Texas Rangers Prospects: Neftali Feliz and Tae Kyung Ahn

Trip Somers • April 15, 2009 • Scouting

Neftali Feliz. 6' 3", 180 lbs; Born: May 2, 1988. Feliz is already famous for the ease with which he tosses up 100 mph fastballs. He's gone as high as 102 mph, and I've personally seen him hit 101 mph several times. He sits comfortably in the 95-98 mph range and routinely goes higher than that. The velocity is accompanied by significant arm side run and occasionaly sink.

Robbed from Atlanta in the July 2007 Mark Teixeira trade, Feliz isn't just a one trick pony. His curveball has very serious potential. In 2008, he struggled with a consistent release, often throwing his curveball at a different arm angle than his fastball. When it's on, the pitch is easily a plus.

Feliz also throws a change up that can be anywhere from 79 to 85 mph. The pitch strikes me as an average offering that plays up a little bit because of the sheer velocity of his fastball.

Feliz uses his legs very well to generate hip rotation. His stride is very controlled which allows him to maintain his balance through the delivery. Feliz's spine remains upright, and he keeps his shoulders closed very well. Feliz simultaneously flexes his trunk forward and rotates his shoulders. This generates serious velocity at his pitching shoulder.

He brings his elbow pretty far behind his back, but by the time his shoulders start to turn, it appears to be back in line with his shoulders. Feliz's forearm isn't quite vertical when his shoulders start to turn, so there's some late forearm turnover and a reverse forearm bounce. His layback phase seems to have a lot of torque, so I will be interested to see how Feliz's elbow holds up with higher pitch counts and more innings.

Feliz's low 3/4 arm slot results in a large lateral component in his arm acceleration which causes forearm flyout. This flaw tends to be more of a performance flaw than a health flaw, but in Feliz's case, his performance doesn't seem to suffer. The associated health risks are strongly mitigated by pronation. At this angle and at 210 frames per second, it's almost impossible to tell if Feliz pronates on his fastball. He appears to pronate well, even if accidentally, on both his curveball and his change up.

I really like his follow-through. Feliz has a high and controlled finish. His arm doesn't fly across his chest and his back muscles, particularly his latissimus dorsi, do a very large majority of the work in decelerating his arm.

Tae Kyung Ahn. Ahn was signed as a free agent out of South Korea in 2008. He was the first major acquisition from the Pacific Rim after bringing Pacific Rim specialist Jim Colborn into the front office. Ahn was a big prospect as a junior in high school, but had a so-so senior season that caused a lot of teams to back off. The Rangers were not one of them.

Ahn was throwing at least 3 pitches when I saw him. He didn't really have command of any of them. Ahn's fastball seemed like it hit every radar reading between 83 and 92 mph. I didn't see an actual radar gun, but on his fastball, neither velocity nor location was very predictable.

In the video, you can see him throw a few change ups. At times, the pitch was a little firm and may have contributed to the seemingly wide range of fastball velocities. His breaking ball looked like it was probably a slider.

He looked extremely raw, but he's young and definitely has some pretty good upside - even if this report isn't exactly glowing.

One of Ahn's idols growing up had to be fellow South Korean right-handed pitcher Chan Ho Park. If you're familiar with Park's mechanics, it's hard not to see similarities.

Ahn seems to land too heavily on his front leg. His weight is so far forward when he lands that he has no room left for weight transfer. His shoulders turn open and his arm action begins before his front foot lands. Try pausing the video right as his foot contacts the ground; notice the position of his arm and shoulders.

It's hard to really see his arm action from this angle, but it appears as tough he completely avoids reverse forearm bounce despite an extremely late forearm turnover. His release looks clean, but his follow-through looks a little abrupt at the very end.

Freshmen to Watch: Taylor Wall, Trevor Bauer, and Logan Verrett

Trip Somers • April 13, 2009 • Scouting

At the Houston College Classic, I came across three freshman pitchers that really stood out to me. I've put together a brief scouting report for each pitcher as well as a short video clip comprised of pitches filmed at 210 frames per second.

