Three games, three starters. This past weekend I had the opportunity to see Trevor Rosenthal, Zach Russell and Boone Whiting start for the Quad Cities River Bandits. Two out of three weren’t bad. I’ve also got some notes on Ryan Copeland.
I’ll have more scouting reports on Saturday (relievers) and Monday (hitters). I had originally thought this would be one post but … it turned out to be considerably longer than I expected.
Rosenthal has impressive velocity. His fastball ranged from 90-96 but sat consistently 94-95. In the 6th inning, Rosenthal was still pitching at 93 mph with his fastball. He also has a plus changeup that he’ll throw in the 83-84 mph range. Rosenthal has a loose curveball in the high 70s that needs some work. He snapped of 2-3 good curveballs but there were also hangers.
The first thing that was noticeable about Rosenthal was the easy, fluid mechanics. When he throws 96, it is a casual affair. There’s no strain. The arm motion does a great job transferring the torque from the lower half. He also doesn’t pause at the top of his leg kick but maintains forward movement throughout the entire motion. It’s remarkably effortless in appearance.
Rosenthal’s command was noteworthy for a hard thrower. He was consistently ahead of batters in the count with first pitch strikes. Cody Stanley had little trouble receiving the ball from Rosenthal and rarely was seen stabbing at pitches that missed location. In the 5th and 6th inning, Rosenthal’s command and mechanics would slip on occasion but he generally maintained composure well. His 2nd inning strikeout of switch hitter Micah Gibbs on a changeup and striking out the side in the 5th inning were particularly impressive. Rosenthal capped the performance off with a quick 1-2-3 in the 6th.
The capacity to be a starter is definitely there. His stuff isn’t on the same level as Shelby Miller or Carlos Martinez. The fastball shows good movement and velocity. The changeup was impressive and is obviously effective against lefties. I’d like to see Rosenthal cleanup the curveball a bit. Overall the control was good. I’d put his ceiling as a #2-#3 starter.
I hope that Russell was simply having an off night on Saturday. The right handed pitcher was all over the place egregiously missing pitch locations and falling behind in the count. Russell struggled to locate all of his pitches and resorted to poorly placed fastballs just to get a pitch in the strikezone.
His fastball sat 90-92 and touched 94. Velocity in the later innings was a problem as he tapered off badly during a lengthy 5th inning that saw his fastball fall into the 80s. There’s not a lot to say about his secondary stuff as he was obviously struggling to get it over the plate. It was a night were very little was working and he didn’t look like a guy who was striking out nearly a batter an inning coming into this start.
Whiting was basically everything I’d hoped he be in a pitcher who has questionable fastball velocity. Watching Whiting pitch immediately called to mind another minor league pitcher I saw last year: Scott Gorgen. (Gorgen by the way is rehabbing is Florida after offseason surgery. The initial injury that sidelined him lingered and lingered. What was supposed to be a brief DL stint has been a year of lost time.)
Like Gorgen, Whiting’s fastball sat 89-90 and touched 92. Whiting had excellent command throwing his fastball to all parts of the plate and keeping it low in the zone. His bread and butter pitch was a great changeup that he’d throw in the low-80s. Whiting would also throw a slurvey slider that I’d like to have seen with a little more velocity. Given his fastball command, the slider was effective but mostly unnecessary.
Whiting works quickly on the mound, which was a godsend after Russell and considering it was 94 degrees out at 2pm in the afternoon. (I had to go and change clothes before driving home because every inch of my clothes were soaked with sweat. Literally.) His mechanics were easy and unremarkable. Whiting shrugged of catcher Geoff Klein no more than 2 or 3 times the entire 7 innings. Given Whiting’s somewhat slight frame (6′ 1″ 175lbs), he doesn’t strike an imposing figure but he’s very confident and didn’t rattle.
Whiting started out the game with a three pitch strikeout, made the second batter look silly and never looked back. Pitching through the 7th inning, he maintained a 90mph fastball and never lost the excellent command that he showcased to start the game. Given the heat, I was particularly impressed with his ability to pitch 7 innings under those conditions.
Whiting doesn’t project much. His slider might get better but his fastball and changeup are basically finished products. The plus-plus changeup helps the fastball, as does the control, but Whiting’s ceiling is something like a mid-to-back of the rotation starter. In much the same way that I left Gorgen’s start a believer, I think Whiting has a solid chance to be a starting pitcher in the majors in spite of his sub par fastball velocity.
I didn’t have the opportunity to see Copeland start but one of the Quad Cities’ players was kind enough to indulge my questions about his stuff. Copeland throws a fastball that sits 86-88 and can get up to 90mph. His primary offspeed pitch, and best pitch overall, is a changeup. Copeland will also throw a slider to same handed hitters.
Jeff touched on Copeland’s impressive performance in Quad Cities thus far. Like Whiting, Copeland isn’t a projection pitcher. His stuff is, by and large, a finished product. Some people and some scouts will write him off simply because of his fastball velocity. As a noted velocity advocate, that’s warranted criticism. (Whiting and Gorgen certainly face steeper odds than if they had their respective changeups and, say, a 95mph fastball.)
The most compelling points in Copeland’s favor for me are: 1) He’s a lefty. The velocity expectations for a lefty are not quite as high as a righty. 2) His changeup has nuetralized right handed hitters. Despite facing an inordinately high percentage of right handers, Copeland has struck out better than one per inning and 42Ks:5BBs. This is critical to his success moving forward. If his splits start to go south against more advanced hitters, that’s probably the end of the line. 3) Copeland, like Whiting and Gorgen, has superb control. Right now, his strikeout rate is excellent though not elite for low-A. His nearly 9:1 K:BB ratio, however, is elite. Maintaining that kind of control will be important for his pitches to play better than the radar guns reading.
I always have a healthy bit of skepticism when a player’s fastball doesn’t sit at that magical 90mph threshold. (P.J. Walters, I’m looking at you.) Ryan Copeland will be the kind of player that is forced to prove himself at every level but, if he continues to pitch as he has in 2011, he should get the opportunity to do so.