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The Case for Sam Gaviglio as a Top Prospect

When you combine elite groundball rates, excellent control and good (not great) strikeout rates, do you get a top prospect?

Think of the St. Louis Cardinals roster. Now think about the pitchers. Now think about the subset that generate a high number of groundballs. Pare that down even further to the pitchers who generate groundballs but not a lot of strikeouts.

Did you come up with Jake Westbrook? Or maybe Mitchell Boggs?

Certainly both of those players have displayed above average groundball rates with modest strikeouts. Westbrook in particular is the archetype for a pitcher having sustained and, at times, high levels of success without striking out lots of batters. Mitchell Boggs was often knocked in the minors for having elite stuff but lacking strikeouts; he's made up for that by inducing an above average number of groundballs.

Throughout his time in the minors, Joe Kelly's strikeout numbers were underwhelming despite elite fastball velocity. He averaged just 7.5 K per 9 IP while in the minors. That number was under 7 when looking at his time spent above A-ball leagues.

What Joe Kelly was good at though, and what remains an under appreciated skill in the minors, is the ability to induce ground outs. Kelly was very, very good at that and was habitually among the league leaders in the minors. Despite this, Kelly never cracked Baseball America's top 10 being passed over for players such as Jordan Swagerty, Robert Stock and Blake Hawksworth at various times.

These are things Sam Gaviglio should remember this year when he is overlooked among the prospect rankings. After posting elite groundball rates in the Midwest League, Gaviglio failed to crack the Future Redbirds Top 20 (much less the top 10). He was the top ranked prospect on my individual list -- clocking in at #13 -- to miss the composite.

Gaviglio was drafted in the 5th round of the 2011 draft out of Oregon State. He's a right handed control pitcher with a mix of a two-seam fastball, changeup and slider. What makes Gaviglio special is that sinking fastball. Gaviglio spent 2012 in the Quad Cities rotation among the Midwest League. He started 23 games for 133 innings and had one of the top 5 groundball rates in the league among pitchers with 50+ innings.

In the case of Joe Kelly, the elite groundball rates were combined with good but not great control. Kelly often ended up with a K:BB rate around 2. Gaviglio does him one better at this. In addition to having excellent groundball rates, Gaviglio walks far fewer batters. His strikeout to walk ratio in 2012 was 3.77. He's not just good at getting groundballs; he's among the best. Likewise, his K/BB ratio is excellent for a starting pitcher.

The knock on Sam Gaviglio is his velocity. It's a legitimate gripe for a right hander who regularly throws in the high 80s. In this instance, he and Joe Kelly (who touches the high 90s) could not be more different. Gaviglio will have to prove himself at every level and, despite that, he will still likely struggle to break into the upper ranks of the Cardinal prospects given the strength of the system.

When the Cardinals needed a starter in 2012, however, they didn't go to their previous top prospect in Shelby Miller or the hot hand in Trevor Rosenthal. Instead, they went with a steady minor league presence in Joe Kelly.

Take refuge in this, Sam Gaviglio. Keep calm and carry on.