Tuesday, December 13, 2011

#19 Prospect - Zack Von Rosenberg

Zack Von Rosenberg epitomizes the Pirates draft strategy under General Manager Neal Huntington.  My #19 prospect in the Pirates system was drafted in the 6th round, 175th overall.  That draft position was not indicative of his talent.  Ranked as the 41st best prospect in the draft by Baseball America, Von Rosenberg slid to the 6th round due to a strong college commitment to LSU.  However, the Pirates were able to convince Von Rosenberg to turn pro with the exact same 1.2 million dollar bonus that Clay Holmes received.

Coming out of high school, Von Rosenberg threw three main pitches: a fastball, a curveball, and a changeup.  His fastball only sat in the high 80's, but a projectable frame and solid polish made him an attractive arm to dream on.  According to Fangraphs, as of today, Von Rosenberg stands 6'5 and currently only weighs 205 pounds, meaning he still has projection in his frame.

John Sickels in particular likes Von Rosenberg, giving him a B- grade in both 2010 and 2011.  Sickels cites Von Rosenberg's "pitchability" and "projectability" as the reasons he likes him. 

Von Rosenberg certainly still has plenty going for him.  In 2010 Von Rosenberg posted a 3.20 ERA and 3.52 FIP in 59.0 innings.  His control - a common problem for high school pitchers - was solid, as put up a 1.98 BB/9 rate.  His 5.95 K/9 rate left plenty to be desired, however.  Overall, it was a promising season for the young pitcher, although scouting reports had no mention of a hoped for velocity increase.

Von Rosenberg's stats last year, when dissected, are personally both intriguing and troubling.  On the upside, Von Rosenberg moved up a level to play for the West Virginia Power, making him age appropriate - not old, but not young - for the South Atlantic league at 20 years old.  He threw 125.2 innings without any health concerns, always a major plus for a young pitcher.  He also improved his BB/9 rate by a small margin to 1.65.  More exciting, his K/9 rate spiked dramatically, as struck out over 8 (8.16) batters per 9 innings, a very good number. 

However, other statistics flesh out the issues with Von Rosenberg, in my opinion.  At lower levels, I strongly believe numbers mean less than at higher levels.  Consequently, I believe scouting reports are more important at lower level than at higher levels.  Von Rosenberg pitched at Low-A West Virginia, a low enough level that I put as much emphasis on scouting reports, if not more, as I do on numbers.

In 2011, Von Rosenberg put up numbers in two categories specifically that worry me. First, his HR/9.  Batters hit the ball out of the park against Von Rosenberg at an astonishing rate.  Every 9 innings, Von Rosenberg gave up 1.36 HR's, a very high number.  Second, is his BABIP.  On balls in play, Von Rosenberg gave up a .337 average, a higher-than-normal number, and much higher than the .298 BABIP he had in 2010.

It is my personal belief that those numbers aren't fluky, as some people may believe.  Instead, I think they make perfect sense when put in context with Von Rosenberg's still troubling scouting reports.  Accounts from WTM this past season had him pitching in the high 80's to low 90's, with his fastball being straight.  While a bit more promising, in my opinion, it explains Von Rosenberg's high number of home runs given up and his high BABIP.  In addition, I believe that correlates with his increased strikeout rate and low walk rate; Von Rosenberg has simply been pounding the zone, and sometimes he gets crushed because of it.

On the positive, Von Rosenberg still has room to fill out and is only 20, so he is not physically mature just yet.  Next season for him will be a big one; if he is able to gain some velocity and throw in the low-to-mid 90's in addition to putting up solid numbers as a 21 year-old in High-A ball next year, Von Rosenberg could shoot up prospect lists.  On the other hand, if he shows little improvement next year stuff wise, his future could look very bleak.

For now, I am still optimistic when it comes to Von Rosenberg.  However, the lack of increased velocity on his fastball two years out of high school coupled with the statistical negatives from last year keep me from ranking him higher than #19