Future Forty Update for July
(Sorry about the earlier glitch – the draft wasn’t done, but somehow got published.)
The Future Forty has undergone its monthly makeover. Asdrubal Cabrera goes away, so the system is a little more thin at the top, but the fact that Steve Uhlmansiek, Anthony Varvaro, and Brandon Morrow are all throwing in short season ball helps the lower level talent base. Overall, I’d say the system is improved from where it was a month ago, as several players have taken steps forward and the short season level talent is above average.
New faces include Travis Chick (6/6 reward/risk), Steve Uhlmansiek (7/9), and Greg Halman (7/9). Joining Asdrubal Cabrera in leaving the Future Forty were Nathanael Mateo (5/9) and TJ Bohn (5/8). I also shifted a few players from one category to another – notably, Ryan Feierabend went from a projected contributor to a projected regular, as he’s been pitching his way to the top of the team’s list of young left-handed pitchers.
Rather than rehashing what I’ve said about veterans of the Future Forty, I wanted to use this post to talk about some of the new guys. I gave a brief overview on Chick yesterday, but a little more in depth profile is probably in order. Plus, Uhlmansiek and Halman are two of the main guys to see (along with Kuo-Hui Lo) up in Everett, so, here’s some info on the newcomers to the list.
Chick’s an interesting guy. He just turned 21, but he’s now on his fourth organization, and he’s been rather up-and-down in his short professional career. Back in 2002/2003 with the Marlins, he was sitting 89-93 with his fastball but had problems with his command and hadn’t developed any secondary pitches of note. He had a breakthrough 2004 season in low-A, tightening his slider and his command and missing bats regularly for the first time. He had problems leaving the ball up in the zone, which resulted in flyball tendancies and home run problems, and the Marlins dealt him to the Padres, where he shined in the Midwest League after the trade. He was named the #4 prospect in the Padres organization in the spring of 2005 by Baseball America.
That was a bad farm system, though (Josh Barfield and Freddy Guzman 1 and 2 respectively? Yech.), and he was the number one arm in that farm system by default, really. He struggled in ’05, losing velocity and sitting 88-90 and only occassionally touching 92 or 93. Hitters at higher levels stopped chasing the slider out of the zone, and his strikeout rate went down while the walk rate went back up. After being traded to the Reds in midseason, he was terrible for Chatanooga, as his velocity waned late in the season and his command was non-existant. A lack of a knockout pitch and endurance had most scouts projecting him as a reliever.
He rebounded fairly well while repeating Double-A this year, improving the command of his fastball, but his velocity is still not where it was in 2004. He’s still sitting 88-91 and the command of his slider is still too poor for it to be a true out pitch. His change hasn’t come along, and with his current arsenal, he still projects better as a relief pitcher than a starter.
His splits tell an interesting story – lefties have hit him for a high average the past 18 months, but his GB/FB rate against LHB’s is basically even and he’s kept them in the yard. RH batters have a significantly lower batting average, but he’s been an extreme FB pitcher against RH batters, and he’s given up 18 homers vs RHB’s vs just 10 homers vs LHB’s in the past year and a half. Lefties hit him for average, righties hit him for power. It’s a little odd, honestly.
When going through the guys the M’s have had in the system in the past few years trying to find a comparison for Chick, one name stuck out the most, even though its not a perfect comp – J.J. Putz. While Putz was a college pitcher and older at age stop along the way, his pro experience matches Chick pretty well, and they’re numbers and arsenals are quite similar. Putz was 89-94 as a starter without a good outpitch and mediocre command. He missed less bats as a starter than Chick does now, in fact. Obviously, the big key for Putz has been the addition of the splitter, which has made him an ace reliever, but even with just his fastball in the pen, he was a decent cheap middle man.
Chick is now where Putz was about two years ago. A move to the pen would likely up his velocity to the 93-95 range (most pitchers gain velo when only throwing for an inning or two), where he could be effective in short stretches, even without the slider being a strikeout pitch. If it improves (he just turned 21, after all), he could be a very nice setup man. And occassionally, these guys learn a new pitch and become J.J. Putz. It’s not common, but it happens, and it’s why you like to have these guys in your system.
So, Travis Chick, nice arm to have around. He’s not the pitching equivalent of Asdrubal Cabrera, as Bavasi claimed in the press release, but he’s better than most of the arms the M’s had in the system before, and he’s got a chance to help the club in a year or two.
Moving on to the Everett guys, Uhlmansiek was a steal by the M’s in the 12th round of the 2004 draft as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. His arm is back in throwing shape, and while he’s not rushing it up there at 94 like he was in college, he’s sitting 89-92 and showing good command. He knows how to pitch, has solid average secondary stuff, and locates his fastball well. He’s not going to have any problem with the Northwest League, and if his fastball returns to his college level, he could climb the ladder in a hurry. He’ll be fun to watch next year.
Greg Halman is an 18-year-old outfielder with plenty of juice in his bat. Like pretty much every other Mariner prospect, he swings at everything, and his plate discipline needs a lot of work. But he’s a high school kid playing in a league of college arms, and driving the ball with authority. The M’s have him playing center, though most scouts project him to a corner. He’s got a better approach at the plate than Wladmir Balentien, and if you’re looking for an impact power corner outfield bat, he’s probably the best bet in the system. He’s young, he’s raw, and he’s far away, but he’s got a chance to thump. It’s nice that the M’s finally have a kid like this.