2011 National League – Pitchers

 Willie Kempf  – Lo-A Rome (ATL)

 2010 stats: 8-2, 1.70 ERA; 74.1 IP, 53 H, 11 BB, 71 K in 9 starts and 6 relief appearances over 3 levels
 As the ace of the staff at Baylor University and 2-time team Captain, Kempf just about pitched the Bears to the Big 12 Championship in 2010, only to come up short in the title game. Their showing did earn the team a berth to the NCAA College World Series where they went 2-2 during the opening round regionals. The 6’ 0” right-hander was chosen by the Braves in the 27th round and was sent to begin his pro career in the Gulf Coast League. As with most advanced college pitchers, the 23 year old overpowered the younger players in the GCL (2-0, 11 IP, 0 ER, 3BB, 12K) and was promoted to the Danville Braves in the Appy League. This stop also proved to be brief as Kempf again went 2-0 in 5 appearances (4 starts) with a 1.91 ERA and a 2:28 BB:K rate. The Rome Braves would be his next destination and where he would finish out the 2010 season, but continued to impress (4-2, 35 IP, 30 H, 6 BB 31 K).
 
Known a fierce competitor, Kempf also has head on his shoulders. He was named on the 2009 Dean’s List at Baylor, as well as an 8-time mention to the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll, and 2010 1st Team Academic All-Big 12 Conference. He was also 1 of 9 pitchers in Baylor history to lead the team in ERA for 2 seasons. Kempf shows good pitchability and is very durable. His pitches have good movement and control. He keeps the ball on the ground and inside the fence (59% groundball rate and 2 HR’s over 74.1 IP while at Lo-A Rome). He throws a heavy low 90’s fastball which rates as average, along with a cutter that he learned in 2009. He has command of two other pitches, a very good slider and a high 80’s sinker. Turning these pitches into plus offerings may provide Kempf a slot into the rotation with either a return to Rome or Hi-A Myrtle Beach. I would expect the Braves to work Kempf out of the bullpen in Hi-A, so they can evaluate him against more advanced hitters. But don’t rule out some innings at AA late in 2011.
 
Zachary Neal  –  Short-Season Jamestown (FLA)

2010 stats: 2-1, 1.44 ERA; 31.1 IP, 27 H, 3 BB, 27 BB in 6 starts and 1 relief appearance over 2 levels.
 Neal is another advanced college pitcher that was on the short end at the 2010 College World Series. The 22 year old was involved in a pitchers duel versus South Carolina during an elimination game, losing 3-2 in which the bullpen surrendered the winning run in extra innings. Before the journey to Omaha, Neal began his collegiate career at Sam Houston St and then transferred to Howard (Texas) Junior College where he went 13-0 on the 2009 National Championship team. Neal was named as a 2009 Junior College 2nd Team All-American after striking out 104 batters in 89.2 IP and only walking nine (Note to self: who was named on the 1st team?). He made the jump to the Big 12 with the Oklahoma Sooners in 2010 where he found himself as the Friday night starter. During his only season with the Sooners, the 6’ 3” 220lb right-hander went 8-3 with a 4.43 ERA in 18 starts as a junior.
Its been said that if you stop at a roadside diner in Oklahoma there’s a good chance you might run into a scout from the Florida Marlins. No MLB team scouts the state as hard as the Marlins, who found Neal and selected him in the 17th round of the 2010 draft. After a short stint with the GCL Marlins (1-0, 0.84; 10.2 IP 1 BB, 16 K in 3 apps.), Neal was promoted to short-season Jamestown where he helped launch the Jammers to the NY-Penn League playoffs as a wild card. In 4 starts, he went 1-1 with a 1.74 ERA and had a BB:K rate of 2:21. He has a 4-pitch blend that mainly consists of a fastball and slider. The fastball has good sink and ranges from 87 to 90, but tops out at 93. The slider comes as his secondary offering and is described as “tight” and is comparable to his fastball that’s deceiving to hitters. The remainder of his pitches would be a below-average change-up that shows late movement and an average curveball. Neal has a quick delivery, but with outstanding control that keeps the ball down in the zone. He currently projects as a #4 starter that should find him at Lo-A Greensboro in 2011.
 
