Farm Notes – 6.14.06
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on June 15, 2006
By way of Al Gore's great invention and a short drive to Cheney Stadium, I was able to follow two great pitching performances while watching the PCL's strikeout leader do his thing — all at the same time.
I caught the play-by-play radio broadcast of San Antonio's matchup versus Corpus Christi while following Inland Empire's game down in San Jose via milb.com's great coverage. The two games overlapped each other for a few innings and Tacoma began their doubleheader in between so I took in quite a bit of info tonight.
I heard, read and watched some serious pitching.
What did I hear?
I heard Ryan Feierabend throw first-pitch strike after first-pitch strike to Corpus Christi batters, including uber-prospect Hunter Pence who is among the top prospects in baseball, and finish the night with 10 strikeouts in 6 2/3 of scoreless baseball. He allowed just five hits, all singles and did not walk a batter.
The 20-year-old gave up a single to Pence in the bottom of the first and then retired 13 in a row before Jonathan ash singled to lead off the sixth inning. How did Feierabend react?
The southpaw picked off Ash at first base and then struck out the next batter — his 8th strikeout of the night to that point.
Feierabend struck out the side in the fourth and the first two in the fifth, including Pence swinging on a change.
The 6-3, 200-pounder was sensational on Wednesday night. It was the best start of his career, specifically citing that he surrendered zero extra-base hits, did not issue a single base on balls and eight of his 10 whiffs came on swinging strike threes.
He's now just 3-5 on the year and sports a so-so 4.41 ERA after a blow-up start last week, but has fanned 51 in 65 1/3 innings while walking just 21 batters. He's allowed 71 hits, which is quite high, but he's starting to limit the base hits as well as the impact of the hits he does yield.
Feierabend typically sits 87-90 with his four-seam fastball and mixes in a solid change and a developing curve ball. He took a big step up with his breaking ball a year ago and it appears that he;s repeating that improvement again in 2006. His velocity is very consistent and it stands to increase incrementally as he refines his mechanics and matures physically.
A safe bet is that Feierabend lands in the 89- 92 mph range, which is above average. But his command is already very solid and his change is close to becoming a plus pitch. The curve ball is still a work-in-progress, but every year it has gotten better.
He's missing bats in Double-A San Antonio at 20 years of age and is a very projectable pitcher, both physically and in terms of stuff.
He'll probably battle consistency issues for awhile, but much of that is due to the fact that he's pitched in leagues far beyond his age and experience for the last three seasons.
But he's more than handled his business and he has no issues with mechanics or injuries and isn't the type to get complacent. He's a worker and quickly becoming one of the smartest pitchers in the system.
Feierabend is truly a diamond in the rough, but as a former third rounder, you can see what kind of "projectable" prep kids you can get after the first round.
So, what did I read?
I followed left-hander Robert Rohrbaugh, last June's 7th rounder out of Clemson, slice up the San Jose Giants over6 1/3 innings. He gave up one run on six hits, walked two and struck out eight.
Rohrbaugh gave up a run in the second inning and then retired 11 of the next 13, five via the strikeout, including the side in fourth.
Five of the six hits off him were singles and neither walk came around to score. The 22-year-old improved to 6-1 on the year and sports a nasty 1.75 ERA in his nine games, eight of them starts.
Rohrbaugh has struck out 37 and walked just eight in 46 2/3 innings. He's surrendered just 39 hits.
Rohrbaugh is not a flamethrower either, but his command is impeccable, and he hits his spots on a regular basis. His stuff isn't as impressive as fellow 2005 draftee Justin Thomas, but employs a three-pitch arsenal that includes a fastball in the 86-89 range, a pretty good curve ball and a quality change.
Rohrbaugh threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of 26 batters and found himself behind 2-0 only three times. Now that's called pounding the strike zone with solid stuff, keeping hitters off balance and making all nine spots in the batting order a big group of guess machines.
Rorhbaugh is never going to be an ace that mows down big-league lineups for 35 starts a year or piles up the strikeouts, but he's certainly got a chance to become a No. 4 starter that gets by with control and guile.
He's not unlike Bobby Livingston in that way.
What did I see at Cheney?
I saw a pretty good 24-year-old right-hander pitch without his best stuff but still fan seven in a complete game win over a tough lineup.
Francisco Cruceta gave up four runs, all earned, and was still impressive. But that's what quality arms do.
Cruceta threw 102 pitches, three left the yard, 67 were strikes.
He got a big lead and was on cruise control, just trying to throw strikes, like a good soldier, and was tagged a few times for the long ball. But Cruceta is a tough customer.
The River Cats couldn't touch his splitter and though his fastball was down a notch to 89-91, he was able to strongarm most hitters into a good pitcher's count.
Cruceta gave up just four hits, but he did walk three. He's 5-4 with a 3.71 ERA on the year, which is pretty impressive considering he's made three of his 13 starts in severe hitter's park in Colorado Springs, Salt Lake and Las Vegas. That's like pitching a game at Coors Field, one at Minute Maid and another at Ameriquest Field in Texas.
Cruceta is a 6-3, 215-pound fastball, curve ball, splitter guy with No. 2/3 starter stuff and inconsistent command. He leads the PCL in strikeouts with 85 in 70 1/3 innings – proof that his stuff is pretty darned strong.
He's averaged six innings per start since April 22 and though he's walked 33 batters, his walk rate is under 4/9 since May 17. He'll need to continue to clean up the control issues to present the M's with an option down the road.
Right now, Cruceta is a much better bet to get through five or six innings in the majors than Joel Pineiro. And to think, Bavasi picked up Cruceta off the scrap heap after he was waived by Cleveland.
If the Dominican native keeps pitching like this, he's going to get a look, perhaps in the rotation, but the bullpen is also an option. His fastball-split combo would look pretty nasty for 2-3 innings stints in a Julio Mateo-like role in the majors.
But he'll have to throw strikes consistently. He's got good mechanics, maybe the best of any of the power arms in the system, but his arm slot and release point fall out of whack, usually without warning.
More often that not, Cruceta is 90-93 with his fastball. His splitter is throws at varying speeds, one a power split at 84-86 mph and another at 81-83. His curve, which he throws less than a dozen times per game on average, is a below average pitch in the low 80s. An average curve ball with decent command would probably give Cruceta frontline stuff.
A Twins scout at Cheney tonight, liked what he saw from Cruceta, citing his out pitch as an impressive offering.
"They can't even touch that splitter, can they? He gets two strikes and goes to that split early and that's that. Late in the game he's got them thinking splitter and he gets them looking at the fastball."
With Pineiro's starting slot on the ropes, don't be shocked if he's moved to the bullpen in favor of Bobby Livingston or Francisco Cruceta. Cruceta even pitches in turn with Pineiro's spot in the rotation.
With the exception of Wisconsin having the night off and Joel taking the pill to the hill in nemesisland, the pitching was pretty spectacular tonight down on the farm.
I did my best to get as much out of it as I could.