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

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 ( 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

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

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 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

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.

Texas Rangers Prospects: Wilfredo Boscan and Ryan Tatusko

April 1, 2009 • Scouting

Wilfredo Boscan. Last season, as an 18-year-old Venezuelan pitching in the United States for the first time, Wilfredo Boscan was among the youngest pitchers in the Northwest League, regularly facing players 2-4 years his superior.

Not only was he one of the youngest pitchers in the league, he was also one of the best pitchers. Boscan went 9-1 and averaged just over one strikeout per inning while maintaining a 6.36 K/BB ratio. On top of that, Boscan has been lauded by several people for his ground ball rate in each of the past two seasons.

Boscan took the mound on March 19, 2009 in a Low A spring training game on the back fields at the Rangers complex. The following video was shot at 210 frames per second.

Boscan has very smooth mechanics, but he has a few inefficiencies and a pretty noticeable reverse forearm bounce. Boscan starts his delivery with his shoulders lined up outside the right-handed batters box, and he brings the ball behind his back before striding closed. Instead of using his hips to drive around his closed front leg, he drives his pitching shoulder over the top of his front leg. This is good when it eliminates forearm flyout, but in Boscan's case, it does not.

Boscan appears to pronate on his fastball, but it is hard to tell for sure at 210 fps. He does, however, clearly supinate when he throws his breaking ball. In combination with his forearm flyout, this action will eventually lead to discomfort (or worse) near the olceranon process of his ulna.

His follow through is pretty clean compared to most pitchers, but because he uses his pectoralis major to horizontally flex his humerus as most pitchers do, I have some minor concerns about future rotator cuff problems.

Despite the number of flaws discussed above, Boscan's mechanics are pretty typical for today's pitchers. Based on his mechanics alone, I would not say that Boscan is at any greater or lesser risk for arm injury than an average professional pitcher.

Ryan Tatusko. Drafted in the 18th round of the ballyhooed 2007 Texas Rangers draft class, Ryan Tatusko spent all of last season pitching for Low A Clinton. Tatusko features a low-90s fastball that might cut, sink, tail, or even be a little too straight. He calls his breaking pitch a slurve, but when I saw it, it looked like a good, hard curve ball.

On March 20, 2009, Tatusko toed the rubber in a AA spring training game. In the bullpen, his fastball was blazing and his slurve had a gigantic break. I was really impressed.

It was a bit of a different story once he climbed up onto the hill. The fastball looked like it was down a couple of ticks, and the slurve was inconsistent. If you've ever been a pitcher, you've probably had one of the opposite bullpen days.

The following clip was filmed at 210 frames per second, showing several pitches from the windup as well as the stretch.

Tatusko is a serious drop-and-drive guy. He gathers himself at the top and then sits down on his back leg before driving forward. The angle is rough, but it looks like he only lands slightly closed (which is better than more closed). After his drive, he pulls forward off the rubber to help keep his center of mass moving forward. This is excellent.

Tatusko also has a very good ball pick-up. It isn't quite the pendulum swing that I like to see, but he doesn't rely on powerful external rotation and the ball passes shoulder height before the elbow. This helps reduce the inertia of reverse forearm bounce, though, in Tatusko's case, it still has a presence.

He has some minor reverse shoulder rotation, but he has a nearly straight-line shoulder drive. Tatusko tilts his shoulders toward the glove side and really picks up his pitching elbow. By picking up his elbow, he limits the downward motion of reverse forearm bounce. As I said above, there is still a noticeable bounce, but Tatusko does a very good job of reducing it.

Tatusko's shoulder tilt also helps get his arm into a more vertical position which limits forearm flyout and allows for a greater kinetic contribution from the triceps brachii - another mechanical plus.

He appears to have good pronation on each of his pitches. This is hard to tell at only 210 fps, but I definitely do not see any supinated releases.

After Tatusko's primary arm deceleration, the momentum of his forearm pulls his humerus into his chest. The forces involved here are far less significant than during primary deceleration, so I think it looks worse than it really is.

To put all of this in perspective, Tatusko's promising mechanics do not guarantee that he will not suffer an injury. He has fewer risk factors, but nothing is written in stone. Overall, I really like how he throws the baseball.