Rick Porcello: Sleeper or Bust?

With Zach Miner getting injured in his start against the Mets on Wednesday, things are now completely wide open for the Tigers fifth starters spot.  Dontrelle Willis is one option, though he is currently sporting a rotund 12.46 ERA.

Not that his numbers are dazzling (4.15 ERA, 5 K over 8.2 IP), but the 20-year old Rick Porcello is looking like a realistic possibility to break camp with the team.  A first round pick in 2007, Porcello is known for an electric fastball despite it not parlaying into significant strikeouts at Single-A last season.

Over 125.0 innings, he struck out just 72 batters, though don’t take that as a sign of struggle.  He posted an impressive 2.66 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, walking just 33.

Baseball America ranked him as the Tigers top prospects (and #21 overall) heading into 2009, offering comparisons to Roy Halladay.  Considering Halladay is now among the games elite, it certainly is lofty expectations.

They said, “Porcello has all the stuff to be a frontline pitcher in the major leagues. His four-seam fastball has reached 97 mph, but his best pitch is a heavy two-seamer that averages 92 mph and ranges up to 95, with boring action in on the fists of righthanders.”  Couple that with a change-up they say he “can throw it in any count”, as well as a curveball he is working on, and the repertoire is extremely impressive.

As far as why it did not translate into strikeouts, Baseball America said, “Detroit placed him on a 75-pitch limit for each start, and Porcello easily adapted by enticing more swings early in the count.”  That should help to alleviate the concerns, though with his spring performance, it doesn’t appear things will change quickly.  A great arm does not necessarily lead to Ks, so don’t look for him to emerge as an elite option quite yet.

Having pitched at Single-A last season, and with only a year of professional experience, it’s hard to imagine him being extremely impressive even if he does make the jump.  Still, the allure of his talent cannot be ignored.  He is just too skilled to simply write-off, deserving to be drafted significantly higher then 27th overall (thanks in part to signability concerns, as he was represented by Scott Boras).

He could morph into one of the true elite’s in the game, at least in time.  It is not uncommon for young players to struggle in their first season, especially with limited experience.  Look at Tim Lincecum two seasons ago, as well as Clayton Kershaw last year.  Both are among the games best, both putting up spotty rookie campaigns.

I would anticipate Porcello following that path.  He’s just too young to expect him to walk into the major leagues and thrive.  Still, the fact that he’s going to get an opportunity this season makes him worth eyeing.  Keeper league owners should obviously stash him immediately.  Yearly leaguers should leave him for the waiver wire, but monitor his progress for use as a spot starter or short-term fill-in.  I wouldn’t anticipate him to be usable every time he takes the mound (and he’s going to face an innings limit anyways), but in short stints, he has the potential to be dominant.  Unfortunately, a lot of his value is invested in his strikeout potential, which just isn’t up to par yet.

I’d only use him if the match-up is extremely favorable, especially early on until he proves he can handle the major league game.  What does everyone else think?  Could Porcello have value this season?  Would you use him at all, or would you leave him for someone else?

Picture courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.

3 comments

  1. Ryan says:

    Agree, he’s probably a year away though I’d trust just about anyone over willis right now.

  2. Keith says:

    I’m so sick of baseball websites bashing Porcello’s k/9 rate last year. Not only did the tigers limit his pitch count last year but they also wanted him to hit bats. Additionally, the tigers banned him from throwing his two best strikeout pitches, no wonder why his k/9 was low. Can you imagine not letting any pitcher throw his strikeout pitch?
    Anyone who has any doubt with this kid look up what Tiger assistant GM Al Avila said comparing Porcello with Beckett and if anyone should know its Avila who drafted Beckett when he was the Marlins.

  3. Rotoprofessor says:

    Keith, I’m not down on him as much because of the strikeouts as it is just because he is extremely young and inexperienced. I just feel like if they rush him to the majors this season, he’s not going to be fully prepared and likely will struggle, with or without the strikeout potential.

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