Name: Eric Surkamp
Notable 2011 Stats: 2.02 ERA, 2.37 FIP, 5 HRA, 44 BB, 165 K, and 44% GB% in 142 1/3 IP with Richmond (AA);
5.74 ERA, 4.68 FIP, 1 HRA, 17 BB, 13 K, and 35.2% GB% in 26 2/3 IP with San Francisco
Why He’s This High: Surkamp entered 2011 as a question mark, as it was unclear whether his finesse repertoire would continue to play at the upper levels. He erased those doubts by actually improving his strikeout rate from his 2010 High-A season, and he continued to throw strikes and prevent homers.
Surkamp has two plus pitches: a big mid-70′s curveball and a fading 78-82 mph changeup. He utilizes a deceptive motion with a three-quarters release point, and he uses the same arm slot to throw all of his pitches. While he does create deception with his delivery, it’s also quite clean, and the big lefthander should be a durable innings-eater.
His track record obviously speaks for itself, as he hasn’t posted a FIP above 2.54 in full-season ball save for his major league time.
Why He’s This Low: At age 24, Surkamp basically is what he is–as a pitcher who’s already pitched in the majors, he has a high floor, but his upside likely isn’t all that high.
Surkamp averaged 87.9 mph with his fastball in the majors, usually pitching at 86-90 mph. His fastball does have good movement, but he leaves it up in the zone too often, as evidenced by his high flyball rate in the majors.
Surkamp obviously struggled in his initial MLB exposure, walking more batters than he struck out. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that he only faced eight lefthanded batters against 118 righthanders, but still, he has to do a much better job of spotting his fastball to MLB hitters to set up his offspeed offerings. He could probably benefit from some time in Triple-A to better bridge that gap. That, of course, means he likely won’t be ready to be an MLB asset until he turns 25.
Conclusions: Surkamp upgraded his status by proving his stuff plays in the upper minors, but then his MLB struggles cast a shadow on his ability to do what really matters–retiring MLB hitters with consistency.
We shouldn’t just write Surkamp off due to six tough starts following his skipping a level, but at the same time, many have predicted that he’d ultimately fail to make a big league impact due to his iffy velocity. I think he’s got enough stuff to be a #3 or even a #2 starter, but he has to get much better with his locations than he showed in his first MLB exposure. In particular, he’ll have to drive his fastball lower in the zone to set up his offspeed offerings and avoid walks and meatballs. He’s almost certainly better than he showed in his MLB stint, but he’s got a lot of refinements to make if he’s going to be the rare “soft-tosser” to be a difference-making MLB starter.
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