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Prospecting: Righthanded Pitchers, A - H

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The Crown Prince The Sleeper

I don't know whether you call it synchronicity, or serendipity, or just a coincidence, but with the Nolan Ryan prospect camp going on at Minute Maid this week, I figured it might be time to start writing up some capsules on some of the brightest candidates.

And the list of those invited to the camp seemed a good place to start.  Everyone's got their own list of best prospects, from Baseball America to John Sickels to the individual minor leagues, to even the card companies, but it seems to me that the list of invitations to the Ryan camp hold the greatest weight of all.  The ones included on that list are, after all, the ones who the Astros have decided were worth the extra instruction (and the extra money).

And you know what they say about money and bullshit.

So, yeah, I thought the time was ripe, and then I get home yesterday with plans for my prospects post, and what's in the mailbox but John Sickels' Baseball Prospect Book 2006.  

Truly fortuitous timing, no?  So anyway, instead of writing last night, I took some time to familiarize myself with the book, and the players Sickels named.  

Fun volume, by the way.  Instead of just the dry numbers like one of those STATS handbooks, Sickels writes a cogent blurb on each of a thousand players, and he can be witty at times.  For example, at one point he quotes that annoyingly hilarious Waitresses song. So with stuff like that coming your way, you know it's definitely not a bad read.

Even if you don't give a shit who's pitching for the Angels at Rancho Cucamonga.

Anyway, figured I'd start with Righthanded Pitchers, and if you're either mentioned in The Baseball Prospect Book 2006 or at the Ryan Camp this week, you'll get a nod from me here.

  • Matt Albers At the Ryan Camp and in Sickels' book
8 - 12, 4.66 at High-A Salem in 2005; 146K/62BB/161H in 148-2/3 IP
Albers was Baseball America's ninth-rated prospect in 2004, and their fifth-rated in 2005.  He's fallen off their list for 2006, and Sickels believes it's because of inconsistency with his pitches.  The walks and the strikeouts don't appear to be the problem, but rather the hits, which makes you think he is prone to losing his control, and then flinging the mid-90's fastball down the middle, see what happens.  Albers will unquestionably be assigned to AA Corpus Christi this year; Sickels thinks he should be watched closely there, and I might go farther by saying that a successful year with the Hooks is absolutely essential for him.
  • Jimmy Barthmaier At the Ryan Camp and ranked 30th among pitchers overall in Sickels' book;
       Fourth on
    Baseball America's Organizational List.
11 - 6, 2.27 at A Lexington in 2005; 142K/55BB/108H in 134-2/3 IP
  1 - 0, 1.50 at High A Salem in 2005;  6K/1BB/4H
Barthmaier was the dreaded and feared high school pitcher when he chose baseball with the Astros over football with the LSU Tigers and was drafted in the 13th round of '03. The following year he was tenth on Baseball America's organizational list, mostly based on a 96 -mph fastball that he had when he played baseball at Roswell (GA) High School.   Now, after a year where he dominated hitters in the South Atlantic League, and led the Legends in strikeouts, Baseball America says that Barthmaier has the organization's best curveball.

  • Taylor Buchholz At the Ryan Camp and in Sickels' book
6 - 0, 4.81 at AAA Round Rock in 2005; 45K/27BB/79H in 76-2/3 IP  
Sickels is REALLY down on Taylor, saying that Buchholz "has seen his stock drop dramatically, thanks to two mediocre, injury-plagued years  in Triple A."  Sickels also says that Buchholz has lost velocity on his fastball and bite on his curve.  This pessimistic view, if accurate, would be a pretty sad state of affairs for a guy who was not so long ago known among the cognoscenti as the key to the Billy Wagner deal.

And two years ago,the idea that anyone but Buchholz could be named as possessing the best curve in the organization would have seemed ludicrous.
Still, Buchholz didn't lose in 2005, and the Astros still believe in him enough to bring him to the Ryan camp.  And along with Jason Hirsh and Fernando Nieve, Buchholz been considered all winter the rookie pitcher most likely to break camp with the big club.  

  • Chance Douglass In Sickels' book
12 - 9, 2.90 at High A Salem in 2005; 128K/44BB/157H in 167-2/3 IP  
After giving up 156 hits and 73 walks (and 18 homers to boot) in 136-2/3 innings at Lexington in 2004, Douglass advanced a level and made a huge improvement at Salem in 2005, whittling the homers allowed to a much more manageable seven.  When he had a chance to talk about it, Douglass talked about confidence and control, and I'm sure that's all it is:  he possesses no blazing fastball, yet was third in the Carolina League in strikeout-to-walk ratio among those who struck out 100 or more.  Good to see Sickels is giving Douglass his props, even if the Astros--this week, at least--are not.  
  • Evan Englebrook In Sickels' book
8 - 6, 4.32 at A Lexington in 2005; 101K/65BB/103H in 114-2/3 IP  
6' 8" and throws an upper 80's fastball with a changeup and a slider.  Hmmm.

