Here's my number one Halos Prospect, Jordan Walden. Hope you enjoyed the series, and thanks for all of the positive feedback! I'll put together a compilation post with short writeups on the near misses by the end of the week. Cheers!
1. Jordan Walden rhsp.
Height: 6’5” Weight: 220 lbs
A - – 107.1 innings
ERA: 2.18 K/9: .85 K/BB: 2.84 GO/AO: 2.31 BAA: .207
A+ – 49 innings
ERA: 4.40 K/9: 1.02 K/BB: 2.08 GO/AO: 1.74 BAA: .226
2009 Halos’ prospect lists have ranked Jordan at or near the top more consistently than any other player: he’s number one both here and on John Sickle’s list, and second on Stephen Smith’s, Baseball America's and another Angel’s message board’s list. He gets respect nationally too, ranking 41st on ESPN’s top 100 prospects list, ahead of all other Halos.
Jordan’s popularity ultimately derives from one thing: he owns a plus-plus, major league caliber fastball. Although his velocity usually sits in the low to mid 90’s, he has a history of dialing it all the way up to triple digits. The pitch jumps on hitters at a wicked downward plane with sink, driving both Jordan’s excellent groundball ratio - he posted a 2.31 GO/AO at Cedar Rapids, and a still impressive 1.74 GO/AO at Rancho Cucamonga - and his solid K rate.
That fastball is also the reason why Jordan is an Angel. As an amateur out of Mansfield High School, Texas, Jordan approached the 2006 draft as the top-ranked high school prospect in the nation according to Baseball America (hat tip, Stephen Smith), and very likely would have been off the board long before the Angels exercised a pick. But when his fastball velocity dipped his senior year, teams steered clear of his bonus demands, and he dropped to the Halos in the 12th round. The Angels took their time signing him, allowing Jordan to regain his mojo pitching for a junior college, and then forked over $1 million in an eleventh hour deal before the 2007 draft. The gamble paid off as early as that summer, when Jordan touched 100 mph during the Pioneer League playoffs and put to rest any lingering concerns about his arm.
Jordan posted solid numbers at Orem in his first pro season. Interestingly, his K rate was a hair under 1 per inning, which is low for an elite prospect in the rookie leagues; but he was very difficult to hit, giving up the fewest hits per inning of any Orem/Provo starter over the past six years (with the exception of Nick Adenhart, who pitched just one lights out start at that level in 2005). That trend continued into the Midwest League this season, where the oppositions’ batting average against slipped even lower, from .209 to .207. More advanced hitters in the California League faired a little better against Jordan after his promotion, managing to hit .226 with more walks, but Jordan’s K numbers went up as well, cresting the 1 per inning mark. It’s also important to note that Jordan’s California League performance improved as the season wound down: in July, he gave up 4 homeruns and a slew of walks with a 6.59 ERA to match, but in August, he gave up no homeruns, walked fewer batters, and returned to his unhittable ways, yielding a .202 BA against and a stellar 2.73 ERA down the stretch. If Jordan returns to the California League in 2009, lookout.
At 20, Jordan didn’t strike me as particularly young to be in the California League, but that just goes to show how spoiled we Angels fans have become. Over the past decade, the Halos have sent only three other 20-or-under prospects to High A who outperformed Jordan over 45 or more innings: Francisco Rodriguez, who K’d his way through the league at 18; Nick Adenhart, who at 19 posted a lower WHIP and ERA than Jordan, though with an inferior K-rate; and Ervin Santana, who at age 20 put up the best all-around line of the group. Two other twenty-year-olds have posted comparable performances to Walden over 45 or more innings: Steven Shell, who’s now a set-up guy for the Nationals, and Jordan’s 2008 rotation mate, Alexander Torres. So, of the five pitchers Jordan’s age or younger whose performance was either similar or slightly better, two are MLB all-stars, one is an MLB regular, and two others remain valuable prospects. That’s some pretty good company.
John Lackey, Jered Weaver, and Joe Saunders didn’t make it to High A until they were older than Jordan.
Walden compliments the fastball with a hard slider that often - though not always - rates as a plus pitch. His changeup is more rudimentary, and doesn’t show the same potential as his other offerings. For that reason, he rarely uses it, and consequently it hasn’t improved much. In all probability Jordan will have to invest significant effort in either improving that pitch or adding another secondary offering to compliment his fastball and slider, as few major league starters survive with just two offerings.
With just his fastball and his slider, Jordan could pitch near the back of a bullpen now - he ranks first on this list because that’s his downside. As a starter, Jordan’s future gets a little murkier. The fastball/slider combo makes him look a little like Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang, though interestingly, both those guys don’t get the groundballs that Jordan’s capable of. If Jordan’s fastball develops into a true power sinker, then his lack of secondary stuff wouldn’t hurt him as much and he could trend either in the Brandon Webb K/GB direction, or the Roy Halladay GB/K direction. If the fastball remains where it is now but Jordan’s changeup and possibly a fourth offering develop into effective pitches, then take your pick of power pitching comps, ranging from a healthy Dustin McGowan to Roger Clemens.