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Prospect Retro: Roy Halladay

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Per Reader Request, a Prospect Retro for Roy Halladay

Roy Halladay was drafted in the first round by the Blue Jays in 1995, out of high school in Arvada, Colorado. The 17th overall pick, he was assigned to the Gulf Coast League and pitched well, going 3-5 in ten games but posting a solid 3.40 ERA and a 48/16 K/BB in 50 innings. I didn't give letter grades to new draft picks back then, but nowadays I'd probably have given him a Grade B at that point. Halladay's fastball was just average at that point, but he had an excellent breaking ball, and scouts felt his velocity would pick up after he matured physically.

Moved aggressively to the Florida State League in 1996, Halladay went 15-7, 2.73 in 27 starts. He posted a 109/46 K/BB ratio in 165 innings. His command was very impressive, but his K/IP was below average. As scouts expected, his velocity increased, up to 95 MPH at times. Oddly, this didn't improve his strikeout rate. Still, it was a solid overall season, and I gave him a Grade B+ in the 1997 book, rating him as the number 31 prospect in the game.

Halladay split 1997 between Double-A Knoxville and Triple-A Syracuse, going 9-13 with a combined 4.77 ERA. His K/BB was unimpressive at 94/64 in 162 innings. His numbers were all mediocre or worse, and it looked to me like he was being mishandled very badly by the Jays. I reduced him to Grade B in the 1998 book, still a solid rating, but was concerned that he was heading for trouble because of the way they were pushing him too quickly. "I'm not sure the Blue Jays will give him enough time to ripen. . .he is a candidate for Matt Drews Disease," I wrote, referencing the failed Yankees prospect who fell apart after being rushed to Triple-A too quickly.

The Blue Jays gave Halladay 21 starts in for Triple-A Syracuse in 1998. He improved considerably, going 9-5, 3.79, although his K/BB remained poor at 71/53 in 116 innings. His scouting reports were positive: 95 MPH fastball, the knuckle-curve, an improving slider. He received a September cup-of-coffee and threw a one-hitter in his second major league start. I moved him back up to Grade B+, but noted that his component ratios remained problematic and warned that immediate major league success was not a sure bet. At this point, there was still a disconnect between Halladay's scouting reports and his statistics.

The Jays used Halladay as a swingman in 1999, giving him 18 major league starts but also 18 relief appearances. He pitched well overall, going 8-7, 3.92, but his K/BB was not good at all, 82/79 in 149 innings. This was a warning sign for 2000, and indeed, he completely collapsed, posting a horrid 10.64 ERA in 68 innings for the Blue Jays, and pitching quite poorly even after being demoted to the minors (5.50, 38/21 K/BB in 74 innings for Syracuse). At this point, he looked very much like a young pitcher ruined by being promoted too quickly.

Realizing that Halladay was at a critical juncture, the Blue Jays completely rebuilt his mechanics early in 2001. By the end of the season, he was pitching well at the major league level, with a 3.16 ERA in 16 starts and a 96/25 K/BB in 105 innings. This was the best K/BB ratio of his career to that point, reflecting much better command. Scouts also said that Halladay was much more confident on the mound. During his previous struggles, he appeared overly tentative and lacked confidence in his stuff. By the end of '01, he looked like a completely different pitcher, sabermetrically and traditionally.

You know the rest of the story: brilliant pitching in 2002 and 2003, injury problems in '04 and '05, though effective when healthy.

Halladay's track record as a prospect was a mixed bag, noted by good scouting reports but shaky component ratios. I wasn't surprised at all that he collapsed in 2000. But I was surprised how quickly he rebuilt his career in 2001.

The question now is, how durable can Halladay be? The shoulder problem in '04 is more worrisome than the flukey broken leg in '05, but any time shoulder stuff crops up, I worry.

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