PP Scouting Report: RHP, Justin Pope

Are we finally starting to see the Justin Pope that was selected in the 1st round by St. Louis in the 2001 draft? It certainly looks like he is coming to life and he might take some people by surprise in 2005. Watch out, because the real Justin Pope could be on his way.

Vital Statistics
Name: Justin Pope
Position: Pitcher
DOB: November 8, 1978
Height: 6' 0"
Weight: 185
Bats: Both
Throws: Right
How Acquired: The New York Yankees acquired Justin Pope, along with Ben Julianel, from the St. Louis Cardinals at the trading deadline of the 2003 season in exchange for Sterling Hitchcock.

There was no reason to not like the selection of Justin Pope when the Cardinals grabbed him in the 2001 draft. Why? Remember, the 2001 draft was one of the deepest ones ever and Pope was still worthy of the the 28th overall pick. At the time, there was absolutely no problem with his selection and he looked to be a major part of the organization's future. However, things did not end up going as well as they were laid out to be. But, exactly how much patience did the Cardinals show in their 1st round draft pick? Not very much and you have to wonder how a team could give up on their top pick after less than two years. It is hard to figure but their lack of patience may end up benefiting the New York Yankees.

You couldn't have had a much better college career than Justin Pope had a the University of Central Florida. As a Golden Knight, Pope compiled an outstanding 32-9 record to go along with a 3.83 ERA in his career. Not to mention, he set nine school records for pitching excellence as well. Pope owns the single season ERA record (1.68), season wins (15), consecutive wins (15), career wins (32), season strikeouts (158), career strikeouts (335) and consecutive scoreless innings (38.1) just to name some. Also, he was named the Trans America Athletic Conference baseball player of the year. One could say that for a college resume, that is about as good as it gets. What a great reason to be excited if you were the St. Louis Cardinals.

Justin Pope began his career the year he was drafted in 2001 and was an immediate hit in the New York-Penn League. Needless to say, he was everything that the Cardinals could have hoped for out of a 1st round draft pick. There was really not one thing you could point out that wasn't impressive about Pope in that first season. He compiled a 2.61 ERA in 69 innings pitched. But, perhaps the most impressive thing for him was that he walked only 14 batters in that span while striking out 66. Talk about a combination of power and control, you couldn't ask for more than that from the then 21 year old. If that season is seen to be outstanding, it is nothing compared to what Pope would do in his first full season in the organization, 2002.

After an impressive first season performance, Justin Pope was sent to low A ball, Peoria to start his 2002 season. And, what a start it was for Pope. He pitched 78 totally dominating innings there and showed that his skills were far superior to any other pitchers in the league. Most likely, he would have been on the verge of gaining elite prospect status until he was dealt a crushing blow. About halfway through the season, he went down with an elbow injury that would cut his coming out party season much too short. It was not as serious as "Tommy John" surgery and it wouldn't cost Pope two years but it would have some longer term ramifications nonetheless. The disappointment had to be tremendous for all parties involved. The Cardinals knew that their stud pitching prospect may never get his velocity back to where it once was and of course Pope knew this as well. The road back was not extremely long for the talented righty as he returned the next season, 2003. However, it was certainly not the same Justin Pope that everyone was accustomed to seeing. He started the season in High A Palm Beach and was clearly just not right from the get go. Pope struggled mightily for the first time in his career as he posted a hideous 4.92 ERA to go along with an awful 4-11 record in 106 innings pitched. Many scouts seemed to expect this from Pope and didn't find it overly concerning. But, the Cardinals jumped the gun and soon would say goodbye to Justin Pope, their former prize possession.

That's right, even after some highly expected struggles coming off the elbow surgery, the Cardinals didn't waste any time shipping him out. It is not too often that you see an organization give up on their former 1st round draftee in less than two years. But, at the time, they were convinced that Sterling Hitchcock could help their big club and in came Pope and Ben Julianel as well. To the Yankees pleasure, both of them came in and made big impacts on their teams down the stretch. In a little over 9 innings pitched with the Tampa Yankees, Justin Pope put up a 0.96 ERA. That was not much of a sample size but in 2004, Justin Pope showed everyone that he could still pitch with or without his great velocity he once had.

The Yankees, knowing that Pope was still struggling with his velocity, elected to start him back in Tampa for the 2004 season. However, after pitching about half a season there, Pope showed that he had mastered the Florida State League and was ready to move on. One must also remember, this 24 year old had to make so many adjustments in order to survive and he did just that. "I totally see Justin Pope pitching in the big leagues," said his teammate in Trenton, David Shepard. "He's very smart. He has 3 pitches he can throw for strikes. He is probably going to be a good 4 or 5 starter. He had surgery last year. His velocity will be back next season, watch." Well, he would certainly have to be intelligent pitching with an 87 MPH fastball when he was used to working with a more explosive fastball. Many scouts and coaches even seem to think that it may have helped Pope become a better pitcher. He put up very solid statistics in Tampa and Trenton this year and you can expect to see him in the starting rotation for the Columbus Clippers next year. If he gets even a little more of his velocity back, the Yankees may have stumbled upon a very intriguing pitching prospect.











New Jersey

















2003 Palm Beach 4-11 0 106.0 123 33 69 4.92
2003 Tampa 2-1 0 9.1 7 1 3 0.96
2004 Tampa 4-4 0 66.1 66 7 44 3.80










Repertoire. Fastball, Slider, Changeup

Fastball. The bottom line is that the explosive fastball that Justin Pope used to have is long gone. However, he has worked very hard to get a good portion of that velocity back. Pope can still get his fastball up around 90 MPH but it averages around 87 MPH. When Pope was drafted, he had superb control and command in the strike zone and that is one thing that has only gotten better and better in the last couple years for Pope. He relies on his command and he can usually get it done with consistency. But, if he does miss his spot, he can not afford to make mistakes anymore with a less than excellent fastball. He still has that good movement on his heater and don't be surprised if even more of his velocity returns next year.

Other Pitches. Besides his fastball, Justin Pope has two very serviceable pitches to compliment his heater. More and more, he has become an off speed pitcher that relies on location, something pitchers usually have to do later in their career. Nonetheless, he gets most of his strikeouts with his slider and he uses his changeup as an out pitch many times also. Over the past season, he has made a lot of improvements on his changeup, knowing that it will be a pitch that he needs to rely on more and more. Both of these pitches have gotten better as he lost some of his velocity. But, as his velocity begins to come back, it could make him all the more dangerous.

Pitching. It is strange to say but it is very possible that going through this injury to his elbow that caused him to lose a few miles per hour off his fastball, may have actually made Justin Pope a better and smarter pitcher. He now spots his fastball better than he has ever been able to in the past and it has also helped him to further develop his off speed pitches. Now, he is a real three pitch pitcher. Despite losing some velocity, Pope is still very aggressive and will get a lot of quick outs on hitters trying to jump on his fastball. The 24 year old righthander is incredibly intelligent on the mound.

Projection. As David Shepard said, it looks like Justin Pope could end up being a very serviceable 4th or 5th starter in the Major Leagues in the not so distant future. If he can get even more of his velocity up there, he may even have a chance to be a number two or three starter in the Majors. Pope looks like a very solid fringe prospect and there are a lot of different paths he could take in this next calendar year.

ETA. Late 2005. It looks to be almost a lock that Justin Pope will be part of the 2005 Columbus Clippers rotation. He has earned a ticket out of Trenton and could be a big part of that AAA rotation. But the important thing is that Pope, if he performs well in Columbus, could get a chance at a September callup to the Bronx next season.

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