John Sickels informed me via Twitter on Saturday that the prospect discussion thread for the Cardinals will be up on Monday over at www.minorleagueball.com. Please go participate in the discussion, especially if you've seen any of the players among the top 50 in the organization.
Thanks - Eric
Acquired: Draft, 2012: 17th round (#540 overall), Methodist University (North Carolina)
2014: Peoria Chiefs (A), Palm Beach Cardinals (A+)
(You can find the 20/80 grading primer here)
You might be asking why I'm so high on a 24 year old pitcher that played Division III baseball and hasn't seen an inning out of A ball yet. You'd be correct to ask.
Strikeouts. Lots and lots of swings have come up empty against Chris Perry the last 3 years.
First, note Perry's 132/23 K/BB his senior year in college, leading DIII pitchers nationwide in strikeouts and strikeout to walk ratio. After a back ailment kept him from pitching at all in his draft year, Perry put up pedestrian strikeout numbers the short season leagues, garnering a few K's to go along with a low walk rate and good command of the strike zone.
Chris Perry then flipped the switch over the offseason and started striking out every hitter in sight.
Despite pitching mostly in relief for the Chiefs, Perry was the biggest fascist in the entire Midwest League for the first 10 weeks of the season, leading the entire league in K's despite pitching roughly half as many innings as the next five pitchers behind him on the list, including Alex Reyes.
The good news: Striking out that many hitters in any full season league is something to pay attention to.
The bad news: Perry's doing it with stuff that's not all that overpowering when you watch him.
When you watch Aroldis Chapman mow down opposing hitters, it makes sense: He throws 100+ mph all the time, he's left handed, his slider is filthy, his changeup even more-so (when he even throws it). You watch that and you just feel sorry for any hitter that has to step in there -- especially so for a left handed one, who basically has no chance at all.
Chris Perry doesn't have any stuff that you would grade as plus, much less 80 on the scale like Chapman's fastball. His fastball sits in the 94-95 range, touching 96 on occasion, and has good life considering that he throws straight over the top. That gives him excellent tilt on the pitch, which is likely part of the reason his ground ball rate is so high, especially to the SS area, as you can see in this heat map of his balls in play from www.mlbfarm.com:
His excellent command and downward plane allows Perry to fill up the bottom of the strike zone, getting lots of ground balls when hitters are able to put the ball in play.
Another advantage to throwing straight over the top is that both the fastball and the curveball come out of nearly the exact same arm slot, making the latter tough to pick up. It's not what I would call a true "out" pitch type of curveball (think Wainwright or Kershaw) but coupled with his above average fastball and good command of both pitches it allows Perry to work ahead in counts and put hitters away when he gets to two strikes.
You can see him working the entire strike zone with both pitches in this video I shot back in May:
The hitter here is basically defensive from the get go -- Perry starts him with a couple of good breaking balls and then finishes him off with a well placed fastball on the inside half when the hitter couldn't even get his swing started.
Here's a look at him against a left handed hitter from a slightly different angle:
Again, notice how off balance the hitter is the entire at-bat: Not once does he seem to be on the offensive -- he's swinging defensively, protecting the strike zone from the get go and eventually swings through a good curveball that drops out of the zone before scuffling back to the dugout.
Perry faced 5 other hitters in this game, striking out 3 others, while allowing a runner when Steve Bean couldn't make a play on a dropped third strike. These two PA's are representative of most of his season.
In addition to striking out nearly 40% of the hitters he faced on the year, Perry allowed just 35 hits while facing 250 batters. Only 11 of those 35 hits went for extra bases. The 5 homers are a bit of a red flag and his .105 ISOAg is nothing to write home about as it's just a tick below league average, while pitching in a home park that's good at suppressing extra base hits pretty well (as Peoria hitters would attest).
The question is whether Perry can continue to get the same results as he moves into the higher levels of the minors and sees some better hitters. Lee Stoppelman was the left handed version of Chris Perry a year ago and he scuffled mightily against AAA hitters to the point where he got himself demoted by June to work things out in AA. I don't think that Perry has any of the command issues that plagued Stoppelman in 2014, but up to now he's been able to throw the ball by a lot of the hitters he's faced so I'll hold my breath until he can demonstrate some success against hitters who can turn around a fastball. If he's able to repeat his results at the higher levels, Perry could see some big league action sometime in 2015.