Not a Rookie: Dallas Braden (by request)
Dallas Braden was a 24th round pick by Oakland in 2004, out of Texas Tech University. He went 6-4, 4.56 with a 93/21 K/BB in 97 innings in college, with 109 hits allowed. . .that doesn't look too hot at first glance, but Texas Tech isn't an easy place to pitch, and his K/IP and K/BB ratios were pretty solid. He signed fairly quickly, got into 16 innings of relief work at Vancouver in the Northwest League, posting a 2.76 ERA and a sharp 26/3 K/BB. He then moved up to Kane County in the Midwest League and posted a 4.70 ERA with a 33/6 K/BB in 23 innings. His fastball was average, but he had good command of an impressive screwball. I didn't put him in the 2005 book, but would have rated him as a Grade C prospect, capable of being a sleeper.
Braden began '05 with Stockton in the California League, posting a 6-0, 2.68 record with a 64/11 K/BB in 44 innings. Promoted to Double-A Midland, he went 9-5, 3.90 with a 71/32 K/BB in 97 innings, 104 hits allowed. . .not bad at all for the Texas League one year out of college. I saw him pitch for Midland and he was throwing just 84-86 on the day I saw, but with a lot of movement on the breaking ball. I gave him a Grade C in the 2006 book, noting that he had some sleeper potential and "could be a surprise" if he held his K/BB and K/IP marks steady at higher levels.
Braden missed almost all of 2006 with a shoulder injury, putting his status in doubt. He pitched 37 innings on rehab between the Arizona Rookie League, Stockton, and Midland, pitching well at the rookie level but not looking great at the other two. I didn't put him in the 2007 book as a result. In retrospect, this was a mistake, as he came back healthy and effective in '07, pitching great in Triple-A (2.95 ERA, 74/18 K/BB in 64 innings, 51 hits) and making his major league debut. He got knocked around in the majors (6.72 ERA, 55/26 K/BB in 72 innings, 91 hits), but did enough to earn further chances. He split '08 between Triple-A and the majors, and this year he's been effective for Oakland, 3.45 ERA so far with a 75/31 K/BB in 117 innings, 121 hits. In his major league career, Braden is 13-20, 4.55 with a 171/82 K/BB in 261 innings, 289 hits allowed.
Can he maintain this? I note that his K/IP and H/IP marks aren't great even this year, and I don't think he's ever going to have a huge margin for error with his 87 MPH fastball. As a prospect, he showed consistently good K/IP and K/BB ratios, even at the college level, especially adjusted for context. This is another example of how critical strikeouts are when looking at pitching stats in the minors: if the guy is striking people out, even with a trick pitch and without plus velocity or gaudy scouting reports, the major league potential is there.