Friday, December 28, 2007

Top Prospect List: #22 Sam LeCure, RHP

Sam LeCure was an intriguing selection by the Reds and one of the first signs that the Reds may be turning the corner in their player development efforts.

LeCure was one of the top starters for the University of Texas, but he had to sit out the 2005 season because he was academically ineligible. The Reds were shrewd enough to nab him with the 122 pick in the fourth round of the 2005 draft, rolling the dice on a pitcher that flew under the radar of most teams. It was the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that the Reds rarely exhibited up to that point.

Ultimately, LeCure may not pan out, but his selection may have been a turning point in the Reds player development efforts. They grabbed Homer Bailey in the 1st round in 2004 and Jay Bruce in 2005, but the LeCure selection represented a new way of doing business.

REPERTOIRE

LeCure is 6'1", 190 lbs, bats right, and throws right. He features a 90-91 mph fastball, which can touch 93 at times, an average slider, and an average changeup. None of the three offerings are a plus pitch, but LeCure has a good feel for pitching and commands his pitches well. He can paint both corners of the plate with his fastball and bust hitters inside despite his limited velocity. He can pound the strikezone with all three pitches, which enables him to limit the number of baserunners who reach via the free pass. LeCure understands how to pitch and gets the most out of his average stuff, but ultimately his upside is limited.

PROFESSIONAL CAREER

LeCure debuted in 2005 in the rookie league with the Billings Mustangs. He posted a 3.27 ERA with a 1.40 WHIP and a 44/15 K/BB ratio in 41.1 innings. He had a 3.3 BB/9 and a 9.6 K/9.

The Reds had enough faith in him to start him out in high-A Sarasota to start the 2006 season, bypassing low-A ball altogether. LeCure rewarded their confidence by posting a 3.42 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 115/46 K/BB ratio in 142 innings. He had a 2.9 BB/9 and a 7.3 K/9.

In 2007, LeCure spent the vast majority of the time at double-A ball, where he struggled a bit, but still had surprisingly effective numbers. LeCure posted a 4.17 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and a 104/46 K/BB ratio in 110 innings pitched. He had a 3.8 BB/9 and a 8.5 K/9, which was rather surprising as his strikeout rate improved against more advanced competition. Unfortunately, LeCure was limited to only 110 innings by a strained oblique muscle, but he subsequently worked a few innings in the Arizona Fall League, so it clearly isn't of long-term concern.

The double-A jump is the toughest to make, so LeCure's performance was encouraging. His strikeout rate is surprising and impressive, given his lack of a single plus pitch. In addition, he suffered from poor hit luck with a .347 BABIP at Chattanooga, which didn't help his cause. It'll be interesting to see if he can maintain his impressive walk and strikeout rates against advanced competition, as they are more than good enough to allow him to achieve consistent success.

PITCHING MECHANICS

LeCure has free and easy mechanics and throws with little effort, which should enable him to stay fairly healthy. He maintains good tempo and balance throughout his delivery, which is surprisingly simple. It starts with a small step back and brings his hands only up to his belt, which is even lower than most. His leg kick is bit past parallel to the ground, but LeCure doesn't wrap his "Glove Side (GS)" leg around his body. Accordingly, he doesn't coil his body to generate and store energy, so there isn't any energy to unleash in his delivery to generate velocity. The differential between hip and shoulder rotation is what generates the power in the delivery and LeCure generates very little.

Given his upright posture and the lack of hip rotation to store energy, LeCure doesn't use his legs much in his delivery. He seems to fall off the mound, rather than drive off the rubber with his legs. There is no wasted movement in LeCure's motion, which is the picture of efficiency, but unfortunately there is very little power generated by his motion. However, since he uses very little leg drive, his delivery may end up putting some additional stress on his arm. Ideally, a pitcher will "throw with his whole body" to alleviate some stress on the arm, but given that LeCure has clean mechanics and is more finesse than power, he likely won't have significant injury problems.

Overall, his delivery is repeatable and controlled, which gives him good command and control of his pitches. In addition, his balance and body control also results in him being in good fielding position at the end of his delivery.

Here's LeCure in action:



Thanks to "farmsystem" on YouTube, who posted this video clip.

FUTURE

LeCure is the type of pitcher I typically favor, one who has a great degree of "pitchability" and an understanding of how to pitch. I prefer "pitchers" to "throwers." Ideally, however, the pitcher has top flight stuff to go with his pitching IQ. Unfortunately, LeCure lacks any plus pitches to go with his feel for pitching, so his upside is rather limited. In addition, his frame and build lacks projection, so what the Reds see is what the Reds get with LeCure.

Time will tell whether LeCure will be able to wring enough out of his limited arsenal to be effective against MLB competition, but he may be able to scratch out a few years at the back end of an MLB rotation.

I'll be rooting for him, but for now Sam LeCure clocks in at #22 on the list.

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