Mark Worrell, Relief Pitcher
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.