Position: Left-handed Pitcher
After a standout season at Lake Michigan College, Below came to the Tigers as a 19th round draft choice in 2006. Duane's '06 campaign at LMC was positively dynamite, as he sported a 7-1 record in 16 starts, with a 1.75 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. In addition, he managed to strike out over 13 batters per nine innings, while maintaining over a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio. For his efforts, Below was named an All-MCCAA 1st Team pitcher, as well as a Region XII All-NJCAA pitcher.
During his professional debut, he made steady progress with the GCL Tigers. After a rocky first few outings in June, he settled in for a nice 12-game run, including four starts that led to his being named the TigsTown GCL Pitcher of the Month for August. After wrapping up his rookie league stint with a sparkling 1.60/1.10 line, Duane was moved up to Oneonta to close out the season. Through two starts for the O-Tigers, he managed to maintain his success, notching a 3.86 ERA down the stretch.
Following his successful debut in 2006, the Tigers pushed him to the Midwest League for a true test of his abilities in 2007. In looking at his season's production, there is little to suggest Below could not handle the challenge. At the end of an exceptional season, Duane managed his best performance, taking home TigsTown's West Michigan Pitcher of the Month award for August, on the back of a 4-0 mark with a 0.56 ERA. For the season, Below's name was littered throughout the Midwest League leader boards; tying for first in wins (13), ranking sixth in starts (26), first in strikeouts (160), fourth in ERA (2.97), and tied for tenth in WHIP (1.28).
Below is a classic good-sized lefty prospect, with tons of potential. He uses his good pitcher's frame to generate a nice downward plane on a fastball that sits comfortably in the 87-89 range with a little late life. Despite the lack of overpowering velocity, Below gets a lot of late swings from the way he hides the ball in his delivery, making it tough for hitters to pick up the ball out of his hand. Several Midwest League managers praised his ability to move his fastball around the strike zone, working up and down equally well, while also challenging both sides of the plate with aplomb.
He compliments his fastball with an above-average curve that he works in the 78-81 range. Former Manager Tom Brookens wouldn't quite give him credit for a classic 12-6 breaker, but he indicated that it had the potential to become a very good out pitch. He's made significant strides with the curveball since his time at LMC, and that progress bodes well for his continued success. Duane has demonstrated another potentially average offering with his change-up, though it lags a ways behind his top two pitches. He struggles with keeping his arm speed up on the change, giving the pitch away. If he can maintain arm speed and locate the pitch down in the zone, Below could become even tougher to hit down the road.
Below is a good athlete with solid instincts on the field. He gets off the mound quickly and can handle most plays in front of him. In the past, some reports have indicated that he's had a little trouble with some throws on balls down the third base line, but more recent indications are that some of these issues are being ironed out.
If there is one significant knock against Duane, it's likely that he gets too hyped up and works too quickly early in games. The first couple innings tend to be his rockiest, before he settles down and gets in a good groove on the mound. Aside from that, Below's pace on the mound is exceptional, keeping his defenders on their toes, and moving the game along quickly. His poise in critical situations is outstanding, and he wants the ball in the biggest of games.
Overall, his ceiling probably lends pretty well to a solid mid-rotation starter, but he will need to make progress with that third pitch (change-up) to approach that projection.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG A
Below's been healthy in his brief professional career, continuing a trend that started while in junior college. His frame is solid and he uses his lower half well to help repeat a clean set of mechanics.
Below's dominating season at West Michigan has raised eyebrows throughout the prospect evaluation community and the general Tiger fan base. While his numbers as a pro might suggest great things, there should still be plenty of reason for skepticism; as his overall stuff doesn't match the story the numbers are telling. Below looks an awful lot like a litany of other middling lefty prospects that didn't have the raw stuff to survive at high levels.
I expect Below to start the 2008 season with Lakeland, where he will again have the advantage of a nice pitcher's park and league. It will not be shocking if he posts another strong set of numbers this season, and the key will be how the scouting reports match the results seen in the box scores. Below looks like a nice lefty swingman down the line if things break properly, but even that may be stretching things.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.