Will he amount to anything?
Almost certainly not. Spoone is a Baltimore-area boy, drafted out of a local junior college. He pitched well enough in his first two full seasons to establish himself as a prospect, then hurt his shoulder in the middle of 2008 and spent 2009 recuperating. He was a 24-year-old at AA in 2010, and stayed in the rotation all season. He even pitched superficially well, but a 79-88 BB/K ratio in 132 innings was a strong indication that he wasn’t really fully recovered.
He was promoted to Norfolk early in the 2011 season, and he made eight starts. In the starts I saw, Spoone pitched tentatively, as if he were afraid to challenge hitters. His starts were tortuously slow, and his statistics show someone intimidated by the environment — 34 innings in eight starts (indicating that he was throwing a lot of pitches), a 26-16 BB/K ratio, only one home run allowed. He was demoted to Bowie and shifted to the bullpen; his 2011 Bowie stats are about the same as his 2010 Bowie stats.
Now 26, Spoone has signed with the Red Sox for 2012. He hasn’t established himself in AA. He doesn’t have good control or command. That’s a lot of reasons for pessimism about his future.
Is he this decade’s Chad Bradford?
Apparently. Bradford, of course, was one of the heroes of Moneyball, who according to the legend was an extremely effective minor-league pitcher who was denied his chance to pitch in the major leagues because he didn’t have a fastball and relied on a funky delivery. (The legend isn’t completely true, as the White Sox did give Bradford nearly fifty major-league innings over three seasons and he was effective and the A’s did have to trade Miguel Olivo to get him; Olivo is still active and has nearly 1000 major-league games to his credit. And, while Bradford was effective in his role, the evidence indicates that his role was limited; like most sidearmers, he’s vulnerable to opposite-hand hitters.) Startup is a left-handed pitcher without much of a fastball who has a funky leg kick. You have to see it to believe it; picture a man trying to kick off his shoe back over his head into the closet.
Startup has been effective in his minor-league career. He was drafted by the Braves at age 20 and was immediately assigned to Rome in the full-season South Atlantic league. Most players are assigned to short-season clubs immediately after signing. Startup was effective there, and in the following season pitched effectively in High-A, AA, and AAA ball. The next year, he was still pitching well in AAA before being traded to the Padres in a deal for Royce Ring. He then underwent Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, and missed all of 2008 and most of 2009.
And since then, he’s been stuck pitching in A-ball in the Orioles organization. In 2011, he was pitching for Frederick when he got called up to Norfolk. He made two appearances, giving up three runs in 2 2/3 innings. Even though he retired the last six batters he faced, he was sent back to Frederick. I guess the Orioles thought Mark Hendrickson was a vital part of their future.
Including his rehab stints, Startup has a career record of 23-6, with a career ERA of 2.66. His career AAA ERA is 3.23. Why is he still pitching Class A middle relief? It’s gotta be his delivery.
Who is he?
A Japanese-born pitcher who joined the Orioles organization in 2009. Like most Japanese-born pitchers who aren’t the subject of a highly-publicized bidding war, Tanaka doesn’t have much of a fastball, but has command of adequate breaking stuff. His 29th birthday is in November of 2011.
Tanaka’s first American assignment was at AA Bowie, where he was okay; he returned to Bowie for the 2010 season and was terrible. He was demoted to High-A Frederick in 2011, and pitched fairly well (although, in all honesty, not as well as a 28-year-old should have pitched in High-A). He was promoted to make 6 relief appearances with Bowie and then to make two end-of-year starts at Norfolk. He gives up too many hits to have a decent shot at a major-league career.
Is he still a viable backup catcher for a major-league team?
Certainly. He’s a catch-and-throw guy, a very good defensive catcher (I don’t know if he quite rises to the level of ‘outstanding’). As a once-a-week backup, he’s fine.
Could he be a starter?
No. He’s a .220 hitter with no power. In 100 at bats, with good luck, he could easily hit .280, but he could just as easily hit .160.
Tatum was claimed on waivers by the Astros in October 2011. The Astros themselves waived Tatum in January, and he was claimed by the Diamondbacks.
Will he ever make it? Is he still a prospect?
There probably has been no Oriole more disappointing over the last three seasons than Chris Tillman. After being acquired from Seattle in the Erik Bedard trade, he pitched well at AA Bowie at age 20, and then pitched dominatingly well at AAA Norfolk at age 21 in 2009. Since then, he has pitched poorly in the major leagues and has pitched steadily worse in AAA, culminating with a 5.19 ERA at Norfolk in 2011.
