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No. 6 – Chris Tillman, RHP

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on March 13, 2007

Chris Tillman was seen as a first-round talent by most that scouted him, analyzed him and faced him from 60+ feet away. But the way the chips fell last June favored the Seattle Mariners more than Tillman, who dropped into the club’s lap in round two.

Let’s see, a 6-foot-5 pitcher who approaches the mid-90s with his fastball and has a bigtime breaking ball to go with the potential for two more useful offerings?

Yes. Yes, please.

Chris Tillman is No. 6, and with as much helium, as they say, as any arm in the system.

 

Strengths: Tillman has a prototypical physical build at 6-5 and 195 pounds, which allows for young pitchers to rely on their natural abilities rather than trying to do more than they are capable of, which can lead to major injuries, particularly to one’s elbow or shoulder.

The M’s 2nd rounder last June has two quality pitches, a plus fastball and an above-average curve, and is working to develop a quality split-finger or change to compliment his out pitches.

Tillman showed good stuff last year in Peoria, and then again in Everett where his numbers showed he has work to do, but his stuff is certainly big-league quality.

Weaknesses: Other than being raw, which is more than just common among prep arms, Tillman just needs experience and time to work on his command and mechanics. His work ethic will be challenged in pro ball where high school antics get you nowhere – ask Jermaine Brock – and hard work and total dedication means everything.

Many believe the differences between Tillman and the club’s third-round pick last summer go a lot further than the hand in which they throw, the round they were chosen and the names on their backs. Tillman has some work to do to prove he was worth being among the top 50 players chosen, but the desire is there, as are the pitching tools.

He’ll just need to shed some tears, wipe some sweat from his brow and bleed through his uniform a little bit, after showing signs of slacking in high school, though that may very well have been due to a lack of interest or competition, since he played on a prep team that did not compete for the state title his senior year.

 

AGE HEIGHT WEIGHT BATS THROWS ACQUIRED
19 6-5 195
Right Right Draft, 2006 – 2nd Round
YEAR TEAM LEVEL G IP ERA HR/9 BB/9 K/9 AVG SLGA OPS OPS* BABIP*
2006 Peoria R 5 11 0.82 0.00 4.09 13.09 .214 .214 .527 .432 .346
2006 Everett SS 5 19.2 7.78 1.83 6.86 13.27 .327 .558 1.011 .972 .477

Tools –

Fastball: Tillman sat anywhere from 90-93 in his pro debut last season, occasionally touching 94 or 95, which could ultimately become his average fastball. He’s a candidate to learn the art of the two-seamer in order to induce more ground balls, but the club sees him as the type of pitcher, being taller, who can learn to stay on top of his pitches and keep the ball down, so a different heater may not be necessary.

With plus velocity, Tillman has the makings of a very good four-seamer.
Grade: 60/65+

Curve: Tillman’s 12-6 style curve is his bread and butter and is thrown in the 75-77 mph range – potentially a true power curve. As always, his command of the pitch needs improvement, but it’s got sharp, late break and solid depth, though it may endure some altering on his path to the show.

The Mariners do not want to see their kids throw too many curves or sliders, so watch for Tillman to be asked to use his curve sparingly, particularly later in the year as his workload tops out.
Grade: 55/65

Splitter: Tillman began throwing a split-finger in high school, but the M’s prefer he learns a true change to save his valuable arm as he continues to mature physically. In a few years, they’ll remove the limitations and the better bet is that he sticks with the splitter, as a true change, usually of the circle grip variety, is much more difficult to master.

He can throw the true changeup and will be asked to develop it further.
Grade: 45/55

Command: Other than growing up and learning how to be a professional, Tillman’s crutch is currently the control and command in which he throws his plus stuff. He’ll need to become more confident in his pitches and avoid trying to go for the strikeout in every situation, which in turn will improve his walk rates.

If he’s able to develop solid mechanics that are conducive to keeping the ball down in the strike zone, the home run totals will plummet.
Grade: 40/50+

Mechanics: The club is still analyzing and tinkering with the basics with their second round choice, and as he climbs through the system he’ll certainly continue to make adjustments along the way.

The most glaring red flags among most prep arms are about following through, balance and keeping the front shoulder closed, and Tillman is no different – he’ll need to be watched, though he’s shown a fairly clean delivery and no hitches in his arm action.
Grade: 45/55

Future: Tillman’s ceiling is as a No. 2 starter with “Gil Meche” type stuff. Hopefully for the M’s Tillman avoids the operating table and develops better command sooner in his career than did Meche.

In the end, it’s all about command for Tillman, who’s already got two big-league offerings.

The right-hander will start his first full season in pro ball with Wisconsin in the Midwest League, where his mistakes will be minimized by the poor weather conditions and a few larger ballparks.

A quality first half could spring him to the Cal League for a look-see, provided he’s got room in his workload.

MLB ETA: 2010

MLB CLONE –

Ceiling: Brett Myers

Median: Gil Meche

Cellar: Zach Miner

OFP: 63.5

PI Projection 2007: 4.3 ERA, 8.5 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 1.22 G/F

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14 Responses to “No. 6 – Chris Tillman, RHP”

  1. Adam said

    Tillman, Tillman, Tillman…

    Jason – are Tillman’s attitude/work ethic problems a cause for concern? I’ve heard that he has some baggage in those areas.

  2. He’s just another 18-year-old kid when it comes to that.

    It’s always a concern with prep kids, which is why it’s nice to see the third rounder seems to have a leg up in that area as he starts his own first full season.

  3. Adam said

    Tillman and Butler have me real excited; perhaps moreso than Morrow, whom I still consider to be a future closer, rather than starter.

