In my weekly chats or in the comments section of certain posts, readers often ask a question like, “Does Pitcher X have ace potential?” or some variant of it. While it makes sense that people would be curious about such a thing, the answer is (by definition) almost always “No.” Because there are so few aces in the majors, the probability that any prospect would develop into one is necessarily low.
When I’m at games — and especially when I’m at spring-training games — I’ll occasionally run into someone like Corey Kluber, though. And while I realize nobody’s wondering if Kluber has a chance of succeeding in the majors, there’s some value in writing up guys like this as an exercise, to illustrate what an ace looks like on paper. So that’s what I’ve done here. (Note, as well: context is important when reading the following, as it’s the product of an abbreviated spring look.)
Kluber was 90-92 in my viewing, with enough movement on his fastball to merit a half-grade bump. That’s about 1.5 ticks slower than his average fastball velocity from last year, but this is typical of early-spring Kluber. I put a 55 on his fastball while observing im and imagine it’s plus during the season when he’s throwing harder.
He mixed in a cutter, slider, changeup, and a curveball. The cutter was 86-88 with tight, late movement. It was consistently plus, flashing plus-plus, and Kluber put it where he wanted to when he wanted to. It’s likely that the slider and curveball are the same pitch and that Kluber can just manipulate the shape and depth of the pitch, but the ball acts differently enough when Kluber does this that he functionally has both, even if the catcher puts down the same sign for both. When his breaking ball behaved more like a curveball, it was a 50, a deep, but blunt, 80-82 mph curveball. The slider was one of the best I’ve ever seen, and Kluber threw a few 80-grade sliders in the outing, while most were 70s in the 83-85 mph range. These had more horizontal movement and, like everything else Kluber does, located with precision. I saw a few changeups that I thought were average.
So, this particular ace looks like this: 70 command, 60 fastball, 60 cutter, 70 slider, 50 curveball, 50 changeup, with elite sequencing and pitchability. That’s an example of the standard to which other pitchers are behind held in terms of becoming a true No. 1 starter.
Now, some other notes from Arizona…
Other Cleveland Notes
RHP Nick Goody has been knocked around a bit early in the spring. He was 90-92 with a below-average slider in the 79-81 mph range in my look. Twenty-three-year-old RHP Cameron Hill was the closer at Double-A Akron last year. He was 90-93 with good extension and a late-diving, 83-84 mph split that flashed 55. He also has a fringey, mid-70s curveball that has rainbow depth but loose break. Goody has a two-year big-league track record of missing bats, Hill was old for Double-A last year, but just on stuff I’d have Hill ahead of Goody right now.
As I finished up the Oakland Athletics prospect list, I attended some of their spring-training games to get fresh looks at the prospects to whom the club has allocated big-league time. Minor-league spring games haven’t started yet, so aside from the occasional B game or intrasquad, prospect-heavy looks are hard to come by. Here are some notes on A’s players who aren’t technically prospects anymore, but about whom you might want to know.
Soon-to-be 25-year-old Frankie Montas (not rookie eligible due to non-September days on the MLB roster last year) made a short-notice start when LHP Sean Manaea was scratched due to back issues. Montas was originally slated to appear in relief. He was 92-95 with a plus-flashing breaking ball in the 82-85 mph range but also threw several 30- and 40-grade breaking balls and cast a few below-average changeups in the upper-80s. It’s early in the spring so take those velocities with a pillar of salt, but Montas averaged 98 last year and 98-101 during the 2016 Fall League.
A’s RHP Yusmeiro Petit struck out 101 hitters in 91 innings last year because he generates ridiculous down-mound extension (in excess of seven feet, which is prime Tim Lincecum range) which enables his fastball to play way up above its velocity. His fastballs to Edwin Encarnacion here are 86 mph and Encarnacion is late on both.
Finally, here’s a quick check on RHP Chris Bassitt, who has missed significant time due to Tommy John: he was 90-91, throwing a cutter (55), changeup (50), and curveball (change-of-pace trick pitch)
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.