Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/12/14

Recently, Tampa Bay Rays first-round pick Taylor Guerrieri received a tremendous write up for Bullpen Banter by JD Sussman. In it, the young right-hander showed enough to “profile as a top of the rotation arm.” Prior to Guerrieri’s next start, he tweaked something during pre-game warm ups and wound up being a late scratch. After a few days rest and routine bullpen session, I lucked into seeing Guerrieri last Sunday in Auburn, New York.

Guerrieri impressed, but the stuff wasn’t nearly as big as Sussman witnessed. This could be due to many reasons, including the minor injury setback the previous week. Given my respect for Sussman’s work at Bullpen Banter and now RotoGraphs, it’s a great opportunity for readers to analyze both reports and learn about how much a pitcher’s stuff can vary from one start to the next — literally.

Listed at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Guerrieri appeared an inch or two shorter in person. His baseball movements are loose and athletic, with plenty of swagger. He exudes an air of confidence, as if the pitching mound and home plate are his. At no point did the young right-hander cross the line between confident and cocky, which was great to see considering previous questions about his makeup.

Earlier in the year, I overheard a fellow 2011 first-round pick tell onlookers, “I just hope to get a few guys out tonight” in timid fashion. With baseball being a game of failure, I much prefer seeing Guerrieri project as infallible on the pitcher’s mound than to task the organization with building his confidence.

In terms of mechanics, his landing on a stiff front foot — causing what I perceived as effort through his shoulder — raised a mental red flag. Seeing Guerrieri reach back for a little extra on a handful of occasions really illuminated the issue. With Guerrieri being young and athletic, however, it’s easy to envision him being able to quickly make minor mechanical tweaks to eliminate the problem.

In terms of stuff, Guerrieri’s fastball was 91-93 MPH throughout with a couple of two-seamers at 89. The pitch featured hard, late sink and a touch of tail for good measure. His ability to command the pitch was impressive — especially his understanding of his fastball movement. Unlike most teenage pitchers, he flashed the ability to start a fastball six inches off of the plate against right-handed hitters and run it across the outside corner. Conversely, Guerrieri was also able to start his fastball on the outer half against left-handed hitters and run it to the outer black. In the future, plus command is possible — especially if he continues to “play catch” with his battery mate, allowing for maximum movement and control.

Guerrieri’s primary breaking pitch was a hard curveball in the 79-81 MPH range. Easily his best pitch, it flashed plus on multiple occasions with biting 11/5 break. The curveball combined both two-plane break with sharp downward movement, which is extremely rare. If forced to select the best breaking pitch I’ve seen this season, Guerrieri’s curveball would garner consideration with a handful of pitchers held in much higher regard.

His second off-speed pitch was a hard changeup at 86 MPH. Over three innings, Guerrieri only flashed the pitch twice. And while his arm action was nearly identical to his fastball, it appeared to be a work in progress, as both pitches were flat and up in the zone.

In trying to work up a respectable comparison to a current major league player based on pitch type, usage and velocity projections, I stumbled across this tidbit of information. Of pitchers logging at least 200 total innings between in 2010 and today, only two Pirates pitchers, Charlie Morton and James McDonald, could boast fastballs averaging at least 90 MPH and curveballs as their predominantly used breaking pitch.

Even more interesting is McDonald being in the midst of a breakthrough season now that he’s utilizing a slider as much as his curveball. And while Morton had a solid 2011 (2.2 WAR/3.77 FIP) behind a fastball/curveball mix, Morton opened 2012 using his slider 14.4% of the time prior to Tommy John surgery. What this means is that Guerrieri will either need to sharpen his changeup to the point where it becomes a quality third offering, or be allowed to re-integrate the slider Sussman reported him to have as a prep at some point.

It’s obvious the Rays drafted themselves a fine pitching prospect in Taylor Guerrieri. Just how fine is left up for debate based on this, and other, reports — including Sussman’s. In talking through both of Guerrieri’s outings with Sussman, he warned to not be too negative in my report because I likely saw him at his worst. And while that may very well be true, it would be wrong of me to adjust for velocity which simply was not there on this occasion. In the end, prospect writers who pride themselves on first-hand looks write from them. Of course including information from a credible industry contact when possible is also recommended, but the vast majority of information will be cultivated at the ballpark watching baseball.

One of the downsides to first-hand prospect writing is readers tend to think a report on a player is more declarative statement than simply the product og capturing and sharing thoughts on a prospect in the moment. Scouting directors will take a handful of those moments and weave them together to build a mean projection. Prospect readers would benefit greatly from doing the same. With two reports on Guerrieri within the past couple of weeks, it’s the perfect opportunity to hone those skills.

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