Saturday, December 1, 2007
Top Prospect List: #17 Josh Roenicke, RHP
Jose Roenicke is an "interesting" prospect in just about every sense of the word. He's got very good stuff and an MLB pedigree, but he's older and a bit less polished than one would hope.
Roenicke is 6'3", 195 lbs, bats right, and throws right. He's currently 25 years old, but will be 26 in August of next year.
DRAFT STATUS AND COLLEGE BALL
Roenicke suffered from a healthy dose of career confusion at UCLA. Despite being the son of Gary Roenicke and nephew of Ron Roenicke, two former major league outfielders, Josh originally went to UCLA to be a wide receiver on the football team. However, those plans were scrapped after he failed to catch a pass in his first two seasons. After that, Roenicke focused strictly on baseball.
However, even that decision had its ups and downs. Roenicke played primarily in the outfield, where his bat was, in a word, underwhelming. In his four seasons with the UCLA, Roenicke posted an OPS of .500 in 2003, a .684 in 2004, a .713 in 2005, and a .574 in 2006. For his college career, Roenicke managed only 1 homerun.
Clearly, Roenicke didn't have the bat to follow in the footsteps of his father and uncle. However, interestingly enough, Roenicke also toed the rubber for a whopping 15.1 innings in his career at UCLA. In that span, he posted a 2.94 ERA with a 1.50 WHIP and a 14/9 K/BB ratio.
It's a credit to the Reds scouting department that they gleaned enough information from those 15.1 innings to see MLB pitching potential in Roenicke. However they managed to do it, the Reds saw enough out of Roenicke to make him the 294th overall pick in the 10th Round of the 2006 draft.
Roenicke features a fastball that sits in the 92-95 range, but he can spin it up to 97-98 on occasion. In addition, his fastball has good movement on it, which only increases its effectiveness. For his secondary offering, Roenicke relies on a 87-89 mph cutter that has tremendous movement, so much so that at times it appears to be a sinker or a slider.
While he lacks a quality third pitch, he likely won't need one, as he is being used primarily as a reliever. While most organizations use their best pitching prospects as starters in the minors to ensure that they get regular, consistent work on their games, it's hard to argue with the Reds decision to leave Roenicke in the bullpen. Given his advanced age and lack of polish, allowing him to focus on relief work seems like a good strategy.
Roenicke is an excellent athlete, but he also has the mentality you need for a closer. He doesn't fear failure and isn't afraid to challenge hitters, which is what you need out of a closer. However, as to be expected from someone who recently converted to pitching full-time, Roenicke needs to improve his control and command. In addition, he needs to improve his understanding of sequencing pitches. Fortunately, these types of problems can all be improved upon with more experience and instruction.
Gulf Coast League Reds
Roenicke debuted in 2006 with the Gulf Coast League Reds, where he made quick work of the competition in his 7.2 innings of work. Roenicke posted a 1.17 ERA with a 1.53 WHIP, a BB/9 of 3.52, and a K/9 of 10.57.
That performance earned him a promotion to Rookie League Billings of the Pioneer League. At Billings, Roenicke had an uneven season. In 15.2 innings, Roenicke posted a massive 13.79 K/9, but an unimpressive 6.89 BB/9. Again, illustrating his combination of tremendous stuff and lack of polish. Not surprisingly given those ratios, he posted a 6.32 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP.
Heading into the offseason, Roenicke didn't really look like a serious prospect. However, whatever he did in the offseason really paid off, as he took a big step forward in the 2007 season. Interestingly enough, the Reds were impressed enough to have him skip low-A Dayton and start him out at High-A Sarasota to begin 2007.
In Sarasota, Roenicke posted a very impressive 13.34 K/9 and managed to pair it with a respectable 4.88 BB/9. By cutting his walk rate, Roenicke managed to improve his ERA and WHIP from his time at Billings, posting a 3.25 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP. Granted, the Florida State League can be tough on hitters, but this was an impressive season none the less, one which earned him a promotion all the way to Double-A Chattanooga.
At Double-A, Roenicke cemented his status as a prospect to watch. Despite the fact that making the jump to Double-A is widely considered the most difficult leap to make in the minors, Roenicke responded with his most impressive work.
