Tuesday, December 27, 2011

#14 Prospect - Colton Cain

Colton Cain, my #14 Pirates Prospect was part of the 2009 class that added my #19 prospect, Zach Von Rosenberg, and #16 prospect, Zack Dodson.  The Pirates drafted Cain in the 8th round, and then paid him 1.125 million dollars to break the 8th round bonus record held by the Yankees who signed Dellin Betances in 2006 for 1 million dollars.  Cain, who had been committed to Texas, already stood at 6'3, 225 lbs when he was drafted.  The lefty sat in the low 90's prior to the draft and touched as high as 94 mph with his fastball. In addition, Cain featured a promising curveball that projected as plus at the time and a changeup that needed work.  As an added bonus, Baseball America's #109 rated player in the draft impressed scouts with his ability to hit, which could be a benefit if Cain pitches in the National League.

Cain did not pitch in 2009.  Over the offseason, John Sickels rated him as the Pirates #17 prospect, giving him a C+ grade and stating "Could rank as high as 12th. Another high-ceiling arm bought away from college like Von Rosenberg, though not as polished."  Cain started off in the GCL, but was promoted to State College after only 4 starts.  Cain pitched well, finishing the year with a FIP in the mid 3's over both levels combined.  Cain's peripherals were also impressive, as he posted a 8.8 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 across both levels. 

Cain's performance in 2010 earned him another C+ grade from Sickels, although he moved up to #12 in the system.  Sickels stated this about Cain, "Very projectable, still learning what he's doing, grade could rise easily this year."  Cain began the 2011 campaign at Low-A West Virginia.  He struggled initially in April with a 4.58 ERA, although Cain's 14K/4BB ratio in 17.2 innings was solid enough.  Cain really turned it up in May and June, posting 2.78 and 2.17 ERAs respectively.  In May, Cain struck out 28 batters while giving up 10 walks in 32.1 innings.  In addition, Cain only allowed batters to hit .164 off him.  In June, Cain struck out 19 batters and walked 7 in 29 innings while opponents only managed a .187 average against.

Cain began to struggle in July and into August, posting ERA's north of 4.5 in both months, and his peripheral rates continued to deteriorate.  In those two months combined, Cain only struck out 20 batters while walking 10 in a total of 27.1 innings.  Batters also hit .294 off Cain in July and .366 off Cain in August.  Cain finished the year with an improved walk rate, at 2.6 BB/9, but saw his strikeout rate drop dramatically, finishing at 6.9K/9.  Although his strikeout and walk rates took a small step back, Cain did improve greatly in the groundball department.  In 2010, Cain had a poor .62 groundball/flyball ratio, but in 2011 he saw that spike dramatically to a 1.33 groundball/flyball ratio, which certainly helped lead  to the low batting average against numbers Cain posted throughout the year. 

According to both John Sickels and WTM over at Pirates Prospects, Cain struggled with his velocity, sitting in the upper 80's rather than low 90's in 2011.  I saw Cain in one start early in the year at WV, and he was sitting in the low 90's while showing a very good curveball and flashing a decent changeup.  Looking at his stats, it's probable Cain's decline in velocity correlated with his poor stats starting in July and August.  Prior to this year, Cain had only pitched 48.1 innings, which happened in 2010.  Cain more than doubled his innings in 2011, pitching 106.1 innings, so it makes since that Cain tired and as a result, he lost his velocity a bit.  Personally, that doesn't worry me, and I'm just glad he made it through the season without major injuries.  I expect Cain to start 2012 at Bradenton and to come out sitting in the low 90's again with solid secondaries.  Cain lacks elite projectability (I disagree with Sickels) as he has already filled out, but his present stuff, if it returns, should allow him to maintain a K rate and groundball rate that will allow him to be a back-end starter.  His upside is even greater - a #2/#3 workhorse starter - if he can harness his command.  That's what Colton Cain is my #14 Pirates Prospect.

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