Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Prospect Report: Jake Arrieta

Welcome to a special Tuesday edition of the Prospect Report, and today we’ll take a look at one of the finest young pitchers in the Orioles’ system. Jake Arrieta was much acclaimed out of college and has lived up to the hype in his first two professional seasons. This year he has certainly not disappointed, particularly in his most recent start for the Bowie Baysox on May 16th. In that start, Baysox fans were treated to an exceptional performance in which he pitched seven innings of one-hit ball in which he struck out ten batters while walking three. In this he tied a career high in strikeouts and went the deeper into a ballgame than in any other start this year.

So, who is Jake Arrieta? Jake Arrieta is entering his second professional season at the age of 23. The right-handed starter has a solid frame at 6’4” and 225 pounds. Jake was drafted in the 5th round of the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft out of Texas Christian University. At TCU he was the staff ace, going 9-3 with a 3.01 ERA in 17 starts and struck out 93 batters in 98.1 innings. After his junior year there were significant signability concerns which caused him to drop as far as he did in the draft, but Joe Jordan and the Orioles took the risk and were willing to pay him far out of slot to join the organization. Thus far this has paid off greatly, as he burst onto the scene last year as he went straight into Advanced-A ball where he was named the Carolina League pitcher of the year with his league leading 2.87 ERA and striking out batters at a rate of over 1 for each inning pitched. He also pitched six shutout innings for Team USA in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Arrieta had a brief stint with the major league club in spring training, and most likely is headed up to Triple-A Norfolk at some point this season.

Strengths: Without a doubt, Jake’s greatest strength is his dominating fastball. His fastball has been clocked as high as 97 mph, and uses it to set up his breaking pitches exceptionally well. At his most recent start (according to the Baysox stadium radar gun), Jake regularly hit between 89-94 mph, occasionally touching 95 mph. When Arrieta varies speeds and locates effectively, there are very few minor leaguers who can touch his stuff. His off-speed pitches are improving, particularly his hard slider which has an excellent late break. Jake Arrieta’s delivery is smooth, and he conceals the ball well as he doesn’t expose it to the hitter until the last moment. He has also fielded his consistently well, which will certainly serve him well in the majors.

Weaknesses: While his fastball can be dominant, Jake Arrieta has issues with consistency in his location. Even in his dominant Saturday start, Arrieta inexplicably lost his command during the second inning in which he threw around 30 pitches. This not only leads to high pitch counts, but it bodes poorly for the future in that upper-level hitters will not chase so many pitches out of the zone. While his slider is getting to be a plus pitch for him, his curveball and changeup need significant work. If Arrieta is to become an accomplished major league starter he will need to find a third pitch that can keep hitters honest.

Projection: There have been some rumblings amidst O’s fans that Arrieta might end up in the bullpen because of his fastball-slider combination (including myself to some extent late last season), but I see no reason that Arrieta should be pegged as a bullpen pitcher. First and foremost, Jake has shown the endurance required to make it as a starter despite his recent issues getting deep into games. For proof look no further than Saturday’s start in which he was still throwing 94 mph after he had cleared the 100 pitch mark. Jake Arrieta has a sound delivery and an ideal frame for a starting pitcher, and with some refinement in his control he should transition very well to the majors. The Orioles have long said that Arrieta’s on the fast track and his progression has given them no reason to alter that philosophy. Many scouts think Arrieta has the potential to be a staff ace, but I see his ceiling as more of a number two starter for this team. Jake will be in Norfolk later this season and should make the starting rotation by mid-season next year at the very latest.

(Photo Credit: Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

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