Put these guys on your follow list.

Taylor Wall, Rice Owls. LHP, 6' 2", 180 lbs. When I heard that Wall was a freshman in the weekend rotation of one of the top baseball schools in the country, I pulled out my camera and took some notes. I was very impressed with his fastball, but it turns out that the radar guns only had him at 85-86 mph. He has a very fast arm, and he repeats his mechanics very well. He turns his change up over very well and has a promising curveball. If his fastball improves, he could find himself high up on someone's draft board.

Wall has a unique stride. I really like that he lands open, but I find the position of his foot to be a little odd. In the video, you'll see that it points far toward third base. He has a traditionally flawed ball pick-up with late forearm turnover and some reverse forearm bounce. He gets excellent shoulder rotation and has a near-vertical arm at release which I like. His follow-through looks pretty clean to me with no violence or signs of recoil.

2009 Season Statistics (as of April 12, 2009)

Pitcher ERA W-L IP H R ER BB K
Wall, Taylor 4.07 4-3 48.2 48 27 22 15 46

Trevor Bauer, UCLA Bruins. RHP, 6' 1", 175 lbs. According to one source, Bauer was a projected first round pick coming out of high school in 2009. He won't even be draft-eligible, though, because he graduated high school in December and joined UCLA in January. He should be in the middle of his senior year in high school, but instead he's logging heavy innings for UCLA.

His fastball can get into the mid-90s, and he's got the makings of a plus curveball. His command was a little off when I saw him, and his curveball was easy to identify coming out of his hand. He's been dealing ever since, so I imagine he's resolved those issues.

His mechanics are similar to those of Tim Lincecum, and his arm action is pretty similar as well. Bauer is a student of Jaeger Sports (www.jaegersports.com) where they teach a "pull down phase" that's evident in his motion. Like Wall, Bauer gets his arm to a near-vertical position at release, but he also has a torque-heavy ball pick-up.

Because of his stuff, Bauer is already on the follow list for a lot of organizations.

2009 Season Statistics (as of April 12, 2009)

Pitcher ERA W-L IP H R ER BB K
Bauer, Trevor 3.10 5-3 52.1 49 22 18 12 49

Logan Verrett, Baylor Bears. RHP, 6' 2", 170 lbs. Verrett came on in relief of Shawn Tolleson, and I was immediately impressed. Verrett showed command of three pitches, each of which was at least solid-average. When I saw him, all three pitches were working, and it was impressive to watch him mow down the University of Houston hitters with excellent command. His change up had great fade to it, and his fastball was 91-94 mph. His slider also showed good potential. (Baylor's coach said Verrett has command of four pitches, but in this outing, I couldn't identify a fourth.)

Verrett has very traditional mechanics, so the common flaws are present including late forearm turnover, reverse forearm bounce, and some forearm flyout. He opens up his front shoulder a little early, but it doesn't seem to affect any of his pitches. His arm is up an ready before his shoulders turn even though his front foot hasn't landed yet. This keeps his arm from having to play "catch up." He repeats his delivery very well and seems to be quite an athlete.

Verrett must have had a very strong commitment to Baylor because he went undrafted out of high school in 2008. He looked so good when I saw him in Houston, that it was easy for me to imagine him leaving Baylor for a junior college in order to gain eligibility for the 2010 draft. If his arm and stuff hold up for the next two years, I think he could jump into the mix with Gerrit Cole and Bryce Harper at the top of the 2011 draft class.

2009 Season Statistics (as of April 12, 2009)

Pitcher ERA W-L IP H R ER BB K
Verrett, Logan 3.79 7-1 40.1 48 18 17 13 50

Brandon McCarthy PITCHf/x: Sliders, Curves, and Slurves

Trip Somers • April 10, 2009 • Analysis

News broke late this winter that Texas Rangers RHP Brandon McCarthy would be experimenting with a slurve, a pitch half-way between a slider and a curveball. It was later confirmed that this pitch was intended to replace McCarthy's curveball. I had always believed his curveball was a plus, so this news left me confused.

