Not a Rookie: Brad Bergesen
Brad Bergesen was drafted by the Orioles in the fourth round in 2004, out of high school in Foothill, California. He showed a 90-95 MPH fastball in high school, but his secondary pitches and command needed a lot of work, and he needed to be bought away from the University of San Diego. The Orioles did so, then sent him to the Appy League for his pro debut. He pitched six relief innings, allowing five runs but fanning six with three walks. I put him in the 2005 book as a Grade C prospect, noting his arm strength but also his need for polish and experience.
Bergesen moved up to the New York-Penn League for 2005, going 1-3, 4.82 with a 54/14 K/BB in 71 innings, 89 hits allowed. His walk rate as low, but otherwise his performance was unimpressive. I rated him as a Grade C arm but did not put him in the 2006 book due to space reasons. There are a lot of guys in A-ball like this at any one time, and he didn't stand out statistically or scouting-wise.
Promoted to the Sally League in 2006, Bergesen went 5-4, 4.27 with a 49/10 K/BB in 86 innings, allowing 97 hits. Again, his walk rate was very low, but the K/IP and hit rates were not impressive. He was showing he could throw strikes with his sinker, but his secondary pitches remained substandard. Still a Grade C.
Bergesen began 2007 with Delmarva again, going 7-3, 2.19 with a 73/17 K/BB in 94 innings, 75 hits allowed. Scouts reported he still had the excellent command, and his strikeout rate and hit rates were improved due to a better changeup and slider. However, he went backwards after being moved to the Carolina League, going 3-6, 5.75 in 10 starts with a 35/9 K/BB in 56 innings, 78 hits allowed. Again, the control was there, but the strikeouts and hits slipped again. I still had him as a Grade C.
The turnaround came in 2008. He began at Frederick, posting a 2.08 ERA in 17 innings with a 15/6 K/BB. Promoted to Double-A, he showed that the improvements with his slider and changeup were for real, going 15-6, 3.22 with a 72/27 K/BB in 148 innings, 143 hits. The strikeout rate was still low, but scouting reports were positive.
In the book this year, I wrote that Bergesen's margin for error wasn't great, but "he has a shot at developing into a workhorse inning-eater. . .with some potential to pull a Nick Blackburn on us." I gave him a Grade C+ this year.
Bergesen is indeed pulling a Nick Blackburn, being 5-2, 3.53 in 14 starts for the Orioles, with a 46/19 K/BB in 92 innings, 87 hits allowed.These ratios are extremely similar to what Blackburn did in his surprise season for the Twins last year:
Bergesen 2009 4.5 K/9 1.9 BB/9 8.5 H/9 1.16 WHIP 3.53 ERA
Blackburn 2008 4.5 K/9 1.8 BB/9 10.4 H/9 1.36 WHIP 4.05 ERA
The difference so far is that Bergesen has a lower hit rate this year compared to Blackburn's last year, but everything else is a carbon copy.
Scouting-wise, Blackburn and Bergesen aren't exactly identical, as their pitch/fx data shows: Here is Bergesen pitch/fx Here is Blackburn. Their fastballs has similar movement but their other pitches work differently and they use different areas of the strike zone.
Physicall, Blackburn is two inches taller and throws harder, his fastball averaging 91 MPH as opposed to 89 for Bergesen. Bergesen gets more grounders and has a lower home run allowed rate so far in his career. I still believe that both pitchers have to prove they can succeed consistently; their strikeout rates still concern me as a long-term indicator.
All that said, Bergesen has done very well this year, and as long as he remains healthy he can be an effective strike-throwing inning-eater, a good example of how a pitcher without piles of press clippings and a 97 MPH fastball can sneak up on us if he has a feel for his craft. And the statistical parallel to what Blackburn did last year is uncanny. My psychic powers must have been working well when I wrote that comment.