Name: Cody Buckel
Notable 2011 Stats: 2.61 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 7 HRA, 27 BB, 120 K, and 51% GB% in 96 2/3 IP with Hickory (A)
Why He’s This High: It’s tough to imagine a more polished 18-year-old than Cody Buckel. He turned 19 near the midpoint of the 2011 season, and he showed proficiency in all aspects of the game despite his youth.
Statistically, Buckel accomplished the sabermetric holy trinity of posting a low walk rate (2.51 BB/9), a high strikeout rate (11.17 K/9) and a high groundball rate (51%). It’s quite stunning to see somebody so young demonstrate a mastery of all three skills at a full-season level.
Buckel also brings a polished four-pitch arsenal to the mound, highlighted by a 90-92 mph fastball and a plus curveball. Furthermore, he uses an extremely long stride to the plate that evokes Tim Lincecum, which both a) helps him maintain clean, repeatable mechanics and b) gives him excellent leverage and deception for a 6’1″ pitcher.
Why He’s This Low: Like #31 prospect David Holmberg, Buckel is regarded nowhere near as highly by the prospect mainstream as his ranking on my list suggests. And also like Holmberg, there’s one simple reason why: he doesn’t throw all that hard. Buckel is usually consistently over 90, but he can’t push the ball into the mid-90′s, and his small frame doesn’t portend much more velocity. His slider and changeup are decent pitches, and ahead of those of most pitchers his age, but if he’s not going to boast premium velocity, it would be nice to see him develop a second plus pitch out of one of those secondary offerings.
While his mechanics make his durability less of a concern than it might be for most short, skinny righthanders, Buckel just has 101 2/3 innings in pro ball, so it would be foolish to ignore the possibility that he gets hurt–he has to prove he can make it through a full season.
Conclusions: Is this ranking unconventional? Absolutely, and I completely understand if you don’t want to jump on the Buckel bandwagon with me. But in the end, here’s how I justify putting him in this spot: It’s never been the case that all of the MLB aces were flamethrowers. There are always guys who can flummox the best of the best with just average velocity and good sequencing and offspeed stuff. Cliff Lee averaged 91.5 mph last year. Dan Haren was at 90.0. Jered Weaver was at 89.7. Doug Fister was at 90.0. Brandon McCarthy was at 90.9. James Shields was at 91.0. And all of them were worth at least 4.7 WAR in 2011. So clearly, while a lot of reports might have you think differently, mid-90′s velocity is not a prerequisite for major league dominance (although I certainly am not going to deny that it helps). I think there are few, if any, prospects that have a better chance of joining this group of non-power aces than Buckel. I certainly see the justification for ranking him lower than this, but he’s an excellent prospect who shouldn’t be written off because he has merely average velocity.
Check out all of the Seedlings To Stars 2012 Top 100 Prospects here!
For more on the Rangers, check out Nolan Writin’!