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Drew Pomeranz: rocky road to success

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Drew Pomeranz
Drew Pomeranz
Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz was excellent in his first outing of 2015: seven shutout innings, just two hits, zero walks and six strikeouts against the Mariners on Saturday. He was credited with the victory in the 12-0 drubbing of Seattle. Pomeranz has already been traded twice in his young career and a reader recently requested a Prospect Retrospective on him.

Pomeranz was a starting pitcher for three years at the University of Mississippi. Despite some occasional command troubles he was very effective as a junior, going 9-2 with a 2.24 ERA and a 139/49 K/BB in 101 innings, allowing just 71 hits. He was drafted in the first round, fifth overall, by the Cleveland Indians and while needing command polish he was expected to move rapidly through the farm system.

His first report:

University of Mississippi ace Drew Pomeranz was drafted fifth overall last year, signing for a $2.65 million bonus in August, too late to pitch professionally. He has a very good fastball clocked in the 90-92 MPH range, sometimes up to 94-95. Even better is his breaking ball, a wicked-ass pitch that is utterly dominating on his best days. He’ll need to improve his little-used changeup, and he has the aptitude to do so. Pomeranz has the stuff of a Number Two starter, and just needs to sharpen his command, get some professional experience, and stay healthy. That may be harder than it sounds, of course, but power lefties are not easy to find. Grade B+.

He began his career in 2011 with an excellent first half for Kinston in the Carolina League, posting a 1.87 ERA in 15 starts with a 95/32 K/BB over 77 innings; note the excellent strikeout rate. Promoted to Double-A Akron at mid-season, he pitched well in three starts (2.52, 17/6 in 14 innings).

Then the first trade came: he was sent to the Colorado Rockies as part of the Ubaldo Jimenez deal. The Rockies sent him to Double-A Tulsa where he threw 10 shutout innings in two starts sandwiching an emergency appendectomy. He came back from that very quickly and was promoted to Colorado in September, where he held his own in four starts (5.40 ERA, 13/5 K/BB in 18 innings) despite a late season loss in velocity.

His status entering 2012:

Pomeranz was traded from the Indians to the Rockies last summer as part of the Ubaldo Jimenez deal. He made one start for Tulsa, then had an appendectomy. He came back in less than three weeks and ended the season in the Rockies rotation, where he held his own despite lacking his best stuff. At his best, Pomeranz overpowers hitters with a 90-95 MPH fastball and a big-breaking curve. His velocity dipped into the 88-90 range by the end of the season, but there were extenuating circumstances and he still held his own despite the loss of MPH. His curveball is excellent. He is still working on his changeup, but it shows promise. His biggest problem at this point is occasionally-spotty command. Pomeranz looks like a number two starter when he’s at full physical strength, and I am optimistic about his chances. Grade A-.

Pomeranz spent most of 2012 in the Rockies rotation but scuffled, going 2-9, 4.93 with a, 83/46 K/BB in 97 innings, allowing 14 home runs. His velocity was back up to old standards but his change-up was not coming along too well and his overall command was shaky, a deadly problem in thin air.

2013 was even worse: hampered by nagging bicep tendinitis, he pitched just 22 innings for the Rockies with a terrible 19/19 K/BB and 6.23 ERA. He was more effective after being demoted to Triple-A (4.20, 96/33 in 86 innings) but his change-up and overall command remained problematic and now there was a durability concern as well.

His stock down, Pomeranz was shipped off to Oakland in December as part of the trade for Brett Anderson. The change of scenery did wonders: used as both a starter and reliever last year by the Athletics (10 starts, 10 relief appearances) he rang up a 2.35 ERA in 69 innings, 64/26 K/BB. The only glitch was a hand fracture suffered when he hit a wooden chair in frustration after a bad game but there are no long-term ill effects from the injury. And now here he is with a full-time rotation spot and 2015 off to an excellent opening.

So what's the difference? Better health is an obvious factor but there are other differences. His fastball has settled into the 89-93 range. He uses both a two-seam and four-seam version and his command of both pitches appears better than a couple of years ago, making them more effective even at slightly lower velocities compared to his peak readings in college and the minors.

His breaking ball is a little different, too, being more of a knuckle-curve now rather than a traditional power curve. It still works well. Interestingly, he uses the change-up much less often than he did back in 2012. According to pitch F/X, he threw the change-up just six percent of the time in 2012. That is even lower now, about one percent of the time combining 2014 and the first start of 2015.

Although the road was rocky (no pun intended), Pomeranz seems to have made real progress harnessing his ability over the last year. He still has plenty of stuff and Saturday's start shows us what can happen when he commands it properly. Barring further health troubles and furniture mishaps, he looks like a good bet for continued success.

Drew Pomeranz

Drew Pomeranz, photo by Brad Mangin, Getty Images