By reader request, a Prospect Retro for John Lackey
John Lackey was drafted by the Angels in the second round of the 1999 draft, from Grayson County Junior College. Assigned to Boise in the Northwest League, he went 6-2 in 15 starts, but with a 4.98 ERA and a 77/50 K/BB in 81 innings. The K/IP was good, but he walked too many guys, poor control being responsible for his high ERA. He was mostly a first baseman in college. The Angels didn't have a first-round pick that year (due to signing Mo Vaughn as a free agent), so Lackey was their first pick. I wrote that the pick was "reckless" since Lackey was very raw, and gave him a Grade C.
Lackey made me look really bad in 2000, making rapid progress refining his control. He started off at Class A Cedar Rapids, went 3-2, 2.08 in 5 starts, then moved up to Lake Elsinore, where he posted a 3.40 ERA in 15 starts. He finished at Double-A Erie, with a 3.30 ERA, 6-1 in 8 starts, and a fine 43/9 K/BB in 57 innings. His control improved as the season progressed, as he showed a very good feel for pitching in addition to power stuff. I moved him up to Grade B in the 2001 book.
Lackey began '01 at Double-A Arkansas, and pitched very well: 9-7, 3.46 in 18 starts, 94/29 K/BB in 127 innings. Promoted to Triple-A, he was shelled down the stretch, to the tune of a 6.71 ERA and allowing 75 hits in 58 innings. He seemed tired and worn down by the end of the season, losing the zip on his pitches. I left him at Grade B in the '02 book, with the note that he "should be a good, solid pitcher" but not an ace, and that there was a risk he could blow his arm out.
2002 was a good year. He started 8-2, 2.57 in 16 starts at Salt Lake, then was promoted to the Majors in the second half, and was a major factor in Anaheim's World Series run. He followed that up with decent '03 and '04 seasons. He's been effective again this year, with a notable rise in his strikeout rate. Personally, I think he could be a surprise as a Cy Young candidate in 2006 or 2007. I have no actual evidence to back that up, just an intuition. Take it for what it or is not worth.
Lackey's trajectory is an example of how scouts WANT a raw young pitcher to develop.
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