Prospect Smackdown: Craig Hansen vs. Jason Hirsh vs. Cesar Carrillo
In my Top 50 pitchers list this season, I rated Craig Hansen of Boston at number five, Jason Hirsh of Houston at number six, and Cesar Carrillo of San Diego at number seven. Thinking that this ranking might be controversial, I asked a poll question about this a few days ago. We had 384 responses to the question "Which Prospect Would You Rather Have?" The results: Hansen 44%, Carrillo, 30%, Hirsh 25%. As you can see, the readers don't agree with my placement of Carrillo just behind Hirsh. So I thought this would be a good topic for the return of the "Prospect Smackdown" feature.
BACKGROUND AND INTANGIBLES:
Hansen: Drafted in the first round in 2005, Hansen was the 26th overall pick in the draft, but would have gone in the first ten picks (or even the first three) were it not for signability concerns. The St. John's righthander was dominant during the college season. Scouts praise his aggressive nature, and feel that he has the proper emotional makeup to be a fine closer at the big league level.
Hirsh: Hirsh wasn't considered a top prospect out of high school, and ended up pitching for Cal Lutheran, a Division III college. The Astros picked him in the second round in 2003. He struggled in 2004, but made gigantic strides in '05, dominating the Double-A Texas League. Although he reportedly lacked confidence at times in '04, he was self-assured and aggressive on the mound last year. Scouts praise his work ethic.
Carrillo: Carrillo was drafted in the first round in 2005, the 18th overall pick in the draft. Renowned as a high school athlete in Chicago, Carrillo had outstanding sophomore and junior seasons for the University of Miami-Florida. He is extremely polished, and impresses coaches with his work ethic, confidence, and attention to detail.
Comparison: Carrillo had the most high-level amateur exposure, with Hansen not far behind. Hirsh was much more of an unknown, but has certainly made up for lost time. All three draw praise for their work ethic and intangibles.
PHYSICALITY AND STUFF:
Hansen: Hansen is larger than most pitchers at 6-6, 210 pounds. His fastball can hit 96-97 MPH, but even at 91-93 it has above-average action. His slider is also a plus pitch, but his changeup is mediocre and not particularly reliable yet. He has a good pitcher's build and should be durable, although he wasn't throwing as hard in September for the Red Sox as he did for St. John's in the spring.
Hirsh: Hirsh is huge at 6-8, 245. Despite his size, his velocity was quite mediocre until 2003, when maturity and mechanical adjustments boosted his fastball. He now works at a consistent 90-93 MPH. He has a plus slider, and has turned his changeup into an average pitch. Some scouts projected him as a reliever until 2005, due to concerns about his stamina, but he's proven quite durable as a starter. He wasn't abused in college and has a fresh arm.
Carrillo: Carrillo isn't a big guy, listed at 6-3, 175 but looks smaller than that on the mound. He generates plus velocity because of excellent arm speed, his fastball hitting 95-96 MPH on good days and working consistently at 90-93. His curveball and changeup are effective pitches, both rating as major league average or above. He has clean mechanics that should help him stay healthy, although his slight build worries some scouts.
Comparison:: Hansen has the best pure stuff, though Carrillo isn't far behind. Hirsh's fastball isn't quite as impressive, but is still an above average pitch. Both Hirsh and Hansen have plus sliders, while Carrillo offers a sharp changeup and curve.
PITCHABILITY AND PERFORMANCE:
Hansen: Hansen shows much better command than most power pitchers his age, and owns a 17/2 K/BB ratio in 16 pro innings. His college record is marked by strong K/IP and H/IP ratios, reflecting his plus stuff. He is not just a thrower, having a better sense of pitching than many similar college fireballers.
Hirsh: Hirsh's control is unusually good for such a tall pitcher, reflected in an excellent K/BB ratio last year. His K/IP and H/IP were also above average, and in general there is little to nitpick in his '05 profile. His '04 numbers were much weaker, and it is true that his '05 home park was good for pitchers, but scouts believe his improvement was genuine.
Carrillo: Carrillo has outstanding command. It took him a few starts to get used to pro competition, but by the end of the year he was dominating Double-A, winning four of five starts with strong ratio sets across the board. Statistically, everything is above average or better. He combines the polish and control of an experienced Division I product with above average velocity and movement.
Comparison: All three pitchers have a good feel for their craft. Carrillo is the most polished overall, but Hansen has excellent command for a hard-thrower, and Hirsh has made huge strides with his control. All three have strong performance track records in `05, though a direct comparison between Hirsh (who has more pro innings under his belt) and the other two might be misleading.
Hansen: Hansen is physically mature and probably won't add much velocity from where he already is. He was born in November of 1983. Scouts believe he will be ready for the majors sometime in 2006, or 2007 at the latest.
Hirsh: Hirsh is more athletic than most players his size, and while it is possible he could pick up some additional velocity, it's not exactly likely give his age (24). He was born in February of 1982. He probably needs half a season of Triple-A before being ready for the majors, but he should be ready by '07.
Carrillo: Carrillo is a very good athlete, but is unlikely to gain much additional velocity given his size. Born in April of 1984, he is the youngest of the trio and the most athletic overall. He should be ready by 2007.
Comparison: None of the three are likely to gain much in the way of velocity from where they are now. Hirsh is the oldest, but also had the least amateur experience of the three, which tends to balance things out on the development curve.
Well, this smackdown doesn't result in a clear winner in my mind. All three pitchers have slightly different profiles and strengths, but none of them have massive glaring weaknesses.
Hirsh's main weakness is the fact that he didn't really blossom until he was 23, but in a way that is also a strength since it means his arm is fresh. Carrillo's main weakness is that he is somewhat slight physically, but he's a great athlete and an efficient, polished pitcher. Hansen's main weakness is that he needs a better changeup, but as a reliever that is less important.
Bottom line: I think Hansen has a very slight overall edge compared to Carrillo and Hirsh. Picking between that pair is very tough. Ultimately I went with Hirsh over Carrillo in the book, essentially because he has a longer pro track record to analyze. But it's a tough call.