Over at SBNation's Minor League Ball, John Sickels has a recurring feature entitled: "Prospect Smackdown." In it he examines two prospects, usually two that are fairly close together in his rankings, or are otherwise similar, and breaks down different aspects of their games to see who should get the edge. I've decided to 'borrow' this idea to compare two very similar Mets pitching prospects, Tyler Pill and Logan Verrett.
Pill (#29) and Verrett (#30) ranked right next to each other on our preseason Top 50 prospect list. They're both polished college arms that were drafted one round apart in 2011. Both have followed similar development tracks and started 2013 in the Binghamton rotation. I saw both pitch last week, so let's delve in a bit deeper to see if we can suss out who's the better prospect.
Background and Minor League Performance
Logan Verrett was the Mets' third-round draft pick in 2011 out of Baylor University. He signed right at the August 15 deadline for $425,000 (per Baseball America). Since the negotiations went right up to the deadline, Verrett's professional debut had to wait until the 2012 season. He spent time at both of the Mets' A-ball levels in 2012, missing some time at Savannah with a shoulder impingement. All in all, he pitched to a 2.70 ERA in 103 1/3 innings, but there was a pretty noticeable decline in results in St. Lucie. In Advanced-A, Verrett saw his K% drop to 17.3% from the 25.3% mark he posted in Savannah (major league average is about 18%) .
Tyler Pill was the Mets' fourth-round pick in 2011 out of Cal State Fullerton, where he also spent some time in the outfield in addition to pitching. Pill signed for $200,000 (per Baseball America) and did so in time to get a brief 2011 debut, tossing a handful of innings between the complex and Brooklyn. Like Verrett (get used to this phrase), Pill spent time at both A-ball levels in 2012. Also like Verrett, he had an injury scare, getting shut down a few weeks before the end of the season with tricep tendonitis. After dominating the South Atlantic League, he too saw his K% erode some at St. Lucie (from 25% to 21.2%). Pill also gave up almost a hit per inning between his two stops. He has strong baseball bloodlines, as his older brother Brett is in the Giants organization.
The Tale of the Tape
Logan Verrett is listed at 6'2",180 lbs. He features simple, repeatable mechanics and a three-quarters arm slot.
Tyler Pill is listed at 6'1", 185 lbs. He uses a full overhead wind-up, but also repeats his delivery very well. He usually uses a high-three-quarters arm slot.
Normally I'd have some video of both here with Alex Nelson's thoughts on their mechanical strengths and weaknesses, but the dicey weather forced me to get all my video work in during Sunday's game. To these layman eyes there were no red flags for either, save for Pill's wandering arm slot, but more on that below.
Logan Verrett features a standard four-pitch mix. He has a fringe-average fastball that sat in the 88-90 range early in his Thursday night start in Binghamton. He topped out at 91 but saw his velocity erode a bit throughout the outing, ending up in the 87-89 range. Verrett throws strikes with the fastball and features solid-average command of the pitch, but he gave up some hard hit balls when he wasn't locating. The slider is his primary secondary offering, and he throws it a lot. It's a low 80s offering that at its best features sharp two-plane break. Considering how much he relies on the pitch, though, it is frequently up in the zone and too often lacks good depth (downward break).
When I saw Verrett pitch last year for Savannah, he didn't throw a single changeup; however, Bullpen Banter's Chris Blessing saw him throw one last year and liked it a lot, grading it as his best secondary offering. Thursday night Verrett finally showed me the change, and I can see the argument. He maintains his arm speed well, and the pitch features good, late fade. At 80-81 mph, the velocity separation is also there. Verrett will on occasion try to sneak an upper 70s curve past right-handed batters for strike one. It shows itself early and doesn't have a ton of downward break, so it's more of a show-me pitch that should only appear a few times per outing.
Tyler Pill also uses the standard four-pitch mix. Like Verrett, his fastball is a bit below average at 88-90 mph. He had a little more juice early on Friday night, touching 91 once and 92 twice in the first inning. He also lost a bit of velocity as the game went on, working more 86-88 in his fourth and final inning of work. And he too struggled with his command of the fastball, giving up several hard hit balls on high 80s heaters up in the zone. His best secondary offering is his changeup. It's a swing and miss offering against left-handed pitching at 81-83 mph. Like Verrett (I know, I know), he disguises it well with his arm action.
Pill also features two breaking balls, a mid-70s curveball that features more depth than Verrett's, and a soft, upper 70s slider. He changes his arm slot on the slider, throwing from more of a true three-quarters, while his other offerings came from a high-three-quarters slot.
What can we learn from their starts last week?
Logan Verrett: 7 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HR, 89 pitches / 58 strikes
Tyler Pill: 4 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 0 HR, 84 pitches / 56 strikes
There was much less separating the performances than these stat lines might imply. Pill was pulled in part because he sat on the bench for an hour while the B-Mets were sending 16 men to the plate in the bottom of the fourth. Verrett was more efficient, but gave up almost as much hard contact. His balls in play just happened to find a few more gloves. So let's shift our focus to their respective approaches.
Well to be honest, we aren't going to find much here to demarcate the two pitchers either. Both started out with fastball-heavy approaches. Pill got knocked around early as he had issues locating his fastball down in the zone. The two first-inning doubles he gave up were on and 88 mph fastball and an 89 mph fastball. Both were out and up over the plate. Verrett got better outcomes, but like Pill, gave up some hard contact on his fastball.
