Thursday, December 20, 2012

2013 Top Prospect List: #4 Daniel Corcino, rhp


DANIEL CORCINO
DOB: 8/26/1990
HEIGHT 5-11, WEIGHT 205, B/T: R/R


Courtesy: MILB.com
Back in 2008, the Reds signed Corcino, then 17-years old, for $25,000 out of the Dominican Republic. He immediately demonstrated good make-up, a strong work ethic, and a good aptitude for pitching.

The easy and common comparison for Daniel Corcino is Johnny Cueto. In fact, it's a comparison that he himself embraces. Like Johnny Cueto, Corcino hails from the Dominican Republic, is on the short side (5-11), has a stocky build, and throws hard.

The obvious question is whether the comparison to Johnny Cueto is accurate or simply lazy. The more I think about these types of comparisons, the more I wonder about their validity. Obviously, these comparisons are intended to provide a common point of reference, allowing baseball professionals to immediately get on the same page about the profile of the player and his possible ceiling. At the same time, these comparisons, fairly or not, impose a set of expectations on the player in question. While those expectations can prove to be an overreach, in this case they serve to nullify the lingering scouting bias against short righthanded starting pitchers, a criticism which is rarely applied to Corcino. It's difficult to doubt Corcino's chances based on his height when everyone deems his closest comparable to be a pitcher like Johnny Cueto.

In this instance, given their respective player profiles, the Cueto comparison seems reasonable. Unfortunately, it doesn't necessarily follow that Corcino will reach the heights attained by Cueto, as Johnny changed his pitching profile at the MLB level to become more of a ground ball, less of a power, pitcher. Even so, Corcino is certainly trending the right direction.  


2012 SEASON

Corcino spent the entire season with double-A Pensacola. Early in his career, the Reds worked Corcino at multiple levels during a season, but the last two seasons have seen him spending time at only one level per season. Coincidentally or not, Corcino's breakout came in 2011, driven by significant improvement in command, when he spent the entire season at low-A Dayton. This deliberate development plan for Corcino could pay real dividends for the organization. After working exclusively at low-A Dayton in 2011, he skipped high-A Bakersfield to spend 2012 at double-A Pensacola. It was an aggressive assignment, but one for which Corcino proved ready.

For the Blue Wahoos, Corcino posted a 3.01 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .216 BAA, 0.86 GB/FB ratio, and a 126/65 K/BB ratio in 143.1 innings spread over 26 games. That level of performance translates into a 4.1 BB/9 and 7.9 K/9, which are both off from his 2011 performance, likely the result of skipping a level and facing much more advanced competition. It'll be interesting to see if those rates bounce back next year in his second season against advanced hitters. I expect some improvement in both rates and just how much improvement will be a significant data point in projecting his ceiling going forward. In addition to the less effective walk and strikeout rates, his paltry ERA was somewhat undercut by his 3.79 FIP and he benefited from unsustainable hit luck, as evidenced by his .268 BABIP. Further, he gave up a not insignificant 13 unearned runs, some of which may not have been entirely the fault of his defense.

The highlight of Corcino's season was the June 16th game against the the Mobile BayBears. In that game, Corcino tossed 8.0 innings of no-hit ball, walking 3 and striking out 9, before yielding to Wilkin De La Rosa, who promptly finished off the combined no-hitter for the Blue Wahoos. For the game, Pensacola's manager Jim Riggleman had capped Corcino's pitch count at 110 pitches and didn't want to push him, especially with the league's All Star game right around the corner.

Overall, it was an impressive season for Corcino, especially when you factor in his age (21), which gives him a boost for age vs. level. Also, it's worth noting that Corcino was actually better in the second half of the season, so the workload clearly wasn't a problem as he was stronger as the season went along.

Given his recent usage pattern, he seems likely to spend all of 2013, his age 22 season, in triple-A with an eye towards a big league job in 2014.


PITCHING MECHANICS

Corcino starts with his legs shoulder-width apart and glove up high, peering in over the webbing to get the catcher's sign. A small step towards first base with the left foot starts the weight transfer, unweighting the right foot to enable him to rotate it down onto the rubber. He then brings the left foot up into the leg kick, slightly exceeding parallel at apex with good hip rotation. From the initial set position through the apex of leg kick, Corcino keeps his hands in the same position: in close to his chest in front of the letters.

Courtesy: Unknown
One interesting aspect of Corcino's mechanics is what he does when he reaches the apex of the leg kick. Instead of immediately driving to the plate, Corcino draws his lower leg in towards his thigh. Instead of his stride foot hanging directly below his knee, he pulls it back in front of his right knee. Once he reaches that point, he drops his stride foot, extending his stride leg before driving to the plate.

At times, he does a more extreme version of this leg action out of the stretch as a type of slide step. He brings his foot up without elevating the knee very much, giving his delivery a flamingo-type look, before he extends his leg and drives to the plate. Ultimately, Corcino gets to the position needed to drive to the plate, but he requires an extra step to get there. Still, as long as he gathers himself properly before driving to the plate, the stride should be effective in transferring force to the baseball.

As for the stride itself, the length is good, though a tick shorter than that of pure power pitchers like Aroldis Chapman. Corcino's stride foot lands in a slightly closed off position. This, coupled with his lower arm slot, results in a cross-fire delivery, as the force generated by his windup pulls his upper body across his lower body. His right leg crosses all the way over his left on the follow through, leaving him in poor fielding position as his lower body is facing second base. This cross-fire delivery prevents his momentum from being delivered directly towards the plate, instead checking the momentum and forcing it to work somewhat around the body.

