San Diego Padres
Position: RHP Height: 6-2 Weight: 205 Born: 6/2/82 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Tim Stauffer was the fourth overall pick in the 2003 draft. The University of Richmond right-hander had a dominant '03 college season, going 9-5 with a 1.97 ERA and a 146/19 K/BB ratio in 114 innings. Most experts felt he was no more than a year away from being ready to compete in the majors, making him a fine pick at fourth overall. But a post-draft physical examination revealed shoulder weakness. To his credit, Stauffer told the Padres about the injury. His honesty cost him financially, the Padres reducing his bonus from $2.6 million to $750,000, but it was a strong testament to his character. The soreness cleared up without surgery, and Stauffer was healthy and effective in 2004.
Stauffer's fastball isn't spectacular in terms of velocity. He's usually at 89-91 mph, sometimes a notch higher. But his heater has good movement and he commands it well. The pitch looks faster than it is due to the contrast with his other offerings: a changeup, a standard curveball, a knucklecurve, and a cut fastball he will use in slider counts. Stauffer demonstrates excellent command of all his pitches. Scouts praise his instincts and work ethic. Stauffer is fully developed physically, and it seems unlikely that he'll pick up much additional velocity. If he maintains sharp command, his stuff is certainly good enough for him to succeed without a blazing fastball. He did show a tendency to elevate his pitches a bit too much after his promotion to Triple-A, leading to excess home runs. He kept the ball lower in the zone previously and needs to get back to that against advanced hitters. The Padres are high on his intelligence, work ethic, and mound presence. They are also impressed with his personal makeup and character, due to his honesty about the injury.
Stauffer dominated the California League in six starts last year before being promoted to Double-A. Although his 2.63 ERA in eight starts for Mobile was sharp, his K/IP and H/IP marks deteriorated. This was a warning that he might struggle if pushed to Triple-A, but instead he held his own after moving up to Portland. Still, his K/IP and H/IP marks in Triple-A were not impressive, especially the K/IP, and the sharp spike in his home run rate was another warning sign. Despite these weaknesses, Stauffer still posted a 6-3 record and 3.54 ERA, fine work in the difficult Pacific Coast League. Although it may be tempting for the Padres to push him into The Show sometime in '05, the ratios indicate that caution is warranted. He could use another 10-15 starts in Triple-A. While he doesn't have to turn into a strikeout artist, improving his ability to dominate the game will increase his margin for error.
The good news here is that Stauffer's shoulder problem seems to be a thing of the past; he held up under a full workload last year, without ill effect. The bad news is that shoulder problems often recur. It helps that Stauffer is an efficient pitcher. He doesn't waste many pitches, and his delivery is clean and consistent. But he had a heavy workload in college and the Padres must monitor his health closely.
What to expect
While Stauffer doesn't have the pure velocity of a dominant ace, his ability to throw strikes, mix his pitches, and stay ahead of hitters is exciting. If he can avoid further arm problems, he projects as a solid No. 3 starter.
John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, "Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation," is also out, and can be ordered through online book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, Jeri; son, Nicholas; and feline friends Toonces and Spot.