Pitcher or hitter?

This debate is one that goes back a bit, as the Phillies have had their share of two way players, and invariably, they always seem to pick the wrong route for that guy. This question is again at the forefront with Jiwan James. James was a gifted two way player in High School, and turned down a commitment to Florida, where he was set to play Wide Receiver, in order to sign with the Phillies. Most were unsure which way he would go, and the Phillies have decided to put him on the mound. There’s no way of knowing if this is permanent, but it likely is. Not surprisingly, I think this is the wrong way to go.

From reading various scouting publications over the years, it seems that guys have an easier time “re-learning” how to pitch, but not re-learning how to hit. Think about it. How many pitchers in the big leagues were awesome hitters in college, but once they got to pro ball, they put the bats away, and when they make it to the majors, they are .180 hitters. You have a few exceptions, Marquis and Zambrano can handle the bat, Randy Wolf and Tim Hudson are still good hitters, by pitchers standards, but by in large, once you become a pitcher full time, your hitting goes away. The big thing is, hitting at the highest level requires tons of repetition, and even with incredible natural talent, you need the reps to become a solid big league hitter. The main requirement for pitchers is arm strength, and arm strength is normally something that doesn’t just go away. Pitchers of course need a repeatable delivery and clean mechanics, and those are things that also require a lot of repetition, but by what seems like a large majority of opinion, it’s much easier to re-learn how to pitch than to hit at the big league level.

So, James has been sent to the mound. His first appearance was excellent, 2 IP, 0 ER, 2 K….nothing wrong with that. But if James struggles on the mound, the adjustment back to the bat could be a tough one, and at that point, it might be too late. The Padres #1 pick a few years ago, Matt Bush, was a two way player, splitting time at SS and P in high school. The Padres put him at SS, and he failed miserably for 3 seasons. He’s back on the mound now, and throwing in the low 90’s again, already making strides and showing the plus arm everyone knew he had when drafted. It will be interesting to see if the Phillies made the right choice here.

20 thoughts on “Pitcher or hitter?

  1. Do you really trust the Phillies organization based on there past decisions to make the correct move! I too feel they should let Jiwan play the field to use the raw athletic skills and speed that will go to waste when he is sent to the mound. You can always come back to pitching as a last resort, either way we need talent in our minor league organizations. We will see in the future if the move was the right one, but the track record of the Phillies will have him in another organization within 3 years.

  2. This analysis is only correct if James’ hitting talent is at least equivalent to his pitching talent. If he has more talent as a pitcher, he should pitch even if he has the ability to hit as well. Do any of us have any idea which area he’s actually more talented in? Probably not.

  3. Trust the Phillies? I certainly don’t.

    His senior year he hit .423 in 107 AB’s, with 10 XBH and 48 stolen bases. He threw 43 innings, racking up 68 K. In his junior year, he hit .554 with 27 SB and had a 1.75 ERA in 48 IP with 53 K. He was prolific in both areas. As I said above, when you have a guy who profiles as a similar prospect on both sides of the ball, it’s easier to go back to pitching than it is to go back to hitting.

  4. Keep the guy as a lefty pitcher…of whom we can never have too many. The young man should be UNconfused as to his role…and stiick to it. Our system is not now in desperate need of another OFer; at least we can see several of them developing well…even though they are for the most part at our lower levels.

    A rookie coming to pro ball NEEDS TO KNOW what is expected of him. Should it develop that–after 2 seasons—that he can’t make it as a pitcher, they could then move him elsewhere.

    No good playing w his head now; only poor results and delay of his skills arise from that. Concentration on the job/work/learning is necessary; no confusing, please.

  5. Yes I had the same question about Matt Spencer the 3rd round 113th 3A pick.

  6. No, not particularly, but my distrust doesn’t rise to the level of assuming they’ll be wrong more often than a coin flip. High school statistics are not very meaningful, and in the absence of any evidence in either direction, the prudent course is to keep an open mind.

    I’m not certain which two-way players you’re referring to, for whom the Phillies have invariably chosen the wrong route in the past. Not Kyle Drabek, I assume.

