I’ve gotten some great feedback on the site so far, and I’m really appreciative for all the people who come here to read my ramblings every day, and even more thankful for those who leave comments and take the time to send an email. When I know what you’re thinking, or what you’re interested in, it really helps me figure out where to go next, and what things to talk about. A few people have asked me about guys to watch that might be flying under the radar a bit, and I felt like that might be a good topic for a post. I covered my top 15 list already, so I won’t include any of those names. Here are 5 underrated arms to watch in 2007.
Jarrod Freeman, RHP. Freeman was drafted as a high school senior in the 11th round in 2006 and signed shortly after, a good start to the middle portion of the first 20 rounds for the Phillies. He fits the mold of what the Phillies like in terms of right handed pitchers, as he’s already 6’3, 187 lbs, and the Phillies envision him growing a few more inches. He threw in the mid 80’s in high school, with an average changeup and good curveball, a rare combo for a pitcher so young. However, in the last year his velocity has climbed into the high 80’s/low 90’s, and he can be expected to add a few more mph, possibly topping out around 93-95 consistently. He has a fluid motion and smooth mechanics, which bode well for future projection. He started in the GCL and pitched well: 45.1 IP, 3.38 ERA, 47 H, 5 BB, 37 K and only 3 HR allowed. One of the things that I like most about him, he posted a stellar 2.6 groundball to fly ball ratio, and he was a tad unlucky (.342 BABIP) against right handed batters, so he should see an improvement on his ERA if his peripherals remain solid. He didn’t come from a baseball hotbed (Utah), so we’ll have to wait and see how he pitches against advanced competition. He turned 19 in November, so that’s the age he’ll pitch at for all of 2007. I expect he’ll be assigned to short season Williamsport and spend most of the season there, possibly getting bumped to Lakewood for 1 start at the end of the year. If all goes well, he’ll open 2008 at Lakewood at age 20, and be right on track.
Darren Byrd, RHP. The Phillies took Byrd in the 18th round of the 2005 draft, and he had already signed a letter of intent to go to Junior College, but after mulling it over for a few days, he decided to pass on junior college all together and sign right away. That immediately speaks to his aptitude and commitment, and it gave him some extra development time. He again fits the “Phillies mold”, which I think I should trademark, for right handed pitchers, 6’3, 170 lbs, wiry, long loose arm action. His velocity was in the high 80’s, but again, the Phillies felt that as he grew a little bit, his velocity would jump. They started him in the GCL in 2005, and he was pretty solid, posting a 2.66 ERA in 44 innings, allowing 36 H, 10 BB and 1 HR, while striking out 24. He pitched 2006 at age 19, and again the Phillies handled him gently, starting him back at the GCL, where he again pitched well: 36.1 IP, 3.22 ERA, 33 H, 15 BB, 1 HR, 27 K. Upon promotion to Batavia, he didn’t disappoint, allowing only 4 ER in 15 innings. He struck out 14 but also walked 11 in his first exposure to short season ball. If he continues to add velocity and depth to his secondary offerings, he has the makings of a middle of the rotation starter or a 7th inning reliever. Lefties had a potentially fluky .386 BABIP against him, and if that levels out, his overall numbers should improve. Like Freeman, he also has strong groundball tendencies. He’s still a long way away, but he shows good promise at this point. The Phillies will more than likely open him up at short season Williamsport, and he could see a promotion to Lakewood at some point.
Carlos Monasterios, RHP. Monasterios’ name should sound familiar, he was one of the pieces that came to the Phillies in the Bobby Abreu trade at the deadline. He was signed by the Yankees as a free agent out of Venezuela in 2004, but didn’t make it stateside (as far as I can tell) until 2006. He’s 6’2, 175 lbs and only 20 years old, so there is still some room for him to fill out and possibly add velocity. That’s good news, because his fastball already sits in the 91-93 range and tops out at 95, with great downward movement. His curveball and changeup are lagging behind his fastball, but show signs of at least being a tick or two above average in the future. His numbers were better for the Yankees, but he still finished with an overall line of 45 IP, 3.20 ERA, 41 H, 6 BB, 35 K, and only 3 HR allowed. Monasterios generates his share of ground balls (79, to 43 FB) and he kept the ball in the park, another good sign. He will be 21 at the start of 2007, but he’s still somewhat raw. He’ll likely start at Williamsport and pitch most of the season there. If his secondary pitches catch up to his fastball, he could possibly reach Clearwater sometime in 2008, and possibly the Phillies bullpen in 2009. So yes, a long way away, but a very promising arm.
