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Not a Rookie: Rick Vanden Hurk

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Not a Rookie: Rick Vanden Hurk

Rick Vanden Hurk was signed by the Marlins out of the Netherlands in 2002. He made his North American debut in '03, posting a 5.35 ERA in 39 innings for the Gulf Coast League Marlins, with a 30/20 K/BB. At this point he was a basically a raw thrower, showing good arm strength but needing better command. He wasn't on the radar for the book at that point, being a basic Grade C rookie ball arm who might or might not develop.

Moved up to Jupiter in the Florida State League in 2004, he posted a 3.26 ERA and a 43/31 K/BB in 58 innings. Command was still a major issue, but that was quite a jump in competition compared to '03 and he held up well. I should have put him in the book, probably with something like a Grade C+, but I didn't do so. Then Vanden Hurk made six starts in 2005 but blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery. All bets were off at that point, and you'd have to reduce his rating to Grade C given the injury uncertainty.

'06 was a rehab year. He made five starts in the Gulf Coast League, then three more at Jupiter, combining for a 1.80 ERA with a 41/14 K/BB in 25 innings. Control was still a problem but the spike in K/IP was evident, and he showed no diminution of stuff from the surgery. He also pitched great in the Hawaiian Winter League. I finally put him in the book with a Grade C+ rating, noting his high upside but projecting that he would be best off in the bullpen due to his erratic secondary pitches.

The Marlins didn't listen to that, of course. He made four starts in the majors in April, with a 12.75 ERA. He made three starts in June and three starts in July, then entered the rotation for most of August and early September. In between all that he made 11 starts in the minors and pitched well, showing much improved command compared to past seasons, with a 75/25 K/BB in 66 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.. Overall in the majors, he made 17 starts and was crushed, with a 6.83 ERA and a 84/48 K/BB in 82 innings, 94 hits allowed and 15 homers.

What did they expect? Given his lack of experience at the higher levels, his struggles were completely predictable. Statistically I like the K/IP ratio, but his control is still weak and he gives up a lot of home runs. His arm strength and upside are obvious, but given the injury rehab and command issues, the decision to give him so much major league time last year does not strike me as a particularly wise player development decision, granted more goes into roster decisions than just what is good for one particular player.

Vanden Hurk is still just 22. If I were the Marlins, I would send him to Triple-A to begin 2008 and leave him there as long as possible. He has a bright future as long as his confidence remains intact, but I think he needs more time to consolidate his skills. He could develop in any number of directions....he could be a really good starter, or could settle into a relief role, or he could be mediocre, or he could stall out in Triple-A and never really improve. I see no particular reason to favor one scenario over another right now.