JUPITER, FL- The Detroit Tigers have traded most of their top prospects in recent years. But through it all, they have retained a power arm duo in Rick Porcello and Ryan Perry that compares with the top two of any other organization. They’ve been so impressive in the spring that they’re both under consideration to go north with the club in April.
The righties represent the Tigers’ first-round draft picks in each of the last two years, Porcello out of a New Jersey high school in 2007 and Ryan Perry out of the University of Arizona in 2008. They pitched on back-to-back days here in Jupiter against the Marlins and Cardinals respectively.
While I was not in attendance for Porcello’s start Monday, he threw three shutout innings against the Marlins that evening. After a strong High Single-A performance for Lakeland in his first professional season out of high school (8-6, 2.66 ERA, 72K in 125 IP), he’s clearly on the fast track to Detroit. Manager Jim Leyland has been on record to say that Porcello has a shot at the fifth starter spot. (For what it’s worth, he’s among the top-five high school righties I’ve ever scouted and the fast track is not surprising.)
I did get to see Ryan Perry, who came in to pitch the eighth inning on Tuesday afternoon against the Cardinals. I was given only a one-inning sampling of the great stuff I’ve seen in the past. Perry threw 94-95 MPH for that inning with four-seam life and got out of the eighth giving up only a base hit to Rick Ankiel, while retiring sluggers Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick on weak flyouts.
Perry did it without his slider, which is a plus-plus (70) future pitch in my book. Don’t be misled by his poor stats in college or the fact he lasted until the 21st overall pick. Perry and Seattle Mariners’ 1st-rounder Josh Fields had the two best power arms in the draft. Neither are as polished as unsigned ninth overall pick Aaron Crow or Orioles fourth overall selection Brian Matusz, but their fastball/breaking ball combos are even better. Perry has further advantage in that he’s a loose and lanky 6-4, 200, who is sure to get stronger.
Perry has a very quick arm, one of the quickest in pro ball today. It won’t surprise me if Perry hits 100 MPH at times. His delivery is okay; most of the velocity comes from the quick arm, but there’s not much drift and he seems to be able to repeat.
I expected the Tigers to move him to the rotation by now, but from the looks of it they must have visions of an immediate impact arm out of the pen. Seeing that the bullpen failed them during their disappointing last-place season of 2008, I can understand why Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski are tempted to keep him in relief where he might have a 2006 Joel Zumaya-like effect on the 2009 club.
Perry has a lot to work on with pitchability. He’s a thrower, not a pitcher, but his stuff is so good he just might get away with it for a while if he only goes out for an inning or two. Big league hitters are obviously much better than those in the Pac-10, but they don’t get to use aluminum bats and a lot of those bat-handle or end-of-the-bat hits are going to end up as pop-ups and weak grounders. To become a top-notch closer, he’ll have to show more of an edge and bully hitters around, but his stuff alone makes him a likely big league middle reliever at some point this year.
The Tigers are excited about their two-some of power arms. I’d still be surprised to see either of them to go north in April, but if Perry is getting the job done for AA Erie (or AAA Toledo), you can bet he’ll end up in Motown. The Tigers are thin in the bullpen especially after losing Todd Jones to retirement. Ryan Perry could provide the boost they didn’t have in 2008.
CARDINALS PROSPECTS RHP JESS TODD, C BRYAN ANDERSON, RHP JASON MOTTE
Jess Todd has moved quickly through the Cardinal system and it’s not because he’s a power pitcher. The 5-11, 200 righty was a 2nd-round pick out of Arkansas in 2007. I had the opportunity to watch him several times and what stood out most was his slider and his competitiveness. I once watched him come in relief and get the win after absolutely dominating then –ranked #1 Vanderbilt for six innings.
Todd threw a number of 90 MPH fastballs on Wednesday, but he’s generally an 87-90 MPH guy with good running action on his fastball. His slider is a plus breaker which he has big league command of right now. Though Todd has the arsenal and pitchability to be a starter, I questioned then (and now) his long-term durability. Not only for his lack of size and short limbs, but because there is some effort with his arm-action and the sliders will take their toll. Nevertheless, Todd made 24 starts at three different levels (High-A, AA, AAA) and pitched 153 innings in 2008, so he’s yet to show signs of wear and tear.
I think he’d make a heck of a middle reliever and even a closer at some point. My guess is he’s ticketed to AAA with a chance to come up soon.
Catcher Bryan Anderson was a 4th-round pick out of a California high school in 2005. He was inked by the late long-time area scout Jay North for $250,000, while other teams figured him as unsignable. Anderson was in High-A the next year and AA in 2007.
He is at this point a better prospect than the three high school catchers taken ahead of him in the 2005 draft. An advanced lefthanded hitter, Anderson uses the field well and has a pretty good eye at the plate. He went 0-2 with a walk and an opposite field flyout, unable to drive the ball on this day but still showing big league discipline. The defense is coming along, Anderson is close to an average receiver and thrower.
Anderson has hit in the minors, but not for power. In 2008, he put together a .308-4-41 line in 315 AB split between AA and AAA. At 6-0, 200, he’s solidly built and has some strength in his upper-half, but I think his swing is more geared to hit for average than power.
While Jason Larue is expected to be the backup to Yadier Molina with the big club, I can’t help but think Anderson will force the issue this year. Being a lefthanded hitter is an asset and he can provide a different skill-set to complement Molina’s righthanded hitting/defensive-minded game.
Righty Jason Motte closed out the 5-2 victory in impressive fashion and is reported to have a shot at the vacant closer position. The 26 year-old started his pro career as a catcher, but with his superlative arm-strength (and inability to hit .200), the Cardinals moved him to the mound in 2006 and he’s since progressed at a rapid pace. Motte had a solid 2008 season for AAA Memphis which earned him twelve relief appearances with the big club down the stretch.
He’s a hard-thrower, dealing in the mid-90s with average life for an inning. The 6-0, 200 Iona College product has yet to show me any more than a below-average breaking pitch (curveball). He didn’t use it at all on Wednesday and was unconvincing with his change-up. Still, as one veteran scout said to me, he throws hard and comes after hitters. He seems to have the ice-water veins that managers so covet in their closers. So perhaps he has a chance to be successful as primarily a one-pitch short reliever.