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A trio of pitchers

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In this I will attempt to answer RaysAllTheWay about what, if anything, is the difference between Dewon Brazelton, Doug Waechter, and Seth McClung. Am I justified in being less optimistic about Brazelton or is it just a reaction to my perceptions?

I'll format this like the Johnson/Cortez comparison, separating by age instead of league or player. I like that the best for looking at prospects, it allows you to easily see where players are at the same point in their careers. After some internal debate I decided not to include the 2005 stats, I'm more interested in what we should have thought of each of them coming into the season. They have all been bad in 2005 so that wouldn't tell us much anyway.

I've actually already done the Waechter-McClung comparison before and have a complete spreadsheet for it. They're easy to compare since they're the same age and started playing professionally the same year. McClung came out ahead in that, the higher walk rate being negated by a few more strikeouts and less home runs allowed.

Age 18

Name Year/Level IP ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9
Waechter 1999 - Rook 35 9.77 11.8 9.8 9.0 1.09 0.5
McClung 1999 - Rook 46 7.69 10.5 9.1 9.5 0.96 0.6
Brazelton DNP - - - - - - -


Not much to see there, just two pitchers fresh out of high school getting their first taste of professional ball.

Age 19

Name Year/Level IP ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9
Waechter 2000 - SS A+ 73 2.35 6.6 7.2 4.6 1.57 0.2
McClung 2000 - SS A+ 44 1.85 7.6 7.8 3.5 2.23 0.0
McClung 2000 - A- 31 3.19 8.7 7.6 5.5 1.38 0/0
Brazelton DNP - - - - - - -


McClung gets ahead of Waechter a bit this year. I imagine what happened was Waechter didn't do as well at first so he didn't get a mid-season promotion like McClung did, though his numbers were good at the end of the season. Slightly worse control than McClung in SS A+ and he gave up a couple home runs.

Age 20

Name Year/Level IP ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9
Waechter 2001 - A- 153 4.34 10.5 6.3 2.2 2.86 0.8
McClung 2001 - A- 164 2.79 7.8 9.0 2.9 3.10 0.3
Brazelton DNP - - - - - - -


McClung stomped Waechter in 2001, doing better in every measure except control. His almost 3 K/9 advantage more than made up for that though and for the first time Waechter's home run total becomes, if not a problem, at least noticeable in comparison to his peer.

Age 21

Name Year/Level IP ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9
Waechter 2002 - A- 36 3.47 9.7 8.9 4.0 2.23 0.5
Waechter 2002 - A+ 108 2.66 9.5 8.4 2.4 3.50 0.8
Waechter 2002 - AA 18 9.00 13.5 9.0 6.5 1.38 2.0
McClung 2002 - A+ 37 2.92 8.5 11.7 2.7 4.33 0.2
McClung 2002 - AA 114 5.37 10.9 5.1 4.2 1.21 0.9
Brazelton 2001 - MTSU 127 1.42 5.81 10.91 1.70 6.42 0.4


McClung dominated High A in his brief time there but struggled a lot at AA. No big deal though, the team would give him plenty of time to improve and develop, right? Waechter did alright at Low A but was excellent at High A, though not at McClung's level despite the better ERA. He finshed the season in Double A too. Brazelton makes his first appearance, finishing up his college career at Middle Tennessee State University with a dominant year. He was thought of very highly by many in baseball going into the draft, and rightly so.

Age 22

Name Year/Level IP ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9
Waechter 2003 - AA 76 4.13 8.7 5.3 2.2 2.41 0.7
Waechter 2003 - AAA 51 3.33 8.9 6.1 2.1 2.90 1.6
Waechter 2003 - MLB 35 3.31 7.4 7.4 3.8 1.95 1.0
McClung 2003 - MLB 39 5.35 7.7 5.8 5.8 1.00 1.4
Brazelton 2002 - AA 146 3.33 8.0 6.7 4.1 1.63 0.4
Brazelton 2002 - AAA 5 0.00 9.00 10.80 1.80 6.00 0.00
Brazelton 2002 - MLB 13 4.85 8.31 3.46 4.15 0.83 2.08


Age 22 is where the trouble starts. Brazelton's promotion can be justified by it being a September call-up, though not a move I would have made. He did alright at AA to start his professional career but was nothing special, no need to expose him to the bigs in his first year unless he is dominant. There is some promise there though, he began his career in the high minors and held his own. What was done with McClung though is inexcusable. He had no business being in the majors at that point in his career, he hadn't performed well at Double-A and pitched like it in the majors. The promotion can't be blamed for him going down with a blown elbow but it had a negative effect nonetheless. Since he had pitched in the majors some and shown flashes of quality pitching he was viewed by everyone as a major leaguer instead of a prospect. Everyone has judged him accordingly since then and the organization has continued to push him despite the obvious need for time in the minors.

