I’ve done this Deep Diving column a few times, generally angling to give you a brief look at four or five names that you might not be aware of, to either snap up or at least keep an eye on as they wind their way through the catacombs of the minor leagues. Instead of the multiple names and relatively shallow analysis, I’m going to hark back to my days Fake Teams and do a bit of what I then called a Prospect Preview; trying to give you a full picture of a prospect that had yet to make a big name for himself. Today’s subject: Christian Binford.
Drafted in the 30th round of the 2011 draft, (Mark) Christian Binford was a project. Standing 6’6/225 lbs, the teenager was more projection than finished product thanks to Tommy John surgery that sidelined him as a sophomore in high school and pushed his development back. Despite the 30th round selection and an injury in his past, Binford signed for a very healthy $575k. Signed too late to contribute in 2011, Binford made his debut in 2012, throwing 40 innings at the rookie level. While his stat line might not draw much interest, one item of note was his four walks in those 40 innings of work. That works out to a meager sub 1.00 BB/9 or an anemic 2.4% walk rate, which despite a casual 7 K/9, results in a K/BB of 7.75:1. A solid introduction to pro ball, Binford took a large step forward in 2013, staying under the radar all the while. Over 135 innings he compiled an 8-7 record, 130 strikeouts and was once again stingy with the walks, allowing only 25 on the season. While the resulting 5.2:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio was quite a bit lower than his 2012 season, the stellar figure is still a fine trade-off given the bump in both innings and quality of competition. At 20-years of age, it wasn’t sheer domination of younger competition either as Binford faced younger batters in a mere 8% of the plate appearances taken against him. Striking out 23.6% of the batters you face is a good sign of course, but I might be more impressed by his stifling 4.5% walk rate, and with only .47 HR/9 innings it is no surprise that Binford’s 2.66 FIP was nearly dead-on balls accurate (his actual ERA ended up at 2.67).
As always, in the minor leagues it is more important how statistics are compiled rather than that they’re compiled. This holds especially true with the low minors. We’ve seen numerous pitchers – especially elite control guys – dice up the lower minors only to flame out at the upper levels thanks to stuff that couldn’t quite hack it. So it is with Binford. He’s going to have to prove it all the way up the chain because right now, the stuff isn’t overwhelming. His fastball sits right around 90 MPH, touching 93 MPH on occasion and bores in on hitters. He can throw all his pitches for strikes, but the curve is a pitch that’s most effective when catching hitters off guard than it is something that will miss bats. He does show some potential with the changeup, though it’s not even as developed as his fringy curveball. While that scouting report certainly takes some of the sting out of his prospect bite, the good news is he does a great job of using his height to create plane, and he’s not getting any shorter. Using his height so effectively allowed him to churn out a 57% ground ball rate to pair with his 23% strikeout rate. Here is a breakdown of batted ball breakdown courtesy of the highly necessary MLB Farm:
Binford still shows some stiffness in his mechanics, which the optimist could take to mean that he could see some improvement in his stuff if he can iron out those inconsistencies. The plus side is that Binford is able to command the zone extremely well despite some mechanical issues. The down side is that, as interesting as he might appear to be after a full season at Lo-A, Binford will have to prove himself all over again in Hi-A, as a guy who’s only average pitch right now is a fastball. Odds are Binford will have to prove himself at every level unless his secondary stuff takes
steps leaps and bounds forward. Right now, his projection maxes out at a number four type starter who can control the zone and soak up innings. If he can start to supplement his fastball with some quality secondaries, or the fastball takes a step forward, we might end up revising that projection, though we can’t assume any of that to come to fruition. For now, it’s worth it to keep his name stashed away to monitor his development, rather than invest immediately.