HEIGHT: 6-5 WEIGHT: 210 B/T: L/L
When considering likely top 10 candidates for this list, I wasn't expecting Amir Garrett to claim a spot. However, after analysis revealed question marks about other likely candidates, Garrett did just that.
Garrett is a pure upside prospect. He brings risk to the table in the form of a lengthy development path, but he's largely an empty slate at this point. As the years have gone by, I've gained a greater appreciation of certainty/probability in a prospect, but here Garrett's upside is simply too good to ignore. The main concern I have on Garrett is simply commitment. Or lack thereof.
When the Reds shifted Aroldis Chapman from the rotation back to the closer role this offseason, I didn't have much of an objection. In a vacuum it seems like an inefficient use of an asset and that's what had people up in arms. After all, 200 innings are more valuable than 50. But, even setting aside the other considerations (i.e. stamina to start, declining performance level in multi-inning outings, etc), the determining factor was Chapman's stated desire to close. The margin for error at the highest levels of the sport is razor thin and forcing someone into a role they aren't completely committed to filling seems like a recipe for trouble.
That raises the obvious question on Garrett, whose first love is basketball. He's unwilling to focus on pitching until the basketball powers-that-be tell him that his basketball career is over. Sooner or later, we all get told.
DRAFT, HOOPS, AND PROFESSIONAL CAREER
The Reds selected Garrett with the 685th overall pick in the 22nd round of the 2011 draft out of Henderson International High School. Garrett didn't even play baseball as a senior, choosing instead to focus on his basketball career. However, he did participate in pre-draft baseball workouts, showing enough athleticism and raw stuff on the mound to impress those teams in attendance.
The Reds were willing to roll the dice on his size, stuff, and athleticism. In fact, they were impressed enough to accommodate his desire to continue playing basketball. So, they not only signed him to a contract and gave him a ~$1M signing bonus, but also permitted him to continue playing basketball at the collegiate level. They obviously feel he's worth the wait.
Since that time, Garrett has been playing basketball for St. John's University, only pitching for the Reds in the instructional and rookie leagues during the basketball offseason. Obviously, having 8 or 9 months go by without picking up a baseball really complicates his development.
Recently, Garrett announced that he was transferring from St. John's to Cal State Northridge with the full intention of continuing his basketball career. As a sophomore at St. John's, he averaged only 5.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 20.1 minutes per game. He was playing as an undersized power forward and had seen his average minutes per game decrease from 26.9 in his freshman year.
|Courtesy: Andrew Theodorakis/N.Y. Daily News|
While the move from St. John's basketball program to Cal State Northridge's seems to be a clear downgrade, it must be noted that Northridge just hired former NBA player Reggie Theus as head coach. So, the program may be on the upswing. Still, it seems likely that Garrett's professional prospects in basketball are weaker than they are in baseball. If true, then he'll be focusing on baseball full-time in the near future...if he has the desire to do so.
Amir is tall and lean with long levers which should help him generate good whip on his pitches. Standing 6-5 and tipping the scales at only 210 pounds gives him a near ideal pitching frame. On the mound, he stands very tall with legs shoulder-width apart. His rocker-step is a small step towards third base, un-weighting his left foot so he can rotate it down onto the rubber. Once he rotates his body on the rubber, he brings his left-leg up into a very strong leg-kick. His knee comes up past parallel with enough hip rotation to generate body coil and tension in the spine.
At apex, a few things become readily apparent: he has a real loose athleticism, very long legs, and good body control. Garrett demonstrates very good balance at apex and throughout the delivery. When he begins to drive to the plate, he starts to unpack his leg-kick. He uses a stride of solid length, allowing an effective and full hip rotation. He gets a measure of differential between the rotation of his hips and the rotation of his shoulders, allowing him to generate force with his body, but less differential than ideal. He doesn't delay the rotation of the shoulders quite long enough to maximize the force generated by the kinetic-chain. While the mechanics may be slightly less efficient than ideal, they are solid.
While his mechanics may rely on his arm to generate velocity a tick more than is ideal, he does have a very quick, live arm enabling him to do just that. Garrett works from a high three-quarters arm slot and has a clean and loose arm action. His arm swing involves dropping his pitching hand straight down after breaking his hands, giving him a small measure of deception, and then bringing the arm up into proper throwing position at foot strike.
As for his stride foot, it lands in good position, bringing his momentum directly to the plate and allowing for a full and complete rotation of the hips. He maintains good balance throughout the delivery and finishes in proper fielding position. Garrett's athleticism gives him good body control and should, with more experience, allow him to consistently repeat his mechanics and arm action.
Here's a brilliant look at Amir Garrett in an extended spring training game courtesy of Jason Cole on Vimeo:
Amir Garrett, LHP, Cincinnati Reds Extended Spring (5/21/2013) from Jason Cole on Vimeo.
Given his lack of experience, Garrett is pure projection. His athleticism, body control, handedness, and physical stature are what drive his value. His size and athleticism generate very good velocity, while his body could allow him to consistently repeat his delivery.
One potential issue with Garrett is that he breaks down his back side when driving to the plate. He deeply flexes his back leg when driving to the plate, dropping his back shoulder down and giving his delivery the appearance of "throwing uphill". That could reduce his ability to throw on a downward plane and lead to inconsistent command and missing up in the zone. In addition, his deceleration phase has a bit of arm recoil, as his arm bounces back up after the follow-through. A flawed deceleration phase may increase the stress on the arm. The recoil may be the result of "throwing uphill", which could be preventing his upper-body from finishing out completely over his stride foot.
Another potential issue, Garrett seems much more rushed when working out of the stretch. He has a fairly smooth, consistent tempo when working out of the windup, but uses a much faster tempo working out of the stretch. Obviously, it's good to be quick to the plate with runners on base, but it's problematic if he's so rushed that he can't properly gather his momentum before driving to the plate.
Despite his relative inexperience, Garrett has a solid set of pitching mechanics. There are a few potential issues, but they are of the type that can be smoothed out with additional experience. And, as of now, Garrett doesn't have a sufficient track record to establish whether these issues will negatively impact his performance.
Garrett features a three-pitch mix, headlined by a mid 90s fastball that can touch 95/96. He has also demonstrated feel for his curveball, which he can snap off with bite and depth. With continued refinement, the curveball could become a plus-offering. And, like seemingly all raw pitching prospects, he rounds out his arsenal with a fringy changeup in need of refinement.
Simply put, what Garrett needs is more innings. More pitches thrown. More batters faced. More experience. If he continues to refine his secondary offerings, then his repertoire could support either a starting or relief role. And, as he continues to mature and build up arm strength, he could add more velocity to his fastball. But, he really needs to get out on the mound and just throw, throw, throw.
Garrett is difficult to properly value. His limited track record makes it easy to dream on his potential, but could also be hiding flaws from view. There's a bare minimum of performance history to examine, so it's pure tools and physicality that land him at #10 on the list. What Garrett needs for his development, and what we need for proper evaluation, is two full seasons of pitching. Until then, it's difficult to know exactly what we have in Garrett. For now, he's a boom-or-bust prospect with a massive and varied range of possible career outcomes.