Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Rick joined the Tigers as their top pick in the 2007 draft (27th overall), despite being ranked as the top high school arm available. As a senior at Seton Hall Prep, Porcello led his team deep into the New Jersey state tournament. After throwing a 77-pitch perfect game against Newark Academy in the Greater Newark Tournament, Porcello was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year.
Porcello helped lead his high school squad to back-to-back state titles in 2005 and 2006. In 2006, he posted a strong 6-0 record and 0.30 ERA, to go along with his .380 batting average and slick fielding at shortstop. Success wasn't limited to his final two years at Seton Hall, as he logged a 4-1 mark with a 1.03 ERA, 18 hits, and 50 strikeouts in 34 innings as a sophomore. Rick was also named an AFLAC High School All-American in 2006, to go along with an endless list of state and local honors.
Negotiations dragged right up until the August 15th deadline, before the Tigers and Porcello agreed on a Major League contract that mirrored that given to Josh Beckett in 1999. After signing so late, Porcello did not make his professional debut, but still impressed everyone with a strong showing at the Tigers Instructional League in the fall. Rick joined the big boys in big league spring training this year, and again left a remarkable impression on all who saw him play.
Porcello is a classic power pitcher, with a power pitchers frame that should add some bulk as he matures. His fastball sits comfortably in the mid-90s, and has routinely been run up to around 98 mph. He can command his fastball to both sides of the plate, and pounds the lower half of the zone with strikes. He's fearless on the mound and willing to take back the inside of the plate.
His breaking stuff is very advanced for his age, as he mixes two breaking balls; a power slider with good depth that sits in the 79-82 range, and a very advanced curve ball with good late bite. His change-up has been used very little the last two years, but he has shown a feel for it, and the general belief is that with some work it will be an average pitch. With three above-average to plus pitches, there is little doubt that Porcello rates as a big time starter in the mold of Justin Verlander.
His delivery is repeated well, and is generally clean. Rick can come up a bit short on his follow through, but it's unlikely the Tigers will tinker with this unless it starts to pose him problems. His arm speed is tremendous on all his pitches, as he remains deceptive out of his three-quarters arm slot. Playing against top level competition for years, Porcello has an advanced feel for pitching, and mixes all four offerings with aplomb, keeping hitters off balance rather than just blowing his fastball by them.
Rick is a very good athlete, one that fields his position well, and can make all the necessary plays. He has baseball in his blood, as his grandfather (Sam Dente) played professionally in the 50s.
His overall ceiling is not in doubt; it's more a matter of how quickly he can become the ace pitcher he is capable of. He's a legit big time starter, with tons of talent.
Did not play in '07
Porcello had been healthy throughout his high school career, and having pitched in the north, he was not exposed to some of the heavier workloads of many high school pitchers. Expect the Tigers to be careful with him over the first couple of seasons, as his arm is too valuable to chance.
After such a strong showing in big league camp, and continued dominance on the minor league fields, Porcello will be pushed aggressively to High-A Lakeland for his big league debut. Given his talent level and the warmer weather, the assignment makes sense on many levels.
There is little doubt among baseball observers that Porcello is a special talent. He is commonly referred to as the best high school pitching prospect since Josh Beckett, and nothing he has done so far, has deterred anyone from that belief. While I don't expect complete dominance of the Florida State League, I do expect him to pitch well enough to possibly warrant a call-up to Double-A Erie by the end of the year. Everything I have been told and seen indicates Porcello will get a chance in Detroit sometime in 2009, and could be there to stay to start the 2010 season.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.