When analyzing a prospect, scouts and industry experts look mostly at two things: skills and results. There are other concerns–personal makeup, signability, and age among them–but skills and results are the attributes which really move the needle. Between those two, skills is by far the more trumpeted. Scouts go into convulsions of delight when speaking of the five tools or high 90s gas of a particular ballplayer and will stick by those skills even when results do not come.
As frustrating as it can be to hear scouts talk about the tools of a prospect despite average or even poor results (Stetson Allie, anybody?), there is a method to their madness. MLB players are the best of the best, and only players with superior tools have the chance to survive. Those with elite tools are even more exciting because they can potentially excel, explaining why the struggles of Julio Teheran are so much more frustrating to the Braves than those of, say, Eric Junge. Tools are important.
That being said, results in the minor leagues are in my view underrated, and with that in mind, it’s tough to overlook what A’s righthander Daniel Straily has done this year. Beginning the year not even ranked among the top 30 prospects in his own organization by Baseball America, all Straily has done is lead the entire minor leagues in strikeouts (162 in 126.1 innings) while compiling a 2.62 ERA and 0.974 WHIP between AA and AAA. Perhaps most impressively, the right-hander has improved markedly after his promotion, twirling a 1.10 ERA in 41 innings at Sacramento in the famously hitter-friendly PCL.
In retrospect, it’s curious that Straily was unranked entering the year. His stuff, while not on the level of the electric arsenals of Dylan Bundy or Taijuan Walker, is not bad: Straily features a low 90s fastball that occasionally touches 95 and a swing-and-miss slider and change-up to complement it. His control is good, with only 2.6 BB/9, and his mechanics (as this video shows) are clean and smooth, without any of the hiccups that might portend future injury. He had success at lower levels of the system–not as much as this year, but success nonetheless–and at 6’2″, 220 lbs has a projectable pitcher’s build. Straily fit the criteria for a solid, if unspectacular, minor league pitching prospect, but few other than the redoubtable John Sickels seemed to notice.
It may be that Straily was overlooked because his unspectacular pedigree (24th round out of Marshall, high 80s fastball) and pedestrian college numbers (7.9 K/9, 4.2 BB/9) overshadowed his professional success. But people are looking now. The San Francisco Chronicle recently tabbed Straily as the replacement for Bartolo Colon should the latter get traded at the deadline and Jason Churchill of ESPN Insider wrote an article about Straily’s latest start, in which he outdueled consensus top prospect and 2011 2nd overall pick Danny Hultzen (links here and here).
Straily may have begun the season a nobody in the prospect world, but he has done what Shelby Miller, Martin Perez, Teheran and other more highly touted hurlers haven’t and gotten results. All the young righty has left is to translate those results to the big leagues, and given his combination of quality stuff and excellent track record, we have every reason to believe that he’ll be a fixture in the majors for seasons to come.
For more on Straily and the Oakland A’s, check out Swingin’ As