Improved Command Gets Gearrin To Big Leagues

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See also: 2011 Big League Debuts And Their Signing Scouts

This is the second of a new series at Baseball America where we look at the scouting stories of players recently promoted to the big leagues for the first time.

Projecting how a teenage pitcher will look five years down the road is one of the toughest parts of an amateur scout's job. Will the lanky 6-foot-4 lefty's below-average fastball become average or a tick above as he fills out? Will the maxed-out 18-year-old actually see his velocity drop as he suffers the wear and tear of pitching every fifth day as a professional?

But when then-Braves scout Al Goetz watched Mercer's Cory Gearrin in the lead-up to the 2007 draft, he saw a lot of the same stuff that the righthander continues to throw to this day. It's just that Gearrin's college stuff got a lot more impressive once he started locating it pitch after pitch. The early results have been positive. The 25-year-old made his big league debut for Atlanta on April 25 and notched two scoreless outings in his first week in the majors. He's now 0-1, 4.76 in six innings.

Spotlight On The Signing Scout

Al Goetz, Braves
Key signings and recommendations:

Amateur Scout, Georgia, 2001-07:
• OF Jeff Francouer (2002, 1st round)
• C Brian McCann (2002, 2nd)
• LHP Chuck James (2002, 20th)
• OF Brandon Jones (2003, 24th D/F)
• C Clint Sammons (2004, 6th)
• 1B/C Tyler Flowers (2005, 33rd D/F)
• OF Jason Heyward (2007, 1st)
• RHP Cory Gearrin (2007, 4th)
"I'm very proud of that boy. He's worked hard to get where he's at. He's had his ups and downs. Most recently he started to figure it out," said Goetz, the signing scout for Gearrin when the Braves drafted him in the fourth round. "He reminds me of (fellow Braves reliever Peter) Moylan. He's sharpened his stuff a whole lot since I signed him out of Mercer . . .

"I saw him as a set-up guy, as a reliever. He projected as a seventh- or eighth-inning guy. He'd jump up (his fastball velocity) every now and then, but his sinker was working the best at 90-92 (mph). It'd straighten up when he threw harder."

There wasn't a whole lot of projection when it came to Gearrin's stuff. As a reliever in college he pitched at 90-92 mph, using his side-arm slot to eat up righthanded batters. That description fits him to this day.

"The sink he gets on his fastball, arm-side, is a lot better than it was at Mercer," Goetz said. "He had a flatter two-seamer with some fade (in college). Now he's burying that fastball inside with ton of sink. In college he'd throw one with tons of sink, then two or three that flattened out. It wasn't about projecting velocity—it was projecting command."

Goetz had seen Gearrin at Young Harris (Ga.) JC the year before, 2006. But at the time Gearrin pitched at 86-87 mph, touching 90 at times, as he adjusted to the rigors of pitching. He had played the infield  in high school. No team drafted Gearrin in '06, but he put himself more prominently on scouts' follow lists with a solid summer in the Cape Cod League before heading to Mercer.

At Mercer, Gearrin dominated in flashes. Against Miami early in the season he struck out six in three hitless innings as he picked up two saves. But at other points during the season, his command wavered, as he struggled to repeat his delivery.

That continued to be a problem early in his pro career—he walked 36 in 46 innings between low Class A Rome and high Class A Myrtle Beach in 2008. But as he's climbed the minor league ladder, Gearrin has cleaned up his delivery and, as a result, he's able to keep the ball down much more consistently.

"He's right where he was (arm-slot wise). He's just simpler with his delivery," Goetz said. "He squares it up a lot better. He got side-to-side with it at Mercer."

Gearrin also has removed movement out of his delivery. He used a full windup at times at Mercer, but now he uses a very abbreviated stretch, simply lifting his foot off the ground before quickly going to the plate.

Goetz was the Braves' area scout in Georgia from 2001 to '07 before leaving to take a job as an agent with Jet Sports Management. Because of his new job, Goetz doesn't get a chance to keep in touch with the players he signed as a scout. He sent Gearrin a congratulatory text message when he got the news of his callup, but otherwise, he doesn't really talk to players because he doesn't want contact to be misconstrued as an attempt to poach another agent's player.

"We still have a respect and admiration for each other," Goetz said of his relationship with Gearrin. "It's just more of a great uncle than a grandfather or second dad now."