DSL Prospects: Projecting Pitchers




After looking back at the performance records of current big league hitters when they were in the Dominican Summer League, let's turn our attention to trying to find the next Bartolo Colon, Edinson Volquez or Johnny Cueto.

As was the case with hitters, we don't have a comprehensive set of DSL data, but we do have DSL records for every pitcher who has been active since the 2006 season. For pitchers, I pulled the DSL records for every pitcher who has had at least one season in which he was at least 20 pitcher-only runs above replacement (PRAR), a marginal value metric developed by Baseball Prospectus. A pitcher with 20 PRAR in one season should be approximately league average. I also included pitchers who had at least three seasons of 10 or more PRAR, which helps credit relievers who have put up good numbers in multiple years but who don't pitch as many innings as starters. Examples include Julian Tavarez and Duaner Sanchez.

We could lower the threshold slightly, which would allow us to count pitchers like Claudio Vargas, Esteban Yan and Runelvys Hernandez. Any pitcher who starts at a team's Dominican academy and ends up contributing even in a nominal way in the major leagues should be considered a success, but as you'll see I don't think including them makes a difference in the conclusions we can draw from the data either way.

Note that for pitchers who pitched in the DSL in the late 1980s, some statistics—hit by pitches, wild pitches, sac flies and home runs, among others—are not available.

DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE PITCHERS
PLAYER, YEAR AGE  TM  ERA IP H     TBF   R     ER  HR  HBP  BB    SO WP BB/9 K/9
Pedro Martinez, 1988 16 LAD 3.10 49 45
25 17

16 28
2.9 5.1
Pedro Martinez, 1989 17 LAD 2.73 86 59
30 26

25 63
2.6 6.6
Al Reyes, 1989 18 MON 2.79 71 68
36 22

33 49
4.2 6.2
Armando Benitez, 1990 17 BAL 2.71 43.1 39 204 23 13 1 7 20 34 3 4.2 7.1
Salomon Torres, 1990 18 SFG 0.50 90 44 336 12 5 0 3 27 101 5 2.7 10.1
Antonio Alfonseca, 1990 18 MON 3.65 59.2 60 310 59 24 0 5 32 19 3 4.9 2.9
Giovani Carrara, 1990 22 TOR 2.64 85.2 88 354 31 25 0 3 28 55 3 3.0 5.8
Julian Tavarez, 1990 17 CLE 11.57 4.2 6 26 6 6 0 1 7 1 1 15.0 2.1
Julian Tavarez, 1991 18 CLE 2.67 121.1 95 475 41 36 1 10 28 75 4 2.1 5.6
Kelvim Escobar, 1993 17 TOR 4.13 32.2 34 156 17 15
1 25 31 4 7.0 8.7
PLAYER, YEAR AGE TM ERA IP H TBF R ER HR HBP BB SO WP BB/9 K/9
Bartolo Colon, 1993 20 CLE 2.59 66 44 265 24 19 0 0 33 43 2 4.5 5.9
Octavio Dotel, 1993 19 NYM 4.10 59.1 46 260 30 27 1 6 38 48 6 5.8 7.3
Octavio Dotel, 1994 20 NYM 4.32 81.1 84 359 53 39 12 0 31 95 7 3.4 10.5
Damaso Marte, 1993 18 SEA 6.55 56.1 62 284 48 41 5 7 50 29 4 8.0 4.7
Damaso Marte, 1994 19 SEA 3.86 65.1 53 297 41 28 5 0 48 80 12 6.6 11.1
Francisco Cordero, 1994 19 DET 3.90 60 65 272 47 26 1 0 27 36 3 4.1 5.4
Freddy Garcia, 1994 19 HOU 5.29 85 80 389 61 50 1 0 38 68 11 4.0 7.2
Ramon Ortiz, 1995 22 LAA 2.23 97 79 466 44 24 2 3 54 100 6 5.0 9.3
Luis Vizcaino, 1995 20 OAK 2.27 115 93 477 41 29 3 3 29 89 10 2.3 7.0
Johan Santana, 1996 17 HOU 2.70 40 26 168 16 12 1 0 22 51 5 5.0 11.5
PLAYER, YEAR AGE TM ERA IP H TBF R ER HR HBP BB SO WP BB/9 K/9
Joaquin Benoit, 1996 18 TEX 2.28 75 63 313 26 19 4 0 23 63 2 2.8 7.6
Julio Mateo, 1996 18 SEA 1.74 51.2 42 212 14 10 3 0 19 23 1 3.3 4.0
Jorge Julio, 1996 17 MON 6.06 16.1 13 71 12 11 1 0 11 21 3 6.1 11.7
Jesus Colome, 1997 19 OAK 2.71 89.2 73 350 33 27 4 5 22 55 7 2.2 5.5
Duaner Sanchez, 1997 17 ARI 5.13 59.2 57 282 50 34 3 2 48 44 9 7.3 6.7
Duaner Sanchez, 1998 18 ARI 1.79 50.1 36 211 19 10 0 7 24 44 6 4.3 7.9
Jose Valverde, 1997 17 ARI 5.30 18.2 20 90 12 11 1 2 13 19 6 6.4 9.4
Jose Valverde, 1998 18 ARI 1.75 51.1 31 210 14 10 2 2 22 56 3 3.9 9.9
Gustavo Chacin, 1998 17 TOR 2.70 36.2 28 148 12 11 0 1 15 56 2 3.7 13.9
Frank Francisco, 1998 18 BOS 10.31 48 44 263 66 55 4 3 76 53 21 14.3 9.9
PLAYER, YEAR AGE TM ERA IP H TBF R ER HR HBP BB SO WP BB/9 K/9
Fausto Carmona, 2001 17 CLE 3.11 75.1 69 311 36 26 0 6 12 47 4 1.4 5.6
Manny Corpas, 2001 18 COL 2.24 56.1 56 248 23 14 0 9 17 41 8 2.7 6.6
Ubaldo Jimenez, 2001 17 COL 4.88 48 41 235 36 26 1 11 44 36 13 8.3 6.8
Ubaldo Jimenez, 2002 18 COL 0.00 18.1 10 72 1 0 0 0 6 25 4 3.0 12.4
Edinson Volquez, 2002 18 TEX 2.68 47 45 194 19 14 1 4 14 58 4 2.7 11.1
Rafael Perez, 2002 20 CLE 0.96 75.1 58 296 14 8 3 1 16 81 6 1.9 9.7


