Name: Pat Corbin
Notable 2011 Stats: 4.21 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 15 HRA, 40 BB, 142 K, 49% GB% with Mobile (AA)
Why He’s This High: Acquired in the Dan Haren trade of 2010, Corbin has put together consecutive excellent years and cemented his status as a notable pitching prospect. First, he conquered the very difficult California League in 2010, and then he handled the tough jump from High-A to Double-A in 2011. While his strikeout rate declined with his move to Double-A, Corbin reduced his walk rate by an even greater amount, so his strikeout-to-walk ratio actually went up.
The lefthander works off a fastball with plus run and sink that comes in from 88-92 mph. Its movement has allowed Corbin to pile up excellent groundball stats in the minors, much like yesterday’s prospect, #84 Mike Montgomery of the Royals. Corbin also throws a slider and changeup. The slider is a wipeout pitch to lefties, who struck out in over a third of their at-bats against him; the changeup needs some work but projects to be at least an average pitch, and as his 93/30 K/BB against righthanders attests, he wasn’t exactly helpless to opposite-side batters.
Corbin throws all three pitches from an easy delivery. His three-quarters arm slot gives him some deception, in addition to the movement on his fastball. At age 22, he still has some room to fill out his frame and add another tick or two to his fastball and sit more comfortably in the low 90′s.
In short, Corbin does a lot of things well, and he’s now proven that all the aspects of his broad skillset play in the upper minors.
Why He’s This Low: As a pitcher without premium velocity or a true wipeout pitch, Corbin doesn’t seem like a good bet to be a true front-of-the-rotation guy. His strikeout rate in Double-A was just fine for a top prospect (7.97 K/9), but it was a decline of nearly two from his High-A performance the year before, and it’s probable that he’ll end up shedding another 1 as he faces more disciplined hitters in Triple-A and the big leagues. His walk rate doesn’t have much further down it can go, so chances are we’re looking at a 2.5 BB/7 K/9 pitcher in the big leagues. That puts John Danks as Corbin’s upside–perhaps more likely, he loses a few more strikeouts and becomes a stereotypical innings-eating lefty in the Matt Harrison mold.
Conclusions: Corbin is an interesting contrast with Montgomery, the prospect who precedes him on this list. Both are tall, skinny lefties, born in July 1989, with solid-across-the-board stuff. Yet, when I analyze them, I have much more trouble figuring out Montgomery’s future prognosis than Corbin’s. That’s because Montgomery’s results have lagged behind his stuff, he has some injury concerns, and he’s been less consistent overall (but has been pushed faster), while Corbin’s really followed a more consistent trendline in his minor league performance. It’s thus easy to pinpoint Corbin as a likely #3 guy, whereas Montgomery could be a #2 but also has a high likelihood of falling to a #4.
With his smooth transition to the upper minors, Corbin really eliminated much of the doubt surrounding his 2010 breakout. He may not become a star, but he does a lot of things well, is close to MLB-ready, and should be a durable and effective pitcher for many years. He’s something of a “safe” pick, as most of the players around him in this tier have higher upside, but he’s too-often overlooked in the discussion of Arizona’s bevy of young arms.
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