Triple-A is weird. It’s the second-most-skilled level in American professional baseball, but it doesn’t have a lot of “prospects.” Many of these players have played or will play in the majors, but they aren’t considered as exciting because there’s a much clearer image of what kind of players they are. Lower-level players have more projection and potential, which makes them more interesting, but they aren’t as skilled as those in Triple-A. In fact, Triple-A players are largely what they are with little projection left — and most of them are role players.
But Sean Gilmartin is not supposed to be a role player. The Braves took Gilmartin with the 28th overall pick in 2011 out of Florida State University, and he was frequently ranked in the top five in most Braves prospects lists from this past off-season. When the Gwinnett Braves headed into Louisville this past week, I went to take a look.
Gilmartin isn’t a large man. He’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, but he might be a bit shorter than that. He has a high waist and a good frame. The lefty has a smooth delivery that he repeats very well, which allows for his oft-cited strength in controlling pitches. It’s a standard wind-up with some deception as he keeps the ball hidden behind him, and he does a good job keeping balance throughout. One of the strengths of this delivery is that he stays in line with the plate and finishes ready to field. His athleticism allows him to be an excellent defender and he made several nice plays in the game I saw.
His stuff, though, leaves a bit to be desired. His fastball sat in the 87 mph to 89 mph range, but it was mostly 88 mph with little movement. What helps Gilmartin is he has three solid off-speed pitches he can throw for strikes. His change-up is his bread-and-butter pitch, thrown in the 79 mph-to-81 mph range with good sink and tail. He adds a low-70s curveball that ranged from 69 mph to 74 mph, but while it has significant break and he can control it, it’s not a deceptive pitch. One pitch I particularly liked was a slider in the same range as his change-up that was sharp. But against a right-handed-heavy lineup, he didn’t throw it much. Instead, he went to the curveball.
Having four pitches Gilmartin can throw for strikes helps keep batters off-balance, and that definitely is what happened to the Louisville Bats lineup. There was one big problem, though. He didn’t miss many bats — just three Ks and six whiffs — and this isn’t a new problem. Lack of fastball velocity is probably part of the issue, but it doesn’t help that none of his secondary pitches are true swing-and-miss pitches, either.
Here’s a list of pitchers who have thrown 200-plus innings from 2010 to 2013 and who have fastball velocities below 90 mph and FIPs lower than 4.20 (3.90 is league-average).
|Jaime Garcia||89.6||3.33||3.23||9.0||507.2||2FB, CUT|
|Paul Maholm||87.7||4.12||3.94||5.9||565.2||2FB, CUT|
|Mark Buehrle||85.5||3.98||4.08||9.0||646.1||2FB, CUT|
|Joe Blanton||89.8||4.90||4.17||4.1||430.0||SNK, CUT|
|Chris Narveson||88.0||4.76||4.18||3.2||325.1||2FB, CUT|
That’s 30 pitchers, and all but four have other kinds of fastballs to give hitters another look. R.A. Dickey is a knuckleballer. Kyle Lohse had to reduce his walk rate to below 6% before he became effective. Johan Santana had an elite change-up. And Scott Diamond walks a batter once every blue moon. To be effective at the major-league level, Gilmartin’s control and command will have to be at their absolute best. If he’s not going to miss bats, he’ll have to avoid walks to an extreme degree. He has the history and the mechanics to suggest he has that kind of control, but it might help him to add another type of fastball, just like Paul Maholm did after his first two seasons.
Others of Note
Todd Cunningham, CF — The speedy centerfielder has some solid defensive chops, but he’s had some offensive problems early this season. He was aggressive at the plate, but he wasn’t making solid contact. I like his swing from both sides and ability to make contact, and this might just be him adjusting to the new level. He’s probably more of a good fourth outfielder unless he improves his walk rate or grows into some power.
Joe Terdoslavich, 1B/OF — Terdoslavich is another switch-hitter, but he has more secondary skills. He has a patient approach at the plate, and his swing is smooth and direct without much of a load. I would like to see him take more aggressive swings at the ball in hitter’s counts as he seems to be content to just drop the barrel on the ball. He makes a lot of hard contact, but I wonder if there might be more home-run power. Defensively, he’s a corner outfielder, but he runs much better than expected and is an average runner or a tick better for now. His most likely role is as a bench bat who can play the corners.
Ernesto Mejia, 1B — Mejia is a masher with an upper cut swing and serious power. The uppercut leaves some holes in his swing, but his experience helps his approach, which currently closes some of those holes. Defensively, Mejia was a mess, and his future lies as a bench masher. It would be nice if he were a lefty, but there’s still some value here.
Daniel Rodriguez, SP — Rodriguez sat at 87 mph to 89 mph with his sinker and had a few of them at 91 mph. His change-up (79 mph to 81 mph) got some awkward swings, but his control of the pitch was poor and he put more than a few in the dirt. Rodriguez added a curve with nice shape. His delivery was smoother with less crossfire than in the spring, and his command was better. His future is probably as a reliever/swing-man where 91 mph might become more common.
Cory Rasmus, RP — Rasmus’s fastball sat at 92 mph and 93 mph and he had a better slider than I’d previously seen. His control is still rough.
Wirfin Obispo, RP — Obispo has a big arm (94 mph to 96 mph) but poor control with a delivery that looks like he’s been momentarily electrocuted.