Name: Robbie Erlin
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: October 8, 1990
Acquired: 2009 Amateur Draft, 3rd round
As an amateur at Scotts Valley High School outside of Santa Cruz, Calif., scouts liked Robbie Erlin's arm.
Leading up to the 2009 MLB Draft, Baseball America reported one scout as saying, "If he were two inches taller, you'd be talking about him as a first rounder."
As it turned out, the Rangers were able to get the first-round talent in the third round of the draft, and they eventually signed him for an above-slot $425,000 bonus in late-July.
Listed at 6-foot-0, Erlin doesn't quite have the projectable body that many scouts like to see, but he has advanced stuff and a solid feel for pitching––particularly for a youngster less than six months removed from high school baseball.
Erlin reported to the Rangers' minor league complex in Arizona upon signing, and he took about two weeks to get back into playing condition.
The left-hander made three relief appearances late in the rookie-level Arizona League season, yielding just one run in four innings. Most impressively, Erlin fanned nine batters in those four frames.
In Erlin's second professional game, against the AZL Mariners in Peoria, a fierce wind, dust, lightning, and rain storm appeared just as he took the mound. The umpires chose to play through it.
Erlin struck out the side in the frame, allowing just one hit [on a routine fly ball blown into no man's land] and a walk.
"It was fun," said Erlin of pitching in the rainy dust storm. "It was a new experience. I'd never done that before. I just had to stay focused on what I was trying to do and execute pitches."
Even though the numbers were impressive, Erlin wasn't pleased with his performance in the Arizona League.
"I don't think I pitched that well in rookie ball," he said. "I think taking a couple months off before I got back on the mound in a game situation kind of got me out of my groove that I had in high school."
More than anything, Erlin simply felt he wasn't getting ahead of hitters often enough.
"I would say the biggest thing was just strike one," Erlin said. "I didn't really throw strike one very well when I got down there, so I was pitching behind in the count a lot."
Despite falling behind, Erlin only walked one batter in those four innings. But at Fall Instructional League, he decided it was time to cut down on the pitch counts.
"Instructional League allowed me to get more comfortable with the speed of the game and pitching to contact and stuff like that," he said. "In high school, I pretty much pitched for the strikeout most of the time. I really tried to get away from that and develop my fastball-changeup combination in order to get outs early in the count."
The prospect says he constantly went to his curveball when he needed strikeouts in rookie ball, but he also realized he would need other ways to get hitters out.
"I was going to a curveball for my strikeout pitch," Erlin said of his AZL campaign. "Instead of forcing contact early in the count, I was still kind of pitching for the strikeout. My pitch count was probably higher than it should have been. I definitely improved on that at Instructional League."
In addition to pitching to contact more often, Erlin really wanted to focus on throwing his changeup more liberally while he was at instructs.
"[The Rangers] wanted me to get off of the curveball while I was down there to get me to develop the changeup," said the pitcher. "I think I definitely got a better feel for my changeup while I was down there."
Erlin logged five appearances and 10 total innings at Fall Instructional League, pitching between one to three innings per outing.
Since then, he has returned home to Northern California where he rested and has been preparing for his first full professional season.
According to Erlin, the offseason has been a productive one.
"I really wanted to put on weight this offseason, and I've been able to do that," he said. "I left Arizona at probably about 175 pounds, and I've gained about 15 pounds now. That was probably my biggest goal in the offseason."
The southpaw says he plans on reporting to Surprise on Monday, March 22, approximately two weeks before minor league camp officially begins.
As for the upcoming season, he doesn't have any expectations, but he would like to pitch in full-season ball.
"I'm going to try and go in there and hopefully go up to Hickory this year," Erlin said. "That would be a good goal. But being that I'm a high school pitcher, I could see them keeping me in Extended Spring Training and going to Spokane."
Also See: Sizing up the left-handed starter prospects (November 11, 2009)
Rangers Minor League Mailbag (November 5, 2009)
Erlin signs with Rangers, reports to Surprise (July 30, 2009)
Q&A with Rangers 3rd Round Pick Robbie Erlin (June 9, 2009)
Repertoire: Fastball, Curveball, Changeup.
Fastball: The 19-year-old usually throws his fastball between 89-91 mph, topping out around 92 at times. He uses both two- and four-seam fastballs, although he generally prefers the two-seam, which has more natural movement. Erlin's fastball velocity is average––he could gain a tick or two as he develops––but the pitch plays up because of the decent action and his above-average command to both sides of the plate. During his limited late-season action with the AZL Rangers, Erlin worked down in the zone and got plenty of ground balls.
Other Pitches: Erlin's mid-70s curveball is his most promising pitch. The offering has definite plus potential, and it proved to be a swing-and-miss pitch while he fanned nine in four innings with the AZL Rangers late last summer. His changeup ranges between 77-80 mph. Though Erlin has a decent feel for the pitch, he doesn't have much experience with it yet, using it only as an occasional show pitch in high school. The lefty worked on throwing it more often and earlier in counts during his time at instructs.
Projection: Much like many of the prospects on this portion of the top 50 list, Erlin appears to have a mid-rotation ceiling. The California native compares a bit to similarly statured '08 high school lefty Robbie Ross, although Ross' fastball is a bit heavier than Erlin's. Both have advanced command of solid fastballs and future plus breaking balls. Like Ross, Erlin may have the opportunity to move relatively quickly through the system after his first full year.
2010 Outlook: Erlin is either headed for Spokane or Hickory. He'll most likely follow the path of Robbie Ross from last season, which means Extended Spring Training followed by a full summer at Spokane. However, Erlin just might have the stuff and polish to pitch with Single-A Hickory at some point in 2010. Because he's less than a year removed from high school, even if he goes to the Crawdads, the Rangers will likely take the Blake Beavan/Joe Wieland approach, where he still starts in Extended to limit his innings.
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