Prospect Retro, per reader request: Kirk Saarloos
Kirk Saarloos was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 3rd round of the 2001 draft, out of Cal State Fullerton. He was an excellent pitcher in college, going 15-2, 2.18 with a 153/23 K/BB for Fullerton before the draft. But his lack of a hot fastball kept him out of the first two rounds. He pitched in 22 games for Class A Lexington after signing, posting a 1.17 ERA and a 40/7 K/BB in 31 innings, obviously way ahead of the Sally League with his pitchability. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2002 book, writing that he would have a good career as a middle man.
Moved up to Double-A Round Rock in 2002, Saarloos converted back to the starting rotation and was spectacular in the first half, going 10-1, 1.40 in 13 starts with a 82/21 K/BB ratio. He also went 2-0, 2.25 in 2 starts for Triple-A New Orleans, with a 19/2 K/BB. Promoted to Houston and inserted in the rotation, he pitched well at times, going 6-7 in 17 starts, but was hit hard often enough to post a 6.01 ERA.
Saarloos split '03 between Triple- A and the Majors, pitching well at New Orleans. He was better in the Majors than he had been in '02, but his performance was still far from spectacular (4.93 ERA in 36 games) and the Astros began to sour on him. Traded to Oakland in April, 2004, he was dogged by elbow problems for part of the season and ended up pitching just 24 innings for Oakland. Healthy again in '05, he is 7-6, 4.06 in 18 starts, but his K/BB ratio of 32/34 in 109 innings is weak and does not project well for his future.
Saarloos was brilliant in college and the low minors, and just as effective in Double-A, with strong K/BB ratios and a sound K/IP for a guy who doesn't burn the guns. He virtually skipped Triple-A when the Astros stuck him in the Show in 2002, which is always a risk, particularly for finesse pitchers like Saarloos who don't have great stuff and live on the margins of the strike zone. Guys like this often need extra adjustment time. Although he has done well this year, I can't say I'm particularly confident in his ability to pitch well for a long period of time, at least as a starter. The K/IP really concerns me. I still believe he would do better if used as a middle reliever, once through the order, to avoid overexposure.