Rotoprofessor’s Prospect Watch – Chris Tillman

Oct 26, 2008

Written by Eric Stashin the Rotoprofessor

When you talk about the Baltimore Orioles, the conversation of prospects typically starts and stops with Matt Wieters, and rightfully so.  I’m not going to focus on Wieters here, however.  Instead, I am going to spotlight Chris Tillman, one of the players acquired in the Erik Bedard trade last winter.

A second round draft pick back in 2006, Tillman is a hard thrower, as is evidenced by his 154 K’s in 135.2 innings last season at Double A.  In fact, CBS Sportsline said that he was said to be “throwing the hardest of all the Orioles pitchers” back in Spring Training.

If that were not enough, he went 11-4 with a 3.18 ERA last season.  The WHIP does give a little cause for concern.  He gave up 115 hits and walked 65, meaning his WHIP was 1.33.  Granted, that is far from terrible, but it could be tremendously better if he could get his control in check.

He walked a little bit over 4.3 batters per 9 innings, a number that will make it tough to succeed at the major league level.  He pitched at 2 levels of Single A back in ‘07 with the Mariners, and at the level where he pitched the most innings (102.2, he had 30 at the other level), his BB/9 was 4.21 and his ERA was 5.26.

That walk rate certainly is troubling and quickly makes you think of another Orioles pitcher, Daniel Cabrera, who has tremendous talent but never seems capable of consistently throwing strikes.  This is something that the Orioles absolutely have to address as soon as possible if they want him to have a positive impact, not only on their 2009 campaign, but in future seasons as well.

He’ll turn 21 in April, so the idea of him contributing at some point in 2009 is very realistic, especially considering the names that the Orioles have comprising their rotation at this point.  After Jeremy Guthrie, there really are 4 question marks, meaning that anyone could emerge as a candidate to claim one of them.  While I don’t see the Orioles rushing Tillman to the majors, I have no reason to believe that if he gets off to a quick start at Triple A, the Orioles won’t bring him up before the All-Star Break to see exactly what they have.

With the strikeout potential he has, that makes him an intriguing option not only for keeper league owners, but those in yearly leagues as well.  I wouldn’t recommend people in yearly leagues going and grabbing him early, but once he gets recalled he could prove valuable.

How valuable?  Well, that really depends.  Given his problems with his walk rate, it’s obvious that he could be shaky on occasion.  Then again, his BABIP was a very maintainable .315 last season, so if he can find the strike zone more consistently, his WHIP could quickly prove to be a huge asset for him.  I wouldn’t count on that occurring as soon as he gets called up, but more likely a year or two down the line.  The Dodgers young phenom Clayton Kershaw, making his major league debut this season, pitched to a 1.50 WHIP while walking 4.35 batters per 9 innings.

I would expect Kershaw to have a significantly better sophomore season (in fact, I’ll be giving my thoughts on what I expect from Kershaw in an article next week), and Tillman could fall into that same category.  With that said, I wouldn’t hesitate to grab him in deeper formats, but more as a just in case type option.  I wouldn’t plan on playing him every week, every start, especially pitching in the very deep AL East.  But, if he proves he can pitch well, I would like having him in reserve for when the match-up proves favorable.

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