Prior to the 2009 season the Orioles’ Chris Tillman was one of the more highly touted pitching prospects in the game. Baseball America, who ranked him as the team’s second best prospect that year (behind Matt Wieters, who was ranked as the top overall prospect in all of baseball) and the 22nd best prospect overall, described him by saying:
“Tillman’s overall package and early success at a high level make him the best bet among the Orioles’ three prized pitching prospects. He should at least pitch in the middle of the Baltimore rotation and has the potential to lead it. He’ll open 2009 in Triple-A with an eye toward moving to the big leagues in 2010.”
At the time no one thought it would take nearly for full years four Tillman to realize that type of potential. However, it goes to show you that sometimes things take time. Last season Tillman finally performed like a top prospect, posting the following line:
66 Strikeouts (6.91 K/9)
24 Walks (2.51 BB/9)
71.4% Strand Rate
Now, of course, the question is if he can maintain this success over a full season. The first number that jumps out is his BABIP, which obviously was extremely lucky. However, it looks even luckier when you couple it with the 21.0% line drive rate he posted last season.
That said, the number is skewed by one really poor month:
- July – 19.8%
- August – 26.1%
- September – 16.7%
While the line drive rate may fall, do not think that the BABIP is going to rise (and possibly substantially). In September he posted a mark of .147.
There is hope to offset the impending regression, however. Tillman posted a minor league K/9 of 8.87, including a mark of 7.95 in 70 Triple-A appearances (69 starts). In other words, seeing him take a small step up will help, though it isn’t going to fix all of his deficiencies.
Yes, he has good control, but his Triple-A BB/9 was 2.91 so it’s hard to imagine hm maintaining a number around his 2012 campaign. He also was prone to the long ball in 2012, something that could conceivably continue.
Pitching in the tough AL East, it is easy to imagine a regression. Would I expect him to return to ERAs of 5+? No, but going back to the 4s is possible. In other words, cash in now while you can. Chances are he is going to regress.
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