At Chattanooga, Roenicke worked in 19.0 innings, in which he posted a 0.95 ERA with a 0.95 WHIP, 2.84 BB/9, and a 7.11 K/9. While the strikeout rate dropped against more advanced competition, his improved control is impressive, and I doubt many would complain about a 15/6 K/BB ratio in 19 innings of work.
In 70 career professional innings, Roenicke has an 11.44 K/9, a 4.63 BB/9, and perhaps most impressively has allowed only 2 homeruns.
Obviously, his cutter with the sinking action allows him to generate a lot of groundball outs, which is evidenced by his groundball percentage, which was 62% in 2006 in the GCL, 64% in 2007 at Sarasota, and a 46% at Chattanooga. Those rates are music to the ears of Reds fans, as that's exactly what you need to succeed in Great American Ballpark.
Roenicke has nice, clean mechanics, which is a bit surprising considering his lack of experience on the mound.
He has good, clean arm action with over the top arm slot. He has good tempo throughout the motion and maintains good balance throughout, which is a testament to his impressive athleticism. He never seems to lose control of his body or find himself off-balance in his motion. Roenicke pitches primarily out of the stretch, which helps simplify things for him. On his leg kick, he brings his "glove-side" (GS) leg up parallel with the ground.
One thing I like about Roenicke's mechanics, much like those of Josh Ravin, is that he maintains good body control on his follow through. Both Roenicke and Ravin throw hard, but neither has much effort to their deliveries. Each has a follow-through that is under control, which leaves them well-balanced and in a good fielding position. The ability to maintain this kind of body control would seem to reduce the chance of injury, as they can hit top velocity without having to use so much effort that their form breaks down, unlike fellow Reds prospect Kyle Lotzkar.
The only slight problem that I see in his mechanics is that on occasion he may open his shoulders too soon. He has a slight tendency to open his GS side shoulder too soon, which results in his pitching arm lagging behind and being out of position. He has to speed up his pitching arm to catch up to the rotational speed of his body. Generally speaking, a pitcher's shoulders should not begin to rotate until the GS foot has landed. When the GS lands, it should naturally trigger the shoulder rotation.
By opening the GS side shoulder a bit early, he may be putting additional strain on the pitching shoulder because his pitching arm has not had enough time to get into proper throwing position. Since the pitching arm is not in position, it must get pulled back into position by the rotational speed of his shoulders which can create additional strain on the arm. It's possible that this may increase his chances of an injury to his throwing shoulder, but even worst case that increase would be slight and best case it isn't anything to worry about at all. Not to mention, it doesn't happen on every pitch, so he might just fix the problem altogether in the minor leagues.
Overall, Roenicke has clean, efficient mechanics that bode well for his health and production.
You can access the link to his MLB scouting draft video here.
It's an interesting phenomena, but it's one that can't be overlooked. An MLB baseball lineage counts. If you have former MLB baseball players in the family, then you have an advantage over those who don't. Not only does it get your name on the scouting radar, but the athletic skills are in the genes. The Boones, Bells, Bonds, and now the Roenickes probably wouldn't disagree.
Baseball America is certainly sold on Roenicke, who jumped all the way up to #9 on their list, after not only failing to be ranked in the top 30 in 2006, but not even being listed on the Baseball America depth chart. That's just how far and fast he has risen up the ranks in 2007.
Personally, I don't tend to rate relievers as high as other prospects. Given the volatility of relievers and their limited playing time in which to make an impact (~65-85 innings), I tend to rate relievers a bit lower. However, Roenicke is clearly the best in the farm system and another year like 2007 will result in him moving even higher on the list. Both his control (aka: ability to throw strikes) and command (ability to locate those strikes in the zone) improved in 2007, which is the key to unlocking his MLB potential.
Taking into account his age, polish, upside, stuff, and the big step forward he took in 2007, Josh Roenicke lands at #17 on the list. Sometimes a big jump in performance in one year is accompanied by a small step backward the following year. It'll be very interesting to see if Roenicke can maintain his success against the advanced competition and 2008 will reveal much about Roenicke's future career.