Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/18/14

Last Friday night, Washington Nationals 2012 third-round pick Brett Mooneyham made his professional debut in Auburn, New York, against the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League. For those not familiar with the plight of the 6-foot-5 lefty, he initially spurned a seven-figure offer from the San Diego Padres prior to spending four years at Stanford battling inconsistency and injury. In the end, Mooneyham not becoming a top college starter may have cost him upwards of a million dollars. It was a pretty good prospect “get” for me – especially with this being a debut of a relatively high-profile prospect. However, had this been 2008 and not 2012, Mooneyham’s profile as a top prospect would have been much higher.

On the mound, Mooneyham featured a 90-92 MPH fastball with minimal movement. Command of the pitch came and went as he’d pepper the catcher’s mitt for a batter and then miss wildly to the next. With it being his debut, results should be disregarded, but it did encapsulate Mooneyham’s college career quite well, actually. With an ideal pitcher’s frame (6-foot-5, 235 pounds), one should expect even more velocity as the lefty works into a regular routine every fifth day. Even if there’s no more velocity to be had, I’m able to count the left-handed pitchers who have worked their fastballs up to 92 on one hand in the three-plus seasons writing about prospects from a first-hand perspective.

In terms of mechanics, Mooneyham’s raised no injury red flags although he did pitch with varying levels of effort which may have contributed to his inconsistency. At times he followed through fully. On a number of pitches, his back foot simply dragged into fielding position. Whether he was slowing up his mechanics to aim his breaking ball, or simply adding a little/taking a little off of his fastball, it’s something more advanced opponents will pick up on.

Additionally, his drop-and-drive mechanics also make him smaller on the mound. Mooneyham has the height to create significant downward plane on his fastball which would greatly increase its effectiveness. I suspect the Washington Nationals will attempt to make mechanical tweaks in instructs to help Mooneyham play more to his physical gifts.

Mooneyham’s primary off-speed pitch was an upper-70s curveball with one-to-seven break. He commanded the pitch pretty well considering the rust, but it lacked the sharp bite to make batter’s swing-and-miss, even though the pitch had considerable depth to it. Unfortunately, Mooneyham didn’t really utilize the changeup — which is considered to be one of his best pitches — in this appearance.

Now that we’ve discussed Mooneyham in as much depth as possible considering he threw only 1 2/3 innings, it’s a great opportunity to discuss prospect perception based on expectations. After all, this is what makes baseball great. Whether chatting with multiple prospect followers, FanGraphs writers, or scouts, each opinion has the chance to be wildly different based on what one thinks the player should become.

If a San Diego Padres scout had been sitting in the stands for Mooneyham’s debut, my conversation with him/her would probably have gone something like this;

Me: So what do you think of Mooneyham four years later?

Fictitious Padres Scout: Mooneyham is a pretty good pitching prospect, but we dodged a bullet when he chose school over the seven-figure bonus we offered him. Had he signed with us in 2008 for such a substantial signing bonus, we’d be expecting him to break through at the big-league level right about now and not pitching in short-season baseball. In all honesty, he hasn’t really improved much since his prep days.

Ask a Washington Nationals scout about the exact same appearance and the response is likely to be entirely different;

Me: So now that you’ve seen Mooneyham, was he worth drafting twice?

Fictitious Nationals Scout: A lefty who touches 92 MPH in his professional debut is impressive. I’ve seen lesser arms sign for much more in previous drafts. Sure, he’s old for the league and missed valuable development time in college, but a little over $400,000 for an arm like Mooneyham is well worth it – even if he’s a poor man’s Ross Detwiler in the end.

In baseball, expectations are driven by prospect age, financial investment, draft position, statistics and a number of other factors. In the case of Brett Mooneyham, those once lofty expectations should be lowered. Accept the left-hander for what he is and the Nationals made excellent use of their third-round pick. Refer to Mooneyham as, “the guy who once spurned a seven-figure signing bonus for Stanford” and it’s likely to end in disappointment.

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