Patrick Overholt, RHP. In 3 years, when we look back at the 2005 draft, Overholt might be one of the names we instantly think of, even though he’s flown under the radar to this point. The Phillies took a flier on him in the 22nd round, as he was a red shirt junior with 2 years of eligibility left at Santa Clara University. Overholt was one of the better closers in the country in 2003 but missed all of 2004 with Tommy John surgery. The Phillies gamble looks well met now, as he’d have surely climbed draft boards in 2006, and it looks like he’s finding his groove slowly coming back from surgery. He’s only 6′ 200 lbs, but throws a low 90’s fastball and a hard slider with excellent bite. Many in the Phillies org feel he has “the closer persona”, and as mentioned, has previous experience in that role. While I never jump to consider pitchers who are reliever-exclusive as prospects, college closers are a bit different. Performance wise, Overholt has been pretty solid. In 2005, he was good at Batavia, with a 2.65 ERA in 34 innings and an impressive 51 strikeouts. He started 2006 in Lakewood, posting a solid 3.15 ERA in 42 innings, with an impressive 52 K’s and only 37 hits allowed. He was promoted to Clearwater, and while his ERA jumped a bit (4.10), his peripherals were strong, allowing 20 hits and 10 walks while striking out 41 in only 26 innings. Overholt’s career K/9 in the minors is an eye popping 12.23. While he needs to harness his command to become a successful reliever, his ability to generate swings and misses looks very promising. He’s likely to start 2007, his age 23 season at Reading. He’ll be part of a solid pitching staff, and should get plenty of save chances if given the closers role. With a strong 2007, he could be a bullpen candidate in Spring Training 2008, or midseason ’08 at the latest.
Andrew Cruse, RHP. Cruse, the Phillies 9th round pick in 2006, is an interesting guy. He was a red shirt sophomore at South Carolina, despite being 22 years old. He was thought of in the spring as a first 5 rounds guy but was inconsistent the last two months of the season and fell to the Phillies in the 9th round. While not that big (6’1, 190 lbs), he has a good strong arm and could add a tick of velocity, especially if used in relief. Cruse stated his desire to get his career moving since he was already 22 as his main reason for leaving USC. He was used as a starter, a swing man, a middle reliever and a closer in college, and his arm proved quite resilient in bouncing back. The Phillies decided to try him out as a starter at Batavia, both to see how he’d handle the role, and also to give him more of a chance to develop his secondary pitches. His fastball sits in the 92-93 range, and he was throwing a slurvy type breaking ball, which the Phillies will probably try to turn into a slower conventional curve or a power slider with tighter break. In 66 innings at Batavia, Cruse allowed 60 hits and 19 walks, while striking out 48 and allowing only 2 home runs. Cruse was very strong against LH batters, holding them to a .584 OPS, and had very strong groundball tendencies, inducing 98 ground balls to only 50 flyballs. At this point, it’s unclear what the Phillies view in terms of his role going forward. Since he did well as a starter, he may get a shot to start in 2007, which will be his age 23 season. However, because of his age, the Phillies will probably try and move him quickly. The Lakewood rotation already looks crowded, so he seems to slot in as possibly a bullpen arm, or they could get ambitious and start him at Clearwater in a starting role, where only Carlos Carrasco is currently penciled in. Looking long term, Cruse might turn into a setup man or a swing man. His success against LH batters in 2006 speaks to his improving changeup, and if he can pick a breaking ball and command it, he’s got a chance to be a back of the rotation starter. If that doesn’t work out, he should be a useful swing man, or possibly a setup guy.