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Prospect Retro: Jeff Suppan

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Prospect Retrospective: Jeff Suppan

Jeff Suppan was drafted in the second round in 1993, out of high school in Encino, California. He was considered to be one of the most polished high school pitchers available in the draft class, but a mediocre fastball kept him out of the first round. He pitched extremely well in his pro debut, with a 2.18 ERA and a 64/16 K/BB ratio in 58 innings in rookie ball. This was before I did prospect analysis for a living, but based on his numbers, draft position, and contemporary scouting reports I probably would have given him something like a Grade B-.

Suppan had an excellent spring training in 1994, and was assigned directly to the Florida State League, quite a jump for a guy just a year out of high school. He pitched very well, going 13-7, 3.26 in 27 starts, with a 173/50 K/BB in 174 innings. His component ratios were very strong. His fastball picked up a bit of velocity, and he refined his breaking ball and changeup. At this point he looked like a Grade B+ prospect, and some people in the national press were starting to compare him to Greg Maddux.

Promoted to Double-A in 1995, he went 6-2, 2.36 in 15 starts for Trenton, with a 88/26 K/BB in 99 innings. He went 2-3, 5.32 in 7 starts for Triple-A Pawtucket, with a nice 32/9 K/BB in 46 innings. Pushed into a major league trial, he went 1-2 5.96 in 23 innings with the Red Sox, with a 19/5 K/BB. His command was very impressive, and given his age (just 20) his performance was respectable given how rapidly he was pushed. I gave him a Grade A- in the 1996 book. Nowadays I'd probably give him a Grade B+.

Suppan spent almost all of 1996 at Pawtucket, going 10-6, 3.22 with a 142/25 K/BB in 145 innings. K/BB, K/IP, and H/IP were all very impressive, but he was hit hard in 23 innings for Boston, allowing a 7.54 ERA with a poor 13/13 K/BB. I gave him a Grade B+ in the 1997 book, but with an injury caveat: Suppan was bothered by a sore elbow that sapped his velocity in August.

Jeff spent most of 1997 in the Red Sox rotation, going 7-3 but struggling often enough to bump his ERA to 5.69. He showed good control, but was rather hittable and with a small margin for error. Disappointed that he had not turned into Greg Maddux, the Red Sox left him exposed in the expansion draft. He went to Arizona, where he went 1-7 with a 6.68 ERA for the D-Backs in '98. The Royals purchased him that fall, and he turned into an effective inning-eating starting pitcher for KC, and later the Pirates and Cardinals.

Suppan hasn't quite lived up to the potential he showed in the minors, but he's developed into a decent pitcher who can do good work if given proper offensive and defensive support. This is a case of a guy who zipped through the lower levels due to his excellent command and feel for pitching, but who didn't have quite enough velocity on his pitches to dominate major league hitters to the same extent. His current career record of 94-94, with a career ERA+ of 101 is about as perfect a representation you can have of a league-average, inning-eating starter.

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