Kicking the Tires on Carvajal

Carvajal Apparently I’m not the only Rockies observer to have noticed righthander Marcos Carvajal, the thus far shining exception to Colorado’s utter bullpen ineptitude. Little wonder: over six appearances, the 20-year-old has given up only four hits and four walks in 9 2/3 innings pitched. Not too shabby for a guy who had never pitched above low-A ball before this year. In honor of his two-inning, two-strikeout performance yesterday, I thought he might make for a fine inaugural entry in an ongoing series I like to call "Naming the No-Names: The Young Guys On the Rockies, and Whether They Will Actually Help the Team Improve Or Not." OK, the title is a work-in-progress.

Before I begin examining Carvajal’s background, a little aside on methodology, as my college professors used to say. If you want to know about young players in MLB and the minor leagues, there are three essential print references you should have at hand: the Baseball Prospectus, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, and John SickelsBaseball Prospect Book. The first focuses on the statistical side of things, the second is more of a scouting guide, and Sickels balances the two elements. The Prospectus includes commentary and projections for major league players and those expected to contribute to the big clubs within a few years; the other books are strictly minor league guides. Any is helpful by themselves, but used in tandem they tend to cancel out each others’ weaknesses.

So back to the lecture at hand. Marcos Carvajal was born on 4/19/1984, he’s 6’4", and tips the scales at a willowy 175. The Dodgers organization signed him out of Venezuela in 2000. Carvajal began his pro career as a starter, as does nearly every major league pitching prospect, but was moved into the pen by his second full year in the minors. In any case, he pitched well throughout, compiling a career 2.10 ERA and averaging just a tick above a strikeout an inning. The Rockies essentially paid the Brewers to take him in the Rule 5 draft back in December ’04 (because Colorado wanted LA’s Matt Merricks as well).

Carvajal made his name in the minors predominantly with a high-nineties fastball, but as BA notes he now has a complementary slurve (demonstrated yesterday to great effect against J.D. Drew). Sickels, a notoriously tough grader, merits him a B-, and says with refinements to his command Marcos "has a good chance to emerge as a dominating power reliever." The Prospectus is less bullish, stating Carvajal has "a long way to go," and projects him for mopup duty in Colorado, obviously not taking into account the quality (or lack thereof) of his mates in the Rockies bullpen.

The obvious caveat to all of the nice things the prospect books say about Marcos Carvajal is the possibility of injury. He is, after all, only twenty, and as much as the temptation may be for Clint Hurdle to use his best bullpen weapon as much as possible, great caution must be taken, especially considering the adjustment to altitude. The Rockies aren’t going to have much need for a dominant setup man this year anyway. In my estimation the best thing to do with Carvajal is pitch him in two- or three-inning stints every few days, regularly as possible, and avoid back-to-back appearances especially at Coors. The Rockies can’t send him down to the SkySox for seasoning (as a Rule 5 pick, Marcos has to stay with the big league club or else be offered back to the Dodgers, who would almost certainly want him), so great care must be taken to avoid those psyche-damaging Coors innings that send the ERA rocketing and the confidence plunging. Carvajal can do what Dan O’Dowd wants out of his pitchers these days: change speeds. His fastball pushes 100 and his slurve is nearly 20 MPH slower. If he can keep throwing both pitches for strikes, he’ll be a major contributor down the line. Now only if they had two or three more righties and a lefty or two like him.

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