This week, Minors Only examines the newest member of the Arizona rotation, Bryan Augenstein, and a starter in Toronto's system who has opened eyes.
Augenstein Gets Major Shot
After just six starts in Double-A, Arizona Diamondbacks righthander Bryan Augenstein has been summoned to the major leagues and he'll debut tonight against Cincinnati.
The 22-year-old takes the rotation spot previously held by Yusmeiro Petit, who has been battling a sore shoulder and ineffectiveness (6.97 FIP).
Augenstein usually wasn't ranked among the top prospects in the organization heading into the year, but his impressive showing in Double-A helped get him on the fast-track.
The 6-foot-5 native of Sabastian, Florida had a 2.02 FIP – the top mark in the Southern League among pitchers with 25 or more innings.
Augenstein sports a 91-94 MPH fastball, a solid slider, and a developing changeup, showing laser-like control (4.9%), an ability to miss bats (25.2%) and a healthy tendency to induce groundballs (54%).
“I've done the same thing I've done my whole career - just try to throw strikes and let my defense behind me support me. I've had great command of my fastball on both sides of the plate. My breaking ball and changeup have been pretty consistent. I've had a lot of things working for me,” he recently told The Florida Times-Union.
What has also worked for him is several other candidates have failed to distinguish themselves in the first several weeks of the season.
Augenstein’s former Double-A teammate Hector Ambriz was also off to a flying start, ranking among the league leaders in FIP (2.15, 2nd), K% (29.4%, 2nd) and BB% (5.5%, 8th) though at 25-years-old, he was few years too old for the level. Bumped to Triple-A, Ambriz struggled in his first start, getting creamed for seven runs on six hits, including four doubles, in 4.1 IP.
Cesar Valdez, generally slotted higher than Augenstein on preseason lists, has been a disappoint in Triple-A. His strikeout rate is down 6.3% from where it was last season in Double-A and his 6.16 FIP hardly inspires confidence.
Billy Buckner could have been a potential replacement, but he left a poor impression in Arizona early in the season, when he was blasted for seven hits, seven runs and four walks in three appearances out of the bullpen. He's since been banished to Triple-A.
Other possibilities from Triple-A such as Seth Etherton (6.12 FIP), Tony Barnette (4.33 FIP), and Travis Blackley (4.82 FIP) had done nothing to stand out in the crowd.
On His Marc
The Toronto Blue Jays drafted Marc Rzepczynski in the fifth round of the 2007 draft and he enjoyed a fine full season debut last year, posting a 2.71 FIP in 121.0 innings for Low-A Lansing.
The UC Riverside product was also adept at striking guys out (25.3%) and his 67% groundball rate was tops in the Midwest League among pitchers with 90 or more innings.
The success could have been written off as a college pitcher doing what he was supposed to do in the Midwest League, but Toronto aggressively promoted Rzepczynski to Double-A New Hampshire to start this season and he's picked up where he left off.
By many measures, the 23-year-old southpaw has been one of the most impressive pitchers in the Eastern League, ranking second in FIP (2.53), first in K% (27.1%) and second in GB% (60%).
If there is one blemish on his 2009 resume, it's that his walk rate (11.2%) is the seventh-highest in the circuit, though he has walked two batters in his last two starts.
Rzepczynski has an 89-91 MPH fastball and a slider. If he can master his changeup, he’ll improve his odds of succeeding as a professional starter.
“It’s a pitch he’ll need to use in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings – the third time through the lineup,” said New Hampshire manager Gary Cathcart in a recent interview with Baseball America.
With continued refinement, Rzepczynski could reach Triple-A by the end of the year and contend for a spot in the big leagues in 2010.
“He wasn't a guy that scouts were necessary going goo-goo over, but he's certainly gotten our attention,” Toronto farm director Dick Scott recently told the New Hampshire Union Leader.