Monday, December 17, 2007

Top Prospect List: #20, Sean Watson, RHP

Sean Watson is yet another intriguing prospect who could end up in the Cincinnati bullpen sooner rather than later. The Reds are finally on the brink of developing relievers, which they have struggled to do in the past. However, Josh Roenicke, Pedro Viola, Tyler Pelland, and Sean Watson could all be ready to contribute in the near future.

Watson is 6'2" tall, 215 lbs, bats right, throws right, and will be 22/23 years old during the 2008 season.


Watson attended the University of Tennessee and pitched for three seasons before the Reds nabbed him with the 52nd overall pick in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft.

Watson began his collegiate career as a starter and posted a 4.54 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, and 51/47 K/BB ratio in 75.1 innings pitched. He was shifted to the bullpen in his sophomore season, where he emerged as the closer. He posted a 2.85 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 82/47 K/BB ratio in 79 innings. The switch from starter to reliever saw his K/9 rate jump from 6.1 to 9.3.

His success as a sophomore made the switch to the bullpen permanent, as enjoyed a full season as a closer in his junior season. He posted a 4.61 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 47/14 K/BB ratio in 41.0 innings pitched.

Watson joins Todd Helton as the only two Volunteers to post 10+ saves in a season.



The Reds started Watson out at Rookie League Billings, where he worked both as a starter and in relief and made quick work of the less advanced competition. He posted a 1.52 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and 19/5 K/BB ratio in 23.2 innings. That's impressive, but it's almost to be expected from a college pitcher, as he was essentially facing a lower level of competition than he regularly faced at the collegiate level.

That performance earned him a quick promotion to low-A Dayton, where he worked exclusively out of the bullpen, but had a bit more difficulty. He posted an 8.59 ERA, 1.84 WHIP, 16/5 K/BB ratio in 14.2 innings. His strikeout rate actually improved at Dayton (7.3 up to 9.8), but he also gave up two homeruns. He wasn't as bad as his 8.59 ERA indicates, as he suffered from poor "hit luck" (.435 BABIP). As a result, he had a FIP of 4.34, which is more in line with his performance level. Still, that's not the kind of note on which Watson wanted to end his 2006 season.


In 2007, the Reds converted Watson to a starting pitcher. Regardless of whether the Reds view Watson as a potential starter, this is a wise decision. Most organizations select the cream of the crop from their pitching prospects and slot them all in as starting pitchers, regardless of role that they ultimately project to fill. This allows the pitcher to get consistent work and throw a lot of innings. However, one of the main advantages to this philosophy is that as a starter, the prospect gets regular work between starts as well.

Prospects working as a relievers do not get the benefit of throwing regular side sessions under the watchful eye of the pitching coach. Starters can consistently work on their pitches or their mechanics between starts, which can really increase the speed of their development. Ultimately, working as a starter in the minors is the best way to develop pitching prospects.

Watson returned to low-A Dayton, where he had tremendous success as a starter. He posted a 1.88 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 85/13 K/BB ratio in 13 starts over 71.2 innings. He racked up more groundballs than flyballs (GB/FB: 0.88). He wasn't quite that good, as his FIP was only 2.94, but that was still very impressive and he was promoted up to high-A Sarasota.

At Sarastoa, Watson struggled. He posted a 5.43 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and a 50/21 K/BB ratio in 54.2 innings. In addition, he gave up more flyballs than groundballs (GB/FB: 0.88). He started ten games and worked out of the bullpen in four others. He posted a FIP of 4.83, so he wasn't great, especially as a college prospect against high-A competition.


Watson is a big guy with a thick body type, which is the typical power pitcher build. Conventional wisdom holds that this body type reduces arm injuries. He works from a high three-quarter arm slot, rather than strictly over the top.

Watson features two potentially plus pitches. He has a 92-93 mph fastball that can touch 95 and an 83-85 mph knuckle-curve that's a swing and miss pitch. The curveball has hard, two plane break to it and is a true out pitch. These two pitches give Watson the arsenal he would need to be a successful reliever, but he's been working on a changeup since he's been in the rotation.

Watson has a lot of effort to his delivery. Oddly enough, his pitching motion involves a 180 degree rotation from start to finish. From the set position, his body is facing third base and his left hip and shoulder are pointing at home plate. When he finishes his delivery, he has actually rotated 180 degrees, so his body faces first base and his right hip and shoulder are pointing at home plate.

Watson takes a long stride, but never gets his weight out over his "Glove-Side(GS)" leg. In fact, he throws against a stiff GS leg. Since he doesn't get his weight out over his GS leg, his momentum spins him off the rubber to the first base side. His "Pitching-Arm Side (PAS)" leg never lands next to his GS leg, but rather his follow-through finishes with him taking a big step with his PAS leg towards first base. His follow through leaves him in very poor fielding position.

To accomplish this, his body rotates so that his PAS leg can come all the way around, cross over his plant foot, and land on the first base side of his GS leg. As a result, he ends up facing first base with his right hip and shoulder pointing towards home plate. In fact, if one were to look only at the first and last frame of his delivery, then one would think that he simply turned around 180 degrees and then took a long stride toward first base with his right leg.

It's not hard to see that this high effort and spinning out delivery creates inconsistent mechanics. His balance and body control are not good throughout the delivery, which makes a repeatable delivery difficult. If a pitcher cannot consistently repeat his delivery, then he'll have difficulty with his control or command. It seems to be the latter with Watson, as he can throw strikes, but occasionally has problems locating them within the strikezone.

His mechanics and high effort delivery seem to make him a logical fit in the bullpen, where his workload will not be as taxing and his injury risk will likely be reduced.

You can access Sean Watson's MLB scouting draft video here.


The Reds have put Watson in the rotation, but his long-term future is still in the bullpen. Being used as a starter allows him to get consistent work and a lot of innings, but he profiles better as a late inning reliever.

However, the looseness and effort in his delivery are cause for concern. He took a step backward in 2007, but his work as a starter isn't necessarily indicative of what he can do as a reliever. He'll likely return to high-A Sarasota to start 2008, but with a good start he could get bumped up to Chattanooga quickly. The jump to double-A is typically the most difficult in professional baseball, so it will be a real test for Watson.

Ultimately, he could develop into an asset in the Cincinnati bullpen or simply flame out at the lower levels. On the high side, I wouldn't expect him to develop into more than a middle reliever, which would limit the potential impact he could have at the MLB level.

But, as in all things, only time will tell. At the very least, Watson adds some nice depth to the system.

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