The Astros' 12th-round pick from this year's draft, right-handed pitcher James Robinson*, has quietly been one of the best performers in the minor league system during the second half of the season. I'm not sure why his performance never really jumped out at me until today. Probably because he started out as a reliever and only recently transitioned to a starting role, posting great numbers in last night's start. (I don't usually notice bullpen arms until they start making waves at the upper levels of the farm system.)
In 48 innings, Robinson has posted a 3.19 ERA while striking out 44 batters and walking only 8. His groundball rate is also solid, with 1.81 groundouts for every airout. He's doing this against competition roughly equivalent to single A ball, with the low A Tri-City ValleyCats. As such, I put more stock into his performance than I would a pitcher in rookie ball; he could feasibly jump directly to Lancaster next season like Dallas Keuchel did this year.
*I'm not sure whether Robinson's first name is Andrew or James. He's listed in the minors as James, but in college he appears to have gone by Andrew.
So I got to questioning, what kind of stuff does Robinson have? As a late round pick, it's hard to find information on Robinson. He was a bullpen arm in college, posting solid but unspectacular stats this year. Georgia Tech's website states:
...[Robinson] possesses a live fastball in addition to a good slider and changeup...
The title of this YouTube video of Robinson pitching suggests that he throws 91-93mph with his fastball. This story from the Atlanta Journal has teammates praising his even-keeled, bulldog mentality and even states that he touched 95mph at one point in college. Andy Seiler's report has the velocity a tick lower, suggesting a 90-92mph fastball touching 94mph, an inconsistent curve which projects to above average, and a solid, average changeup.
That's pretty good stuff, if true. So why did he last so long in the draft? Pretty simple: He was a reliever in college, not a starting pitcher, and his stats were unspectacular. While his stuff is decent, it doesn't sound like the kind of power stuff which gets a closer taken in the first five rounds. As a starter, his velocity will likely drop by a tick or two, suggesting he would sit closer to 90, maybe 91mph, which is just solid-average or a small tick above.
Robinson is also a little undersized, at 6'1". That's not as short as some successful starting pitchers, but teams usually view guys under 6'2" as probable relievers in the long run.
Still, his numbers suggest very good command and pitchability, and given his strikeout rate, his secondary stuff may be getting him some swings and misses. If he sticks as a starter, Robinson could be a steal; his stuff isn't spectacular, but some middle rotation starters perform well with less, and it's hard to find any complaints about his performance so far. Keep an eye on him as a sleeper for next year.
Note: One of our commenters frequents Tri-City's games, so if you have anymore information for us about Robinson (whether correction or confirmation), feel free to post it and I'll add it to the end of this story with credit as due!