Pessimist’s Guide To Mariners Pitching Prospects
Prospects are exciting, and pitching prospects are no different. When teams acquire prospects, they see bright futures, provided things break right and the players develop as they ought to. Every single player in professional baseball, at one point, had a reasonable shot of making it in the bigs. The talent was there, or at least it could’ve been. But most players don’t make it, and more of them fall well short of their ceilings. Even top prospects bust at an incredible rate, and when people stop evaluating them by their potential ceilings, they start to notice the red flags. There are always reasons why a guy doesn’t fulfill his promise. If you have a top prospect who doesn’t materialize into anything special, you can identify after the fact what went wrong. Things go wrong.
Pitching prospects go wrong, kind of a lot. Danny Hultzen might be going wrong before our eyes. That much, we don’t know yet, but the possibility exists. As such, let’s look at Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, and Brandon Maurer, and try to identify the reasons why they might not make it big. For every single one of them, it’s way too early to call them disappointments. But if they were to become disappointments later on, what follow might be the explanations. You can think of these as predictions by a negative jerk.
Doesn’t excel because: plagued by shoulder problems. They’ve popped up in 2013, and the shoulder is the bad one. The elbow is the bad one, too, and I guess everything’s better than, I don’t know, brain cancer, but if you’re a pitcher, you don’t want to hear anything about your shoulder. You don’t even want to hear good things. You just don’t want to hear a word about it because you don’t want to have to think about it.
Doesn’t excel because: secondary pitches don’t develop enough, and the fastball gradually erodes. You can get by for a while at the start with a blazing heater. But in most cases, there need to be other weapons, and Walker’s are presently still coming along.
Doesn’t excel because: inefficiency, caused by inadequate control of the strike zone. In Double-A and Triple-A, Paxton has thrown a below-average rate of strikes, and he remains inconsistent. This might just be his thing, and maybe instead of turning into peak Erik Bedard, he becomes one of the other Erik Bedards.
Doesn’t excel because: elbow. I know Ramirez is back and pitching and pitching well and pitching comfortably, but he missed some time with an elbow injury that wasn’t repaired surgically, and I’m of the opinion that these things eventually tend to be addressed surgically. It seems almost inevitable, and as much as we prefer elbow problems to shoulder problems, you’d rather there just be no problems, and there’s no such thing as a guaranteed post-surgical return to effectiveness. Maybe Ramirez’s body isn’t cut out for this. Maybe he’ll lose some of his command.
Doesn’t excel because: mediocre command and incomplete repertoire. Maurer’s still trying to figure out lefties, and it’s not like he was amazing in Double-A. The best thing he did was prevent home runs, and that’s maybe the least reliable skill. The ability is in there, but Maurer might just end up as a reliever, or as a starter who gets exposed by lefty-heavy lineups. Developing that weapon isn’t automatic.
Tacoma’s starting rotation right now is incredibly interesting and incredibly promising, especially if this latest Hultzen flare-up is a minor one. It’s easy to imagine any single one of those guys going on to have a long and successful major-league career. It’s less easy to imagine busts, but that’s only because we don’t want to acknowledge the possibility. And I don’t want to seem like I’m actually this negative about all the guys. This post is deliberately over-the-top negative to make a point. But, let’s just say all of them bust, or at least that all of them disappointment. There will have been signs. Signs are always there. It’s a matter of how much attention they get.