Selecting relievers from college in the early rounds of the draft is and always has been a risky proposition. The connotation that comes along with relievers is that they don’t have the stuff to stick in a rotation, and some really don’t. Others have so little command that thy cannot be trusted to not walk off a cliff (that was a lot funnier in my head). There are a select few, though, that are better prospects they look at first glance.
Some are not bad pitchers, and have the profile to support a starting role, but are unable to crack a stacked rotation. Others simply don’t have the stamina, but have such high-octane offerings that they don’t need to start to have value. By all accounts, Glenn Otto - one of Rice University’s late inning options - falls into that latter category.
As one would expect from any reliever, Otto’s arsenal starts with an above average fastball. It sits anywhere from 91-93 mph, and he can run it up to 96 when he reaches all the way back. At the lower end of that range, it features late sinking life. Scouts project that velocity to grow higher in the future. That would certainly boost his stock, especially in a game environment that is seeing more and more players touching triple digits.
Despite that, though, the fastball takes a definite back seat in scouts’ minds to another of his offerings: his curveball. Otto throws one of the best breaking balls of the draft class, a gorgeous knuckle-curve that will make you drool. It features 12-6 movement and is well above average in any category imaginable.
“It has excellent shape, depth and spin,” remarked HERO Sports’ Christopher Crawford, “and he can locate it for strikes or bury it down in the zone when he's ahead in the count.”
“He comes from over-the-top, and creates deception with a small amount of crossfire in his initial drive to the plate.” added Scout.com’s Taylor Blake Ward.
As if its vicious bite and deceptive nature was not enough, he pairs it with good velocity. While it sits at 77 or 78 mph, he can dial it up to 80 at times.
Obviously, being a relief prospect puts a clear cap on his value. The reasons for the limited value of relievers is obvious. They don’t throw many innings in comparison to starters and have fewer opportunities to contribute to their team in a way that has significant value.
FanGraphs is an incredible resource when proving this point. I had two lengthy paragraphs prepared to explain the data that I found on this point, but decided a table would likely be more effective.
|Qualified Number||Number that Accumulated 1.0 WAR||1.0 WAR Rate|
|Starters (min. 40 innings)||198||115||58.08%|
|Relievers (min. 20 innings)||284||46||16.20%|
These figures clearly show that the proportion of even semi-regular starters who are able to contribute a full win of value was much higher than the proportion of relief pitchers who were able to accomplish the same thing. Therefore, unless the (nearly) impossible happens and he blossoms into the next Andrew Miller or Dellin Betances, Otto will never be as valuable as a comparable starter.
It is also unlikely that Otto will make the bigs as a starter, for three simple reasons. These also happen to be his fundamental weaknesses. They are:
- Pitching generally takes the path of least resistance
- He doesn’t have the stamina to support a starting role
- He doesn't have the profile to support a starting role
That first reason is pretty straightforward. There are many accounts of washout starters becoming dominant relievers, and this transference from the rotation to the ‘pen has become a bit of a fad in today's game. A pitcher’s stuff plays up when he plays in shorter stints - his fastball speeds up a tick, his breakers gain depth and bite. Success doesn’t flow uphill, though, and because starting is generally far more taxing on a pitcher’s abilities, it is incredibly rare that a bullpen piece can successfully break into a rotation.
Not only is all of that the case, HERO SPORTS’ Christopher Crawford noted something very relevant in Otto’s case. As the year dragged on, his numbers started to worsen. To the best of Crawford’s estimation, that downward tilt was due in large part to being overworked by Rice University’s club. That would point towards the Owls’ closer’s future being comprised of solely relief roles.
Finally, Otto’s biggest flaw is his control and command, specifically his lack thereof. As is the case with many pitchers with offerings that move so dramatically, he has difficulty spotting his pitches. That is particularly the case with his heater. This issue will bite him less frequently in his role as a relief pitcher than it will pitchers in a starting role, but it something he’ll want to iron out.
Scout.com hit the nail on the head when they remarked on Otto’s future, saying:
Development of his changeup and slider, as well as fastball command, will be key to his stock.
While almost every prospect is a total crapshoot, the floors on pitchers can be far scarier that those on position players, and Otto is no exception. The upside is there, and the fastball and curve offer plenty to dream on. It is undeniable that he could be something remarkable. If the pieces come together, he could also get to the majors pretty quickly. However, if things go sideways, then his value will drop like a stone, so while the appeal is obvious, the risk is correspondingly high.
The terms “relief prospect” and “mercurial” are inextricably linked, and for good reason. It is completely impossible to accurately predict where he will land in the draft this early in the year, and it would be easy to picture him going anywhere from the send to the sixth round. Where in that range he lands will be determined almost entirely by his performance in 2017.