Bouncing Back: A Blank Slate (Pitchers)
With everyone’s mind focused on the Hall of Fame vote – either celebrating the trio of players who made it, mourning the ones who didn’t, or denigrating ballots on both sides of the aisle – all I can think of is “boy do I not want to talk about that.” Instead, let’s continue to look at prospects that are happy enough to never see 2013 again and instead focus on the tabula rasa that is our new season.
Last week’s effort was originally supposed to include the first name on today’s entry but for reasons that were definitely not laziness or turning a one-post idea into two posts, he didn’t make the cut. Instead, we focused on position player prospects who, whether due to malady, underperformance, hex or some combination of all three would be quite happy to see 2013 fall by the wayside in favor of a new year. Today we’ll look at pitchers who, now that it is the new year, are likely happy to be able to make a second first impression, or even just get back on the field.
Trevor Bauer – SP – Cleveland Indians
First, allow me to answer the two thoughts that are racing through your mindgrapes right now: Yes, Bauer is still a prospect by innings pitched standards, and yes, it was just last year that people thought highly of him. In fact, Jason Parks had Bauer rated #24 in all of baseball on his top 101. Kevin Towers was an idiot for trading Bauer at such a low price, they I we said. Well, we might have been right on that one but it doesn’t appear Bauer was all that, anyway.
Still though, Bauer is hardly old. At 22 years old (he’ll be 23 on January 17), he has proved to be stubborn and pigheaded – something that can be said of many (including myself) at the same age. A change of heart or mind might do Bauer well. If he can learn to accept instruction, there’s hope yet. His stuff is still good, perhaps not what it used to be but workable for a major league starter.
He continued to strike out batters at a nice clip in Triple-A, though he continued to be plagued by control issues and struggle with the long ball. I don’t expect any of this to change miraculously overnight, but with Ubaldo Jimenez all but departed from Cleveland, there’s a good chance that Bauer sees plenty of time in the rotation next season even if he isn’t there to start the year. Even small steps forward would do wonders for the public confidence as to this point the biggest worry is less the results but his unwillingness to learn from them. I’m not a strong believer in Bauer right now – he might be a change of scenery guy (yes, again) – but my belief in him doesn’t change the fact that he can absolutely turn things around. With an ugly year behind him and a relatively clean slate in front of him, this is something of a make or break year for Bauer.
Dylan Bundy – SP – Baltimore Orioles
There’s less a statistical case for this one than there is the fact that Bundy will actually be able to throw a pitch in a minor (or major) league game. That’s one reason to look forward to 2014 for the flightless bird. Bundy’s prospect status hasn’t really been harmed by his injury, as Tommy John becomes more routine and the recovery rate continues to be extremely high, and yet it was a stagnant year for Bundy. His brief appearance in the majors at the tail end of 2012 didn’t really enhance his value any. It wasn’t like Matt Moore’s brief call up/playoff performance before he was installed in the rotation, where the hype train was overflowing.
If anything, that minority who had preferred Archie Bradley to Bundy has become more vocal if not more numerous. There’s reason for that of course, but I think what we’ve lost in Bundy’s absence is the ability to remember how disgustingly good he is. Sure, we can look back at the numbers but then we realize he was just far too advanced and wonder how it will translate at the major league level. The point though is that Bundy was right there with Taijuan Walker, if not ahead of him as a pitching prospect (if there is such a thing) and has a chance to be his dominant self upon returning. If someone has forgotten exactly how good Bundy was/is, there’s an opportunity to profit from it.
J.R. Graham – SP – Atlanta Braves
Graham is a similar case to Bundy – because really the two (on field) reasons a pitcher wants to forget a season is either injury or poor performance. It’s the former for Graham as he got off to a hot start, generating lots of groundballs and adding in some strikeouts to boot. The issue is that many questioned Graham as a starter not because of the stuff, which he has in spades, but because of the size. As a pitcher who isn’t quite six feet tall, Graham has been questioned as to whether he’d hold up to the grind of a full season.
He began the year returning to Double-A where he had logged 45 of his 147 innings the year before. Unfortunately, a shoulder issue limited him to 36 innings total on the year, though he did notch 28 strikeouts with a 67% ground ball rate in that time. Graham is my favorite type of prospect in that he is short and he throws hard, but the knock on him is the same as the one against Carlos Martinez or Yordano Ventura or any other short hurler. Unfortunately, while the others have held up just fine so far (let’s ignore the slight shoulder issue that CMart had a few years back, huh?), Graham is busy reinforcing the stereotype. Obviously that’s not what he wants to be doing, and I think there’s a good chance he can stick as a mid-rotation starter over the long haul, but he is going to have to start to do it in 2014 by getting back on the field and staying there.