Yesterday afternoon, Brandon McCarthy debuted his new slurve against Cleveland and PITCHf/x was ready to go. On television, the new pitch didn't look that new, seemingly just a little harder with a little bit sharper break, and more than one person wondered if McCarthy was throwing both a slider and a curve ball.

I grabbed the PITCHf/x data from yesterday's game (April 9, 2009), and decided to compare it with a similar outing. I settled on McCarthy's April 9, 2007 start at home against Tampa Bay. In each start, PITCHf/x identified 4 different pitch types: fastball, curveball, slider, and change up. PITCHf/x data is never perfect, but there's still a lot of great information.

Let's first compare his release points from the catcher's perspective.

Brandon McCarthy's April 9, 2007 pitch release points.
Brandon McCarthy's April 9, 2007 pitch release points.
Brandon McCarthy's April 9, 2009 pitch release points.
Brandon McCarthy's April 9, 2009 pitch release points.

At first glance, it appears that McCarthy's release point has moved about 6 to 10 inches toward third base in the past two years. While definitely interesting, this may or may not actually be the case. In 2007, release points were measured at 55 feet from the back corner of home plate, but the 2009 release points were measured at 50 feet from the back corner of home plate.

Taking a bit of a deeper look reveals that McCarthy's release of his change up is very consistent with that of his fastball with a few stragglers straying up a couple of inches. In 2007, McCarthy's curveball release was a little higher and a little closer to first base, but in 2009, his curveball/slider release is noticeably higher but directly above his fastball release.

Take a look at the pitch movement scatter plots below. Vertical movement is calculated compared to gravity - an approximation of the Magnus effect. This means that zero vertical movement is equal to gravity's effect, while a negative number drops more than gravity and a positive number drops less than gravity.

Brandon McCarthy's April 9, 2007 pitch movement.
Brandon McCarthy's April 9, 2007 pitch movement.
Brandon McCarthy's April 9, 2009 pitch movement.
Brandon McCarthy's April 9, 2009 pitch movement.

Based on the PITCHf/x data shown in the graph, McCarthy's slurve is measurably different from his 2007 curveball. To further illustrate the difference, I grabbed velocity data for the two pitches as well. His average curveball velocity in the 2007 game was 73.47 mph, and his average slurve velocity in the 2009 game was 79.81 mph.

The most important difference between the old curveball and the new slurve is pretty simple: control. In the 2007 game, McCarthy threw 40% (10/25) of his curveballs for strikes. In the 2009 game, McCarthy threw 75% (15/20) of his slurves for strikes.

Yesterday, McCarthy threw 10 of 13 change ups for strikes. He had outstanding overall command of his off-speed stuff, but he really struggled with his fastball command, throwing only 34 of 60 (56.7%) for strikes.

I've noted this in the past, and it's still a major issue. McCarthy has a tendency to drag his arm behind his body when he throws his fastball. This is usually caused when the front shoulder "flies open" by turning toward home plate before the arm is ready to throw. The pitching arm tries to play catch up, but pitches usually wind up high and a tick or two slower when this happens.

In the 3rd inning, pitching coach Mike Maddux trotted out to chat with McCarthy. When he left, McCarthy's fastball jumped from 86-90 to 89-92 for his last 2.1 innings, and he was throwing it down in the zone. PITCHf/x is missing 5 pitches in this span, but after the visit, McCarthy rattled off 10 strikes on his next 12 fastballs.

Outside of that stretch, McCarthy threw only 50% strikes with his fastball. On the up side, Maddux appears to be on top of this, and I expect improvement in this aspect of McCarthy's game throughout the season.

