While Chad James, Brad Hand, and Edgar Olmos rank as our top SP prospects, only Hand has a chance to see the majors in 2011 but even then he’ll see significant time in AA. Meanwhile, Elih Villanueva, Tom Koehler, and Omar Poveda will also be pitching for AAA New Orleans and could see the call should we suffer an injury early in the season. The former two are back-of-the-rotation arms, while it’s hard to pinpoint what to expect out of Poveda. After the jump, we’ll take a look at how they’ve done so far in the minor leagues.
Elih’s 2010 was fantastic, as he’d finish first in the Southern League in ERA and WHIP while using leading in innings, CG, and SHO. As the ace of the staff, he started game one in both playoff series, leading Jacksonville to their second strait Southern League Championship; he made two starts and finished with a 3.06 ERA with a 10/3 K/BB in 14.2 innings. After the season, the Marlins honored him with their Minor League Pitcher of the Year award.
But that’s about where the fun stops. While he does have amazing control (ranked the best in the system for the second year by Baseball America), that’s where the accolades end. His stuff is below average and he gives up a ton of flyballs. So while he does have a pretty ERA, it masks the real issues. He mostly works with a high 80’s fastball that he has great control over, but has a below average slider and change up to back it up with. While it’s working great against minor league hitters, it likely won’t be anywhere near as effective against major league hitters.
It wouldn’t be surprising if he could come close to a 2.00 K/BB, but with his batted ball data that would still put him around a 4.95 ERA; Or, 1.03 WAR. Considering his very low upside and very low floor, this would give him a C grade.
Koehler played Robin to Elih’s batman last season for Jacksonville. He finished second in the Southern League in ERA, WHIP, and IP, all behind Elih. His two playoff starts weren’t nearly as impressive as Elih’s though: While he did post a wonderful 11/2 K/BB in 12 IP, he also had a 4.50 ERA thanks to giving up 3 home runs.
But when it comes to prospect status, Koehler does not play second fiddle to his Jacksonville counterpart. While his ERA also is well under what his peripherals showcase, he does have better stuff as seen by the higher strikeout rate. His fastball sits in the low 90’s and he mixes it with a slider, cutter, changeup, and curveball. While his repertoire is deep, none are likely to become anything better than average. This will likely lead to a below average strike out and walk rate. Combine that with his average flyball percent, and we’re looking at a mid to upper 4 ERA pitcher – probably around 4.75 ERA, or 1.44 WAR. Considering his upside is also very limited, this would give him a C+ grade.
Poveda, obtained in the Jorge Cantu trade, is a lot more intriguing case. Before 2009, he was one of the Texas Rangers top pitching prospects but a horrible 2009 season in which his strikeout rate fall over 10% made his prospect status extremely questionable. Tommy John surgery the following offseason absolutely killed it.
I still think he’s a very interesting prospect. Before 2009, he got a ton of strikeouts (24.9% K, 19.8% kS) at a young age while limiting walks (8.5% BB). The flyballs (45.8%) were concerning, yes, but he still posted a 3.37 SIERA in that time frame. He has a low-90’s fastball and a plus changeup, although his curveball is average at best.
While his high strikeout rate in the low minors wasn’t likely to carry as well to the upper minors, the drop off in AA was just obscene. The one plus is he did lower his flyball rate by more than 10%, but that doesn’t anywhere near make up for the drop in strikeouts. The fact he had to get TJ surgery soon after begs the question if he was hurt at all during the season as at least some kind of explanation for the massive drop.
So the question becomes what do we get in 2011: The Pre-2009 Poveda or the 2009 Poveda? If he’s Pre-2009 Poveda, we’re looking at about a 4.30 ERA pitcher, or a B- prospect. If he’s 2009 Poveda, we’re looking more towards a mid-5 ERA, or a C SP not even worth talking about. So for now I’ll cut it in the middle and give him a C+ and he’s definitely the biggest boom or bust SP; Next year he’ll either be near the top of our list or not on it at all.
One thing of note is that Poveda also already has one year of service time, having spent all of 2010 on the 60 day DL.