Both pitchers integrated their full secondary repertoire early, and when they got into trouble, worked backwards to try and keep the New Hampshire lineup from sitting on the fastball. Verrett had more success with this than Pill. In the fifth inning of Verrett's start, after giving up a line drive single off his fastball, he got the next three Fisher Cats to tap out softly to the mound with offspeed offerings. He retired Sean Ochinko by doubling up on his curve, got John Tolisano to roll over on a changeup, and made Kenny Wilson poke a slider off the end of the bat. And throughout the middle innings in general, Verrett got very slider-heavy, at one point throwing it five times over seven pitches. As mentioned above, the pitch is fine, I'd probably grade it out at around major league average. but it's not good enough to be a true wipeout offering. Even at Double-A, he can still get batters to swing through some up in the zone, those are extra-base hits against major league bats. The change impressed me in a small sample, but he didn't get to use it all that much against New Hampshire's right-handed-leaning line-up.
Pill's problem is that his best secondary offering is the change-up, and against a righty-heavy lineup card, the two breaking balls aren't good enough to keep batters from sitting on his fringe-average fastball. The slider lacks tight break and gets slurvy, and he tips it with the subtle arm slot change. It took me a few innings to pick up on it, but I doubt it takes professional hitters that long. The curve has better depth than Verrett's, but not enough depth given that it rarely breaks the speed limit in Montana. When I see a slower curve, I really need to see a big 11-to-5 break, like Collin McHugh's or Jon Niese's. Pill's doesn't have that kind of downward plane. He did throw a sharper one at 77. That's not a bad pitch, but it only showed up once.
Even after going deeper into the stuff, there still isn't that much to separate the two pitching prospects, but I prefer Logan Verrett. While his slider is only an average pitch, it's a better weapon against righties than anything Pill has, and their changeups grade out about equally. Pill has a touch more fastball, but neither he nor Verrett have even average heaters and will need excellent command to make the pitch work against higher level hitters. You can already see the stuff starting to look a bit short against Double-A hitters. While there's a non-zero chance one of them makes it to the majors as a 5th/6th starter type (think Jeremy Hefner), I see reliever profiles for both. I think that gives one final advantage to Verrett. If the fastball can tick up to 90-91 out of the pen, I could see him making a decent middle reliever as a very poor man's Luke Gregerson. The path for Pill as a reliever is less clear to me, and he may end up as Triple-A rotation filler.
Both these pitchers fall into a group of Mets prospects I like to label "The Dillons," a family that also includes Darin Gorski and Collin McHugh. All are polished college guys without above-average stuff, but who 'know how to pitch' to use that old scouting shibboleth. If a few things break right for them, they can turn into Dillon Gee. If that doesn't happen, they end up more like Dylan Owen.
One more thing
To me, Verrett and Pill are part of a much larger trend currently occurring in the Mets' player development system. It's dangerous to draw broad conclusions about this front office's approach after just two seasons at the helm, but it appears that the Alderson regime places a premium on pitchers that can control the strike zone first and foremost. The Brooklyn rotation in 2012 was a prime example of this. Much less heralded prospects like Hansel Robles, Rainy Lara, and Gabriel Ynoa were given starter's innings over more notable, but rawer names like Juan Urbina, Matt Budgell, Christian Montgomery, and Akeel Morris. Why? Because they threw strikes.
It's been noticeable in the recent Mets drafts as well, especially outside of the top 100 picks. The arms from the last two draft classes are predominantly college pitchers that have gone on to post strong walk rates in the low minors. In addition to Pill, Verrett, and last year's Brooklyn arms, you also have Cory Mazzoni, Matthew Bowman, and Logan Taylor all logging starter's innings at the affiliates. All have shown, in varying degree of sample size, to be able to throw strikes in professional baseball. However, out of this group pitchers only Mazzoni, Hansel Robles, and Luis Mateo have shown consistent, above-average or plus fastball velocity as starters.
Is this a good strategy?
Well, here's a counterpoint. The starter last Saturday afternoon for the B-Mets was Erik Goeddel. Goeddel was a 24th round pick out of UCLA in 2010, the Minaya regime's last draft. However, the Mets basically gave him third round money ($350,000) to sign him as a draft-eligible sophomore. He's been a bit of a forgotten prospect, mostly because he didn't dominate the low minors as you'd expect a big college arm to do. Despite an above-average fastball that can touch 95, he only checked in at #39 on our preseason prospect list. A lot of that is due to his pedestrian numbers and frequent bouts of wildness. And sure enough, Goeddel walked four in his first two innings of work Saturday before settling down. I was even a bit surprised that Goeddel got a spot in the Binghamton rotation, given the front office's emphasis on controlling the strike zone.
That said, I think Goeddel has been underrated a bit, and there's a case to be made that he's a better prospect than Verrett or Pill. Developing major league starters is hard. Developing major league starters with below-average fastballs is really hard. I talked a bit about Goeddel on this week's Amazin' Avenue Audio, and yeah, he's probably not a major league starter, either.
I have my doubts that build holds up for 180 innings, the changeup is a mess, and he had issues finishing his pitches, leading to his early wildness. But when he does eventually move to the pen, the fastball/slider combination will play up, and his ceiling is more 8th inning guy than fringy middle reliever. I would prefer to see the Mets target guys like Goeddel in the middle rounds of the draft over the Verretts and Pills of the world. You're unlikely to develop major leaguers out of those slots anyway, so if you are going to roll the dice, do it on guys with stuff, not those that you know will post gaudy A-ball numbers.