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Prospect in Retrospect: Bronson Arroyo

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Last week, we did a few retrospective prospect looks at guys like Barry Larkin and Barry Bonds. I want to continue with this series of essays, but switching subjects to guys who have more unusual backgrounds. Both Bonds and Larkin were considered potential superstars coming out of college, but I want to look at some guys who were more surprising.

Today we will start with Bronson Arroyo, who seemed to come out of nowhere last year to pitch some excellent baseball for the Red Sox. Did he really come out of nowhere?

Bronson Anthony Arroyo was drafted by the Pirates in the third round of the 1995 draft, out of high school in Brooksville, Florida. At the time, he was considered a projectable guy, not a super-hot prospect, but someone with a good pitcher's frame and a decent amount of polish.

Arroyo pitched adequately in his pro debut in the 1995 Gulf Coast League, posting a 4.26 ERA but a strong 48/9 K/BB ratio in 61 innings. I did not put him in the 1996 Minor League Scouting Notebook, since at the time I didn't write about many low-level players. He would have rated a Grade C at that point, showing some potential but a long way from being ready to help.

In 1996, Arroyo moved up to the Sally League and made a successful transition to full-season ball at age 19. He went 8-6 with a 3.52 ERA and 107/36 K/BB in 136 innings. His K/BB was very good, but his K/IP was only average. I put him in the 1997 book, with a Grade C rating. "Arroyo has a long journey ahead of him to get to the Show, but he took a good first step last year."

Arroyo continued to pitch well in 1997, going 12-4 with a 3.31 ERA and 121/33 K/BB in 160 innings for Class A Lynchburg. His velocity improved, moving from 86-88 into the 90-92 range. His K/BB remained sharp, but again his K/IP was mediocre. Still, I was impressed and gave him a Grade B in the '98 book.

Moving to Double-A for 1998, Arroyo struggled, with a 5.46 ERA and a very poor H/IP mark of 158 in 127 innings. His K/BB was 90/51, as his walk rate shot up. I dropped his rating to Grade C in the '99 book, reflecting his struggles.

He improved in '99, going 15-4 with a 3.65 ERA repeating Double-A, although his K/IP and H/IP remained below average. Still, he made enough progress that I bumped his grade back up to C+ in the 2000 book.
However, the K/IP and H/IP markers warned that he would struggle if pushed too quickly to the major leagues.

Arroyo split 2000 between the Majors and Triple-A, doing well at Nashville but being hit hard in his time with the Pirates. This was completely predictable given his Double-A ratios. He bounced between the Pirates and Triple-A through 2001 and 2002, pitching well in the minors but struggling in his Major League action. He had clearly been rushed, and would have benefited from a full season in Triple-A before extensive exposure to Major League hitters.

The Pirates gave up on him in 2003, putting him on waivers. He was claimed by the Red Sox and sent to Triple-A, where he put in a solid season for Pawtucket (12-6, 3.43, 155/23 K/BB ratio). The huge improvement in his K/IP mark in '03 was a positive sign for '04, and indeed he had a fine season for the Bosox last year.

Arroyo is a good example of a Grade C+ prospect made good. He wasn't ready for the Majors in his first exposure, a fact made clear in his minor league track record to that date. Yet he managed to keep his head together through his struggles, learning from his mistakes.

His margin for error will never be huge. His list of comparable pitchers includes names like Ed Rakow, Rick Matula, Kevin Foster, and Bob Sebra, guys who had flashes of success at age 26-27, but who weren't particularly successful in the long run. But there is one name on Arroyo's comparable list who stands out: Mike Scott, who was a very mediocre pitcher and Grade C guy until after his 30th birthday.

Bronson Arroyo Projection

G GS IP W L K BB ERA
Community 34 26 165 12 9 128 49 4.22
Forecaster ------- 166 11 8 129 42 3.90
Prospectus 27 26 154 ----- 116 42 4.24
ZIPS BTT 31 26 169 11 6 132 43 3.83