Prospect Profile: Vin Mazzaro
Oakland drafted Mazzaro in the third round in 2005, out of high school in Rutherford, New Jersey. He signed late, and based on scouting reports I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2006 book. Scouts liked his 90 MPH sinker, and felt both his breaking ball and changeup had the potential to improve a great deal. It was also hoped that as a cold-weather high school pitcher, his arm had fewer miles on it than guys from warmer climes.
He didn't make his pro debut until 2006, going 9-9, 5.05 with an 81/42 K/BB in 119 innings for Kane County in the Midwest League, allowing 146 hits. His control was OK, but his strikeout rate was below average and he was very hittable. Scouting reports indicated that he had a solid 90 MPH sinker, and that his curveball had plus moments, but that his changeup needed work, his command within the strike zone wasn't the best, and his stuff tended to flatten out when he overthrew. The numbers were certainly unimpressive, and he got hit around pretty bad in one Midwest League game I saw, showing poor command of below average stuff in that game. I gave him a Grade C in the 2007 book, writing that gradual improvement was more likely than a big breakthrough.
Mazzaro moved up to Stockton in the California League in 2007. Once again his performance was mediocre: 9-12, 5.33 with a 115/71 K/BB in 154 innings, 159 hits allowed. His strikeout rate rose slightly, but his walks were up significantly. Scouts reported his fastball at 88-92 MPH, still with the good sinking action, but his curveball and changeup regressed and his control was less reliable. I gave him another Grade C in the 2008 book, writing that there was "no objective evidence of a turnaround on the horizon," but that given his youth it was always possible.
Things turned around quickly in 2008. He began the year at Double-A Midland, an aggressive posting after two poor A-ball seasons, but he responded to the challenge by going 12-3, 1.90 in 22 starts with a 104/36 K/BB in 137 innings, 115 hits allowed. His velocity improved from 88-92 into the 90-93 range, hitting 94-95 when he was fresh early in the year. He added an improved slider to replace the weak curve, and showed better feel for his changeup, though it remained a so-so pitch overall. He also improved his command and pitched with greater confidence. On the other hand, a late trial for Triple-A Sacramento went poorly: 6.15 ERA with a 27/9 K/BB in 34 innings, with an ugly 49 hits allowed. A late report in Triple-A indicated his velocity was down again, his breaking stuff lacked crispness, and he looked tired late in the year.
I raised his grade to B- in the 2009 book. I was impressed by the Texas League performance and the improved slider, but the Triple-A struggle worried me, and I had a nagging suspicion that he would fall back to Earth this year. I wrote "He's got two and one quarter seasons of bad pitching under his belt, and three-quarters of one good season to his credit." I also wrote that he still had youth on his side, and that learning how to fail and then rebound was an important skill.
It looks like my suspicion was totally off-base. Mazzaro was very strong in Triple-A this year, posting a 2.38 ERA with a 44/17 K/BB in 57 innings, allowing just 42 hits and a .205 average against. He won his first major league start this week, and given Oakland's need for starting pitching he will be given plenty of additional chances. I still have some concerns: he walked four guys in his 6.1 innings, with just one strikeout, and a ratio like that won't lead to success over the longer term. But it's clear he's made substantial improvements improving his stuff and refining his command, way ahead of where he was two years ago. I think he can be a solid number three type starter if he continues to refine his secondary stuff and if he stays healthy. He has made my predictions look pretty bad the last couple of years, so we'll see how that expectation holds.