Sunday, February 11, 2007

Prospect Profile: Ross Ohlendorf

Age: 24
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 235
Drafted: 4th Round in 2004 out of Princeton by the Diamondbacks
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Stuff: Ohlendorf has undergone a transformation since he first began pitching. A superb athlete, Ohlendorf only moved to the mound in his early high school years, and quickly started throwing very hard. He was clocked around 92 or so by the time he graduated, and he drew a lot of interested from big-time Texas programs near his home in Austin. However, Ross cared much more about academics, and was able to get in to Princeton on his academic qualifications alone. It turns out that was the ideal choice for his future baseball career, as the Princeton team was more interested in cultivating their players rather than cutthroat winning. Ohlendorf eased his arm in to that of a true power pitcher, pumping his fastball up to 98 mph. He also learned a changeup and improved his curveball. However, his control was lackluster and he often got himself in to high pitch counts. The Diamondbacks dialed down his velocity quite a bit, but the result was a huge boost in control. They also tweaked his delivery for more top-down action. Some people say that he throws a 2-seamer, while some say that he simply slowed down his 4-seam fastball. I can't offer an opinion.

Control: Aluminum bats took their toll on Ohlendorf in college, and he consistently walked more than 3.80 batters per 9 innings. The Diamondbacks made it their prerogative in 2005 to get him to challenge batters and pound the strikezone. He cut his historically bad walk rate nearly in half, and pitched a considerable amount of innings for the first time in his career as a result. In 2006, he got even better, pitching 182 innings and walking just 29 in 28 starts against 129 strikeouts. The declining K rate is a concern, as he struck out 8.25 per 9 in 2005 but just 6.33 per 9 in 2006.

Health: Princeton was the right place for Ohlendorf's developing arm. He didn't have to pitch as much before or during the season as many of his college peers. Ohlendorf is a completely healthy pitcher at age 24, not missing a start since he was drafted in 2004. He has pitched 339 innings over the past two years.

Performance: Ohlendorf was one of the minor's best workhorses in 2006, pitching 182 innings in 28 starts. He posted a 3.29 ERA in a major hitters park. He posted a 1.55 G/F ratio, down from 2.13 in 2005. He solved his hittability problems from 2005, when he allowed 181 in 157 innings, to allow 186 hits in 182.2 innings. As previously mentioned, his strikeout rates declined significantly, which is a major cause for concern. He succeeded because he allowed a very low home run rate (13 in 2006, .64 per 9) and for the most part prevented runners from reaching base (1.47 BB per 9). However, he's going to have to regain some of those strikeouts if he is going to be an effective major league pitcher.

Comparison: I see Ohlendorf as a David Bush type if he make the majors. He can't afford to lose any more of his strikeout rate, or else he'll never get enough major league hitters out to be an effective pitcher. If everything goes well, he has the ability through his control to pitch 220+ innings pretty regularly of 4.30-4.60 ERA baseball.

My Take: I'm mixed on Ohlendorf. The prospect graveyards are filled with players who had great control in AA, but poor strikeout rates. Still, Ohlendorf has a lot of things going for him. He is a healthy speciman with great control. He doesn't have a lot of miles on his arm, but has handled big workloads. I think that he can remain a starter, but needs to move quickly. He doesn't turn 25 until August, but is way down in the Yankee depth charts. If he doesn't succeed at AAA fairly quickly, he is in danger of being passed by a half dozen promising young Yankees. Nardi Contreras and the Yankees have become famous lately for improving the changeup/curveball combination of pitchers, so maybe they can find his strikeout touch again. If I had to rank him in the top-30, I'd probably place him in the middle teens somewhere. At the very least, Ohlendorf is a smart guy with an engineering degree from Princeton, so he has a happy future somewhere out there.