Courtesy: Michael E. Keating/The Enquirer
The cross-fire delivery operates to preclude a full, complete rotation of the hips. When the stride foot lands closer to third base, it's inherently a closed off position. This closed off position limits the maximum distance that the hips can possibly rotate in the delivery, which subsequently limits the ability of the kinetic chain to generate force. Corcino's hips rotate as much as permitted. When the hips can rotate no further, the remaining momentum has to go somewhere, causing his upper body to rise up slightly after he releases the pitch.  

Corcino throws from a low three-quarter arm slot, which always raises the question about handling opposite-hand hitters. There are several MLB starting pitchers who have had success from a lower arm-slot than that used by Corcino (i.e. Chris Sale, Justin Masterson, etc.), but they are also significantly taller than Corcino and benefit from more leverage from longer levers. So, Corcino potentially faces a compound problem: finding success from a lower arm-slot with a shorter stature. However, Corcino doesn't suffer from significant platoon splits, handling lefthanded hitters fairly well with his secondary offerings. Corcino also maintains his elbow in good position relative to his shoulder throughout his delivery and gets his arm up into proper throwing position in sync with the other moving parts of his delivery.  
 
While Corcino does a nice job generating momentum in the first phase of the delivery, the differential between his hip and shoulder separation, acceptable, but not substantial, limits the efficiency of transferring that force to the baseball. One of the red flags raised by scouts about Corcino is that his delivery contains "effort". The limited differential between his hips and shoulders is the main reason why, as it requires him to generate more force with his arm than would otherwise be required.

In Corcino's case, this limited differential is more likely to increase his risk of injury than decrease his performance level, as he offsets this lost force with his arm, which he is able to do in part because of his quick arm action. So, he effectively replicates the force that he would generate with a greater hip/shoulder differential, but does so at the cost of increased stress on the arm. 



Here's a good look at Corcino in action for the Blue Wahoos, courtesy MetsgeekTV on YouTube: 







And, here's a look at Corcino's slider, courtesy of MILB.com:





Overall, Corcino has solid mechanics. The issues I see have more to do with efficiency than significant red flag risks. Ideally, he would eliminate the closed off landing position and incorporate a more full and complete hip rotation, reducing some of the effort in his delivery. But, even as they are, the mechanics should support a high performance level and not significantly raise the injury risk. The inefficiency may lead to a faster wear rate on the arm, but overall Corcino is fundamentally sound.



REPERTOIRE

Corcino has a solid, three-pitch repertoire, including a fastball that sits in the 92-94 mph range and touches 95-96, a good biting slider, and improving 83-85 mph change-up. The change-up was taught to him by Mario Soto, the organization's pitching guru and one of it's most valuable coaches in the farm system, at the organization's academy in the Dominican Republic. The change-up is a difficult pitch to master due to the touch and feel it requires, which can be especially problematic for pitchers who rely on power. Corcino's change-up has developed into a solid pitch, though he continues to refine it and would likely benefit from throwing it a few miles per hour slower. Corcino has also flirted with a 2-seam fastball, which, if he can master it, could become an effective weapon down in the zone for a pitcher with fly ball tendencies. 

There are two questions revolving around his repertoire. First, whether his height will limit both his ability to throw on a downhill plane and work effectively, and consistently, in the lower part of the strike zone. Second, whether his arm-slot will lead to inconsistency with his slider, as the closer the arm-slot gets to side-arm, the harder it is to consistently keep the hand upright enough to get the bite, tilt, and depth needed for an effective slider. 

The first issue still seems to be something of a problem, as Corcino has a tendency to work up in the zone, which typically leads to fly balls and, in Great American Ballpark, trouble. When you add a lower three-quarter arm slot to a shorter pitcher, you may end up with a flat, hittable fastball. At this point, it hasn't been a problem, but it  bears watching whether his fastball becomes too flat and hittable as he faces more advanced hitters. The second issue doesn't seem to be a problem, as he keeps his hand upright enough to stay on top of the ball, giving him the shape and wrist snap necessary for his slider to be effective. Corcino has shown the ability to throw a late biting slider just below the strike zone to generate swings-and-misses. As he climbs the ladder, he'll need to raise that up into the bottom of the strike zone, as more advanced hitters are less apt to chase pitches outside the strike zone.    



FINAL THOUGHTS

The 2013 season will provide a key data point for Daniel Corcino's career projection. If his second season against advanced hitters sees a return to those stellar walk and strikeout rates demonstrated at the lower levels, then he could emerge as a top of the rotation type talent. If those rates remain at 2012 levels, then he's probably destined for the back of the rotation or high leverage innings in the bullpen. As it stands, his current balance of risk and performance projects out as a #3 starter, but next year will likely prove pivotal.

Corcino compares fairly well with Johnny Cueto at a similar point in his development, but Cueto evolved into a different pitching profile than he sported in the minors. Will Corcino find success with his current pitching profile? Or, will he, too, have to evolve to find consistent MLB success? While I still wonder how effectively he'll manage the combination of shorter stature and a lower arm-slot, Corcino's current combination of youth, stuff, and solid mechanics lands him comfortably at #4 on the list. 


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