Friday, December 29, 2006

Prospect Profile: Joba Chamberlain (#3)

Age: 22
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 230
Drafted: 1st Supplemental Round in 2006 out of University of Nebraska
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Fastball: Chamberlain is a big guy. He has a big fastball. Chamberlain throws 94-97 with plenty of life. There were reports out of Hawaii that he was being clocked at 98-99. Chamberlain's weight problem prevented him in the past from maintaining his ideal fastball throughout the later stages of each start, but he has whipped himself into shape over the last two years. More on his weight later. Chamberlain locates his fastball with the best of them.

Changeup: Chamberlain has an average 80-82 mph changeup. The Yankees are working on it and believe that it has a chance to become significantly better. He has throw it a lot in Hawaii, using it to get ahead in the counts.

Slider: Chamberlain has an above average to plus slider, which is his strikeout pitch. A typical power pitcher, you can imagine how he uses it. He has command with it, rarely leaving it up in the zone (although, like most pitchers, he can't really get a called strike with it). It is his best secondary pitch.

Curveball: Chamberlain has an above average curveball. Chamberlain may or may not abandon it as his primary "slow" pitch in favor the changeup. Lately the Yankees have been encouraging curveballs over sliders for their high school draft picks, so we'll see how Chamberlain goes.

Command: Chamberlain has plus control, but not plus command. Of course, he has the advantage of throwing 97. He'll pound the zone for strikes, but won' tbe able to hit a one inch box like Kennedy or Clippard, but he won't walk the ballpark either. Unlike those two, Chamberlain can afford to lay the occasional fastball over the middle of the plate. He illustrated his control in the HBL this winter, striking out 46 while somehow walking 3.

Performance: Chamberlain does not have an Ian Kennedy resume. He played for one year for a Division II college, weighing close to 290 pounds. He had a strong fastball but not much else, posting an ERA ove 5.00. He transfered to Nebraska, and set about improving his weight. The results were excellent, and he pitched 118.2 innings of of 2.81 ERA ball. He struck out 130 while walking just 33 and allowing just 7 home runs. He entered 2006 as a top-5 pitching prospect in the draft, but a triceps injury scared a lot of people away. His performance suffered early on, although he would eventually recovery and end the season well. He pitched 89.1 innings of 3.93 ERA ball, striking out 102 and walking 34. He allowed 8 home runs. The injury scared scared off a lot of people, causing Chamberlain to sink to the Yankees at the 41st pick. He signed late, preventing him from pitching in Staten Island. Instead, the Yankees sent him to Hawaii, where he blossomed. He pitched 37.2 innings of 2.63 ERA ball, posting that mind blowing strikeout to walk ratio of 46:3. The hitting competition wasn't great in Hawaii, but those numbers are beyond insane. Chamberlain was clearly the best pitcher in the state.

2007 Outlook: The looked like a foregone conclusion two months ago that Chamberlain would start the year in Tampa. He hadn't played an ounce of professional baseball and hadn't blown away NCAA hitters. However, as a power pitcher with tons of life on his fastball, Chamberlain may find wooden bats easier than Kennedy might. His HBL performance was nothing short of dazzling, and the hitters there are supposed to be roughly equal to High A ball level. The Yankees may push him and start him at Trenton, especially considering that Trenton may be the only minor league club that the Yankees aren't going to have a huge surplus of rotation spots. He could excell and could find himself in the major league picture as early as Spring Training of 2008.

Health: Chamberlain has two primary health concerns. First, he has weight problems. He used to be downright fat. He weighted over 280 pounds, with some claiming he was closer to 300. He had all sorts of knee and muscle problems throughout his early college career. However, someone must have lit a fire under his fat ass because he lost over 50 pounds and began pitching like an ace. The knee problems have gone away, but his triceps started to act up at the begining of this year. The injury hurt his velocity and his control, and as a result all of his numbers dipped. It was enough to make teams shy away from his top-level stuff and let him fall to the Yankees at 41.

Ceiling: Chamberlain is a bona fide potential #1 starter. He has the control, power, and secondary stuff to do it all. He has been reported to be an unceasing competitor who wears his emotions on his sleeves. He certainly has the ability to strike out 200 while posting an ERA over 3.50, which makes him an ace in my book. He'll probably pitch his fair share of innings and even have a shot at a Cy Young down the line.

Reaching his Ceiling: Time will tell whether or not Chamberlain's triceps injury is serious. I expect that it is not. His weight problem will on the other hand be a constant issue, and similar problems have derailed the careers of many a Bartolo Colon.

Comparison: C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia is a little bit taller and wider, but they have the same basic pitching style. They both have a strong fastball which sits at 94-95, and both throw a slider/curve/changeup setup. Sabathia's achilles heel prior to his successful 2006 season involved a lot of maturity issues, which Chamberlain (who is already a father) does not seem to have. The college polish is certainly there.

My Take: I originally has Chamberlain rated outside of the top-10. I had ranked the Top 30 Yankee prospects right after Detroit knocked us out. Chamberlain came in with a good reputation but the injury concerns and lack of any professional experience was a knock against him. At the time, the report was that he was also only throwing 92-93. Things changed. He regained his velocity, stayed in shape, and utterly dominated Hawaii. I usually don't put a lot of stock in winter league numbers, but a 46:3 K/BB ratio is insane. On top of that, two of those walks came in his first start, where he pitched only 2 innings. His numbers were unrelenting after that. Between the rise in velocity, the numbers, and the speed that he learned a new changeup, Chamberlain rocketed in my eyes. This is one of those "gut feeling" picks.