    On another note, I’m positive I know four of the top five, but if the fifth is who I think it is, I’ll be a little bit surprised. Pleasantly surprised.

  4. I’ll respond to the Morrow comment with this: Just wait until you read his profile this week.

  5. Adam said

    If you can change my mind, I’ll be thrilled.

  6. Willmore said

    It’s … wait … I’m not supposed to say who it is, right ?

    Jason, are his BB/9 totals indicative of small sample size or to a true problem with command ? The numbers are close to being Randy-esque, which is both a good and a bad thing.

    There is something I’ve always wondered about the development of players by the Mariners. How is it handled, do the coaches work with the “prospects” throughout the winter, or is it a 6 month job with the other time being left to the players to do what they will? It seem to me that it would be far far more efficient for the players to be in training year-round, even if they don’t actually stress the arms. I realize that my wishes are not their concern, but I can’t help but want conditioning training year around with a dedication to the sport that is equal to that of a normal person’s full-time job. And in-season, how much of the time do the farm clubs spend on teaching the players as opposed to simply playing baseball and trying to turn what little profit they can? The Peoria rookie team does much, but with guys like Tillman and Felix when he was coming up, you can’t help but feel that they are not getting the best possible training. Baseball’s farm system seems to resemble a meat grinder – you throw a chunk of raw meat in there, turn it a few times and see what comes out. And a sirloin steak doesn’t come out too often (never actually, but then the analogy wouldn’t work).

    It seems to me that the Seattle Mariners organization uses 90% of its resources on the major league and whatever is left on the farm system. Sure, it’s the way the system works, but if they spend some money on development, who knows what might come out.

    I come from a different world. In Russia, at least during the Soviet Union, athletes trained year round, kids who played organized sports and showed potential were in special schools that were directly connected to major clubs. The CSKA school of hockey is world-famous for example. The chinese have adopted a similar system recently and have gone from 28 (5 gold) total medals at the ’88 olympics to 63 (32 gold) in 2004. The American athletic training seems inadequate at preparing professional athletes. In high school, the coach is only interested in wins, the hell with the arm of the stud pitcher. From track and field to football, to baseball and basketball, the coach only wants to win. In college, the same thing – the coach only wants to win. And winning has very little to do with developing future professional athletes. MLB is doing some stuff on its level, but why can’t the Mariners do some stuff on their own? Sponsor an AAU club for baseball, get the kids out of the coaches grasps and develop them yourself. The kids get better training for the next level, they are developed in a controlled environment, not by a coach who is limited by the state athletics committee, even if the kids don’t develop into pro athletes, at the very least they get good mentoring.

    I don’t know what the Mariners are doing, and how exactly they are developing their prospects, but the results are lackluster to say the least.

    I do apologize for the ramble, it kind of spiraled on me, but the short of it is: How are the Mariners developing their players? How does it compare with other organizations such as the Dodgers, Nationals, etc. And are they doing the best they can, or is it more of a meat grinder? What can they do to improve?

  7. Jesse said

    Tillman has had me excited ever since the mariners took him in the second round of the ’06 draft. Tillman, Butler, Morrow (though i still am a little bitter about the mariners passing on both Tim Lincecum, and Andrew Miller), teamed with Felix and either Justin Thomas, or Ryan Feierabend could form a deep and talented/fearsome rotation reminiscent of the Oakland Athletics rotations from a few years ago

  8. Slack said

    Tillman has me excited too! This is the report I was most looking forward too.
    My question is this. Most sources say that he throws that 12-6 curveball and I believe that but why would Baseball America come out and say that he throws a plus slider? A slider and a 12-6 curve seem pretty different to me. Am I misunderstanding something?

  9. I know, slack, but I never saw a slider at all in Everett and the M’s minor league pitching coordinator has never mentioned one either.

    BA just made a mistake on it is all.

    In fact, i remember specifically around draft time that BA was reporting that he threw an overhand curve, so… I dunno who told them it’s a slider. Not many sliders I can think of, none in fact, are 15 mph off the heater, so…

  10. I’m no Jason Churchill, but I will say that Brandon Morrow is definitely a future starter. I, too, had concerns with all this talk of him with injury and whatnot. But I’ve been convinced that he’s indeed going to be a starter, and a pretty damned good one at that. He may get some reps in the ‘pen (not unlike what they did with Pineiro in 2001), but that doesn’t reflect on the fact that Morrow is going to be a starter for the M’s very, very soon.

  11. Slack said

    In reference to Tillman’s splitter, I’ve heard that throwing a splitter can be kind of hard on a young pitchers elbow. Is that true? I’ve heard there was a little concern about that with Tillman. Is this what you mean when you say that the M’s want him to throw a changeup to save his valuable arm?

  12. Yeah, there is the worry that the split can bang up a kid’s elbow and forearm. Thats why the M’s want him to throw a true change, and they’ll hold his split back.

  13. F. Macy said

    I’ve watched Chris develop over the years. He is the real deal. Questions about his work ethic are misplaced. He wants to win, and will do whatever he needs to succeed. The M’s got a bargain getting him in the second round.

    I hear his change up is becoming nasty, so don’t worry about him needing the splitter and, therefore, arm worries.

    I think Chris will excell in the minor this year, and could be called up late.

    F. Macy
    Fountain Valley, CA

  14. well, thanks for the update, F. Macy, but the M’s disagree with you on two accounts.

    His changeup has a loooooong ways to go, as the pitching coordinator explains it last week, and his work ethic isn’t all rainbows and butterflies yet.

    He’s a kid, and while he’s more mature than the average 19-year-old, he’s got some catching up to do yet.

    Nothing to be alarmed about, but he’s not ahead of the game in either area.

    But oh, that curve ball.

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