Pitcher Perfect

Lobstein fits the mould for a lefty starter

The products of Tampa Bay's rich farm system played a big role in the Rays making their first World Series appearance last year.

The Rays kept adding to their talent during their World Series run, selecting shortstop Tim Beckham with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft. Beckham has the Rays' front office excited, but so does a lefthander they took 46 picks later. Kyle Lobstein, their second-round pick, was having a good summer with Hudson Valley in the New York-Penn League in his professional debut, as he looks to be a part of future World Series clubs.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Lobstein, whose fastball sits in the upper 80s, has everything scouts look for in a young lefty, Rays assistant farm director Chaim Bloom said.

"If you were to make a sketch of him like they make sketches at a police station, this is exactly how you would draw up a lefthanded pitcher," Bloom said. "I think if you put all the ingredients you wanted in a young lefthanded starting pitching prospect, you'd end up with a picture of Kyle Lobstein."

Lobstein, a product of Coconino High in Flagstaff, Ariz., entered last spring as a candidate for the No. 1 pick in the Rays' minds, but his velocity dipped to 87-88 mph leading up to the draft. So the team was happy to grab him in the second round. He was committed to Arizona as a two-way player but decided to sign at the Aug. 15 deadline for $1.5 million.

"It was definitely a tough decision, especially with Arizona being close to my home," he said. "It took a lot of thinking but in the end I was ready to start a professional career. I followed what my heart was telling me."

Lobstein has been making up for lost time in his pro debut this year, getting off to a 2-4, 2.92 start with 38 strikeouts and 19 walks in 49 innings with the Renegades. His only setback came when he sustained a minor hamstring tweak in early July, which caused him to skip a turn in the rotation.

Slow Progression

The Rays keep all of their starters in Hudson Valley on a strict pitch count of 85, and Lobstein has pitched into the fifth inning only once this year. Bloom cites top prospects Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson as examples of pitchers who have excelled under the Rays' philosophy of building a solid foundation for their young pitchers.

"We generally keep our young starters on pitch counts at all levels, but certainly in Hudson Valley," he said. "We like to build them up over the course of a number of years to where they can be ready when they get to the big leagues, so they can throw the innings that we need them to. We don't like to put too much on them at a young age."

Lobstein agrees with the philosophy, even though he feels like he's being held back at times.

"It's good that we still have a pitch count, even if it's fairly low for this time of year," he said. "They try to keep you healthy for the long run."

Pitch counts are nothing new to Lobstein, as he became accustomed to them in high school under his coach, Ed Vesely. Lobstein also realizes how fortunate he was to have a coach in high school who was as concerned about preserving his arm as winning games. He says he had a pitch count around 100 and that he would be pulled shortly after he reached triple digits.

"My high school coach was definitely aware of keeping my arm healthy, and he did a good job of maintaining my health and making sure that I was on a pitch count," Lobstein said.

Smooth Operator

The Rays have been impressed with Lobstein's smooth mechanics. Hudson Valley manager Brady Williams, the son of former Red Sox and Astros manager Jimy Williams, remembers Lobstein's first pro game.

"When I first saw him his stature and how he pitched reminded me of Andy Pettitte," Williams said

Lobstein and Pettitte have similar frames, but Lobstein doesn't have as high a leg kick in his delivery as Pettitte.

"Kyle's delivery is as good of a delivery as you'll see," Bloom said. "His arm works beautifully and he's pretty unflappable on the mound."

Lobstein attacks hitters with a three-pitch mix. His fastball sits in the upper 80s and touches the lower 90s, and he could add velocity as he matures. He also throws a sharp breaking ball and a quality changeup.

"One of the great things about Kyle is he really knows what he's doing on the mound," Bloom said. "He pitches very advanced for his age. He can throw all his pitches for strikes at any point in the count, which is a huge asset for him at any level."

Lobstein has adapted well to the professional atmosphere and said he enjoys breaking down stats before a start and studying charts.

"It's good to know a certain hitter's tendencies," he said. "It's about pitching to your strengths more than your weaknesses. If you have a strength and he has a strength, then you just go head to head, and it's all about execution."

Lobstein's advanced feel for pitching and makeup, as well as his repertoire of pitches, have Tampa Bay excited about the future. In a few years the organization could have another homegrown arm to plug in at the big league level.

"With his size, delivery and ability to pitch, he projects as a good major league starter," Bloom said. "He does it so easy and he has such an advanced feel that he's not a guy that has to muscle up and throw (95 mph). He's not a guy that has to try to throw it past everybody because he knows how to pitch . . . We couldn't be more excited to have him. His ceiling is very high and his demeanor is outstanding."