Back by popular demand, Sam and Mark's (but not James's) top prospect list. Clocking in at #20, Dillon Gee. For those of you new to the show, here's how the countdown has gone so far:
Born: April 28, 1986
Physical Stats: 6'1" 195 lbs
Position: Starting Pitcher
Drafted: 21st Round 2007, University of Texas-Arlington
Most Recent Team: Buffalo Bisons
Gee has the unfortunate stigma of being a small right handed pitcher with a mediocre fastball. Despite the adversity, he has made his way to the upper levels of the system and had some success. His upside is still severely limited by his lack of a quality fastball or a dominant secondary pitch, but he has already defied the curve a bit by making it as far as he has. Delivering from a fairly high arm angle, one of Gee's strengths is an arsenal that has some depth, despite its lack of dominance. He throws three different pitches, a fastball that generally sits 89-91 mph with some movement, a solid changeup, and usable slider. Though none of the three pitches grades as an above-average major league pitch, he commands them all well, and can throw all three for strikes in any count. The changeup in particular had helped him manage left handed batters before he reached Triple-A. Unfortunately, Gee was shut down after a May 25th start with a strained right shoulder. There was initially a report that he would undergo surgery to have his labrum repaired, but it was eventually decided he would opt for rehab rather than surgery. There's been little news on Gee lately, but reports were that he should be ready to start throwing well before Spring Training.
The injury is a pretty significant setback for Gee. He's kept his peripheral numbers strong as he's moved through the upper levels. His walk rate in Triple-A was really the last hurdle he had to climb before earning himself a real shot at a spot on the big league roster. Command was his big strength prior to this year, but it regressed to merely average against the hitters of the International League. Because he doesn't have a dominant GB% and because its hard to imagine him maintaining his solid K% against major league hitters, limiting free passes is absolutely essential to Gee's success. Now he has to start all over again and prove that the limited arm-strength he had prior to the injury is still there along with his command. Its possible that he could pick up where he left off, but hardly certain. He could have been a really nice option going into 2010 if he had a healthy 2009, but now future big league success is harder to predict for Gee than it was a year ago. Given his skillset, its also worth mentioning that Gee probably doesn't have relief pitching as a built in alternative if he doesn't last as a starter. His lack of a truly dominant pitch would limit his usefulness in the pen as much as in the rotation, if not more. That's not to say he couldn't wind up in a major league bullpen, just that relief pitching isn't really an automatic "floor" for Gee the way it is for some of the harder throwing arms in the upper levels.
It's kind of surprising how well Gee's pitched to this point in his career, but his is a classic case of the stuff not matching the peripherals. The two ways to limit your walk rate include throwing quality strikes and throwing hittable pitches. If you believe the minor league batted-ball data, it appears Gee's opponents in single-A had trouble making solid contact, but the more advanced competition wasn't fooled. As Gee pitches in AAA, and maybe later the majors, he'll face the basic problem for all soft-tossers--how to balance throwing strikes and getting shelled. Whether or not this paradox keeps Gee out of the major-league rotation will largely depend on whether he can maintain his extreme homerun-suppression.
Fun With Comps
Scott Boras says: Steve Trachsel
This is probably the extent of Gee's upside. He's similar to Trachsel in size, and doesn't yet have a put-away pitch as effective as Trachsel's splitter. The minor league track record is telling though. Like Gee, Trachsel was drafted out of college to little fanfare, but thanks to very good command and decent strikeout totals, he moved up the ladder fairly quickly. He would pitch a full and effective Triple-A season at age 22 before beginning his major league career the following season. Though he couldn't sustain his peripheral rates from the minors, he still managed to be an effective pitcher for quite a long time, throwing at least 170 innings per season for nine straight years (1996-2004). If Gee is to carve himself out a sustained major league career, this is very likely what it will look like.
Impartial Observer says: Julian Tavarez
Hey, if the whole starter thing doesn't work out, there's always the bullpen. While Tavarez never had the success of Trachsel, he stayed around longer, partly because the Nationals are desperate, but mostly because of his willingness to work from the bullpen, often for years at a time. The extra MPH or two gained from shorter assignments could be the boost needed to keep the ball in the park and, often enough, in a fielder's glove.
Steve Phillips says: Nelson Figueroa
Not even Mr. Phillips can deny that if he so chooses, Gee could probably have a long and fruitful professional career, just not necessarily in the major leagues. Like Gee, Figgy's early professional career included a minor league path that looked like it could lead to back-end-starterdom. His strengths were lack of a glaring weakness, and he managed to throw enough strikes with his underwhelming stuff to put up pretty consistent numbers in Triple-A, though never any higher. He eventually moved on to the international scene, pitching Mexico, Taiwan, and Venezuela before returning to the American minor leagues and essentially resuming his career as a Triple-A hurler. If Gee never becomes a major league starter but wants to remain in professional baseball, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see him explore alternative markets like this.
Much of Gee's value is tied into the fact that he's already made it as far as he has. If not for the injury, he'd look like a great candidate to be a useful back of the rotation type, and not much less. He'd go a long way towards making an addition like John Garland or Jason Marquis seem superfluous, even if Gee began the year back in Triple-A. In particular, he'd really help offset the risk in having Maine in the rotation. But because of the injury his future is a bit less clear. Almost every pitcher we'll discuss here has more upside than Gee, but few look as likely to have major league careers as Gee did before he was shut down. How much of that certainty remains is exactly what Gee will set out to prove in 2010.