Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ross Seaton Updated Pitching Profile

As I did with Jordan Lyles, I'm setting out to do a better analysis of Ross Seaton's first full season in professional baseball. Last time we looked at him, he had pitched in five games and won quite a few despite having average statistics. His season has been up and down since then, but the fact is he hasn't jumped out at me as being the kind of can't-miss prospect the Astros saw when they drafted him. Here's a brief recap of his background from my first post:

Seaton is a 19-year old right-handed pitcher from Second Baptist High School in Houston and was selected in the supplemental portion of the third round in 2008. At 6-foot-4 and 190 lbs., the Sugar Land native has definitely got the frame to be a power pitcher. His arm slot is definitely overhand and from what I could tell, it didn't look like his elbow was flying forward before his hand. The scouting report on him mentioned three good pitches, with the possibility of his changeup becoming an average pitch.
I was pretty high on Seaton back then, but my opinion has dropped steadily as the season has gone on. One of the reasons Seaton lasted until the third round was teams didn't think he could be signed away from Tulane and weren't ready to give him first-round money when his fastball velocity dipped due to an injury in the spring. The main reason he was projected to be a good prospect is that his velocity jumped up to around 95 once he was healthy and pitching professionally last season.

I'm not sure what his velocities have been in 2009, but he's been missing bats, as most of his strikeouts have been swinging. I mentioned Seaton was giving up hits to the opposite field when batters did make contact. He's sort of continued that trend, but it's much more subtle now. Instead, the problem Seaton has had with batted balls is giving up too many line drives. In his worst start of the season, back on May 21st, Seaton gave up 11 line drives and only had three of those caught for outs. That's a whole lot of hits falling in, as the 10 hits he gave up in 5 1/3 innings was around 8% of the total number of hits he's given up this season. Now, as I've said before, a pitcher can't control his line drive rate, but that many people knocking the crap out of the ball suggests something was amiss.

In fact, May and July have been the only two months where Seaton gave up more hits than innings pitched. His WHIP this season sits at 1.25, which is very respectable, as is his BB/9 rate of 2.45. Still, Seaton hasn't been overpowering hitters in the Sally League as much as you'd like to see. The South Atlantic League is dominated by pitchers and there are only six hitters in the entire league who are batting over .300. This is the polar opposite of the Astros other Class A affiliate in Lancaster, but Seaton hasn't dominated like you'd expect a Top 5 prospect in your organization to do.

One of the thing that has concerned me all season is the lack of strikeouts from Seaton. In April and May, Seaton totaled 24 strikeouts over nine starts. His numbers improved in June, July and August, as he's struck out 52 in 12 starts since. His K/9 rate has climbed every month until August (which hasn't finished yet) from 5.70 in April, 3.07 in May, 6.40 in June, 7.04 in July and 6.18 in August. His overall K/9 rate of 5.64 is almost two strikeouts lower than the league average of 7.93 K/9. Lexington as a team has a K/9 rate of 7.25. It's a little unfair to compare him to team totals, but I just wanted to underscore why his strikeout totals worry me.

I think the evidence is that he's getting better, though. His G/F ratio is climbing closer to 1.00 each month and he has thrown better since Lexington started using six starters with the addition of David Duncan to the rotation. Seaton has gotten bumped from time to time and missed almost two weeks around the SAL All-Star Break, but has made progress. His best start of the season came on June 1st, when he threw a complete game shutout. Seaton struck out five and walked none, while giving up five line drives. He only allowed one extra base hit, a double with one out in the fifth inning on a line drive to center field. Seaton got a fly ball to left field for the second out before inducing a grounder to second base to end the inning. In none of the nine innings did Seaton allow more than one base runner and the double was the only time an opposing player reached scoring position. His game score of 89 is the highest I've seen this season.

The last point I'd like to touch upon before finishing this up is his workload. As I mentioned, the Astros did insert a new pitcher into that rotation to take some of the stress of the young arms. Lyles and Seaton are already at innings thresholds that I'm not terribly excited about for young guys. Seaton has thrown 121 1/3 innings this season after getting hardly any experience in pro ball last season. In the past two months, he's only started seven games out of 48, so in the remaining 18 on Lexington's schedule, he may start two or three more, which puts him right around 130 innings. While the Astros have limited his number of pitches (I'm assuming) and number of batters faced (I know), it's still a lot of stress to put on young arms. I like what Dewey Robinson and the rest of the Astros pitching coaches have done the past couple of years, but this concerns me. Out of the five Lexington starts at the beginning of the season, odds are one will blow out their arm. You'd hate for it to be Lyles or Seaton.

So, that's the profile right now. Let's chalk up my concerns more to Seaton being young and needing to learn how to pitch. Maybe he can figure out his BABiP and talk with Brian Bannister about how to use your brain in pitching (Seaton's apparently a bright guy). I'd settle for him making it to the Astros rotation healthy and pitching effectively, no matter how he got there. I think he's got a good shot to do that, too.

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