I wanted to post a sort of bonus article on this fine Labor Day. This report concerns the solid talent (and future possibilities) of Lexington LHP Kyle Hallock, who only recently returned from rehab for an early-season arm injury, quite a bit earlier than I had expected. I talk about what sets him apart from the average pitcher, as well as a bit about his current ability and future potential.
Overview: Having faced early adversity this season in his outstanding arm rehab effort in Kissimmee after being sent to Lexington to begin the year, Kyle Hallock has maintained a quiet cool about this obstacle and simply worked his butt off to get back. He met that goal recently, coming back to the Legends just before the season ended. The Mid-Atlantic Conference Pitcher Of The Year for Kent State in his senior year of 2011, Kyle made the decision to return to the school after being drafted in the 49th round by the Phillies in 2010. This turned out to be a great move for him, as Houston picked him in the 10th round in 2011.
Strengths: What the Astros saw in Hallock is readily apparent when you see him pitch. The 24-year old lefty has an obvious feel for pitching, and he approaches his game with a strong confidence without being cocky or arrogant. In short, he has a good head for the game. He throws his fastball typically from 86-88, touching 90 when he needs it (especially with runners on), a circle change in the mid-70s, an 1-7 curve with some sweeping action to it and a sharp slider around 80-82. The curve has fall-off-the-table drop to it, when it's at its sharpest. Part of his strength lies in the fact that he can throw any four of these pitches for strikes at any time, and all four are at least solid-average. His curve, in particular, could become a plus pitch for him, in time. He works both sides of the plate smartly, refusing to give in to a batter without laying a big fat meatball over the plate just to get ahead in the count. At 6'2", 190, he is slightly project-able physically, but is most likely to maintain his current weight or even drop a bit. I would personally hope that he never weighs less than 180, as the long season can be quite a grind. He has simple, clean mechanics, easily repeatable, and he gets a reasonably long stride off the mound. His arm slot is consistent. He has very good control, as evidenced by his 2.5 BB/9 in Tri-City last year and the fact that he has yet to hit a batter in 91 1/3 professional innings pitched. He never appears to be shaken or unnerved by pressure situations, and shows a good pick-off move as well.
Weaknesses: Without adding a MPH or two to his velocity, he will have to work carefully as he climbs the ladder and faces stiffer competition. His secondary pitches are strong enough even now to compensate for this, but it may become a necessity for survival in places like Lancaster (where good pitchers go to die). Minute Maid Park is not exactly a pitcher's venue either, unless said pitcher has a serious masochistic streak. His health will be a concern going into 2013, so seeing how he bounces back from his recent injury will tell the story. He does sometimes get the change-up a bit high in the zone or nearly in the dirt, but I believe he will develop plus feel for it in time. He shows the ball a little longer than he should from time to time, allowing hitters to zero in more quickly. Developing endurance will be foremost on the to-do list at the start of next season as long as he is healthy. These are all things for which he can compensate or overcome with practice and further development, and he is well-equipped to do so both physically and mentally.
Overall: After spending a bit of time speaking with Kyle, it's readily apparent that he is well aware of how significant is his opportunity to advance, especially with Houston's lack of pitching depth at the ML level. He sometimes seems to be in awe of his status as a professional, which is frankly rather refreshing in a game which has its share of cocky wunderkinds who are more than happy to strut their stuff when the chance presents itself. I have high hopes for this young lefty, and I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes a solid #4 or #5 in the majors. If he doesn't succeed as a starter, he would be a Godsend for the bullpen (at any level). How many teams can roll out a lefty with four solid pitches in relief? I would expect him to return to Lexington to begin 2013, with a chance to advance to High-A either mid-season or just afterward. He is old for Class A, but keep in mind his time missed to injury and the fact that this was only his second year in pro ball. There is a lot of potential here; I expect him to fulfill it.