  7. I have seen some comments from the Phillies that they like Spencer as much as a pitcher. Supposedly a left-handed power arm that hits about 94 mph with very little control. My problem is I think he is only an average hitter, not necessarily good enough as a hitter to warrant his draft round. I like Taylor much more as a hitter for instance and he was drafted later.

    On James, I would trust the Phillies here. He played in a small school high school league, so his tools are probably more important than his stats. He probably faced better competition in summer leagues where the Phillies got a sense of his pitching vs hitting against good competition.

  8. My argument was more on the theory that it is easier to re-learn pitching than it is to re-learn hitting. If a player has near equal ability at both sides of the game, I think it’s advantageous to give him a shot at being a position prospect first, and if it doesn’t work out, allow him to get back on the mound. If you go the other way around, it seems like the success rate is much lower.

  9. I am a big believer in consistency, whether that be in a sports related situation or anything else in life.

    Unless you are very lucky, you are always going to win some and lose some; i.e., anything that you can do to increase your odds of success, should be considered. This is where excellent scouting, the ability to project raw talent & baseball acumen come into play but it would help to employ some CONSISTENT “ground rules” to help reduce subjectivity from year to year, whether that be based on “feelings” or a perceived “need” at the time.

    Assuming that you draft a number of “athletes” every year, those kids are most likely the stars of their team, league, etc., and usually they will be the leader in both pitching, hitting, fielding, etc.; i.e., a decision must be made by the organization that does the drafting.

    Now, if the organization really believes that this kid has “equal” or close to equal talent to project as either a pitcher or a position player, wouldn’t it be beneficial to have a set of rules that are consistently employed to help insure that they make the right decision, at least as many times as the wrong decision?

    One possible “rule of thumb” could be that if the draftee projects as a potential power hitter to go along with consistent contact ability, you make him a position player. Another could be that if he projects as a shortstop or center fielder, you make him a position player. Another, if he projects to be able to exceed 95 mph from the mound, you make him a pitcher. Another, if he projects as a potential base stealer, you make him a position player.

    Granted, that they are very subjective “rules” but using my examples, James should have started out as a position player.

  10. I lean towards Jiwan James being a pitchers for a couple of reasons. First, I’m not sure we are as pitching heavy or hitting light on the farm as we have been. I think Myers, Galvis, Costanzo, Golson, Donald all might be top 10 prospects. Second, the Phillies have shown to be better at developing HS pitching than they have been at high school hitting.

  11. Good points, both of you. I do agree that you can never have too much pitching, but TINSTAAPP still applies. The Phillies do have a pretty bad track record in terms of developing prep hitters, so I understand that fear. I hope James blows people away and becomes an elite pitching prospect. I just fear that if it doesn’t work out, he won’t be able to just turn in his glove for a bat and be the same prospect he was coming out of high school.

  12. Taking Spencer that high I think was for his 94 MPH left handed fastball… we will see.

  13. I don’t know about James, but I agree that the Phillies
    usually make the wrong decision about two-way players.
    What is worse IMO is that, when it clearly is shown to be
    a mistake, they don’t try another approach. It’s the old
    “we made up our mind and we’re going to stick to it”
    inside-the-box kind of thinking that annoys me.

  14. I’ve seen James play. He has raw talent. I believe that James can do it on the mound. He has played alot of showcase baseball and this kid can hit. Give him a chance to shine.

  15. I saw James throw in the first week of August and I spent the entire outing wondering why the Phils have the CF on the mound. This kid is not a professional arm, I can’t believe this experiment will continue into next season. They better make the change in Instructional or they just wasted a six figure bonus. His mechanics were inconsistent, and what was most concerning was his lack of movement on his 4 FB. I’m guessing this was a player dev. decision because their scouts are a little better than this.

  16. i played james in high school. he has more potential on the mound than in the field. he wasnt that great of a hitter. he is just an athlete. In the article where it says he was going to Florida to play WR…Sike! That kid wouldnt have seen the field playing football their. Word on the street is he signed with the phills this past year because Pat Mcman got fired from florida.

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