Height 6-7, Weight 205, B/T: R/R, DOB: 2/13/1985
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: Not Ranked
The Reds selected Ondrusek with the 392nd overall pick in the 13th round of the 2005 draft. He was drafted out of McLennan Community College, which has produced such big league luminaries as Pat Listach and Jay Buhner. Ondrusek is one of the taller pitchers in the professional game, but he's also very thin. He has a lanky body type that could allow for additional velocity if he were to add more muscle as he continues to fill out. The possibility for additional strength and velocity means that he has additional physical projection, which gives him a higher prospect ceiling.
Ondrusek started out the 2009 season in high-A Sarasota. In his 18.2 innings, he posted a 0.96 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9, and 5.8 K/9. His ERA was impressive, but was aided somewhat by a very low BABIP of .147. His FIP was much higher than his ERA, but still respectable at 3.36. Overall, his K/BB ratio was 1.71, which is solid, but nothing to really write home about. Still, his ground ball rate was robust, racking up 3.3 ground outs for every fly out, which helped earn him a promotion to double-A.
For triple-A Louisville, Ondrusek continued right on rolling. He worked in 20.2 innings, and again breaking the 2.00 ERA barrier with a mark of 1.74. His WHIP was a stellar 0.87, which was aided by a miniscule walk rate of 0.9 BB/9. His K/9 wasn't impressive at 4.8, but his K/BB ratio of 5.50 certainly was. Once again, he forced the opposition to pound the ball into the ground, as reflected in his 1.78 GB/FB ratio.
Perhaps the Reds hadn't seen quite enough of Ondrusek in 2009, so they sent him to the Arizona Fall League where he suffered through his worst performance of the year. If the Reds were pushing him until he struggled, then they certainly succeeded. Ondrusek performed poorly in the AFL, posting a 13.50 ERA in 10.0 innings with a 1.44 GB/FB mark and an 8/2 K/BB ratio. Overall, not bad numbers, but he was hit hard to the tune of 22 hits and a .415 batting average against. The AFL is typically a hitters league and Ondrusek had already spent time at three levels in 2009, so his struggles certainly aren't unexpected.
As a general rule, pitchers need to strike out at least 5.0 hitters per nine innings in order to maintain a consistent level of success at the MLB level. A few heavy groundballers like Carlos Silva, Joel Piniero, and even Kirk Saarloos have managed to find a season or two of success before the high contact rate caught up with them. In 2009, Piniero struck out 4.4 hitters per 9 innings and got groundballs at a 1.60 GB/FB rate, which enabled him to post a 3.49 ERA. He's a free agent now, but he strikes me as a very unwise long-term investment, as he likely will not be able to sustain his success going forward.
Ondrusek's pitching is defined by his height, as it enables him to throw on a downward plane and rack up significant groundballs. For taller pitchers, maintaining consistent mechanics can be problematic, as they have longer levers. It can take longer to get those levers started and be more difficult to keep them all in sync.
Ondrusek features a four-seam fastball that sits around 91-92 mph and touches 94. He also utilizes an 81-82 mph changeup with a bit of sink. In addition, Ondrusek throws a slider and a cutter, though the differential in velocity between the two pitches isn't significant (both are in the 87-91 range) and it may simply be slightly different variations on the same pitch. After all, the grip and the wrist action of the two pitches are very similar, so it could be a matter of mere degrees.
Here is a very good look at Ondrusek in action during the Arizona Fall League courtesy of David Pratt, who has provided a tremendous amount of quality video on AFL prospects over on Vimeo.com:
As you can see, Ondrusek starts his delivery with a step towards first base with his left foot, then rotating his right foot down on to the rubber. He brings his left knee up a bit past parallel with the ground, but doesn't incorporate much hip rotation and coil to create and store energy. In addition, whatever energy Ondrusek could generate from his leg kick seems to be lost by his limited lower body action. After breaking his hands, Ondrusek moves into a slight crouch and seems to fall off the rubber rather than really drive off with a good push. In some respects, his lower body action resembles that of Sam LeCure. As a result of his limited lower body drive towards the plate, Ondrusek seems to simply "unpack" his leg kick without generating any energy for his delivery. He utilizes a long stride towards the plate, but it's more the result of his height than an over-stride.
As a result of his limited leg drive, Ondrusek must generate most of his velocity with his arm, which can lead to increased stress and injury risk. Incorporating the lower body in the throwing motion is the best way to limit stress on the arm. Fortunately for Ondrusek, his height and longer arms may enable him to generate velocity easier than a shorter pitcher.
Ondrusek takes maximum advantage of his height by using essentially an over the top arm slot, which enables him to throw on a downward plane. Ondrusek also has another advantage over shorter pitchers, as his longer arms enables him to release the pitch closer to homeplate than shorter pitchers. The closer you can release the ball towards homeplate, the shorter the distance the ball has to travel.
After he releases the ball, Ondrusek finishes low and out over his lower body. He has a slight tendency to fall off to the first base side, but it's not significant and shouldn't be a hindrance to his ability to field his position.
Ondrusek doesn't have classic pitching mechanics, but his height may help offset any problems potentially generated by his delivery. He may not get significant push off the rubber, but his height could enable him to create additional momentum simply from falling off the mound. As a taller pitcher, he has a bit farther to fall, which should work to his advantage.
Ondrusek is an intriguing pitching prospect, but, at this point, one that may struggle to maintain the level of performance that landed him on the baseball radar. He had a breakout year in 2009, but real questions remain as to whether his performance was a sustainable level of performance for Ondrusek, especially in light of his high contact rate and less than inspiring walk rate. The ability to miss bats gives pitchers a more controllable level of performance and more consistency in production. Allowing hitters to consistently put the ball in play reduces a pitcher's control over the outcome. Ondrusek would benefit from improving his ability to avoid contact, which could come about as he continues to fill out his frame.
Ondrusek's height potentially gives him advantages over shorter pitchers, but can also create additional problems. In 2009, he seems to have tapped into the former and mastered the latter. Even so, to be able to maintain consistent success against advanced competition, Ondrusek will likely have to increase his strikeout rate. Even if he manages to do so, his massive groundball tendencies will continue to be his defining characteristic, which when combined with the additional projection created by his physical frame is enough to land him at #23 on the list.