Here are some quick shots:

  • In the 2007 game, McCarthy's fastball was 10" to 15" above gravity, and his curveball was 8" to 13" inches below gravity. That's a visual 18" to 28" of vertical separation between the two pitches. I don't have a comparison ready, but that's a huge difference.

  • McCarthy's fastball is straighter than ever. He's getting better back-spin, so the ball might appear to rise more, but his fastballs are all clustered around zero horizontal movement. In the 2007 game, he was getting a lot more arm-side movement.

  • McCarthy is a tall guy, but it's pretty crazy that he lets go of the baseball when it's nearly 7 1/2 feet off the ground. A fastball to the bottom of the strike zone travels vertically down nearly 6 feet!

  • Joey Matschulat at Baseball Time in Arlington took a look at McCarthy's PITCHf/x data as well - Profiling Brandon McCarthy: A Pitch F/X Snapshot.

Texas Rangers Prospects: Derek Holland and Zach Phillips

Trip Somers • April 8, 2009 • Scouting

Derek Holland. The 2006 25th round draft-and-follow signee snuck up on a lot of people last season, including himself. Even Holland can not explain how he gained 5 mph on his fastball during the season.

A lot of pitchers will experience a dip in velocity in their first full years as professionals as the long season wears them down, but Holland got stronger. At the end of the season in the Texas League playoffs, Holland allowed only 1 run over 20.2 innings (0.44 ERA) across 3 starts.

He won't be sneaking up on anyone this year. He'll start the year in the Oklahoma City rotation, but he could be in Arlington sooner rather than later. The development of Holland's breaking ball will likely determine how soon.

The two angles in this video are not the best, but you can surely see some similarities to Tim Lincecum. They share a similar stride and an intense trunk flexion. Each launches himself forward with such force that he flies through the air dragging his back foot like an anchor before landing firmly on the front leg.

Tim Lincecum delivery in an animated GIF

Hat tip to Steven Ellis's PitchingClips.com for the image.

At this point, both pitchers have their trunks extended (bent backwards). As the hips turn forward, the trunk flexes and drives the throwing shoulder almost directly over the front hip.

Where they really differ is in their arm actions. Holland picks the ball up early; the ball is at driveline height before his front foot lands. Lincecum picks the ball up fairly late; the ball is still near his hip until right before his front foot lands. Holland picks the ball up with his shoulder. Lincecum picks the ball up with his elbow and has to forcefully externally rotate his arm to position it for the throw.

Holland takes the ball further toward third base than Lincecum takes the ball toward first base. When Holland starts to drive his pitching shoulder, his arm and the ball are accelerated toward first base before they are accelerated toward the plate. This large lateral acceleration results in forearm flyout that is not present in Lincecum's delivery.

Holland releases the ball with a low 3/4 arm angle and has a very clean follow-through with no noticeable recoil.

If you think Holland looks a lot like Lincecum, wait until you see UCLA freshman RHP Trevor Bauer.

Zach Phillips. Another left-handed draft-and-follow pitcher, Phillips struggled in his first full season assignment despite a wonderful short-season debut. In his second attempt at the Midwest League, Phillips stood out as one of the best pitchers. 2008 was another let down year, but if the pattern holds, Phillips could be primed to re-breakout.

Phillips is a pitcher with very typical traditional mechanics. His arm gets up just a little bit late, and he has a late forearm turnover as a result. The inertia from his shoulder drive causes a reverse forearm bounce, but he gets his elbow up to limit forearm flyout.

Even for slow-motion video, Phillips' motion seems very deliberate to me. He might be well served by speeding up his tempo.

All that said, Phillips is very fluid and repeats his mechanics extremely well. He pitched very well in this outing, but for now, it looks like he's headed for the Frisco (AA Texas League) bullpen.

