When the Marlins drafted Tyler Kolek this past summer it brought back memories for a lot of Miami baseball fans of another young prospect. Indeed Kolek reminds many of another hard throwing Texas right-hander drafted out of high school by the Fish; one Josh Beckett, taken in the 1999 draft.
While similar, differences do exist between Kolek and Beckett; including their upbringing. While Beckett was raised in a small suburb of Houston, Kolek spent his formative years on his family's 10,000 acre ranch. This past June, after being drafted by Miami, Kolek expounded on the benefits of his background. "It's a little different growing up on a ranch than city life," Kolek said. "You get up at 6 o'clock in the morning to go feed cattle or go fix a fence. It's hot out there. It gets up to 105, 110 degrees, with humidity. I think it makes you a lot tougher than the average high school kid."
Upbringings aside, the more baseball-centric difference between Kolek and Beckett may be the speed in which they are moved through the farm system. After being drafted in 1999, Beckett moved quickly through the system, making his debut in September of 2001, becoming a Major League Baseball player in only his second full professional season. Kolek, on the other hand, figures to be moved along by the Fish in a much more cautious manner; the Marlins' history of quick promotions notwithstanding. The Marlins seem to realize the time it will take Kolek to fully develop into the pitching force they believe he will become.
So, how has Kolek fared so far while on the cautious track to the big leagues? It's been a mixed bag. Based solely on his pure stuff, Kolek has generally been as expected. His fastball has been really fast, while his breaking pitches clearly need some refinement if he is to become the front end starter the Fish hope he becomes. Pure stuff aside, let's dive a little deeper into Kolek's stats so far for the 2015 season.
In three starts so far this season, Kolek has only pitched 12 1/3 innings for Class-A Greensboro; clearly the Marlins are easing him into his first full season of professional baseball by only pitching Kolek an average of about four innings per start. Over those three starts, Kolek has recorded a 5.11 ERA and allowed 10 hits. While no one will be predicting a pile of future Cy Young Awards for Kolek based off of these simple statistics, it bears in mind that we are talking about an extremely small sample size over his first three starts of 2015. It's not until we examine Kolek's splits though, that it gets really interesting.
Conventional baseball wisdom holds that a right-handed pitcher will experience more success against right handed batters, and relatively less success against left handed batters. For Kolek however, the opposite has been true so far this season. His ERA against lefties is 2.45 while his ERA against right handed hitters is 6.23. And while it is worth mentioning that ERA has become more and more devalued as sabermetrics have (rightfully) taken over baseball, such a high deviance from the expected is worth mentioning. A possible explanation may lie in Kolek's developing breaking ball; which is a clear work in progress when you watch him pitch this season. When he hangs a curve ball to a right handed hitter, instead of breaking away from the hitter, the pitch is left to float over the plate like a beach ball.
The second interesting split Kolek has put up on the young 2015 season regards his success, or lack thereof, when pitching with runners in scoring position; Kolek is currently posting a 17.18 ERA in such situations. This number speaks to an issue that lies between the ears, and is not unique to Kolek. Many young pitchers struggle when put in higher pressure situations. When he was in high school Kolek often responded to such situations by simply throwing the baseball really fast, and the teenagers he was playing against stood no chance. The issues Kolek has with control and command also present themselves in these situations as Kolek tends to overthrow the baseball and thus becomes more wild.
In conclusion, Tyler Kolek is a walking package of potential, but we knew that. He needs to develop and refine his off-speed pitches, particularly his breaking ball. He also must work on his control and command, especially in more high pressure situations throughout a game. Encouragingly, these are issues common to most young pitchers. It will be interesting to watch Kolek develop as the season progresses. He will almost certainly spend the vast majority of the season at Greensboro, although a late season promotion to Jupiter would not necessarily surprise me. It promises to be a fun ride.