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Young Pitcher Symposium: Andrew Sisco

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Andrew Sisco (photo by Dave Sanford)

Young Pitcher Symposium: Andrew Sisco

Andrew Sisco was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the second round of the 2001 draft, out of high school in Sammamish, Washington. A physical monster at 6-8, 260 pounds, Sisco impressed scouts with his low 90s fastball, but needed better control and more effective breaking pitches to get into the first round. He posted a 5.24 ERA but a sharp 31/10 K/BB ratio in his first 34 pro innings in the Arizona Rookie League, showing better command than anticipated. His velocity increased as well, moving from 89-93 in high school to 91-95 in rookie ball and instructional league, thanks to mechanical refinements.
I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2002 book, noting that he might become an "outstanding" pitcher, but that it would take some time.

Sisco moved up to the Northwest League in 2002 and was overpowering, posting a 101/39 K/BB in just 78 innings, allowing 51 hits with a 2.43 ERA. His K/IP and H/IP marks were very impressive. His control needed work, but for the most part the league was unable to catch up with him. His fastball was up to 96 MPH at times, and he made major improvements refining his splitter. His main flaw, other than occasional control problems, was an erratic breaking ball. Based on his strong component ratios, I gave him a Grade B+ in the 2003 book, and expected him to break through in a big way in '03.

It didn't quite happen. Moved up to the Midwest League, Sisco was dominant at times for Lansing, and continued to post strong K/IP and H/IP marks. He improved his control as well, posting a 99/31 K/BB in 94 innings. Scouts reported that his curveball was better, although still inconsistent. On the other hand, his velocity dropped a bit, more in the 90-94 range rather than the 92-96 range of the previous year. He also showed emotional immaturity, punching a wall in frustration at one point and breaking his hand, limiting him to 19 starts. There were also concerns about rowdy off-field behavior. I maintained his grade at B+ heading into 2004.

Sisco stayed healthy and avoided breaking any bones in 2004. But his status as a prospect slipped. He went 4-10, 4.21 in 25 starts for Daytona in the Florida State League. He maintained good "stuff" indicators: 134 strikeouts in 126 innings, 118 hits allowed. But his walk rate crept up again. Mechanical problems resurfaced, costing him velocity: at times he pitched in just the 87-90 MPH range. His breaking ball regressed, and at times his only effective pitch was his splitter-like changeup. Concerns about work ethic, emotional maturity, and excess weight grew stronger, to the point that the Cubs decided not to protect him on the 40-man roster. I dropped his grade to C+ in the '05 book, though noted that he still had a lot of potential, and that the Cubs could regret letting him go.

Sisco became a prime target in the Rule 5 draft, and was selected by the Royals. The Kansas City braintrust felt that Sisco's problems on and off the field were correctable and that his upside was too impressive to ignore. The shock of being unprotected by his original organization seemed to shake Sisco up: he came into spring training last year in good physical condition, showing a much better work ethic than demonstrated during the '04 season. Mechanical tweaks got his velocity back into the low-to-mid-90s, he got the touch back on his breaking ball, and he made the roster out of spring camp.

2005 was a disaster in many ways for the Royals, but Sisco's emergence was a bright spot. Although bedeviled with occasional command problems, he posted a 3.11 ERA, 76 strikeouts in 75 innings, and was quite dominant at times. All in all, considering that he was jumping to the majors directly from A-ball, his performance was very impressive. Best of all, the emotional immaturity and off-field behavior problems that irritated the Cubs were nowhere to be found last year. He seemed to grow up quickly.

The question now is this: should Sisco remain in the bullpen long-term? Is this just temporary, or has he truly found his niche? One theory to consider is that bullpen use forced Sisco to concentrate, to come to the park prepared to pitch each day, and that this helped him grow up last year. If true, then moving him to the rotation may not be in his best interests in the short run, but could be something to consider in another year or two once he is further down the personal growth track.

Comparable Pitchers to Andrew Sisco

Scott Radinsky
Arthur Rhodes
Norm Charlton
Dave LaRoche
Kent Mercker
John Smiley

PECOTA brings up other names such as Roy Halladay, Scott Elarton, Tom Niedenfuer, and Jim Clancy, but these are righthanded pitchers and I prefer to make a much larger adjustment than PECOTA or Sim Score for handedness.

Randy Johnson is the guy that Sisco is often compared to, being a gigantic lefty. I see two major points of difference: first, Sisco throws hard, but not as hard as Johnson. Second, Sisco is actually ahead of where Johnson was at age 22. Other possible lefty starter comps include hard-throwing 1960s guys like Bob Veale and Al Downing.

If he avoids serious injury and keeps his head on straight, I think the worst we can expect from Sisco is lefthanded bullpen dominance in the Arthur Rhodes or Norm Charlton mode. If his command improves a bit more and he becomes a starter, he should be a successful starter like Smiley, although I don't think Sisco will be quite as dominant as Johnson. All things considered, Sisco has a good chance to be one of the better picks in Rule 5 history.