Name: Matt Lollis
Notable 2011 Stats: 5.35 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 12 HRA, 45 BB, 114 K, 46% GB% in 119 1/3 IP with Lake Elsinore (High-A)
Why He’s This High: Lollis turned in a solid season in High-A despite being just 20 years old, striking out nearly a batter per inning while keeping his walks under control. Yeah, his ERA was elevated, but it’s the California League–weird stuff happens there, like .350 BABIPs and 60.7% strand rates. Lollis’ numbers the prior year in those categories were .286 and 86.5%, so I wouldn’t be worried that he’s deficient there. Look past the veneer, and you see a pitcher with skillset rounding into form–Lollis easily set a career-high in K/9, for example.
A huge righthander listed anywhere from 6’7″ 250 to 6’9″ 285, Lollis projects as a bigtime MLB workhorse. Often, the upside of big pitchers proves to be merely theoretical, as they’re undone by mechanical/control problems; Lollis, however, has thrown strikes and repeated his delivery his whole career, and seems to be the rare behemoth who soothes more headaches than he creates. A four-pitch pitcher, he changes hitters’ eye levels with a low-90′s fastball, big overhand curve, slider, and changeup. He could have two plus pitches and two average pitches in the majors, to go with plus command, good deception created by his height, and bigtime durability–the ideal #2 starter.
Why He’s This Low: As much as I prattled on about potential durability in the above pair of paragraphs, Lollis hasn’t proven he can really handle a full season’s workload. He worked 79 innings across two levels as a starter in 2010 and then 119 1/3 this year, as he was on a strict innings limit. He hasn’t had any injury issues in the past two years, but if a major part of his value is that he projects to handle annual 215-inning workloads better than most, then his status is quite dubious.
Lollis is in sort of an odd place as a prospect. You can’t argue that he doesn’t have polish, as he’s succeeded everywhere he’s been despite being young for his levels, and he’s shown good control of a wide array of offerings. You also can’t argue he doesn’t have upside, as he’s a huge guy who throws hard and has a nice array of pitches to back up the fastball. And yet, he hasn’t performed that well–particularly when it comes to getting strikeouts–to make him a can’t miss guy, and he doesn’t have that much perceived upside.
In other words, if Lollis is brought up in a conversation about prospects, nobody is going to say they don’t like him, because there just aren’t enough negatives to cite. At the same time, he’s not all that likely to be brought up in the first place, because there’s nothing about him that’s really made anyone sit up and take notice–he wasn’t drafted high (15th round of 2009) and he hasn’t had huge numbers.
Conclusions: There’s a lot to like about Lollis. Well, of course there is, because we’re starting to get to the point on the list where everybody’s going to have a lot of positive attributes to discuss.
More to the point, he’s a very complete pitcher for his age, with the chance to get better as he moves up. The increase in his strikeouts this year point to something I suspected before 2011–that he’d start to pick up the strikeout numbers as he got more and more comfortable in pro ball. I’m often skeptical of pitchers who don’t have a long track record of strikeouts, particularly in the low minors, but Lollis is an exception.
Still, he’s more of an above-average across-the-board type of guy. He isn’t one of baseball’s hardest throwers, but he’s in the low 90′s. He doesn’t have the best collection of offspeed stuff, but he’s got a good curve and two other offerings that are already usable. He’s not Roy Halladay, but he does throw a good number of strikes. Obviously, Lollis also has size, projection, and potential durability on his side.
What that makes him is the sort of prospect who is primed to fly under the radar, as I said above. It’s not easy to attach a narrative to Lollis, because he never had the first-round pick fanfare and has never put up numbers that would make the casual fan excited to see him. A 5.35 ERA, deserved or not, is going to prevent the general public from anointing a pitcher their team’s messiah.
Of course, all of that peripheral stuff doesn’t matter in the end, but Lollis’ path thus far puts the general ambivalence toward him in better context. He should become a workhorse for the Padres, and it would not be a big surprise to see him emerge as a quality #2 starter in time.
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