By Kiley McDaniel
I was able to make it out to see arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball last night on minor league opening day. The Lakeland Flying Tigers (why they’re flying, nobody knows) opened their Florida State League season versus the Tampa Yankees at Legends Field and I was able to get a good look at RHP Rick Porcello.
Porcello was considered the top prep arm in the 2007 Draft and the best prep arm since Josh Beckett–and he was paid as such, receiving a $7 million dollar big league deal with a $3.5 million bonus. Since he signed, the buzz has been significant, with every writer you can imagine fawning over the early returns and putting him in the top 10-15 prospects in baseball despite not throwing a pitch. Last night, he threw his first pitches and Saber-Scouting was there.
(Rick Porcello photo credit: Rich Morris of Seton Hall Prep)
See the Scouting Tutorial for a rundown on some of the terms in this report. Here’s some video I took for Porcello’s outing.
Rick Porcello, RHP, Lakeland Flying Tigers (Detroit)
Pitch - Present/Future Grade
Fastball - 60/65
Changeup - 55/60
Command - 50/60
Physical Description - Long limbs, wide chest, square shoulders, average build throughout, solid bulk in legs, room to add solid build, up to 15 lbs of muscle. Well-proportioned, prototypical pitcher’s body. Resembles Justin Verlander or Roy Halladay.
Fastball - Ranged from 90-94 with movement and control all night, and everyone in the building knew he had 96-97 in his back pocket and he never brought it out. That alone was the most impressive thing about him. He was darting sinkers up to 94 right where he wanted them and varied the sink and arm-side run from pitch-to-pitch. Sat 91-93 with above-average life, movement, and control. Beyond that, he didn’t even rely on the fastball and just throw it exclusively. For a 19-year-old, that’s almost unfair. But there’s more…
Curveball - Ranged from 71-74; this was his signature hammer in high school and he threw less than 5 tonight. It had excellent depth, spin, and 12-to-6 tilt but lacked late bite. You give him a pass on that because everything else was so good and he only threw a few and didn’t have feel for it yet. Not sure if he shied away from it due to preference, mandate, or lack of feel, but I can put a future 60 on it, reports out of HS said it could easily be north of that. I’m sure I’ll get a better look in future starts.
Slider - Sat at 78-79; this was his weakest pitch but was the breaking pitch he used most often. It is a slurve that he primarily back-doored to left-handed hitters early in the count. It fills a need as a horizontal version of his curveball but it backed up in him a few times and also lacked bite but had flashed some late movement. It could’ve just been an off-day for his breaking stuff, but if he tightened that into a two-plane slider, it could be filthy.
Changeup - Ranged from 76-79; this was what really impressed everyone. It appears he just had a better feel for his change than his breaking stuff tonight and relied on it instead. He flashed a lot of 60s as a true swing-and-miss pitch to big league hitters. It is a mostly vertical drop due to his arm angle, but it’s late and it disappears. He mixed in a few on the corners with more horizontal break. Showed good command of it and used it as his out-pitch tonight. This pitch is why people love this guy. Without it, he’s just another tall guy with some velocity and command than can spin it, which is still rare, but not Chinese River Dolphin rare.
Mechanics - Sound mechanics. High 3/4 arm angle, clean and easy arm with average deception. Good torque in the motion and has an excellent decelerating finish with his arm on the follow through. Balance is good and doesn’t fall off at the end of his motion, in a good fielding position. Great leg drive. Late in the game (last clip in video) he lost his command and everything was up because he wasn’t tucking his chest and stayed high a few clicks too long. He battled and was at his pitch count and left after that inning. Motion is similar to John Smoltz.
Summary - You can see why teams loved him in the draft—he has all the elements you look for in a young pitcher. Tonight he showed a great projectable body, sound mechanics, great command for his age, great feel for a plus fastball, ability to spin a plus breaking ball, a knockout changeup, potential plus command, and the intelligence to know when and how to use these tools. Not sure what else you could want, really. I am confident he could pitch in the big leagues right now as a back-end starter, but allowing him to improve in the minors for a bit is the more savvy move. There’s been tons of hype tossed on this guy by about any writer that can spell his name, but it doesn’t look like it’s gone to his head and he’s everything that was advertised.
Adjusted Overall Future Potential: 63
Present Group: C, Future Group: A
Projected Role: #1 starter
ETA: Almost ready to contribute now, full-time in MLB by All-Star break 2009