Prospect Smackdown: Homer Bailey vs. Eric Hurley
BACKGROUND and INTANGIBLES
Bailey: Homer Bailey was drafted in the first round in 2004, seventh overall, out of high school in La Grange, Texas. Most scouts thought he was the best righthanded high school pitching prospect available in the draft class. Utterly dominant in high school, he pitched well against good competition, and was named High School Player of the Year by Baseball America in 2004. His first full pro season in 2005 brought mixed results, as he was promising but erratic in the Midwest League, struggling with his command at times but showing outstanding potential. Although he has a reputation as a hard worker in most respects, he sometimes seemed to lose focus on the mound last year, needing to improve his concentration. On the other hand, when he is focused, he has strong mound presence, with an aggressive and self-confident attitude.
Hurley: Hurley was drafted in the first round in 2004, 30th overall, out of high school in Jacksonville, Florida. He wasn't as polished in high school as Bailey, although he did play against good competition and was well-known to scouts, being a teammate of fellow '04 first-rounder Billy Butler. Hurley blew high school hitters away with his fastball, but wasn't as advanced in other respects as Bailey, which is why he went later in the draft. He ended up out-pitching Bailey in the Midwest League last year, while gaining a reputation for maturity and solid mound presence.
Advantage: Both of these guys were top-flight high school pitchers, though Bailey was a bit more highly-regarded. Both are considered fairly mature for their age. Both seem to have the emotional equipment ("intangibles") needed to be successful major league pitchers. Bailey's amateur background was a tad more impressive, but Hurley seemed to have better focus (at least more consistent focus) last year in the Midwest League. In any event, neither has any major red flags in this department.
PHYSICALITY and TOOLS
Bailey: Bailey is a righthanded hitter and thrower, listed at 6-3, 190 pounds, born May 3, 1986. His fastball has been timed as high as 97 MPH, and works consistently in the 91-94 range, with movement. He also has a potentially excellent curveball. His changeup is below average right now but is gradually improving, and should be a useful pitch in time. His control was more erratic than expected last year, traced to an inconsistent release point, particularly with his curveball, that hampered his command. His ground ball/fly ball tendency was neutral last year.
Hurley: Hurley is a righthanded hitter and thrower, listed at 6-4, 195 pounds, born September 17, 1985. His fastball ranged from 88 to 95 MPH in high school, and has developed into a consistent 91-93 MPH pitch as a pro, spiking up to 95-96 at times. His breaking ball (described variously as a hard curve or a slider) was erratic in high school, but has turned into an effective second offering as a pro. His changeup is currently below average but should improve. Hurley's control has been better than expected as a pro, although he still has problems with mechanical consistency. He is a fly ball pitcher.
Advantage: Very close. Bailey's fastball may be slightly faster on a consistent basis, and has better sinking action, but Hurley's breaking ball was more consistent than Bailey's last year. Both of them still need to work on their changeups. Both of them have strong pitcher's builds, and both are good athletes.
Bailey: Bailey pitched 104 innings last year for Dayton in the Midwest League, posting a 4.43 ERA and a 125/62 K/BB ratio. He allowed 89 hits with five homers. Bailey's K/IP and H/IP marks were very strong, but his K/BB ratio was just league average, reflecting his erratic command. So far in 2006, Bailey is 1-2 but with a 3.08 ERA in five starts in the Florida State League, with a 29/7 K/BB ratio in 26 innings.
Hurley: Hurley pitched 155 innings last year for Clinton in the Midwest League, posting a 3.77 ERA and a 152/59 K/BB ratio. He allowed 135 hits with 11 homers. His K/IP and H/IP marks were good, but not quite as good as Bailey's. On the other hand, his K/BB ratio was much better, reflecting better command. In five starts in the California League in 2006, Hurley is 2-1, 2.75 with a 24/5 K/BB ratio in 30 innings.
Advantage: Bailey had the advantage in the K/IP and H/IP departments last year, but Hurley had a better K/BB. Both of them are pitching well this season, again with Bailey having a slightly better K/IP but Hurley being better in the K/BB department. The numbers match up with the scouting reports quite well: Bailey's stuff may be a hair better than Hurley's, but Hurley's control is better right now.
Bailey: Scouts say that Bailey projects to be a Number One starter at the Major League level, assuming that he can harness his command. Both his fastball and curveball are (or will be) plus major league pitchers, and if the changeup develops as expected, he can really dominate. We have to see if he can stay healthy, of course. His control does look better in the early going this year. He has a "mean projected VORP" of 25.9 with an upside of 42.2 from 2006 through 2010 according to Baseball Prospectus
Hurley: Hurley projects as a Number Two type starter, not exciting scouts with his stuff quite as much as Bailey does, although Hurley is hardly a soft-tosser. Like Bailey, he needs to refine his changeup and stay healthy to reach his ceiling. His "mean projected VORP" is 16.0 with an upside of 26.5 according to BP.
Advantage: I find this quite interesting, that BP's projected VORP for Bailey is significantly better than Hurley's. This agrees with the scouting consensus that Bailey has a higher upside than Hurley, even if he is currently less refined, though it should be noted that Hurley's upside is still high.
I rate them as even in background/intangibles. It is extremely close with physicality/tools, with Bailey having (perhaps) a slight advantage. Hurley has better current performance and polish. Bailey has an edge in upside, though Hurley's is still respectable. Overall, it looks like Bailey comes out a bit ahead, but it's very close, and both of these guys have a good chance to be successful (granted all the usual caveats about young pitchers).