Saturday, December 30, 2006

Salvage Projects: Matt DeSalvo

Age: 26 (just turned)
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 170 lbs
Drafted: Undrafted Free Agent in 2003 out of Marietta College (Division III)
Position: Starting Pitcher
Throws: Right

Stuff: DeSalvo is a weird pitcher. He throws a 92-93 sinking fastball. He's 26 years old. He's got a small frame. Why is he still a prospect? Because he throws every other pitch in the book! He throws a changeup, curveball, slider, forkball, 4-seamer and 2-seamer. Only the changeup is a particularly good pitch (It's up there with Marquez's), but the other pitches are all servicable. He uses the changeup to strike people out.

Command: He has trouble repeating his mechanics with his fastball, leading to a lot of walks. Even when his mechanics are on, he likes to work outside of the strike zone, leading to more walks. He kept them in control throughout 2003, 2004, and 2005, only posting sub-standard ERAs when his back was injured. What happened in 2006? DeSalvo started in AAA and posted a 7.58 ERA, walking 34 in 38 innings. He walked 59 in 78 innings after returning to AA. DeSalvo is a smart guy who often gets made fun of by his teammates for reading books all day. Even if his career in baseball doesn't work out, DeSalvo will probably find some sort of job as a biologist.

Health: Besides the brief back injury in 2004, DeSalvo has a clean bill of health. At 26 years old, his arm is fully developed and capable of handling big innings. There has been speculation of a recent injury in 2006, but no word of injury has surfaced. I'll offer my explanation for the problems later.

Performance: DeSalvo set huge strikeout records while playing Division III ball, holding both the single season and overall strikeout records (205 and 603). He actually spent 5 years in college, as he was forced to sit out one year. He didn't get a lot of attention at the draft, and the Yankees got him without having to use a pick. He proceded to blow away the low minor leagues, posting ERAs of 1.84, 0.82, and 1.43 in his first three stops in all three A ball leagues. He came down with a back injury shortly after being promoted to AA in 2004, posting an ERA north of 6.00 in 27 innings. DeSalvo jumped on to prospect radar screens in 2005, when he dominated AA with an ERA of 3.02, striking out 151 in 149 innings. He walked about 4 per 9 however. He was 24 years old and it seemed like he was on the verge of breaking out in to the majors. The Yankees put him on the 40-man and invited him to the major league spring training. He was excellent, leading many (including myself) to advocate his inclusion on the big league roster. It was assumed that he would be the first call up when someone went down with an injury. Unfortunately, something happened. We don't really know what. His control evaded him. His velocity dropped. He just couldn't repeat his delivery. He had an ERA for the season over 6.00, and all of the sudden his big league future seems up in the air as guys like Phil Hughes and Tyler Clippard surpassed him.

Comparison: David Cone. They are both very smart guys who would throw any pitch to a hitter at any time. They both have similar body types. If DeSalvo had been drafted out of High School, they might have followed similar career paths. The Yankees will continue to try to get something out of DeSalvo despite the struggles because he has the potential to be a lesser Cone. He isn't a low-ceiling prospect.

Outlook: DeSalvo will probably head to Trenton again in 2007. He's way behind in the depth charts now, which may put addititonal pressure on him. A good start may see him included in a trade. If he doesn't recover his stride, he risks being labeled as a career minor leaguer.

My Take: I liked DeSalvo a lot entering this season, but I made the mistake of ignoring his walk rate. He's definately got a lot of strikeouts in him, but he can't put so many people on base. He's already succeeded in the high minor leagues, so I think we can discount 2006 as any kind of statement on his baseball abilities. Two things went wrong for DeSalvo. First off, the Yankees messed with his mechanics. They were trying to get some more velocity and control out of Matt by simplifying his delivery. Why they made the decision to change a successful pitcher's approach at 25 years old is beyond me. Beyond that, the DeSalvo suffered from unspecified "mental problems" throughout the season. What could they be? They could come from an emotional let down after not making the roster in Spring Training, or he could be having girl problems or something. I'm not going to pretend that I know what his problems are. 26 isn't too old for a prospect, but 27 is. If he's not in AAA by the end of the year, DeSalvo is in trouble. He's taking up a spot on the 40 man roster and could find himself on waivers. If he does succeed, he's certainly capable of a 3.80-4.20 ERA range. He'll be fun to watch too.