It's the second weekly installment of Amazin' Avenue's Top Prospect List! Today Mark and I take on a reliever from the incredibly productive '08 draft class...
Eric Beaulac RHP
Physical Stats: 6'5" 190 lbs.
Position: Relief Pitcher
Drafted: 9th round 2008, Le Moyne College
Current Team: Savannah Sand Gnats (Hi-A South Atlantic League)
Scouting Report: Beaulac uses his large frame to generate heat that he can dial up to 94 mph, though he will generally sit closer to 90-92 mph with it. At age 22, it's unlikely he will add velocity, though not impossible. His out pitch is a razor-blade slider that usually sits in the low 80s. Beaulac had spent most of last year and the beginning of this year as a starting pitcher, but has been moved to the bullpen full time recently as per his request (though he did recently make a spot start). This should help him keep his average velocity up and help him get by with two good pitches against more advanced hitters down the line.
Beaulac has good tempo, working very fast to the plate. His arm action seems very fluid and loose, coming straight over the top. The one concern from this video is the time between his legplant and his throw is too long, which would rob him of some momentum toward home. That may or may not have something to do with working from the stretch, and sadly this video from him in college is the most recent I could find.
Mark Says: Beaulac has been a dominant strikeout pitcher in his young career, posting a 28.8 K% across three levels in 106.2 IP. It's his BB% where things get shaky, and the utility of the move to the bullpen becomes clear. While his strikeout rate also improves out of the pen and his GB% continues to hover around 50%, he's walked only 10 of the 150 (6.6%) batters he's faced in relief at the time of this writing, as opposed to 43 of the 366 (11.7%) batter he's faced as a starter. In terms of innings instead of batters faced, this is the difference between a 2.31 BB/9 as a reliever and 4.41 BB/9 as a starter. He also has what appears to be a budding platoon split trying to rear its ugly head, as he has an easier time striking out right handed hitters and a bit more of a penchant to issue bases on balls to lefties. This could be a problem once he starts facing more advanced hitters. The insight you can generate from the information on Beaulac is rather limited considering his age relative to his level, but there are certainly some promising signs.
Sam Says: One of those rule-of-thumbs of pitching statistics is subtract 1.00 from a starters' FIP to project his bullpen performance, and Beaulac's tRA in the bullpen is .95 lower than in the rotation. While I'm generally against switches to the bullpen since relievers are so inherently less valuable, it may have been innevitable with a two-pitch guy like Beaulac. I do worry, however, that pitching in the best rotation in the Mets' system (Carson-Familia-Schwinden-Kaplan) had something to do with his decision. Regardless, stepping back from the reliever/starter question, Beaulac is one of the most exciting arms in the entire system. Surrounded by control-groundball specialists, Beaulac has posted a ridiculous 11 K/9 in the minors (and his final year in college). He's made tremendous strides on his control and all that's left is a test against better competition. If anyone in the Mets' system warrants promotion, it's Beaulac.
Fun With Comparisons
Scott Boras says:
The first thing that stands out upon a comparison with Lidge are the physical and repertoire similarities to Beaulac. They're both big, strong right handers, both throw in the low to mid 90s, and both feature a slider as an out pitch. Throw in some statistical similarities, such as a dominant early strikeout rate paired with shaky command, as well as the fact that Lidge also began his early minors career as a starter and converted to the pen, and this actually seems like a reasonable idea of what Beaulac's ceiling might look like. Lidge lasted as a starter a bit longer than Beaulac has, but didn't really break out until he was moved to the bullpen as a 24 year old in the upper levels. Obviously, Beaulac has a very, very long way to go before you give him a title like "Lights Out Lidge" (for possible future reference, maybe Bat Bustin' Beaulac?). But his strikeout rate is worth keeping an eye on, as it has been an indication of dominance thus far, and if it stays that way in the upper levels, there could be some closer potential here. The other thing Lidge tells us is that not all relievers get "fast tracked". Though he was a late convert to relief, Lidge didn't appear in a major league game until he was 25, and didn't start saving games on a consistent basis until he was 27. It may be tempting to get impatient watching Beaulac dominate younger hitters, but that doesn't mean he's not on a legitimate development path or hinder his overall upside, rather it hinders only the precision of the inferences we can draw.
Impartial Observer Says:
Unlike Lidge and Beaulac, Speier has spent his entire professional career in relief. Also a tall right handed pitcher, Speier, more than anything, is an example of the volatility of relief pitching. In limited exposure to low minors hitting early on, Speier looked like he had the potential for dominance, posting strong strikeout rates and even improving his command as he moved up the chain. As a result, the Cubs showed little hesitation in putting him on the "relief fast track," pushing him to Double-A by his second professional season. A troubling semi-trend, however, was the way various leagues would seem to catch up to Speier the longer he was exposed to them. Despite very little compelling evidence that Speier's career path had been set one way or the other, by the time he reached the upper levels, the Cubs felt they had seen enough, and Speier began bouncing around different organizations, and eventually carving out a solid, albeit inconsistent, major league career. The moral of this story is simply not to read too much into anything a relief pitcher is doing one way or the other. We can establish trends and possible correlations, but legitimate inference takes a sample size quite a bit larger than most relief pitchers are afforded year-to-year, and in this case, larger than minor leaguers are often afforded level-to-level.
Steve Phillips Says:
Like Speier, Robertson did not start his career as a starting pitcher, and like all of these pitchers, he spent much of his early career dominating leagues that were comprised mostly of players quite a bit younger than him. His strikeout rates were dominant, and there weren't even the same level of somewhat troubling command issues we find present in a guy like Beaulac or even Lidge. The problems came in the upper levels, and with very little warning. If there was a trend that indicated Robertson was due for difficulty in the upper levels, it was that his command seemed to regress each time he moved up in the lower levels, though it didn't turn ugly until he'd already departed Low-A. Before he knew it, he started getting molested by hitters in the upper levels. This is a red flag to be wary of with Beaulac should it crop up, especially considering it's the one nit worth picking thus far amongst his accomplishments on the lower levels of the farm. The book isn't entirely closed on Robertson yet, but he's 27 now and pitching for the Buffalo Bisons, and some combination of poor process on his part and poor defense have yielded some ugly results.
Ceiling WAR: 3.0
Median WAR: 0.7
The move to the bullpen was probably the right one for Beaulac, and it will give him all the opportunities in the world to crack the upper levels and eventually the majors. I would expect continued success in the FSL, especially in relief, before the real tests happen in Double-A and Triple-A. At the very least, with a plus slider and average to slightly above average fastball, Beaulac should make a fine future ROOGY. It could happen fast, and it could take time, these things can vary with this type of pitcher, but there is interesting prospect potential here, with both reasonable floor and decent ceiling.