I’ve had a lot of positive things to say about Mitchell Boggs. He’s got a live fastball and some inconsistent, but potent, breaking pitches. PJ Walters has shown a tremendous ability in the minors to use the movement of his pitches while mixing them effectively to retire hitters. Despite his injury, Jaime Garcia might still be regarded as the best pitching prospect in the system. A lefty with a big curveball and high groundball tendencies, he’s been one of few who have looked like something more than a back end starter. DanUp likes Blake Hawksworth.
Of all the pitching prospects near the majors (and I’m speaking in terms of those that might be ready for 2010), none of the above strikes me as the most likely to crack the rotation and stick.
Clayton Mortensen was not a signing that thrilled me at the time of the draft. I abhorred it and thought it was quite the reach. His rapid rise through the program looked to be fueled by dictates from the front office rather than his production. After reaching Memphis just a year after being drafted, he stuggled to make adjustments and stand out among the plethora of pitching prospects with onging questions.
To some extent, those questions remain unanswered. Will his command be more like it was in college or what we saw in his professional debut? Is his declining strikeout rate a product of better hitters or a lack of stuff? While these questions have merit, they focus on what Mortensen can’t do rather than what he can.
For a major league club that loves the two seam fastball, Mortensen’s draft should have been catnip to their Cheshire smile. As his primary pitch, Mortensen has shown that his path to the bigs lies moreso with groundballs than with strikeouts. At 53% groundball rate, Mort ranks in the top 10 in the PCL behind a bunch of wily vets and some A’s pitching prospects. A 53% groundball rate in the majors would also be in the top 10. So not only does Mortensen use a two seam fastball as his primary weapon but he uses it well. That’s something that should appeal to the major league coaching staff as a young player who isn’t trying to blow everyone away.
The other regard that Mortensen strikes me as the most ready for a starting gig is his ability to retire left handed batters. He’s shown an improved changeup this year to complement his fastball. Lefthanders crushed him in 2008 for a FIP over 6. In 2009, the difference between lefties and righties is within half a run. Opposite handed hitters are going to be difficult for a player who relies on a two seam fastball and a slider as his primary breaking pitch. The improved changeup is crucial to his ability to start and retire lefthanders over the course of the game.
Mortensen doesn’t flash a lot of high octane velocity or back breaking curveballs. He does get hitters to pound his fastball into the ground. That’s an underrated skill as we’ve seen with Joel Pineiro this season. A skill that can make a player a solid starting pitcher.