Scouting Ryan Berry, Rice University

Trip Somers • April 4, 2009 • Scouting

Ryan Berry popped into the spotlight as a freshman at the Houston College Classic in 2007 against Baylor. He went on to have a spectacular freshman year: 11-3, 3.01 ERA, 122.2 IP, 121 H, 34 BB, 125 K. His sophomore year wasn't as awe-inspiring, but this season, he's certainly established himself as one of the best pitchers in college baseball.

Though he is currently dealing with some arm trouble, Berry's junior season was shaping up to be his best by quite a wide margin. Through 36.2 IP, Berry has posted a 1.96 ERA and allowed only 16 hits and 7 walks while striking out 31.

Like his freshman year, Berry jumped back onto the radar at the Houston College Classic, this time against Texas A&M. On February 28, 2009 at Minute Maid Park, I was there to see it.

Game: February 28, 2009 vs. Texas A&M

Pitcher IP H R ER BB K
Berry, Ryan 9.0 2 0 0 0 12

Fastball. Berry worked at 88-91 most of the night but reached back for a little extra late in the game hitting 92 (93 on a few guns). The pitch was moving around the zone and within the zone. I wouldn't say there was a ton of life, but there was enough to keep the Aggies from squaring up on it. Command is obvious: 12 strikeouts, 0 walks.

Curveball. Berry's knuckle curve appears to be a slightly above-average Major League offering. It has a big 11-to-5 break, and Berry mixed it very well to keep the hitters off-balance.

Slider. A "mystery" pitch was seen throughout the night; late in the game, it looked like a plus split-finger fastball. I have since been told that this pitch is actually Berry's slider. It was harder than his curve and had a sharper but shallower break that was almost straight down. Whatever it actually was, it worked.

Change up. Lost among the fastballs and breaking balls was an occasional change up. It wasn't a featured pitch, but it helped set up a few fastballs.

Mechanics. Berry's mechanics look pretty normal from his feet through his core, but his arm is definitely something to take a deeper look at.

Berry starts with a short leg kick and drifts tall through his balance point into a modified drop-and-drive stride. He does not drag his back foot, and he manages to pull it forward slightly to keep his center of mass moving toward the plate. Berry lands on the ball of his foot, and his stride is fairly neutral, maybe just a little bit toward the third-base line.

Even though Berry's stride is fairly neutral, he throws "around" his front leg instead of straight forward to the plate. His front shoulder opens just a bit early - before his front foot touches down - but in Berry's case, it doesn't flatten out his pitches. He might be able to squeeze 2-3 mph more out of his delivery.

Despite his uncommonly short arm action, Berry is still picking up the baseball when his front shoulders start to open up. He forcefully externally rotates his arm to catch up, and this adds to the layback inertia that causes reverse forearm bounce, the major risk factor for ulnar collateral ligament injuries.

As he accelerates his arm, Berry picks up his elbow very well, most notably on the first pitch in this video, but he does not do this consistently. This creates a wide variance in the amount of forearm flyout that occurs from pitch to pitch. On some pitches, his forearm flyout is very significant.

I think he could use his glove arm more actively to help with shoulder rotation.

His follow-through is pretty good. Berry's shoulder looks a little stiff, but his arm doesn't fly across his chest, and there's no significant recoil.

Based on the limited video I gathered, I found no evidence of either pronation or supination in his pitch releases. It appears that his change up might have a small amount of pronation during release.

Overall. As impressive as his numbers are, Berry's ceiling is somewhat limited. While it's possible that he could become a #2 starter at some point, a more reasonable ceiling is that of a #3 starter. I expect that his arm action will continue to cause health problems, and this may relegate him to the bullpen in order to keep him healthy and on the field.

Some clubs will shy away because Berry has already begun to have arm issues, and  some will shy away because Rice doesn't have the greatest track record of late when it comes to producing healthy Major League quality pitchers.

Berry has impressed a lot of folks so far this spring, but he's going to have to prove that he's healthy before anyone will risk a first round pick on his arm. He could conceivably be drafted as early as the end of the 1st round or as late as the 10th round. The next two months will be very important for him.