51, while a tad low, is still a legit mark of a pitcher doing his thing. So his frame isn’t impeding his mechanics which is a huge positive for a lefty his size.

Roman Mendez, RHP Texas Rangers / All rights reserved by John Setzler

Texas RangersRoman Mendez RHP Rangers (21) – A Red Sox International signee traded to the Rangers in the Salty deal. Roman Mendez has front-line stuff with a good amount of refinement needed. His fastball is plus already touching high 90s with good movement. The Rangers are actually using this season to refine his secondaries adding in a change-up to his Fastball/Curveball combo. The command is still lagging but not to the point where it looks like a future negative. With 94 K’s in 88 IP and a high BABIP it looks like when the command is refined and the BABIP is normalized his ERA will come down into the 3’s. There is still work to be done and command will be the deciding factor. He needs to work hard down in the zone to induce more GB’s and when that starts to be achieved he can be a true frontline starter. If he can’t bring in two above average secondaries he still has the fastball to be dominant short reliever. But at his age and level combined with current stuff there is significant upside here that I’m surprised the Red Sox let go, even if they did man-crush on Salty.

Boston Red SoxManny Rivera LHP Red Sox (21) – Manny Rivera is a 2006 signee out of the DR. He’s a smaller lefty that works hitters with advanced command and an already above average change-up. Both parts of his game are advanced for his age and with low 90s fastball at his best, Low-A hitters are too aggressive to succeed against him. With his small frame and not much room to grow I don’t see the necessary uptick in velocity coming to get him succeeding at the next level. But his performance is worth noting as he’s striking out a batter per and his walk rate is good as well. But a very low BABIP and a FIP of 4.38 tell another story. He needs a true uptick in velocity and I just don’t see it happening.

Boston Red SoxKeith Couch RHP Red Sox (21) – Keith Couch is a 2010 draftee out of NYC. He’s not very high on the prospect lists even within the Red Sox organization by the scouting community. But holds him in high standard and we can see why. With almost a K per inning and an elite walk rate, he’s only walked 9 batters all year, he’s dominating low level hitters. He has a solid frame at 6-2 and 210 and good mechanics which he repeats easily. A low 90s fastball with sink and an average curveball/changeup combo play well in the Sally where hitters are aggressive. His move to Advanced A will be telling. If he can refine his curveball into an out pitch he could stick in the rotation long term. His upside is back end of the rotation, but that’s pretty impressive for a player that isn’t exactly setting off many prospect radars yet.

Mike O’Brien RHP Yankees (21) – Mikey O’Brien is a small framed righty but has a solid leg base. His mechanics are solid and repeatable as shown by his low BB rate of 7.5%. His K rate is good at just under a batter per inning but his size and lack of a plus fastball may prove to be too much to overcome at the higher levels. He’s still working on his secondaries but shows a good curveball already. I think the FSL will hide the fact that O’Brien will have trouble with higher level hitters when he tries to work up in the zone. His low GB rate of 41% is much to low for someone without enough height to get a downhill plane on hitters. When the ball up is coming in flat to the hitters eye its going to be driven hard at the upper levels leading to high HR rates. The FSL hides that well. If he survives in the rotation through Advanced A I’ll be surprised but his Sally numbers deserved mention.

Atlanta BravesCarlos Perez LHP Braves (19) – Signed out of the DR in 2008, the Braves are taking their time with what could be a top lefty skill set in the form of 19 year old Carlos Perez. He has returned to the Sally after a very brief 2010 intro and is in the midst of his first true full season workload. Perez has good size at 6-2 and 195 wit room to still grow some. His low 90s fastball projects as a plus pitch and his curveball could be a second plus offering. His changeup lags behind and his lack of plus command is more of a lack of repeatable mechanics. So there is still a learning curve to be had here and I don’t expect him to leave the Sally this year. His current 94 IP is by far the most of his career and with 108 hits, 40 BBs and 87 Ks in that workload we aren’t talking about easy innings. Expect the Braves to back off in the second half and ease him into Advanced A in 2012. He’s a lefty, great tools and young. His 5.04 ERA is not indicative of how good he really is as shown in the sub 4 FIP. So this is a legit talent and needs to be handled with kid gloves as he refines his mechanics and builds his arm strength and innings workload.

Philadelphia PhilliesGarett Claypool RHP Phillies (22) – Claypool has been quite the dominator in the Sally this season and currently has 110 K’s in 97 innings. Quite impressive for a 6-2 right-hander without any plus pitches. The catch is that he’s a refined pitcher with good command of solid pitches and he’s toying with young talent in the Sally right now.  His GB rate is very low at 30% and his walk rate is only decent since its against aggressive hitters. I’m looking forward to seeing him the FSL next year, but I don’t see Claypool’s skill set as one that will allow him to stay in the rotation at the higher levels. He does have possible long reliever upside and his 110 K’s needed to mentioned regardless of his limited ceiling. The Phuture Phillies have an excellent write-up on Claypool that you can check out.

Pittsburgh PiratesZack Von Rosenberg RHP Pirates (20) - I’ve chosen to add a spot for Zack Von Rosenberg not because of his great numbers but because of a lack thereof. Von Rosenberg is one of the Pirates farm pitchers that is quickly being overshadowed by the presence of James Taillon and Stetson Allie. But Von Rosenberg is still a very talented and projection laden right-hander with upside. His ERA is an atrocious 7.58 and while that’s not all his fault, his FIP is still in the 5’s. So he’s getting hit to the tune of 103 hits in 78 innings. With 69 Ks and only 15 BB in that workload its a but of a mystery. At 6-5 and 205 lbs he has an ideal frame. The projected velocity uptick hasn’t happened yet, so working up in the zone is getting him touched up with 22 doubles and whopping 17 Home Runs. There’s the ERA explosion. The Northside Notch has some video of a recent Von Rosenberg relief outing. He’s working a tandem rotation currently. His mechanics look clean and he hides the ball well which leads to his good K rate. But his lack of plus velocity is going to cause him serious problems as he moves up the ladder. Since he’s only 20 I still hold out some hope that the velocity will come around and if he can work in the 93-94 range he still has mid-rotation upside.

That’s our look at the South Atlantic League as we went through the pitchers here and the hitters of the Sally can be found in our South Atlantic League All Star Hitters. Check back soon as Dave Reiffer is going to be turning up some gems in our Touch’em All: Short Season taking a look at the Northwest League and of course the New York-Penn. I’m back on the clock and moving up to Advanced A working on the Florida State League, my home away from home. Don’t forget to check out our YouTube Channel for our prospect videos.

I was born and raised in NYC. My father was a diehard Yankees fan but not biased and raised me to love the game more than any one team. For that I'm truly thankful to him. My love for the game runs deep, and after crunching numbers all day long, I tend to spend my nights at the FSL ballparks.


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