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Scouting The Young Starters (Small Sample Edition)

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Having had a chance to see all the young A's starters somewhere between 2 and 20 times, here's my official take on the strengths, weaknesses, and levels of potential for the young 'uns we've seen so far...

SEAN GALLAGHER

Don't let his recent woes scare you off, as what you saw was a 22 year old trying to pitch through pain. Gallagher remains one of the A's most exciting young pitchers, with a true "plus fastball" - remember, this is a guy Beane insisted on for months, a guy about whom Cubs fans said, "You're gonna like him," a guy scouts agree has a high ceiling. In other words, those who have seen Gallagher over time like him a lot - that's a good sign.

One thing I notice is that pretty often, Gallagher's fastball is outside (to a righty) from the moment it leaves his hand, misfired as if he is holding onto the ball too long. What I suspect is actually happening is that he is holding the ball too tight instead of releasing it free and easy. I wonder if his control problems would be significantly improved if he just relaxed - which is one of the things 22 year olds have difficulty doing.

I don't like his mechanics, which look like he is heaving the ball with a lot of shoulder - almost as if the windup is cursory and then he gets to the business of throwing the ball with his arm. Ideally, you want a fluid windup in which the legs and core are driving the shoulder and arm.

Smooth out the windup a little and throw a little more "free and easy" and a lot of good can follow. I would also like to see Gallagher throw his changeup more and curve less, as he is prone to hanging the curve and it's the changeup that will make his fastball more devastating anyway.

Conclusion: Expect a #3 but don't be surprised if Gallagher rises to the level of a #2. There's a reason the A's targeted him and wouldn't budge.

GIO GONZALEZ

What I like about Gio is that his curve allows him to throw his 90MPH fastball by hitters. When he backs the curve up with a fastball, hitters are consistently late, giving Gonzalez three "swing through" pitches and explaining how he has chalked up strikeouts at a league-leading rate without a plus-fastball.

Gio's command has not been as poor as I expected; it has just been "come and go." He will show outstanding command for 6-7 hitters and then issue a four-pitch walk, which is actually better than having "just ok command" all the time. Gio's biggest command problems have not been outside the strike zone, however, they have been in the strike zone - Rod Barajas in Toronto, B.J. Upton last night (HR just foul).

The biggest change I would like to see is pitching inside. In two starts and 11 innings, Gonzalez has not backed a single hitter off the plate. To command both sides of the plate, a pitcher needs to be able to hit the inside corner and needs to work off the inside corner - whether that means jamming a hitter on a pitch that gets in on the hands or brushing back hitters who are leaning out over the plate.

Conclusion: Seems like a solid #3 starter in the making. Gio may never have the consistent command that allows him to be a front-end starter with just a 90MPH fastball, but he has a lot of ways to miss bats and if he can learn to cut the occasional fastball, or fold a little slider in on the hands of righties, he could be a very good pitcher overall, the kind who is always a threat to pitch a gem but who will give you only 6 innings and will be prone to the "walk and HR" crooked number. Remind you of anyone?

GREG SMITH

Throughout the minor leagues, Smith threw a lot of strikes; in the major leagues he hasn't. My take is that Smith doesn't feel he has the stuff to go right after major league hitters early in the count and so he has opted for being very fine from the get go in every at bat. This is a mistake but I think Smith and the A's are smart enough to correct it.

What Smith needs to do instead of nibbling is to use his curve more (it's not bad at all) - use it to "steal a strike" early in the count, something Mark Mulder was adept at doing, and use it to prevent hitters from guessing "fastball/changeup". If Smith used "variety of pitch selection" as a weapon, instead of  trying to use "pinpoint location," he could be more aggressive in the strike zone.

Why am I bullish on Smith? Because pitching and hitting, more than anything else, are about the ability to make adjustments and I believe Smith is the type of pitcher - that is, the type of person - who is mature, intelligent, and diligent enough to figure out what he needs to do to regain the upper hand. And he has the stuff to do it, because velocity doesn't tell you how good a fastball is. Hitters are often late on Smith's fastball because his changeup controls bat speed well. Hitters are not late on Embree's fastball because major league hitters will quickly time a 95 MPH fastball - so batters are not early on Embree's fastball but they are not late. All you need to know about Smith's fastball is that hitters are often late on it - that's really all that matters for a pitcher like Smith.

Conclusion: Smith's stuff will prevent him from being a front-end starter, but I think he will make it as a #3-#4 starter. And if he can ever paint the outside corner as well as he currently paints "an inch off the outside corner," then he will be Tom Glavine - and Glavine was pretty damn good.

DANA EVELAND

Eveland's command problems are different, to me, than the command problems of any of the three above. Eveland never really has any idea where a pitch is going, so much so that some of his best pitches - for example, ones that jam hitters right on the hands -  are thrown with Suzuki set up on the outside corner at the knees. Movement is great, stuff is great, but you have to be able to execute most of your pitches most of the time and from what I've seen, Eveland can't.

Sometimes it appears Eveland greatly overthrows, such as when he unleashes run-scoring wild pitches on curves, or when he fires a fastball straight into the ground. Other times, it appears Eveland gets rattled or frustrated and command problems beget command problems. Other times, it appears that the movement on Eveland's pitches is his worst enemy as it is random, and as unpredictable to the pitcher as it is to the hitter, not unlike the knuckleball.

In other words, Eveland seems to lack command for a bunch of different reasons all at once. He is a "thrower," not a "pitcher," and throwers with good stuff are better known as "#5 starters". Sometimes they just go by "Jamey Wright". I'm not sold that Eveland has a future on a team with so many promising young pitchers, each new one more promising than the last. He was 5th on the "depth chart" at the end of spring training; he could be 10th by this time next year.

This is getting too long, so I'll save Braden, Meyer, and others for another day. Your thoughts?