Not a Rookie: Clayton Richard
Clayton Richard was drafted by the White Sox in the eighth round in 2005, out of the University of Michigan, where he had been used mostly as a reliever, posting a 2.43 ERA with a 27/8 K/BB in 33 innings for the Wolverines that spring, collecting five saves. The Sox moved him to the starting rotation at Great Falls in the Pioneer League, with good results: 2.85 ERA, 39/12 K/BB in 41 innings, 37 hits allowed. He was a quarterback in college, and I thought he might have some development potential once he turned to baseball full-time, so I put him in the '06 book, giving him a Grade C+. He had a fresh arm and could hit 90 MPH, but his secondary pitches needed a lot of work and he was considered rather raw for a college pitcher.
Richard hurt his knee during 2006 spring training and wasn't at full-strength for most of the season, but he did go 6-6, 3.76 in 17 starts for Kannapolis in the Sally League. He didn't allow a home run in 96 innings, but on the other hand he gave up 117 hits, and with just 54 strikeouts his K/IP was poor. He went 1-3, 4.56, 12/6 K/BB in 24 innings, four starts, in a late trial at Winston-Salem. Despite his undistinguished performance, low strikeout rate, and still-mediocre secondary pitches, I still felt he was a sleeper and put him in the 2007 book, with a Grade C rating, noting that he had a good sinker and could still develop further once fully healthy.
Sent to Winston-Salem for 2007, Richard went 8-12, 3.63 with a 99/59 K/BB in 161 innings, allowing 159 hits. Although his K/BB and K/IP marks remained so-so, I noticed his strong 2.37 GO/AO ratio, and the fact that he held lefties to a mere .180 average. His velocity was actually down from 2005-2006, as he threw just 87-89 most of the season. Still, something in my mind continued to indicate he was a sleeper, and I put him in the '08 book, writing that he had LOOGY potential given his balance of skills, but that the Sox would likely keep using him as a starter as long as possible.
Things came together in '08: 2.47 ERA in 13 starts for Double-A Birmingham, 53/16 K/BB; 6-0, 2.45 in seven starts for Triple-A Charlotte, 33/4 K/BB; then a major league trial, going 2-5, 6.04 with a 29/13 K/BB in 48 innings but allowing 61 hits. Although he struggled in the majors, he'd clearly made considerable progress, and I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2009 book. I wrote this year that Richard "has some chance to be an inning-eating starter, but I think it more likely that he would thrive in relief."
Richard has looked pretty solid this year for the White Sox. Fangraphs has his fastball at an average of 91.6 MPH, slightly faster than last year's 90 MPH mark and the best heater he's shown since college. I don't think he's going to have a spectacular career, but as long as he remains healthy, his ability to throw sinkers for strikes should keep him employed for a long time. He also strikes me as the type of pitcher who could get everything clicking, unexpectedly have an outstanding season and win 18 games at some point (2011?) before falling back to Earth.