Angel Cuan – Short-Season Brooklyn (NYM)

 2010 stats: 5-1, 1.93 ERA; 84.0 IP, 71 H, 18 BB, 66 K in 14 starts and 3 relief appearances over 2 levels
 At 5’ 11” 150 pounds, most scouts don’t give Cuan much of a chance to advance to the majors, let alone through the Mets system. But after getting a fresh start at short-season Brooklyn in 2010, Cuan might be the most interesting pitcher listed to follow this year. He was signed as an International free agent in 2007 and spent the following season in the Venezuelan Summer League. It was his stat line in the VSL that caught my eye when I began to follow pitchers for MLBDC in 2009. You had to look past the 1-8 record to see the then 19-year-old lefty put up a very respectable 3.13 ERA and 11:74 walk/strikeout ratio. Things went south in 2009 as Cuan came to the states to play for the Kingsport Mets in the Appy League and a short stint with the Brooklyn Cyclones. Hitters teed up on Cuan by rapping 91 hits over 67.2 innings (.327 avg.) as he went 1-5 with a 5.05 ERA and fell off the radar. He did receive the opportunity to play for Pamana in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
The 21 year-old showed that things maybe starting to come together when he returned to Brooklyn in 2010, plus a short stay at Hi-A St. Lucie (4.1 relief innings).
It’s the three solid to above average pitches that makes Cuan an appealing pitcher for 2011. For his size and stature, Cuan has a very aggressive mound presence and commands the corners of the plate. His fastball runs in the 87 to 89 range and can top out at 91 mph. Radar guns have seen a few of his fastballs in the mid 90’s, so the velocity may appear has Cuan racks up innings and gains strength. His secondary pitch is a 75 to 78 mph sturdy overhand curve. He also has a solid change-up with a straight drop that he throws with outstanding deception based on his arm speed. Both the curve and change-up have been rated as MLB average. He wont mowed down hitters, but rather will avoid contact by mixing all three pitches while changing velocity. Again, Cuan is a work in progress and it should be fun to watch him defy the naysayers. Follow him chewing up innings in the rotation at Lo-A Savannah in 2011.
 
Trevor Holder – Hi-A Potomac (WASH)

 2010 stats: 7-6, 3.64; 136.0 IP, 144, 29 BB, 102 K in 26 starts and 1 relief appearance over 2 levels
 Trevor Holder epitomizes the term – under the radar. Usually a person can’t recall who finished second in last year’s Masters’, nor the Daytona 500, or whom the New York Yankees drafted as their 2nd pick. With Stephen Strasburg getting the first pick by the Nats in 2009 and the associated hype, you would think 2nd round pick Drew Storen was chosen at the same time. After those high caliber players, it was easy to slide under the radar, which is exactly where Holder found himself. When the dust settled and the “after” picks began to set in, most in the Beltway where shocked that a virtual no-name was chosen so high. The right-hander out of the University of Georgia was not even mentioned in the top 200 pitchers by Baseball America. He actually did have a reputation, as the Marlins selected him with their 10th round pick in 2008. Holder declined and went back to school, which delighted the National’s crosscheckers, who were all impressed by the 24 year old.
Starting his pro career with a 5 inning jaunt at short-season Vermont, 12.2 IP at Lo-A Hagerstown, the 6’ 2” Holder was rushed to Hi-A Potomac were he was hit hard (2-3, 9.26 ERA in 23.1 IP) and appeared that fatigue was taking its toll. Self-hype in regards to the 3rd round selection may have caused Holder to press himself. His fastball usually ran into the high 80’s, but at Hi-A Potomac he was throwing up to the mid-90’s with no movement, thus the hitters raking his offerings. He regained his fastball in 2010 and was throwing nothing but strikes during his return to Hagerstown with an 7:50 BB:K Rate. On June 15, he returned to Potomac and once again leveled off, this time giving up 11 HR in 70.1. Holder needs some work, but 2011 could be the year it comes together. He has the tools and a gritty disposition, but just lacks that plus pitch. He has a slurvy curveball, but his changeup needs some refinement by reducing the speed and placing trust in it. If Holder shows a breakout this year, his projection as a #3 or #4 starter would be in sight, otherwise he’s on the path to be a long reliever.
 
