Prospect Breakouts and Break-Ups: Pitchers

Al Messerschmidt

How are things looking from the pitching perspective?

Moving to the pitcher side of things, we’ll continue to focus on strikeout (K%) and walk (BB%) rates while also looking at hits and home runs, and we’ll also use some context-neutral metrics such as FIP (Fielding-Indepent Pitching) to remove problematic issues like minor-league defenses.

Sean Gilmartin, LHP - Gilmartin began his professional career by dismantling Low-A hitters, but that was expected from a polished pitcher from a power conference (Florida St. - ACC). Since that introduction, Gilmartin’s K and BB rates have begun going the wrong way, and he’s now down to a 14% K rate and up to a 9% BB rate. The major-league averages are 20% and 8%, respectively, and for a pitcher who was labeled as a control/command lefty, he’s not exactly fulfilling that end of the bargain. He’s not having any success at the upper levels, and he’ll need to either add velocity or movement to his fastball to reach his potential.

Omar Poveda, RHP - The 25-year old Poveda has become an intriguing minor-league player in Gwinnett. With a 3.39 ERA in 15 starts, he’s had some people wondering about his future. Statistically, I’m not all that impressed. His 17% K rate and 8% BB walk rates are likely to worsen at least a little bit in the majors, and I expect that his home run rate will also go up - the 0.66 HR/9 is a big reason why he’s not giving up runs. Poveda, however, does get a lot of ground balls, and I’m interested to see what a scouting report is on him.

Wirfin Obispo, RHP - Obispo has a delivery no kid should see, but we saw in Spring Training how electric his stuff can be. His 30% K rate is impressive, but he still issues a lot of free passes at 14%. If he can maintain that walk rate in the majors, he could still be a decent middle relief option.

Cody Martin, RHP - Martin is a stat-lover’s dream. His K/BBs have been 14.00, 8.25, and 3.62 before this season, and while his 2.63 in AA this season wasn’t as good, he continues to show swing-and-miss potential. Martin was able to maintain a high strikeout rate while making the jump to AA this season, and reports are that his fastball velocity has ticked up. If this is true, it would take away the main concern with Martin, which has always been that his command has allowed everything to play up against minor-league hitters. Martin has been impressive in his two AAA starts, and he’s a guy to pay attention to in the second half. He may have even boosted his stock enough to be a decent trade chip.

Aaron Northcraft, RHP - I’ve always had a fondness for Northcraft. He’s always been a sinker-ball pitcher, but he also made a significant jump in his strikeouts last season, going from 18% to 25%. The rub on Northcraft, however, is that he throws from a low arm slot and would get hit more often against lefties, and it’s become very true this season as he’s walked more lefties than he’s struck out. Maybe he can improve enough to be a Justin Masterson-type pitcher, but it’s becoming more likely that he becomes a replacement for Cory Gearrin. That 2.24 GB/FB ratio is nice, though.

Ian Thomas, LHP - Recently moved to the rotation, Thomas has been a nice find from the Independent Leagues so far. In his jump to AA, he’s increased his K rate to an impressive 35%, though he’s also seen his BB rate increase to 11%. Thomas is an interesting test case in the K/BB vs. K%-BB% debate. On one hand, his K/BB has decreased to 3.15 from 3.87, but on the other hand, his K%-BB% has risen from 22% to 24%. The additional increase in strikeouts has outweighed the increase in walks. Thomas is 26, but he’s a lefty with swing-and-miss capabilities.

Juan Jaime, RHP - The guy with the 100 mph fastball is doing it again in AA, and he’s actually been better than ever. Jaime’s K rate has jumped to 41% from last year’s 33%, and his BB rate has even dropped to 14% from 15% while making a tough level jump. The K%-BB% has gone from 18% to 27%, and his 1.90 ERA adds to his resume. He’s almost 26, so it’s getting close to the moment where we’d like to see if he can harness that big fastball in the majors. But he still has to develop a breaking ball and improve his control.

James Hoyt, RHP - Not much seems to be going on down in Lynchburg on the pitching front, but Hoyt, recently promoted to AA, has been impressive. A veteran of the Indy and Mexican Leagues, Hoyt became a member of the Braves this season, and he’s off to a fast start by striking out 34% of batters while striking out 8% in high-A. The 4.89 ERA was ugly, but his FIP suggests he’s more of 2.66 ERA pitcher if he can maintain those rates moving forward. Hoyt is just a reliever and an older one at 26, but he might be a middle relief option down the road.

Luke Sims, RHP - Sims is off to an impressive full-season debut in Low-A Rome. Last year’s first-round pick has a K% of 28% with a BB% of 8%, and he’s easily one of the top 3 prospects the Braves currently have. I was impressed with him a few weeks ago, but he still has a long way to go. He’s showing excellent early signs, though.

Williams Perez, RHP - Perez’s 4.17 ERA isn’t terribly flattering, and it doesn’t help that he’s already 22 years old and still in Low-A. I saw some bullpen potential in him when I saw him a few weeks ago, and given that his rates have been going backward as he moves up, he’ll need to make some major adjustments if he wants to stay in the rotation.

Mauricio Cabrera, RHP - Cabrera isn’t off to the flying start that teammate Sims is, but no one is going to give up on an arm that throws consistently in the mid-90s and occasionally touches the upper-90s. While Cabrera has maintained his strikeout rate in his transition from short-season ball to rookie-ball, the walk rate has collapsed to 13%, which won’t work in the rotation. Cabrera remains only 19 years old, and if he figures some things out to improve his control, he could move quickly. But his debut has shown there’s still some rough edges there.

Shae Simmons, RHP - Simmons is another Braves reliever with a big arm, and his 40% strikeout rate in Low-A is impressive. The 10% walk rate isn’t ideal, but higher walk rates are more acceptable for relievers. When I saw him, I thought he needed to improve his slider to give him a second pitch to go along with the 70-grade fastball, and if he can develop one, it would help him maintain high K rates moving forward while not seeing a major increase in walk rates as hitters would have to worry about two pitches instead of one.

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