A meandering conversation ensues about the ranking of Jess Todd and Mitchell Boggs, their past, their future and the state of starting pitching in the Cardinals’ farm system.
azruavatar: One of the more surprising outcomes for me when we were doing our rankings was that Jess Todd eaked out Mitchell Boggs for the top (healthy) starting pitching prospect. I feel like there’s a lot of myth surrounding Todd especially after Derrick Goold’s article on learning the cut fastball. Todd rocketed through the system, but why the hype?
roarke: Todd went through a period during last season where he was a monster and I think that stretch got a lot of people excited. As I said in my comment during the list, my enthusiasm for him was tempered by an underwhelming performance at the Futures Game and some hard times in AAA (of course, he’s still pretty young for that level). All that being said, I think that his ranking above Boggs has more to do with my feelings on Boggs than my feelings on Todd. I hope I’m wrong, but Boggs just seems like a run-of-the-mill utility pitcher type that every system produces. Maybe he can fill out the back of a rotation temporarily, or be a swingman, or pitch some relief – but he probably won’t be exceptional in any of those roles. Todd seems to have the potential to be a little more than that.
erik: During his “He Will Destroy us All” period he grabbed a lot of attention. Todd rocketed through the system while Boggs has pitched one rung at a time. I too was a little soured by his performance in the Futures Game, but there has to be more to him than we I saw in just one inning. As for Boggs, I do like him, but for me he’s more of a back-end starter no matter how I can slice it, barring the chance he learns a third pitch and/or gains consistency with his breaking ball. I guess Todd lends himself a little more to my imagination, whereas Boggs “is what he is”. Maybe it’s just mystique, and Todd could easily lose that mystique with a bad season in AAA.
azruavatar: 6.6K per 9IP, 2.0BB per 9IP. If I quoted those numbers for someone at the major league level, I’d be talking about Derek Lowe. But these are the numbers of a AA pitcher who doesn’t have the 60% GB rate of Lowe. If we’re going to be honest about Todd, we have to note that he’s a control oriented pitcher and not a high strikeout pitcher. Which brings us to Todd’s stuff. He throws a fastball with multiple looks that sits in the low 90s. He’s got a slider with good tilt that sits in the 83-84 mph range. His cutter probably sits in the 87-89mph range. None of that jumps off the page. Contrast that with Mitchell Boggs who has a fastball in the 93-94mph with a curveball that has good break (but he struggles to locate). The comparison to me seems like a control pitcher versus someone with better pure stuff but less command. How often do we take the control pitcher in these circumstances?
erik: I agree, more often than not we would take the power pitcher. The problem with Boggs is while he has “power stuff”, his strikeouts also have taken a dip every time he has leveled up. 7.82 at Palm Beach. 6.91 at Springfield. 5.82 at Memphis. So while Boggs may look like he should be a strikeout pitcher, he definitely is not. If I have to choose between lighter stuff/better control with around the same amount of K’s, of course I’m going to take the control pitcher.
azruavatar: I’ll concede there’s a fine balancing act to be had here since neither player has particularly overwhelming stats nor an overwhelming scouting report. Why is that though? This is more a question about Boggs than Todd. The general perception of Todd is that he has slightly above average stuff but very good command and he knows “how” to pitch. So Todd gets more out of his pitches than we’d expect. Boggs seems to have the opposite problem. He has, to my eye, a 60 fastball and a 55 curveball. He has some location issues with the curveball but overall he has two good pitches. Why is it he only strikes out 5.8K per 9IP?
roarke: Wouldn’t it be great if we had pitch f/x data for the last few years in the minor leagues so we could see what Boggs’ tendencies are? From a ‘big picture’ perspective, though, does it say anything about the Cardinals system that we are discussing these two pitchers? They are the top two starters in the Cardinals system, partly because of Garcia’s injury, but also because all of the other contenders (Ottavino, Mortensen, Herron, etc.) either took a step back last season or stagnated. Before last season I thought that the Cardinals had a lot of high upside young arms in the system, but now the strength is elsewhere. I suppose that’s the nature of TINSTAAPP.
erik: Well we do have Pitch F/X data for Boggs and pitch type and plate discipline stats at Fangraphs for the 34 innings he did pitch, but I’m not sure that it gives us the answer given the sample size. Two things do stick out to me: He’s heavily reliant on his FB and his swing % outside of the strike zone was just 16.1%. On the team, only Parisi and Mulder were worse.
I wonder what either of these pitchers would look like pitching in relief. They both are more valuable if they can start, but both Todd and Boggs have some experience relieving back in their college days and the notion of them moving to the bullpenhas been floated before. Boggs was reportedly throwing 96, 97 in the AFL last year in short stints, and Todd has that nasty slider. Do you two think their stuff good enough to succeed in any sort of high leverage relief role, either as a set up man or possibly even closing?
azruavatar: I’m inclined to pick Boggs fastball for a late inning role but his command of the curveball is pretty iffy so the high leverage relief seems to be stretching it. Todd’s stuff just doesn’t impress me much but the slider would play better being seen once a game rather than 2-3 times. In either case, this all seems like more than just TINSTAAPP to me. The Cardinals have a fundamental problem developing starting pitching. They’re throwing crap at a wall and hoping some sticks but up until last year and the introduction of classic mechanics, the system lacked a comprehensive philosophy and implementation from top to bottom. Luhnow still needs to prove that he can pick starters in the same way he has right handed relievers and position players. Am I overreacting here or would you agree that the system has little in the way of reliable starting pitching prospects?
roarke: I wouldn’t be opposed to giving McClellan a shot at the rotation and slotting Boggs in McClellan’s bullpen slot to start the season (or at least try it out in Spring Training). Whether McClellan can be effective as a starter is debateable, but I feel pretty good about Boggs in the bullpen and it would give him some valuable major league experience. As for Luhnow’s ability to pick starters, I do agree that starting pitching is a weak spot for our system and that is partly because of the strategy the Cardinals have used with their high picks recently (that is, College pitchers with limited upside – Ottavino, Mortensen, Kopp, Lynn). But they’ve also had a bit of bad luck with injuries to Ottavino, Kopp and Garcia, which brings us back to the nature of pitching prospects. It is much easier to be right about position players and relievers than it is with starting pitchers.
erik: It is a weakness. The only person close to looking like something better than a # 4 starter this season was Jaime Garcia. While I like some of the pitchers they’ve taken high in the draft, there is a growing list of who they could have drafted but passed on. Derrick Goold well chronicled on how passed on Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy. I would now add Brett Cecil to that list. To be fair, a lot of teams also passed on these arms, so maybe finding a future top pitching prospect is more of a rare event, but I would think they wouldn’t be so hard to detect. I wish they would shed the high school pitcher aversion. It’s not like they never draft high school pitchers, Herron was the highest in recent memory, and he’s in the same boat as the others,which is to say his upside a #4-5 starter.
azruavatar: I bet we could match the list of Hughes, Chamberlain, etc. with one of starters the Cardinals didn’t choose who have fizzled out in the minors. Regardless, starting pitching looks to remain an issue for the Cardinals’ farm system in the short term. That’s not necessarily a deal breaker but it does require a reallocation of free agent money over time with more going to frontline pitching and less to position players (assuming that the farm will produce the lion’s share of the position players) if the trend continues. Todd and Boggs, for all their faults, still seem like reasonable bets to be starters. There’s certainly no conclusive evidence to this point that they can’t be. In the long term, Luhnow and company might be well served by re-evaluating their approach to starting pitching prospects.