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Minor League Prospect Report: Nick Tropeano, RHP, Houston Astros

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Minor League Prospect Report: Nick Tropeano, RHP, Houston Astros

One of my favorite minor league pitchers is Nick Tropeano of the Houston Astros organization. He seems to be on the "favorite pitchers" list for a lot of people, given that I receive queries about him a couple of times a week. With the 2012 minor league season under our belts now, here's my current take.

Nick Tropeano was one of the best statistical performers in college baseball in both 2010 and 2011. Pitching for Stony Brook, he went 8-4, 2.44 with a 102/29 K/BB ratio in 100 innings in '10, then followed that up with an even-more-impressive 2011 season: 12-1, 1.84 ERA, 119/24 K/BB in 93 innings with just 63 hits allowed. His fastball was nothing special, but scouts liked him enough that he was drafted in the fifth round by the Astros, signing for a $155,700 bonus.

Sent to Tri-City in the New York-Penn League for his pro debut, he posted a 2.36 ERA in 12 starts with a 63/21 K/BB ratio in 53 innings, with just 42 hits allowed. But you know how it is: advanced college pitchers are supposed to do well in the NY-P. I did give him a Grade C+ entering 2012, projecting that he would "make short work" of A-ball and wouldn't be fully challenged until reaching Double-A.

Tropeano did just that: he went 6-4, 2.78 with a 97/26 K/BB in 87 innings for Low-A Lexington, then 6-3, 3.31 with a 69/21 K/BB in 71 innings after being promoted to High-A Lancaster. Overall, he was 12-7, 3.02 this year with a 166/47 K/BB in 158 innings with 149 hits allowed. Note that he had no problems pitching at bandbox Lancaster in the high-offense California League, and was particularly sharp late in the year with a 2.15 ERA and a 35/8 K/BB in his last six starts.

Tropeano is a 6-4, 205 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born August 27, 1990 in West Islip, New York. In college his fastball velocity was in the upper-80s, but he's thrown harder than that in pro ball, up into the 92-94 MPH range, reportedly even a bit higher than that at times. He already had an excellent changeup, which is even better now that there's greater velocity separation with his fastball. Indeed, the theory is that he threw too many changeups in college, and greater emphasis on his fastball has helped him throw harder more consistently. He also throws a solid splitter. His breaking ball has been described variously as a slider or curve, though he calls it a curve himself.

The breaking ball is still his weakest pitch, but it progressed this year, and overall there is little to complain about in his performance, either sabermetrically or scouting-wise. He's been quite durable and has eaten innings without trouble for three years now. His makeup and personality are also considered strong suits.

Tropeano will move to Double-A in 2013 and my reading is that he'll remain effective and make the necessary adaptations. I see him as a possible mid-rotation starter, or at worst a middle reliever.