(1) Kyle McGowin - 1.31 WAR. 33 IP, 1.91 ERA. 27 hits allowed, 26 K/9 BB.
Wait! A starting pitcher? A legit rotation candidate tops this list? We're talking about the Halos' system, right?
The Halos plucked McGowin out of Savannah State University in last year's all-pitching-, all-the-time draft. He features a low 90's two seam and four seam fastball (90-93 mph according to the announcer's gun readings this April), a slider that flashes plus, and a change-up in progress that's presently useable if not overpowering. He's generally a strike-thrower, and over his past 4 starts has filled the zone with a 68% strike rate. And all while making the difficult jump from 2013 draftee to Cal League starter within nine months. Impressive.
That said, there are a few reasons to anticipate regression in the coming month. McGowin and his slider dominate righthanders: he's held them to an OPS of just .511 while inducing a 26% k-rate and a 14% pop-up rate. When I watched him work his way through the San Jose Giants' lineup for the third time back on April 14th, he further confounded righties by throwing mid-count change-ups on the outer half in order to set up sliders even further off the plate. That ability to locate the change in a sequence was pretty nifty. But lefties are picking the pitch up, and his k-rate plummets to 8% against them -- less than half of league average. He's contained them so far by inducing a 55% GB rate with the two-seamer, but I'm not sure how long he can keep that up. He needs to get lefties to swing and miss more, and I didn't come away convinced that he had the stuff to do it.
Like a lot of pitchers that we'll see below, McGowin has been especially effective/lucky with runners on base, when he's managed to cut the opposition's OPS against by a third. That indicates some smarts and an ability to execute, but these things also have a tendency to even out over a full season.
McGowin's delivery is fairly smooth, giving him a decent command profile, though he does incorporate an exaggerated load and a shoulder tilt which both add some deception. He can lose his mechanics and release point, same as any young pitcher, causing bouts of wildness, but so far has been able to fix himself between batters.
Unless his change-up improves, I think McGowin is destined for a swing role in the majors, though he seems a pretty safe bet to see big league time at some point.
(2) Grant Green - 1.2 WAR. .365/.412/.529 with 2 HR and 3 SB.
Is anyone else confused as to how Green can be such a good hitter? He just looks so willowy, so Gumbo-like up there, all arms and legs, and those lengthy levers get the bat to the ball on a path that seems to change from AB to AB. Frankly, the 29% k-rate he put up at the MLB level last season seemed the most revealing stat to me. After all, it took a .350 BABIP to get his bating average just to the .250 mark; how sustainable can that be? Sure, he's a young guy just breaking into the league and all that, but still. Why in the hell did we trade Callaspo anyway?
Then he fanned in 13% of his 2014 plate appearances with the Bees, and maybe, as with Calhoun last year, that's the timer going ding. Like most of us here, I was really enthusiastic about his performance in spring training. Yes, the swing lacks the compact mechanical consistency that inspires predictions of batting titles or huge home run totals, but he has fantastic plate coverage and consistently makes solid contact to all fields. In retrospect, perhaps it was his 21% linedrive rate with the Halos in 2013 that will prove his most revealing stat. If the strikeout remains reasonable, he should hit.
(3) Mike Clevinger - 1.1 WAR. 24 IP, 1.88 ERA. 16 hits, 27 K/5 BB
Clevinger made most top ten Angels' prospect lists two years ago before succumbing to Tommy John surgery. Folks liked his deep arsenal, and especially his change-up. They complimented his fastball too, but after seeing his one televised start in 2012, I wasn't sure why. I'd just seen Austin Wood blow heat by the Great Lakes Loons, so maybe I wasn't calibrated fairly, but Clevinger's stuff just seemed flat and meh. The command was decent and he changed speeds enough to confuse guys, but I wasn't sure what the buzz was about.
I saw him pitch at the end of last year for Orem and he struggled to command his fastball. He also failed to hold runners - like, at all - and his body language looked a bit like Cleo's (my two year old) does when things don't go her way. I'm certainly not picking on him - we all have our bad days, and heaven help me if folks judged me by my body language on my worst days - but I do want to make the point that my expectations weren't very high entering this year.
He was outstanding in his televised start on the 30th. His fastball, which looked a little flat to me two years ago, was excellent, inducing plenty of defensive swings and a fair number of whiffs with extreme boring action. The announcer mentioned one gun reading at 91 mph, but most of his FB's looked harder than that. The change-up was as advertised, though he did have difficulty catching enough of the plate with it consistently to his arm side. The slider was a solid average to above average offering, and is going to give plenty of righty hitters fits. His curve, which he tipped pretty obviously two years ago, was solid-average and gives lefties a third tough pitch to think about. Lastly, his pick off move has improved - he even got a guy last week - so while the high leg kick will make holding runners a challenge, he won't be a pushover.
He has the most dominant peripherals of any starter in the system so far this year. Against righties, he's k'ing 31% while inducing an 18% pop-up rate on contact. Against lefties, he's still fanning a well-above-average 25% and walking only 3%, while inducing ground balls 60% of the time. His command profile from a scouting perspective is pretty bad - the wind-up involves two pauses, a huge leg kick, and a lot of arms and legs flying everywhere; but so far so good: his 5.6% walk rate ranks third lowest among the system's starters. He missed his spots plenty on the 30th, but the misses were close; fastballs a little down, changes a little off the plate, and sliders a little down and away. If you're going to miss, that's where you want them to go.
He has no business remaining in A-ball. Stick him in the AA rotation, and see if he has the command to make it work.
(4) Harrison Cooney - .9 WAR. 17 IP, 1.06 ERA. 9 hits and 12 K/12 BB
Cooney's 61% ground ball rate currently paces all starters in the system. Righties are pounding the ball into the dirt at an astounding 81% rate, and are managing just a microscopic .045 BABIP. That's the good news. The bad news is that he both fanned and walked batters at a 16% rate in April, leading to a FIP-based WAR that's more replacement level than outstanding. He's due for some regression, something that already started in his first May start. The profile suggests a guy with lively stuff, if a long list of issues to address, so I'm looking forward to seeing him in person.