It doesn't matter how hard or how long you study prospects: every year, someone will get promoted to the majors and take you completely by surprise. That happened to me a couple of days ago when the Atlanta Braves brought up relief pitching prospect Chasen Shreve to take a big league bullpen spot.
I was only vaguely aware of him pre-season, but even that was only because he played college ball with some guy named Bryce Harper. Unless you follow the Braves closely, it is likely that the Shreve promotion caught you by surprise, too. So here's the scoop.
Shreve was drafted by the Braves in the 11th round in 2010 from the College of Southern Nevada. He wasn't especially effective in college, posting a 5.57 ERA in 42 innings and giving up 53 hits, though he did post a sharp 52/14 K/BB. Scouts in to see Harper got a good look Shreve and that moved him up a little higher in the draft that he may have otherwise gone. He ran up a nice 20/3 K/BB in 16 innings for Danville in the Appy League after signing, with a 2.25 ERA.
In '11 he pitched out of the Low-A Rome bullpen with adequate results (3.86, 68/26 K/BB in 70 innings) but didn't stand out as anything more than a potential LOOGY. He remained effective In High-A in '12 (2.15, 41/17 K/BB in 46 innings) but had problems with his command after moving up to Double-A (3.93 ERA but a poor 16/16 K/BB in 18 innings).
Another 43 innings at Mississippi last year produced similar results (4.43, 28/22 K/BB, 43 hits). Reports indicated an 86-88 MPH fastball with mediocre breaking stuff. There was nothing in either the numbers or the scouting to indicate a bright big league future.
But that was last year.
This year Shreve looks much different. The stats are much better: 2.48 ERA in 54 innings, 76/9 K/BB, 42 hits. Note the exceptionally large rise in his strikeout rate and sharp reductions in hits and walks. As good as the stats are, the scouting reports are even more intriguing. He's suddenly gained a good four MPH. He hit 92 in his major league debut and was clocked as high as 95 earlier this spring. The better fastball makes his slider and changeup more effective too.
What the hell?
According to Shreve himself, the improved fastball is a result of simply trying to throw harder. "I can throw hard if you want me to," he reportedly (via Chop County, ESPN) told his pitching coach, "I choose not to, I choose to spot up." Ironically, since letting loose with the heat, his control has actually improved.
Shreve had a reverse platoon split in Double-A so he may not be an ideal LOOGY type, but if he keeps whiffing people at anything close to the rate he did for Mississippi, he'll find a role as a middle man.