Young Pitcher Symposium: Scott Kazmir
Scott Kazmir was drafted by the New York Mets in the first round of the 2002 draft, out of high school in Houston. He was considered one of the top five talents in the draft, but lasted until the 15th pick due to concerns about his bonus demands. The Mets signed him fairly quickly, then sent him to the New York-Penn League, where he dominated: 34/7 K/BB in his first 18 pro innings. He drew immediate comparisons to Billy Wagner due to his mid-90s fastball, big breaking ball, reasonable control, and smallish frame. I gave him a Grade B+ in the 2003 book, impressed by his quick success in pro ball against older competition.
2003 saw Kazmir assigned to Capital City in the Sally League. He went 4-4 but with a 2.34 ERA and a 105/28 K/BB in 76 innings, leading to a promotion to St. Lucie, where he went 1-2, 3.27 with a 40/16 K/BB in 33 innings. Good points: very high strikeout rate. Consistent mid-90s fastball. Improving slider, curveball, and changeup. Decent control for a young power pitcher. Just six home runs allowed in 109 innings pitched total. Bad points: scouts complained that Kazmir didn't field his position well or hold runners effectively. He would also overthrow at times. But these were regarded as flaws correctable through experience. I gave him a Grade A- and rated him as the top lefty prospect in the game. So did a lot of other people.
The Mets sent Kazmir back to St. Lucie to work on those issues in 2004. He pitched well enough to earn a promotion to Double-A after 11 starts. He was lights-out for Binghamton (1.73 ERA in four starts). . .then the hopes of Mets fans were dashed when Kazmir was shipped to Tampa Bay for veteran Larry Andersen, I mean Victor Zambrano. Four starts for Double-A Montgomery went well, earning Kazmir a trip to the majors. He scuffled at times for the D-Rays, but still fanned 41 in his first 33 major league innings. I gave him another A- in the `05 book.
You know the story from there: Kazmir was brilliant at times in 2005, and is one of the most exciting young pitchers in the game.
When the Mets traded Kazmir, there were all kinds of strange rumors floating around from New York sources that there was something wrong with his arm, or that Kazmir was too short for success, or that he was too stubborn and resistant to coaching. The "too short" complaint was silly. So far there hasn't been anything wrong with his arm. If he's too stubborn, it isn't showing up in the stat line yet, and Kazmir has shown the willingness to make adjustments and improve his game in response to the better competition. In retrospect the complaints about Kazmir following the trade look like spin to justify the deal.
What does the future hold for this guy? Well, it doesn't seem like rocket science to me: if he stays healthy, he should continue to improve and looks likely to develop into a star or superstar. He's got to cut down on the walks. Kazmir is death to lefty hitters (.174 with .201 SLG last year), and if worse came to worst he could have a very long career in the bullpen. But bullpen work would be the last resort; he can be a star starter if he continues to make progress.
Comparable Pitchers to Scott Kazmir
Vinegar Bend Mizell
A mixture....a Hall of Fame talent, some decent pitchers (Mizell, Pizzaro, Barber), and some guys who fell apart due to control problems or injury. Which doesn't tell us anything we don't already know! Kazmir could be tremendous if he sharpens his command to a fine edge, pretty good if he develops it partially but not completely, or mediocre if he stagnates, gets hurt, or slips in other ways. But the names above at least give us a range of possible outcomes.