The draft signing deadline has interrupted our minor league Best Tools coverage for the time being, but don’t worry—the Class A leagues are coming. If you missed it, you can find the Triple-A Best Tools here.
In last Tuesday’s Daily Dish, we examined a few of the most hotly contested batting categories in the International League. Let’s turn our attention to pitchers this time. But before we dive in . . . I asked a few IL managers for their take on how they approach the voting process for the Best Manager Prospect category, because it may seem a bit nebulous.
"Managing against good managers here, every day there’s something to learn," Gwinnett’s Dave Brundage said. "And we’re not done learning, either. I like to watch how a team plays because, really, your team is an extension of the coaching staff. You want your passion to show to your players."
Added Durham’s Charlie Montoyo: "That’s a tough one. I like the managers who just let the players play, and not the ones who make all sorts of moves, thinking it’s about them. The guys who work hard before the game starts and during it, those are the managers who get my attention."
On To The Pitchers
A pair of young righthanders, Gwinnett’s Tommy Hanson (Braves) and Norfolk’s Chris Tillman (Orioles), competed head-to-head for two of the main pitching categories (Best Pitching Prospect, Best Breaking Pitch) and settled on the periphery of another (Best Fastball).
Hanson reminded Rochester manager Stan Cliburn of a young Josh Beckett, citing the former’s overpowering, electric stuff.
Brundage, who had the pleasure of managing Hanson for a couple months while he was in Triple-A, summed it up nicely: "His command of his curveball and slider are above-average. Even when he’s behind in the count, hitters don’t get a good look at him—not when he’s throwing four pitches and three of them are plusses. He’s still improving his changeup to give him another dimension against lefthanded batters.
"His work ethic is what separates him, his mental toughness. And his stuff is top notch: three above-average major league pitches."
Tillman’s manager in Norfolk, Gary Allenson, conceded that Hanson was the more polished of the two pitchers, but didn’t concede that he was necessarily the better pitching prospect. "Tillman will overthrow at times," he said. "And he won’t have his curveball when the game starts, and his changeup will be too hard."
But, then, Tillman is more than two years younger than Hanson, so it’s not really an apples-to-apples comparison.
If not Hanson or Tillman for Best Fastball, then whom? The IL can boast of two flame-throwing righthanded relievers who have touched triple digits—Pawtucket’s Daniel Bard (Red Sox) and Rochester’s Juan Morillo (Twins). Bard got the nod for having stronger command of his fastball, and for not exhibiting the same amount of effort in his delivery that Morillo does.
"The way the ball comes out of his hand, it’s not max effort," Brundage said. "When he was throwing against us, I had to do a double-take to check the board to make sure that 96 (mph) was accurate. That was his first pitch; his last pitch was 99. That’s a very easy action, with very little effort, so it appears."
With regard to Morillo, his own Red Wings’ player, Cliburn said: "Both guys can really rush it up there, but I saw Morillo touch 101 (mph) the other week. Not since Joel Zumaya over in (Double-A) Erie had I seen someone touch 100. Both he and Bard are just effectively wild enough to keep hitters honest."
Relief In Sight
Even excluding Bard and Morillo, the IL was flush with relief prospects this season, making it impossible to reach a consensus in the Best Reliever category. Norfolk’s Kam Mickoliio (Orioles) won the award, and it’s easy to see the 6-foot-9 righthander’s upside, according to Brundage.
"With that height, his (94-97 mph) fastball always will play higher," he said. "He’s letting go of the ball about a foot closer to home plate than other pitchers. Plus, over the last year and a half he’s had better command."
Another skipper labeled Bard as a bonafide major league closer. And still another marveled at his first look at Columbus righthander Jess Todd, who joined the Indians, and thus the IL, recently after being traded from the Cardinals.
"(Todd) was throwing arms and elbows at you. Sitting 92-93 (mph) and snapping off a nasty slider."
Gwinnett’s Luis Valdez and Louisville’s Josh Roenicke (Reds) also figured in the picture. On the former, Cliburn came away impressed with the number of things he did well, praising Valdez’s composure, his ability to hold runners and quick delivery to the plate. The 25-year-old righthander, whom the Braves signed as a minor league free agent after the Pirates failed to re-sign him, posted a 3.25 ERA and a 64-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 63 2/3 innings while he was with Gwinnett.
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