Congratulations to Ryan Brasier for throwing one hell of a game.
Brasier's gem obviously puts him on the prospect map. So how high should we peg our projections? What type of ceiling can we reasonably hope for?
The Short Answer:
Working in Brasier's favor is his youth, his tremendous arm strength, and the possibility that his late, age 19 conversion to the mound allows for sudden breakthroughs in skill. His mid 90's velocity should give him a shot at someone's bullpen down the road. His curveball and change don't yet generate a lot of swing-and-misses, but when he couples them with good command, they can be effective. How those pitches develop will determine his ultimate ceiling. Together, Brasier's heater/offspeed combo and his breakout potential as a 22 year old in AA make Trevor Bell a very compelling comp.
The Long Answer: Read on...
Brasier's March 13, spring training outing against Kansas City was captured by pitch f/x cameras, providing a snapshot of his stuff. He showed plus velocity, sitting at 93 with his fastball and touching 95 multiple times. The heater featured below-average horizontal movement, similar to Trevor Bell's fastball, with slightly less armside run even than Ervin Santana's and Jered Weaver's "straight" heaters. He elevated the pitch against the Royals, and they made him pay for it, mashing three hard line drives and a deep fly ball in just two inning. However, with its present velocity and improvements in Brasier's command, the pitch projects as a slightly-above-average MLB offering.
Brasier's offspeed stuff was more effective against the Royals. He threw his 75-77 mph curve and 85 -87 mph change for strikes, inducing weak contact from lefties and righties alike. The curve had plenty of downward break, so the bender's key issue will be how quickly it is recognizable out of his hand. The change didn't look like a swing and miss offering in this outing: 7-8 mph slower than his fastball, with little fade and just a touch more arm-side run than the heater. That said, in 2009 he was equally successful against lefties and righties (.259 batting average against versus lefties, .275 BAA versus righties), and his groundball rate was even much better against the lefties, suggesting that he has good feel for using his arsenal to convert outs.
I saw him pitch last August, and am obviously kicking myself now for not taking pictures or video. What I do remember is his big breaking curveball. It's a slower pitch, easy to identify early in its flight path, but has sweeping two-plane movement that made it difficult for the opposition to square up. Strangely, I remember nothing about his fastball other than it not giving the Inland Empire club too much trouble. He didn't get pounded, but neither did he dominate. Perhaps the radar gun wasn't working, because he has apparently hit the mid 90's for some time, and that is something I should remember.
Brasier has a history similar to that of the Halos' Mike Kohn in that he only took up pitching once he got to college, so the Halos' drafted him drafted him more for his raw arm strength than for polish. The late conversion could make him "younger" from a developmental standpoint, meaning he could currently be performing further from his ceiling than a similar pitcher who's been on the mound his entire life. Brasier's numbers might still jump in the coming years.
He'll turn 23 in August, but for the moment he's a 22 year old pitching in AA, so he's on the young side for the league. To put that in perspective, Garrett Richards and Tyler Kehrer, the 42nd and 48th overall picks of the 2009 draft respectively, are also both in their age 22 seasons, but pitching in A-Ball.
The Track Record
Brasier worked primarily as a closer at Orem and Cedar Rapids, finishing 44 games with 20 saves and 52 K's in 66.2 total innings over his first two professional seasons. His rate stats those years were good but not great: 6.75 hits per 9 IP (good), 7.02 K's per 9 IP (meh), and 3.24 walks per 9 IP (again, meh).
The Angels moved Brasier into the rotation midway through his 2009 season with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. The rate stats didn't change all that much with the conversion to starting - his walks increased some, his K rate came down slightly - but he did show improved groundball tendencies, especially against lefties. He ended the season with a 5.27 ERA in 109.1 innings pitched, yielding 116 hits and 18 HR's with a 99/39 K to BB ratio.
If I could do it all over again, I'd place Brasier at the back end of our top 30's prospect list based entirely on his arm strength. He has a very good shot at tossing some MLB innings down the road as a middle relief/swingman type, but his unique developmental arc means that his ceiling may still be higher than that.