There’s some hope for optimism. First, Tillman’s 2011 major-league performance, while on the surface as bad as his 2009-2010 performance, showed some improvement. His walk rate dropped from 2010′s 5.2 per nine innings to 3.6, and his strikeout rate jumped from 2010′s 5.2 to 6.7. His home runs alllowed rate dropped from 1.5 to 0.7. His first start of the season was quite good (six no-hit innings against Tampa Bay) and then, after he was sent down and brought back, his first start after being recalled was quite good.
It’s certainly possible that the Baltimore Orioles have put Tillman in a position where he can’t succeed. When he has one bad start, no matter what the circumstances, there’s immediate talk of pulling him from the rotation; they had him on a much shorter leash than, say, Alfredo Simon or Chris Jakubauskas. It’s almost impossible for a young pitcher to succeed if he believes he has to be perfect. He tries to make impossible pitches and loses all sense of how he was successful in the past. He was so ineffective at Norfolk in 2011 that he could just be completely messed up mentally.
On the other hand, pitching a baseball is a complicated activity, requiring the interaction of many mechanical actions. It’s well known that a slight injury can turn even the most successful pitcher into an ineffective tosser. I speculated last year that Tillman’s difficulties may be caused by simple physical maturation; that the particular actions and forces applied that led to his earlier success no longer do because he’s stronger, or not as strong, or more flexible, or less flexible. I’m not a scout or a biomechanics expert, so I have no way of testing that theory. But if it’s true, then that’s another argument against drafting immature (i.e. high-school) pitchers in the early rounds
I think that if Tillman does pitch well long enough to accumulate some “credit”, he’ll be a good pitcher for a fairly long time. I think it’s unlikely that he’ll do so with the Orioles, a team that won’t help him succeed; but he could blossom if he gets traded to a team that will help him succeed.
Can he pitch in the major leagues?
VandenHurk, whom I thought was a so-so prospect last year, did almost nothing in 2011 to change that opinion. He was the only Tide to stay in the starting rotation all season (26 starts, 0 relief appearances, 154 innings), thereby demonstrating his durability. He showed good control (40 walks in those 154 innings) but not much ability to miss bats (108 strikeouts in those 154 innings.) Essentially, his outlook is the same as last year’s — given the right opportunity and luck, he could have a three-to-five-year major league career as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
In 2011, I saw Rick VandenHurk make 11 starts. In ten of those starts, he pitched at least six innings (he went five in the eleventh.) In the first six innings of games, VandenHurk had a 2.77 ERA. In those games, he pitched 2 1/3 innings in the seventh inning or later, and gave up 7 runs in those 2 1/3 innings.
VandenHurk has signed with the Blue Jays for 2012 and was added to their 40-man roster.
Who is he?
A 26-year-0ld lefhanded-hitting outfielder/first baseman who has neither speed, patience, or power. His career AA stats are.261/.310/.385 in 159 games. And 2011 was the first season he played in more than 100 games. He did hit well as a 24-year-old in half a High-A season, and hit okay (.283/.345/.394 )in 140 Norfolk plate appearances. Thirty years ago, if he could sustain his Norfolk performance, he might have had a shot at a career as a pinch-hitting specialist. In today’s game, not so much.
Can he be an effective major league pitcher?
After I write that I think almost any pitcher who is successful at AAA can be a successful major-league pitcher, the first 2011 Norfolk Tide I write about happens to be one of the exceptions. I don’t think Worrell can be an effective major-league pitcher, at least for any length of time.
Worrell is a product of the Cardinals’ system, an A-Ball closer who became a middle reliever at the higher levels. He missed the 2009 season with injury, was traded to San Diego, and signed as a (minor league) free agent with the Orioles for 2011. He eventually became the Tides’s closer, and was fairly effective (21 saves, a 3.42 ERA in 52 innings.)
Worrell relies on deception to get batters out. He throws low three-quarters if not pure sidearm, and he strides very much toward first base; so he looks as if he’s dragging his arm past his body before letting the ball go. This motion makes it hard to pick up the ball. But it also hurts his control (22 walks in those 52 innings) and if he’s off, he’s REALLY off. His stuff isn’t great. I suspect that more advanced major-league hitters won’t be as fooled, and if they see him more, they REALLY won’t be fooled.
He was a closer in High-A, but moved to set-up in the higher levels. Yet he was still a prospect? What gives?
By and large, low-level minor league teams don’t use top prospects as their closers, preferring more experienced, college-trained pitchers without great stuff. There’s some good reasons for doing this; closers don’t pitch regularly or necessarily much, so there’s less opportunity for development; and, when closers fail they fail spectacularly, and there’s less risk in using mature non-prospects in that stressful role. If, however, a closer succeeds, he becomes a prospect, and there’s more incentive to develop him with regular work and less incentive to risk destroying his psyche with blown ninth-inning saves. Generally speaking, AAA closers are non-prospects, older pitchers who can handle the stress and don’t cost anything if they don’t.