Sometimes a pitcher dominates the DSL. Johan Santana, Edinson Volquez and Gustavo Chacin all were stellar in the DSL, posting ERAs below 3.00 and striking out more than 11 batters per nine innings (though Santana pitched as a reliever). Jose Valverde was a lights-out closer for Arizona in the DSL in 1998. Fausto Carmona had a modest strikeout rate, but he maintained a 3.11 ERA, walked just 1.4 batters per nine and allowed zero home runs in 75 1/3 innings.

But mostly the performance record doesn't seem to tell us much, even the peripheral numbers that tend to have more predictive value. Our sample of pitchers combined to walk 4.1 batters per nine innings and strike out 7.5 per nine—pedestrian numbers for the low minors. Pedro Martinez, who ranks 13th on MLB's all-time strikeout list with 3,117, whiffed just 5.1 batters per nine innings in his first year in the DSL and 6.6 per nine the following season. Colon's 1,569 career strikeouts put him among the top 150 of all time in that category, yet he struck out just 5.9 batters per nine even as a 20-year-old.

There are plenty of ugly strikeout-to-walk ratios. Kelvim Escobar walked 25 batters in 32 2/3 innings. Damaso Marte walked 50 and struck out 29 in 56 1/3 innings. Ubaldo Jimenez also had more walks (44) than strikeouts (36) in 48 innings in 2001, showing that he was about as raw as they come by also throwing 13 wild pitches, hitting 11 batters and committing seven balks.

At the DSL level, pitchers tend to be extremely raw, in terms of everything from the quality of their stuff to their mechanics to their knowledge of how to attack hitters. Pitchers—especially the ones who have large, projectable frames—are often still growing into their bodies. That growth, which sometimes includes an increase in height, can make it difficult for a pitcher to harness his mechanics, repeat his release point and, in turn, control his pitches. Many of these pitchers haven't maxed out with their peak fastball velocity yet, so as a pitcher fills out and refines his mechanics, he can go from having a mid-80s fastball to throwing in the low-90s.

Take 20-year-old Kelvin de la Cruz. The 6-foot-5 lefthander signed with the Indians out of the Dominican Republic in 2004, when he topped out in the mid-80s with his fastball. As he's matured with his mechanics and filled out his frame, his peak fastball velocity has grown to 94 mph, sitting at 89-92 with possibly room for more gains. As a 16-year-old in the DSL in 2004, de la Cruz struck out 17 percent of the 229 batters he faced. Last season as a 19-year-old with low Class A Lake County, de la Cruz whiffed 25 percent of the 386 batters he faced. We normally wouldn't expect a pitcher's strikeout rate to increase as he climbs the minor league ladder, but when a pitcher can dramatically improve how hard he throws between 16 and 20 years old, that difference in input can dramatically affect the output.

While the improvement of the four-seam fastball helps many pitchers, others at the DSL level benefit from their first taste of professional instruction. Players at that age don't usually have command of their offspeed stuff, and the changeup is rarely even an average pitch in their first season. Introducing a two-seam fastball to a pitcher's repertoire can also help a pitcher take off, as it did for Rockies righthander Jhoulys Chacin.

If a pitcher in the DSL has good stuff and is putting up good numbers, then that's great, and it could be a sign of both projectability and some polish. But even if a pitcher's performance in the DSL is either mediocre or even downright dreadful, it doesn't seem to matter all that much, as long as scouts see projection there.