Colby Shreve – Lo-A Lakewood (PHIL)

 2010 stats: 7-5, 3.95 ERA; 109.1 IP, 95 H, 30 BB, 76 K over 18 starts and 5 relief appearances
 The Phillies feel that Colby has the potential, but he has yet to prove it to the club since 2010 was his pro debut. Shreve blew out his elbow just before the 2008 draft that required Tommy John surgery. The right-hander was one of the top Junior College pitchers before the injury and was projected to be a 1st or 2nd round pick. The Phillies had enough faith and the reputation of rehabbing young pitchers that they selected Shreve in the 6th round out of the College of South Nevada. Returning to mound at Lo-A Lakewood, the 6’ 5” 210 lbs had a solid debut by putting up a respectable 3.95 ERA over 109.1 innings. Shreve’s pitches were very raw, but the 23 year-old showed a solid approach to the game and through it was his first pro season, demonstrated a calm demeanor on the bump. He throws an excellent 4-seam fastball and had late season success in 2010 with a 2- seamer with a sharp downward sink. Shreve’s fastball ran between 91-94 mph in college, but fell to a post surgery range in the hi-80’s. His best pitch is a 76-79 change-up that is a complement to his curve, which rates as a slurve. He needs to place more spin on the ball and work on repeating his delivery. What’s curious about Shreve during his post injury resume is that he had remarkable control during his outings. Pitchers who undergo TJS usually see their velocity return first, then their control. Shreve has been the opposite, which should poise him for a breakout in 2011. Baseball America agrees, as they listed him as a sleeper candidate. With the amount of innings thrown with the Blue Claws, look for Shreve to begin 2011 at Hi-A Clearwater. If things fall apart this season, Shreve was rated as a prospect at third base, so the Phillies can take a look at him at position that is very thin in their system. 
 
Robert Whitenack – Hi-A Daytona (CHI)

Season stats: 11-8, 4.15 ERA; 143.0 IP, 134 H, 40 BB, 91 K in 27 starts and 1 relief appearance over 2 levels.
 Pitching for SUNY-Old Westbury (NY) would be enough to keep you under the radar, but Whitenack saw up to 20 scouts make the stop at the Division III School in the Skyline Conference. They were there to scout the kid that throws the rarely used knuckle-curve, ala Burt Hooten from the late 70’s, early 80’s. The two-time Conference Pitcher of the Year was taken by the Cubs during the 8th round of the 2009 draft. He began his pro career with short-season Boise in the Northwest League (0-4, 4.80 ERA over 54 plus innings). Lo-A Peoria would be his first destination in 2010 where he struggled up to the All-Star Break giving up a 5.85 ERA in 13 starts. After the break, the 22 year-old put together 3 quality starts that earned him a promotion to Daytona. His first Hi-A outing was horrible but he later settled down and finished strong by not allowing more than 2 runs in his last 4 starts (3-1, 2.04 ERA; 39.2 IP, 32 H, 10 BB, 28 K in 7 starts. Whitenack has a very projectable frame at 6’ 5”, which allows him to come off the mound at a good angle. The right-hander has a solid arm action, pitches to contact, and had a 63 % groundball rate at Daytona. The 80 mph knuckle-curve has a 12-to-6 tumble and rates 80 on the 20-80 scale. He also throws a low 90’s fastball that is a plus pitch and is working on a slider, which along with his change-up are average. Seeing the late season improvement at Daytona as very promising, but I look for Whitenack to repeat Hi-A and to continue working on his other pitches. Finishing at AA Tennessee during the end of the 2011 could be within reach.
 
Justin Walker  – Hi-A Lynchburg (CIN)

