Tigers Prospect Profile #1: Rick Porcello

The latest phenom pitching prospect from the Detroit Tigers organization makes his big league debut on Thursday. Ranked third in baseball by scout.com, Rick Porcello takes the mound against the Toronto Blue Jays after just one season of pro baseball, and less than two years removed from high school. What's the book on Porcello, and how good could he be?

Rick Porcello
Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Height: 6-5
Weight: 195
Born: 12/27/1988
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

Background
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 an outstanding season which included 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.

Initial contract negotiations dragged right up until the August 15th deadline in 2007, before the Tigers and Porcello agreed on a Major League contract that was very similar to the contract that was given to Red Sox ace Josh Beckett in 1999. After signing so late, Porcello's professional debut was delayed until 2008, but he still impressed everyone with a strong showing at the Tigers Instructional League in the fall.

Despite just being 19-years old entering the 2008 season, the Tigers challenged Rick with an aggressive assignment to High-A Lakeland in the Florida State League. Against many minor leaguers with two to three years of professional experience, Porcello was not intimidated and in fact dominated his competition. With a spotty offense, Rick was often left in the midst of pitcher's duels, though he still finished the season tied for tenth in the FSL in wins with eight. In an even more impressive feat, Porcello ranked first among league starters in ERA (2.66) and fourth in WHIP (1.19). For his efforts, Porcello was named TigsTown.com's Organizational Pitcher of the Year, while also earning TigsTown's August Lakeland Pitcher of the Month honor.

Entering the 2009 campaign, Porcello was ranked the number three prospect in all of baseball by Scout.com.

Scouting Report
Though he can routinely pump his four-seam fastball into the 95-96 range with control, Rick is far more successful, and in fact prefers, to work his heavy sinking fastball in the 92-93 range with pinpoint accuracy. He can move his sinker to both sides of the plate with ease, and can elevate his four-seam fastball when appropriate to go for the kill. His ability to work the ball throughout the strike zone is uncanny for a player of his age and experience.

With some restrictions placed on him by the organization, Rick primarily used his change-up as his second offering in 2008, and the pitch became extremely reliable. He maintains his arm speed very well, giving his change-up added deception and effectiveness, particularly against left-handed hitters. Though his curveball has shown as a plus-plus pitch in the past, the organization restricted his use of the pitch last year, and he must now regain his exceptional feel for the offering. Returns from spring training indicated the curveball was improving with every outing, and it should be a reliable pitch for him soon enough.

Though Porcello has routinely mixed in a slider in the past – particularly as an amateur – the Tigers and new Tigers' pitching coach Rick Knapp have contemplated shelving the pitch in order to focus more on his change-up and curveball; hopefully giving him three dominating pitches with which to work.

Rick repeats his delivery exceptionally well, and has impressively clean mechanics. Some scouts cite his tendency to come up a bit short on his follow through, but that is nit-picking with mechanics like he brings to the table. He understands the art of pitching and relishes the idea of quick at-bats and keeping hitters off balance, something that will work well under the tutelage of Knapp.

Everyone that comes in contact with Rick is universally impressed by his poise, approach, and general demeanor. He doesn't get rattled on the mound and he exhibits intelligence well beyond his years. Though it seems far-fetched, there was little doubt in anyone's mind that he could handle the pressures of the big league rotation last year, as a 19-year old.

Rick has everything it takes to become a true ace at the top of a Major League rotation, and he is only additional game experience and refining his once plus curveball, from achieving that level of performance. He has the stuff and mentality to be an impact player in 2009.

Performance

Level

Team

W-L

ERA

G

GS

SV

SO

BB

IP

AVG

A+

Lakeland

8-6

2.66

24

24

0

72

33

125.0

.244


Health Record
Porcello's mechanics are virtually flawless, and scouts cite his exceptional athleticism as a reason for optimism surrounding his long term health. He has a long, durable frame, and every motion he makes on the mound is fluid and effortless. He could be a 200-inning per season horse in short order.

The Future
The future is now for the Tigers and Porcello, who entered his second Major League spring training with a slim chance to make the big league roster, but that's just what he did. With injuries and question marks throughout the Tigers' rotation, Porcello was consistently solid, if not better, and he practically forced the Tigers to take him north for Opening Day.

Though some have concern over the low strikeout totals he tallied in the Florida State League last season, the fact that his arsenal was limited and his pitch count was set at a strict 75 pitches per start, give hope that his rates will rise as his full arsenal is unleashed. The Tigers will almost certainly keep him on a tight 100-pitch per start limit this season, and their goal will be for him to total approximately 160 innings in Detroit.

Porcello is the future ace of the rotation, and his ability to continue developing and remain healthy throughout the 2009 season will be vital to the Tigers plans to compete over the long haul. Expect some bumps in the road this year, but he could be a dominating force in the American League as soon as the start of the 2010 season.

Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.


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