Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Arms in WBC who could make it in bigs
By Orel Hershiser ESPN
When a scout goes out to look for big league talent, the first thing he generally looks for are tools. If the scout can't find outstanding tools, then he has to look for the whole package. If a scout was looking for somebody like Jamie Moyer, the first thing he might notice is Moyer's command or his changeup, but the scout would have to look at the whole package to see if it'd play in the majors. When you look at someone who has a big arm, you first look at the velocity, then the movement, and then you look at if the pitcher can command his stuff.
The more exceptional a pitch is, the more room for error there is for a pitcher. A 97 mph fastball can have a bigger spray pattern than a 92 mph fastball. A pitch with exceptional movement can have a bigger spray pattern than a pitch that's straight. A pitcher who has an extreme change in velocity from his fastball to his changeup or his curveball can live more in the middle of the plate than someone who doesn't.
There were several pitchers that I got to see personally at the World Baseball Classic who any scout would be ready to sign if they were available.
Yu Darvish earned the win for Japan in its 5-3 win over Korea in the WBC final on Monday night in Los Angeles.
Team Cuba had a couple of guys who could contribute on the major league level today. Albertin Chapman, a tall left-hander, really stands out. He was reportedly clocked at 102 mph in Cuba. He didn't display quite that velocity in the Classic, where he was more around 97-98 mph. He reminds me somewhat of David Price, Joba Chamberlain or Francisco Liriano. Chapman is the kind of guy you want in the majors almost immediately because his arm is just so big. You would want him to grow and learn at the big league level. As good as he is, he showed in the WBC that he still had a lot of growing to do. We had heard great things about him, but at times he had mental meltdowns and mechanical breakdowns on the big stage. He really didn't show the kind of consistency that he'd need to be super successful on the major league level. But with the right pitching coach, the right manager and the right situation, I think he would progress fairly quickly. He's a tall, thin guy who doesn't have his man strength yet. He's only 22 years old, so he has time to make it to the majors if political circumstances were to change at some point in the future. He'd be a bona fide ace or a lights-out closer in the big leagues. If we don't see him any sooner, prepare for him to be a major factor at the WBC in four years.
The only reason I mention Pedro Lazo, Cuba's veteran closer/set-up man, is because he's such a cool customer who can throw anything at any time. His skills have diminished, but they are still good enough for him to be an eighth-inning guy who could still close for a team on occasion if that team's closer goes down. He could be a spot starter because he's done that, as well.
The Japanese team has several guys as well who could be successful in the majors. We all know about Daisuke Matsuzaka, but there are some others who could become big league standouts in the next few years.
Yu Darvish is certainly one of those pitchers. Now that I've seen Darvish in person I think a lot more of him as a pitcher. Previously I had only watched him on video and seeing him live and at multiple angles on the ESPN broadcasts, I could see the depth and the second gear to his breaking ball. It really has a tremendous finish. It's almost to the point where if he came to play in America, he would have to shorten his breaking ball because there's so much break on the pitch that he'd fall behind in the count a lot of times. Some hitters won't even offer at it because they know they can't hit it and they'll just hope for a ball. I think he would use a shorter, harder breaking ball most of the time and use the breaking ball you see now as his finishing pitch. Right now he is throwing his big, strikeout breaking ball a little too early in the count in my opinion. That's why I think his pitch count kind of rises and he doesn't get as many swings on that pitch as he could if he used it more sparingly.
Hisashi Iwakuma is a complete pitcher. He doesn't have Darvish's 96 mph fastball, he's more around 91-92, but he has five exceptional pitches. He's got the short breaking ball with the slider, a tight, locating curveball, a nice, solid changeup, a lively fastball and a great forkball. He was one of the most impressive pitchers in the tournament. The Korean lineup he saw was Triple-A and a half, as far as talent, and he did extremely well against them, so he could play in the majors in a heartbeat. It wasn't quite a big league lineup, but it was a big league stage with big league pressure and he still had an exceptional outing.
Toshiya Sugiuchi is one of those rare lefties who has disciplined mechanics and an exceptional arm. Those don't usually go together. Most left-handers with big arms have curious deliveries with great movement, but have questionable command. But his discipline with the ability to repeat his delivery along with his command and big breaking ball are a special combination.
The Koreans have a couple of pitchers I like and a few of them are potential big leaguers. Hyunjin Ryu has a strong changeup and his command is a weapon. Everything else he throws would probably be considered average in the major leagues, but his command and changeup are both better than that. He'd be a big league starter without question.
Jung Bong is a big lefty who throws slightly over the top. He has exceptional presence and command. I look at him as one of those guys who could just pitch forever. He's got such a great pitcher's body. In fact, so do most of the pitchers on the Japanese and Korean WBC teams. It's not just their conditioning. Most of the pitchers I saw have narrow waists and broad shoulders, which allow for strong brakes to slow down a pitcher's arm and keep them from getting injured. Bong kind of reminds me of Andy Pettitte. Their deliveries are a little different, but they have the same kind of stature on the mound. Bong could move right into a big league rotation as a No. 1 or No. 2 starter. I see Ryu as more of a second starter, mostly because his best pitch is a changeup.
Orel Hershiser is a baseball analyst for ESPN and a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.