A Tale of Two Lefties

3 Mar

One of the prospects I am most looking forward to seeing in person this year is Darin Gorski.

Okay, I suppose that should be obvious.

I am a little annoyed I probably won’t get to see him opening weekend in Bingo, but with the murderer’s row of Wheeler, Harvey and Familia ahead of him, I’m not going to complain too vociferously. But he’s certainly a much more unknown quantity from a prospect perspective than those three. By now, we’ve all ogled his 2011 line in the Florida State League with its sexy sub-3 FIP and strikeout rate of over a batter an inning. While a 23 year old’s stat line in St. Lucie probably can’t qualify as #SABRporn, Gorski’s 2011 season was certainly a fair bit nicer than the Sears catalog.

Despite being classified as org filler coming into the season, Gorski’s breakout year rocketed him onto and up prospect lists in a still somewhat thin Mets system. I ranked him at #16 on my Top 40 list, and most other pundits had him in the same range. John Sickels ranked him #15,  Kevin Goldstein, #14, and Toby Hyde #13. Only Rob Castellano had him lower than me, at #19. But basically, the difference between #13 and #19 in this (and most) systems is fairly negligible. You are looking at a C+ prospect with back of the rotation upside. Kind of like Gorski’s 2010 Savannah rotation mate, Mark Cohoon.

Cohoon dropped off of just about everybody’s list this year, and with good reason. His finesse-reliant arsenal was merely serviceable in Binghamton, and then was shelled in Buffalo. Now Cohoon was rushed up to AAA as triage for the decimated Bisons rotation, but even in the Eastern League there were signs that advanced hitters were starting to figure him out. It’s also worth noting that Cohoon is basically the same age as Gorski and was the far superior pitcher in the South Atlantic League in 2010. Coming into this past season he was that same back-end of the Top 20, C+ type prospect that Darin Gorski is now. They are both lefties with good change-ups and lacking plus fastballs. So is Darin Gorski the next Mark Cohoon?

Possibly.

Yeah, yeah, I am hedging, so let’s examine both sides of the argument.

Darin Gorski is quite possibly the next Mark Cohoon

1. The thing about finesse guys is you generally don’t know if they are actually prospects until they pass the AA test. And really, even that doesn’t make them a sure thing to have a major league career (/pours one out for Yusmeiro Petit). The average A-ball hitter is quite susceptible to good secondary stuff, and much more likely to chase offspeed stuff out of the zone, so the command and control guys can still dominate. That advantage starts to erode at AA, and those upper 80s fastballs start to be a lot more hittable. This forces the finesse guy to nibble, walk and flyball rates go up, K rates go down. This is basically what happened to Cohoon in the upper minors last year. There’s reason to think it will happen to Gorski as well, and he already leans towards being a flyball pitcher.

2. Gorski’s statistical season in the FSL isn’t quite as impressive when you put it in context. Keep in mind, Gorski and Cohoon were drafted a year apart, and started at the same level in 2009 (Brooklyn) and 2010 (Savannah). Cohoon outpitched Gorski at both levels. Imagine that Cohoon hadn’t skipped St. Lucie and gone right to Binghamton in the 2nd half of 2010. Now imagine, like Gorski, he spent all of 2011 in the Florida State League. I think it’s reasonable to assume he would have logged a similar performance, though the shape of the peripherals probably would have been a bit different.

3. There are a couple other concerns with Gorski’s 2011 performance, things that we might be overlooking. He was good in the second half of the season, but not quite as good as he was in the first half. I am willing to chalk this up to fatigue, as it was a small innings jump, and he had to transition back to being a full-time starter in-season. More worrying is the flyball rate, which I have a feeling is going to lead to a home run spike this year in Binghamton, even if there is no underlying change in Gorski’s skill set. I think it also points to an averageish fastball.

Darin Gorski is not going to be the next Mark Cohoon, instead, will be awesome

1. His fastball is better. Now, it’s not a lot better, but there is a significant difference between sitting 86-88 and sitting 88-90. There is some dispute as to whether Gorski is sitting around 90 or only touching 90, but the scouting reports do seem to agree that his fastball is a tick faster than Cohoon’s. That can be the difference between having Ted Lilly’s career versus having Bruce Chen’s.

2. The change-up is better. Now, Cohoon’s is good; I would even say it profiles as a potentially above average MLB pitch. Gorski’s change-up is rated as the best in the system. For both pitchers, it is their best pitch, but Gorski’s is a little better. A little bit better fastball and a little bit better change-up can exponentially increase an arsenal’s effectiveness. Gorski is still going to have the same caveats that any prospect whose best pitch is a change-up will have, but a lefty with a plus change-up usually has an MLB floor.

3. Darin Gorski in 2011 was not the same pitcher as Darin Gorski in 2010. Argument #2 above is predicated on the idea that Gorski and Cohoon are still the same pitchers they were in 2010. Clearly, Gorski put some things together this year. His fastball command improved along with the velocity uptick, and he has said elsewhere that his mechanics have gotten more consistent. He is a measurably better pitcher than he was in 2010, and we should expect him to be better at the upper minors than Cohoon was because of that.

Verdict

I could see Gorski struggling some at AA this year. He doesn’t really have swing and miss stuff or keep the ball on the ground. NYSEG Stadium is a bit of a hitter’s park as well. In the long run, though, he will be fine, and I imagine after a consolidation season in 2012 he will be roughly in that 15-20 range again next year, and ready to compete for a rotation spot some time in 2013. It’s not impossible he ends up in the pen long term if the slider lags behind the change, but as a big-bodied lefty with a good change-up, I like his chances of being a useable MLB arm one way or the other.

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