 Season stats: 7-12, 6.03 ERA; 128.1 IP, 159 H, 19 BB, 112 K in 22 starts and 4 relief appearances over 2 levels.
 Every season there is a pitcher that quite doesn’t show the stat line that dictates that progress is being made. Justin Walker maybe the enigma for the upcoming 2011 season. Drafted as a junior out of Lamar College (TEX) with the 41st pick in 2008, information on him is very scarce. While at Lamar, Walker was mediocre at best, but did show flashes of having pinpoint control as he had a BB:K rate of 35:110 over 131 innings. He may have begun pinpointing his pitches too often, as he was touched for 8 home runs in 65.0 innings during his junior year. He began his first full season in 2009 by splitting time between Billings (Pioneer League), Lo-A Dayton, and an appearance with Hi-A Sarasota. In all, his career stat line after the 2009 season didn’t look that bad (1-5, 3.59 ERA; 60.1 IP, 66 H 12 BB, 55 K), except an alarming 1.2 HR9 rate. Hopefully the reason information was tough to acquire about the 6’ 5” 200 lb left-hander is that the Reds organization want to keep the 24 year-old under the radar. His 2010 campaign began by returning to Lo-A Dayton and here is where things got ugly for Walker. The casualty of numerous big innings, Walker surrendered 66 earned runs over 101 innings including 16 home runs. But again, Walker flashed continual control by the 16:84 BB:K rate. Despite a 3-10 record and a 5.88 ERA the Reds promoted Walker back to Hi-A and it didn’t get any better (6.59 ERA; 27.1 IP, 20 ER in 6 starts). The control was once again there, as he struck out 28 while walking only three. I believe Walker will start missing bats and it will all come together for him in 2011. That might be a tough pill, because the Reds have changed their Hi-A affiliation (Bakersfield Blaze) to the hitter friendly California League. Walker should be a back of the rotation starter or working middle relief out of the pen.
 
Luis Cruz – Lo-A Lexington (HOU)

 Season stats: 8-5, 3:61 ERA; 99.2 IP, 96 H, 26 BB, 88 K in 16 starts and 4 relief appearances
Luis Cruz is youngest pitcher to the make the pre-season list at 20 years old. He was selected during the 9th round of the 2008 first year player draft out of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The leftie quickly created a stir in the blog-world as then 17 year-old failed to give up an earned run in 5 of his 7 starts at rookie level Greenville of the Appy League. The buzz swiftly subsided as Cruz came down with an undisclosed arm issue that required surgery. Cruz revisited Greenville in 2009 where the effects of the surgery lingered to the tune of a 6.75 ERA and command issues reared its head with 10 HR over 54 plus innings. The Astros promoted Cruz to Lo-A Lexington to the start the 2010 season and placed him in the bullpen to regain his command and control. By mid-June, Cruz was back in the rotation and back to being the pitcher that created the hype in 2008. The 5’ 9’ left-hander parlayed a string of quality starts including striking out 10 batters over 7.2 innings, both career highs, on July 29th. That outing earned him an honorable mention at MLBDC.com’s UTR feature. Currently, Cruz’s ceiling is limited due to his small frame. He does have an electric fastball (90ish) that might be his ticket to carry him through the system. It’s been rated as very effective, but Cruz doesn’t use it to smoke hitters, but instead to induce groundballs (1.19 GB/FB Ratio). He also has strong change-up and very solid and consistent curveball. Its will be interesting to see if the Astros have faith in their petite fireballer with a promotion to Hi-A Lancaster in 2011. I expect with Cruz being 20 years old throughout the 2011 season, that the club would have him repeat Lo-A at least through the midway point. The call for a taste of Hi-A shouldn’t be far off though if Cruz continues throwing hard and commands his pitches.
 
Maverick Lasker – Lo-A Wisconsin (MIL)

Season stats: 7-5, 4.61 ERA; 105.1 IP, 106 H, 35 BB, 70 K in 17 starts and 6 relief appearances
It’s a shame this kid isn’t playing in the Midwest League with a name like Maverick or the Texas League for that matter. But he does hail from the southwest, as he was drafted in 2008 out the 5th round from Sandra O’Conner HS (AZ). The senior turned down a scholarship offer from Tony Gwynn’s San Diego St. Aztecs to signed with the Brewers, but missed out seeing his pro debut during the 2008 season with a back injury. He got to stay close to home when his debut came in 2009 when he reported to the Arizona League Brewers. The club let Lasker ease into pro ball by working him out of the bullpen where amassed a 5-1 record and a 3.26 ERA over 13 appearances including a spot start. This led to a promotion to Lo-A Wisconsin and the 6’ 2” right-hander was placed into the Timber Rattlers starting rotation. Lasker went 1-1 with an 5.00 ERA over two starts. The then 20 year old repeated Lo-A in 2010 and was hit hard by giving up 106 hits over 105.2 innings. Know to have an aggressive demeanor on the mound, Lasker likes to hammer the strike zone and was the victim of hanging the ball high. Lasker also got a touch of the “wilds” as he threw 18 wild pitches during the 2010 season. Noted for a fervent work ethic, Lasker throws a fastball that is in the low 90’s range, but has touched as high at 94. He has curve that’s been called slurvy but throws it with inconsistency. His changeup is average but has the makings of being a quality pitch. Though Lasker has the control to pound the zone with his pitches and as with most young pitchers, he lacks command. He fails to acquire a high strike out rate to instead producing groundballs with his offers. Lasker has the makeup to overachieve and possibly crack into a middle of the rotation starter. He will begin 2011 at Hi-A Brevard County in the Florida State League.
 
