Name: Julio Teheran
Notable 2011 Stats: 2.55 ERA, 3.02 FIP, 5 HRA, 48 BB, 122 K, and 39% GB% in 144 2/3 IP with Gwinnett (AAA);
5.03 ERA, 5.87 FIP, 4 HRA, 8 BB, 10 K, and 30% GB% in 19 2/3 IP with Braves
Why He’s This High: Teheran ranked as the best pitching prospect in the game a year ago, and he followed up on that by putting together an excellent Triple-A season as a 20-year-old. He came up to the majors and, while he wasn’t good there, he didn’t embarrass himself, which was a tremendous feat for someone so young.
Teheran has three pitches that could rate as plus at some point. His arsenal is headlined by an 80-84 mph changeup with bigtime movement, and it’s a plus pitch even this early in his career. He also throws a 91-95 mph fastball and a big-breaking mid-70′s curveball, so he has all the tools to become an excellent starting pitcher, and he’s big-league ready. He crossed the 160-inning mark this season and his stuff showed no ill effects, and while he’s just 6’2″ and rather stringy, his motion doesn’t raise a lot of red flags. In short, there are a lot of reasons to believe he can be a #1 or #2 starter–the tools are there; he merely has to refine them.
Why He’s This Low: While what made him the game’s top pitching prospect remains fully evident in his skillset, Teheran has seen his stock slip somewhat over the past year. When he made the jump to Double-A in 2010, his strikeout rate fell under a strikeout per inning for the first time, and it continued to head south in Triple-A and the majors in 2011. It looks like he’ll throw enough strikes to post fairly low walk rates, particularly as he refines things, but Teheran also has developed a disturbing flyball tendency. This is mainly a result of his fastball coming in on a flat plane; he collapses the back leg in his delivery, so he’s pitching “uphill” to an extent, and he doesn’t have enough height to retain leverage to the plate with that sort of motion.
If Teheran is going to be an extreme flyball pitcher with a non-elite strikeout or walk rates at the big-league level, he’s going to be more of a third starter than a front-of-the-rotation guy. He’ll need to learn to attack the zone more with his offspeed pitches in the majors; he threw too many chase pitches in his brief MLB time, which proved to be his undoing, getting him in bad counts where he had to throw the flat fastball. His curveball could also use more consistency overall.
Conclusions: What you think of Teheran depends on what you think of his ability to adapt. He certainly has plenty of time to adapt, seeing as he turns just 21 in a month and has little left to prove in the International League. The tools for stardom are there, but all the statistical markers for stardom seem to be headed in the wrong direction. It’s possible that Teheran will become the next Edwin Jackson (a comp I seem to be throwing out a lot lately as a standard “great stuff guy who didn’t meet expectations”), getting to the majors quickly and then running in place for a decade; it’s also possible that he’ll add a cutter or two-seamer, tighten up the curveball, attack the bottom of the zone better, stop collapsing his back leg, or make any number of other adjustments that would allow his stuff to play up to its full potential. His stock is slightly down due to the kinks he showed in 2011, but we shouldn’t forget how special he’s been for someone so young.
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