Sounds like the guy BA rated number two for the Astros fourteen years ago, a guy by the name Jeff Juden.
Juden had a marginal major league career, with a little success when he was with Montreal, but even that might elude Englebrook, considering that Juden for the most part reached the majors on inertia from his number one slot in the draft, and that Englebrook was an eighth round pick.

Still, Sickels says that for "some intuitive non-objective reason," he feels Englebrook might be a sleeper.
  • Paul Estrada At the Ryan Camp
6 - 7, 2.69 at A Lexington in 2005; 94K/34BB/65H in 90-1/3 IP  
Used both in relief and as a starter in the Sally League last year, and possessed of successful streaks doing both, Estrada continues to strike out nine men per nine innings, and is getting to the point where his control is adequate rather than laughable, as it had been when the Venezuelan native entered the country at Martinsville in 2002 and 2003.  The walks came down at Tri-City in 2004, when Estrada was named New York Penn league Pitcher of the Month for June. He had a 1.10 WHIP for the Legends in 2005, and considering the improvment has been steady, may very well be closing for Corpus Christi this summer.
  • Sam Gervacio In Sickels' book
3 - 2, 2.67 at Rookie Greeneville in 2005; 53K/6BB/24H in 33-2/3 IP
1 - 0, 0.96 at A Lexington in 2005; 11K/1B/4H in 9-1/3 IP  
The Astros probably haven't realized it yet, but Sickels dug this guy out based on his extraordinary walk to strikeout number, and a WHIP that works out to, like, 0.89.  It appears Sickels didn't go back and look at the stats when the guy was pitching in the Dominican Summer League, but in two years there, he had 131 K's and 40 walks.  So it does look as if this is a trend of some sort.  Russ Nixon used Gervacio to close, and he notched eight saves, while giving up a single homer.  The numbers won't stay ridiculous, and the homers could go up, is Sickels' thinking, but Mr. Gervacio's numbers speak to a certain meticulousness that could serve him well at levels where he might be giving up a hit an inning or more.
  • Jared Gothreaux In Sickels' book
3 - 8, 4.29 at AAA Round Rock in 2005; 47K/29BB/87H in 86 IP

First broke out closing ballgames for Salem in 2003, when he had a 35-inning scoreless streak or some such, and first flashed his downward moving slider.  Baseball America still says Gothreaux has the best slider in the Astros' chain, but 2005--and in many respects, 2004--was not a good year for Jared.  I didn't watch any Express games last year, but I listened to more than a few, and I'll say that Gothreaux sounded very, very hittable some nights.  Sickels also reminds us that he missed several weeks with a sore shoulder, and that he was outrighted to Round Rock late in 2005.  But four to six weeks after Mr. Sickels' book was put to bed, Gothreaux is now possessed of an invite to Spring Training, and if he can get the slider back into a low 90's sort of gear, and Hirsh or Nieve (or Trever Miller) stumble, he might stand an outside chance at a middle relief job.  Love them ground balls at Minute Maid, dontcha know.

  • Jason Hirsh At the Ryan Camp and ranked sixth among pitchers overall in Sickels' book;
    Baseball America's Top Prospect in the Organization
13 - 8, 2.87 at AA Corpus Christi in 2005; 165K/42BB/137H in 172-1/3 IP

It's not that Hirsh was all that terrible at Salem in 2004; it's just that he was really, really good at Corpus Christi in 2005.  It's said that one of his keys for the year was that he developed a two-seam fastball that drops hard, that and the fact he is frequently in the mid 90's.  The Astros have frequently been praised as an organization that doesn't insist its pitchers stand 6'5", but Hirsh  is not only the strongest prospect in the organization, he's 6'8" as well.  Sickels says, "there is nothing not to like here," and that "scouts were impressed with his work ethic and his pitching aptitude." The Astros were so impressed with the intangibles, that they drafted his brother (Matt) last June, hoping the good qualities ran in the family.  Hirsh may or may not make the club out of Spring Training, but barring injury, he WILL pitch at Houston at some point this year.


I will try to get in the rest of our righthanded pitching prospects (including Fernando Nieve) and maybe the lefties (including last June's number one pick Brian Bogusevic) no later than the close of the Ryan camp on Friday.  I'll then try to fill in with the position players over the next couple weeks.