Philip Irwin – Hi-A Bradenton (PIT)

Season stats: 6-3, 3.35 ERA; 113.0 IP, 99 H, 20 BB, 111 K in 20 starts and 3 relief appearances
I usually begin breaking down my notes from the previous season around mid-November to draft a list for the 2011 Pre-season UTR list. I’m always excited to breakdown the Pirates first to see how the young Buccos fared and who will rise to the top. I guess that I should have waited this season, because my pick this year was Nathan Adcock who was selected by the KC Royals in the Rule 5 Draft. It turned out to be a good choice as Adcock made the Royals Opening Day Roster. That’s OK, because close behind Adcock was Philip Irwin. The 6’3” Irwin was drafted out of the U. of Mississippi in the 21st round in 2009. He reported to short-season State College where he had an impressive season for the Spikes (1-2, 2.12 ERA; 29.2 IP, 27 H, 6 BB, 32 K) working out of the bullpen. A promotion to Lo-A West Virginia was in store for the right-hander in 2010 and as expected by a seasoned college pitcher, Irwin again racked up respectable numbers working again from the bullpen. Noted as pitching to contact at Ole Miss, Irwin began striking out hitters while with the WV Power by almost averaging one an inning (111 K in 113 IP). He did have a month long stint on the DL for an undisclosed injury, but upon his return did not show any issues with his control. This prompted a move to the starting rotation where he flourished. A seven inning no-hit performance against Hagerstown (WAS) in July 2010 garnered Irwin the SAL Pitcher of the Week. The 24 year-old shows good command of a 89-91 fastball that can reach 93 mph. He also throws a decent 2-seamer which currently doesn’t have much drop. The curveball is his out pitch and the changeup is the pitch that needs the most work. Irwin will pitch to his strengths and keeps the walk count down and the ball in the park. Irwin probably had to pack heavy when he reported to Bradenton for Spring Training, as he should remain there when camp breaks. He will join the rotation along with his Ole Miss teammate Nathan Baker for Hi-A Pirates.
 
Deryk Hooker – Hi-A Palm Beach (STL)

Season stats: 8-7, 2.99 ERA; 111.1 IP, 97 H, 36 BB, 127 K in 19 starts and 7 relief appearances
 Hooker has been in the Cardinals system for four seasons and has been over shadowed by the likes of Jaime Garcia, Shelby Miller, and Joe Kelly. Though many have never heard of Hooker, some say that he should be mentioned in the same list with the latter two pitchers. The tall, projectable Hooker was selected in the 7th round out of Mira Mesa HS (CAL) in 2007. He began in the GCL and fared very well as an 18 year-old going 1-1 with a 2.32 ERA. The Cards moved him up to the Appy League and then quickly onto Lo-A Quad Cities in 2008. He had a brilliant Lo-A debut by posting a 1.61 ERA over 22.1 innings in 4 starts and 3:1 K:BB ratio. The future looked to be a smooth road ahead for Hooker, but a positive drug test in April of 2009 cost him a 50 game suspension. Immediately after the suspension ended, the Cardinals sent the 6’ 4” right-hander to short-season Batavia to right the ship and start anew. The suspension long behind him, 21 year-old Hooker was back at Quad Cities last season and later to Hi-A Palm Beach where he dominated both levels.
Hooker was rated as one of the most polished arms out in the 2007 Cardinals draft. He has a loose arm action with good speed. Scouts say that if he can condense his delivery it would be a big step toward his advancement. He get hitters out by having command on his low 90’s fastball that shows good movement and can spot on the corners. His best pitch is the 66-71 mph curve which rates as a plus offering. He also has command of a third pitch, a solid average change-up. I believe that Hooker is the most exciting pitching prospect in the Cards system and is posed to make some noise in 2011. He should return to Palm Beach at the start of the minor league season, it what should be a brief stay. If he continues to move up the levels at his current pace, Hooker could be in St. Louis at some capacity by 2014.
 
