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Minor League Ball Community Discussion: pitching role development philosophy

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Mudcat Grant is cool
Mudcat Grant is cool
Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays prospect list is taking forever but I hope to have it finished tomorrow. In the meantime, a couple of discussion questions came to mind Thursday evening. Here is the first one, the second will follow later this afternoon.


Let's say you have a pitching prospect. We will call him Herman Smith. NOTE: I am making all of this up as I go along, this person is NOT supposed to be someone real. I am using a fictional player and a picture of Mudcat Grant (who was both a starter and a closer) to help avoid any conscious or unconscious assumptions about any current prospects.

Let's say Herman is 6-4, 200, age 20, just drafted out of a junior college in Texas. He was a raw arm from some small town in Arkansas who wasn't drafted out of high school, went to a Texas junior college, won a job his sophomore year when someone else got hurt and put himself in the draft picture. He was used in the bullpen at first but then moved into the Saturday starter role at mid-season and thrived. He ended up making eight starts and 11 relief appearances, three-for-three in save chances, pitching a total of 63 innings, with an 84/30 K/BB ratio, 49 hits allowed, strong ground ball rate, zero homers allowed, pitching against very good junior college competition.

The scouting report. He was a multi-sport athlete in high school and didn't play much baseball until his senior year. He threw 86-89 MPH and was on some watch lists but was considered too raw to draft. As a JC freshman he barely pitched and nobody really saw him. As a sophomore he won a bullpen job when he came out throwing 93-95 MPH, pushed it as high as 97-98 at times, with natural cut/sink movement that generates grounders. He has below-average slider, but when he started tinkering with a change-up and it worked well the JC team moved him to the rotation.

As a starter he worked 92-94 but could bump up to 96 when he needed it and held his velocity in the late innings. The fastball has excellent movement (which is why he succeeded in JC without much of a breaking ball). His command is erratic due to inconsistent mechanics, understandable given his background. His current delivery is somewhat high-effort but scouts think it can be cleaned up, which would probably help his command. He is reasonably athletic but seems to be mature physically, so there isn't much remaining velocity projection. He went from 6-2, 180 as a high school senior to 6-4, 200 now and seems about done with the growth. He has never been hurt, but then he hasn't had much of a workload until now either.

He is somewhat enigmatic in terms of makeup. He works hard and wants to pitch, but is a quiet sort who keeps to himself and isn't a rah-rah type. Nobody really knew much about him until a few months ago. Background is upper working class/lower middle class (by rural Arkansas standards). Family life was stable but ordinary. For his junior year he was recruited by several four-year schools including New Mexico, Wichita State, and Southern Mississippi. He committed to Missouri State (close to his home) but this was a formality. He wanted to turn pro and was an easy sign in the fifth round.

He has a fastball and a change-up but the breaking ball needs considerable work. The majority of scouts see him as a reliever but a not-insignificant minority think he could be a mid-rotation starter if that slider can come around or if he can learn a curve. Your area scout who recommended him is among the "can be a starter" group. Your coaches are split. Some think he can start, others say no. Herman himself doesn't seem to care either way. Your team does NOT do the New Age tandem pitching role stuff.

So, Mr. Armchair Farm Director, what do you do with Herman?

Discussion Points:

****Do you make him a starter or reliever, or is it even necessary to project a future role yet?

****If you think he is going to be a reliever, does it make sense to use him as a starter anyway, to get him innings, or should he get used to a relief role right away to get him used to it?

****You can generalize the latter point: should future major league relievers be used as starters, or should they be trained as relievers from the beginning,or is it a case-by-case thing? Or do you believe in the tandem system and think this is all irrelevant?