Kable Hogben – Short-Season Yakmia (ARI)

Season stats: 10 saves, 0.72, 37.1 IP, 17 H, 7 BB, 43 K in 28 appearances
In a country known more for that “other” type of football and cricket, Australia may have produced a future bullpen phemon in the 20-year-old Hogben. He was signed in March 2007 as a 16-year-old from the Victorian Institute of Sport, an organization that molds elite athletes, while playing for the Cheltenham Baseball Club. He spent the rest of 2007 at Australia’s baseball academy before heading to the States for extended spring training and instructional leagues in 2008. He made his pro debut in 2009 for the Missoula Osprey of the Pioneer Rookie League making 13 appearances (1-1, 5.57, 21 IP, 9 BB, 17 K). He then received the honor to be called back home to pitch for his country in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Hogben took huge steps in 2010 improving his numbers from last season. In 28 appearances for the short-season Yakmia Bears, the right-hander collected a team high 10 saves (0.72 ERA, 37.1 IP, 17 H, 7 BB, 43 K). The only blemish in his stat line was the eight batters he whacked, but digging further you will find only one wild pitch, which tells me that he not afraid to pitch inside. Hogben was instrumental in leading the Bears to the Northwest League playoffs, where they came up short in the Eastern Championship. He had only surrendered 2 earned runs in his last 20 appearances and didn’t serve up a home run all season. In fact, he joined the combination of bullpen prospects Jake Hale and Eury De La Rosa in not allowing a home run in 120 combined innings. Arizona’s scouts are fond of his loose arm action that’s throws a mid-80’s fastball, but are more excited on what could happen when the youngster fills out his 6’3” frame. They expect his velocity to increase in the mid-90’s, where he could be best suited as a set-up man. Expect him to take on that role into 2011 with Lo-A South Bend.
 
Albert Campos – Pioneer Casper (COL)

Season stats: 4-4, 2.05 ERA; 88 IP, 80 H, 17 BB, 68 K in 15 starts
As soon as received my copy of the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, the first section that I turned to was the Colorado Rockies. What I found was bittersweet. First, to see Campos receiving a rank was gut wrenching, but exhilarating that it was below the MLBDC’s criteria of the top 10. I was hoping to breakout the right-hander in my pre-season list, but when he garnered the Pitcher of the Year in the Pioneer League, I knew it wouldn’t be long for him to begin cropping up on the lists and blogs. Ranked #13 by BA, Campos hit my radar in mid-August when he threw a four hit shutout over eight innings with 6 strikeouts for the Casper Ghosts. He followed that up with striking out nine batters over eight innings on his next start. Once I began to research the 20 year-old Venezuelan and seeing his stats including the physical side, Campos hit my watch list. His 6’ 4” 222 lb. frame is a perfect build for a starting pitcher. I will also show a bias because before featuring for MLBDC, I gleaned another young Venezuelan pitcher for my NL-Only Keeper league in 2008 when he was pitching for Lo-A Ashville, Jhoulys Chacin. By the time you read this, I hope he that he gave me a quality start for the Rox on April 5th. Campos is an imposing sight on the mound. He has long strong legs and a thick upper body that will only get stronger as he matures. He began his career as a relief pitcher in the Dominican Summer League in 08’ and 09’. He joined the rotation at Casper in 2010 and finished strong by pitching 6+ innings in his last 7 starts. He throws a low 90’s sinking fastball with excellent control that can top out at 93 mph. Casper coaches also state that Campos’ velocity stays consistent deep into his starts. The curveball is a power 70’s mph with late break that is his outpitch. He still is developing a change-up, which he learned once he came over to the States. He will join the Rockies 2011 #5 prospect in Peter Tago in Asheville rotation. Though Campos is making a name for himself, I believe he will surpass Tago this season, as he was a late sign last year and will behind in his development. Campos has the tools to be a top of the rotation starter.
 
Red Patterson – Pioneer Ogden (LAD)

Season stats: 6-1, 3.33 ERA; 67.2 IP, 70 H, 17 BB, 66 K in 14 starts
Despite his age and level, I’m taking a flier on Patterson for 2011. The 23 year-old was picked in the 29th round of the 2010 draft and should be poised for a big move. Red spent two years at Grayson Junior College where he went 10-1 and a 1.41 ERA and earned all conference honors. He then went to the U. of Texas-San Antonio (5-3, 4.96 ERA) and was the staff ace that finished with 86 strikeouts over 94.1 innings. Last year he transferred to SW Oklahoma State and finished his season with a 6.84 ERA, but had an impressive strikeout rate of 103 in 72 innings that led the Lone Star Conference. The Dodgers sent the right-hander to the Ogden Raptors of the Pioneer League to begin his pro career. Patterson was impressive in his 14 starts and it was surprising to see that he didn’t get a taste of Lo-A ball before the season ended. The 6’ 3” hurler was named Pitcher of the Week in July after striking out seven over five innings. He finished second in ERA, but struggle against left-handed hitters with a 5. 28 ERA. He should be a back-end starter in the rotation at Lo-A Great Lakes, where #2 Dodger prospect Zach Lee will lead the staff.
 
Michael Watt – Lo-A Fort Worth (SD)

Season stats: 6-6, 3.82; 125 IP 128 H, 37 BB, 105 K in 28 starts and 3 relief appearances
I could say that I want to take a flier on Watt also, but instead I would like to think of him as a refurbishment project. Watt has been around a long time. How long? He was a trade-piece that sent Greg Maddux to the Los Angeles Dodgers back in 2008, but just turned 22 back in February. Drafted out of Capistrano Valley HS (Calif.) in the 2nd round in 2007, Watt turned down a commitment to NCAA powerhouse Long Beach St. The Dodger organization thought highly of the left-hander and hated to part ways with him. Once Watt arrived in San Diego he hasn’t done all that bad, but some have considered him to be a bust with the 2nd round tag still attached. He arrives in Ogden after the trade and put up decent numbers (9-4, 4.35 ERA 21 BB, 79 K) but began a tendency of giving up hits in bunches. He was began 2009 at Lo-A Fort Worth and again continued to progress in racking up 121 innings, lowering his ERA to 4.17, and a 7-4 record. He even got to sample a 3-inning start in AAA as a 20 year-old. Leading the team in innings pitched last season with 125 and only allowing just over 2 earned runs a start, the 6’ 1” Watt found a consistency with a change in his mechanics. He throws a solid fastball in the low 90’s. His secondary pitch is a curve that can be devastating when he is in command of it. The fact that he’s been in the Padres system for 3 seasons and repeated Lo-A last year may have gave him the stigma of being a bust. It was probably the best move for the Friars, as Watt found a renewed energy and a more centered focus. What we will see in 2011 will be a mentally improved, mature 22 year-old who will begin the new season this week at Hi-A Lake Elsinore.
 
Chris Heston – Lo-A Augusta (SF)

Season stats: 5-13, 3.75 ERA; 148.2 IP, 161 H, 33 BB, 124 K in 26 starts
 Profiled as a middle reliever as the 12th selection in 2009 out of East Carolina University, Heston showed the command in 2010 that may have him projected in the middle of a starting rotation. Heston was drafted two other times by the Nationals in 2008 and Minnesota Twins in 2007, before signing with the Giants. A Saturday starter at ECU, Heston went 7-0 with an ERA of 4.12
As with most young pitchers in the minors you have look past the win-loss record to see that Heston had an outstanding sophomore season at Augusta, especially in the late half of the season. The 6’ 4” 185 lb. Heston lead the team in innings pitched and strikeouts. He carried an ERA of 2.56 after the All-Star Break in 13 starts and down the stretch he saw a sub- 1.50 ERA for the month of August. The soon to be 23 year-old right-hander (birthday on April 10th) allowed 3 or fewer earned runs in 15 of 17 starts. His record reflects that he didn’t have the offensive support of the Augusta bats. The athletic, big body pitcher has a tremendous feel for three pitches. A sinking fastball in the upper 80’s, low 90’s. He shows good command of his curveball and change-up. Getting the latter pitches to rate as above average will determine the fate of Heston on whether he stays in a starting rotation. Unfortunately it will be some of the same Augusta teammates that failed him offensively in 2010, who will appear on the Hi-A San Jose Sand Gnat roster this season. We may again have to look past the record to track Heston progression, which I hope includes a trip to AA at some point.
 
 
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