Waechter fared better, going the intelligent route to the majors. He did well in his brief call-up but looking back there were some negative indicators in his minor league performance that should have raised questions but were ignored. First was the home runs, he gave up 19 in 162 innings, most of that in the minors. A few might be explained by Durham Bulls Athletic Park but you'd like to see better from a good prospect. The big concern is his poor strikeout rate, 5.3 at Double-A, 6.1 at Triple-A. His total across three levels the previous year was 8.6, that's a big drop and something to be concerned about. Yeah, he did better in a brief major league stint but it still looked like he could use more time to prove himself in the minors. Better to err on the side of caution with young pitchers, do whatever you can to put them in a position to succeed.

Age 23

Name Year/Level IP ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9
Waechter 2004 - AAA 29 6.75 10.1 6.8 5.2 1.31 3.4
Waechter 2004 - MLB 70 6.01 8.7 4.6 4.2 1.10 2.6
McClung 2004 - A- 9 0.00 4.8 9.6 3.9 2.46 0.0
McClung 2004 - AA 13 4.73 6.8 5.4 2.7 2.00 2.1
McClung 2004 - AAA 14 3.29 6.6 7.9 4.6 1.72 0.0
Brazelton 2003 - A+ 49.2 5.26 11.23 7.61 3.44 2.21 0.72
Brazelton 2003 - AA 10.2 2.53 6.75 4.22 6.75 0.63 0.0
Brazelton 2003 - AAA 25.2 4.21 8.06 6.31 3.86 1.63 0.4
Brazelton 2003 - MLB 48.1 6.89 10.61 4.47 4.28 1.04 1.68


McClung was on his rehab assignments coming back from Tommy John surgery. He did ok so at least it was obvious that his recovery went normally but he didn't look anything like a pitcher ready for the majors the next year, which isn't surprising at all since he wasn't ready the first time he came up. I was as guilty as anyone of wishfully thinking that he'd be ok in the majors in 2005 despite there being little evidence to support that. I was very wrong but you'd like to think that a major league organization would know better and would recognize the obvious need for more development time.

Brazelton went on a similar tour of the minors though in his case it was an attempt to fix him and change his mechanics back to what he did in college. Looking at the numbers it didn't seem to do much of anything. He was never dominant in any fashion, like McClung not doing anything to make you feel encouraged about his ability to step into a major league role at the start of the next season.

We all know what happened with Waechter last year, an awful season. He was named to the starting rotation to begin the season but opened the year at Durham to get in work until the Rays needed a 5th starter in late April. He was pretty bad there in his brief time, giving up home runs and not getting strikeouts, something that should have set off warning bells after the previous season's less than impressive minor league peripherals. Some of his troubles may have been the result of the finger tendon problem that sidelined him for so long but even allowing for that it was a very bad year in both the majors and minors. He wasn't getting enough strikeouts, especially with the Rays, and was walking too many and giving up a ton of home runs. It couldn't have been predicted that he would be that bad though the previous season gave some hints that things might not go well over a larger sample size, in fact it was predicted by Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system.

ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9
Waechter's Actual MLB Performance 6.01 8.7 4.6 4.2 1.10 2.6
Waechter's PECOTA Mean Projection 5.90 10.6 5.2 3.7 1.41 1.7


He did have a worse year than projected but not by a large amount. Those 2003 minor league peripherals were indeed a harbringer of bad things to come.

Age 24

Name Year/Level IP ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9
Waechter DNP - - - - - - -
McClung DNP - - - - - - -
Brazelton 2004 - AAA 49.2 4.71 11.05 6.89 2.72 2.53 0.0
Brazelton 2004 - MLB 120.2 4.77 9.02 4.77 3.95 1.21 0.9


Brazelton pitched better than his ERA at Durham, but it was only Triple-A. Since he was certain to give up some home runs in the majors and his peripherals would take the normal translated hit there isn't much to be optimistic about. Sure, it looks like he might be able to be mediocre in the majors if things broke right but is that any sort of promise? He was only 24 so it wouldn't be unreasonable at all to leave him there until he earns his way to the majors with performance.

So there you have it, all three of them had reasons to keep them in the minors longer than they were. McClung's promotion was the worst mistake since he didn't have the performance (and was bad instead of mediocre in his most recent minor league stint before the promotion) or the pedigree of a highly drafted college pitcher. Waechter's promotion was the most reasonable considering the state of the team but he wasn't ready either and in my opinion would have been better working things out in the minors instead of trying to develop and fix his fallen strikeout rate and homer problems in the majors.

The main point to be made from all this is that both Waechter and McClung showed promise in their professional careers, something Brazelton failed to do. Sure, that's mostly the DRO's fault for handling him so badly but the issue isn't who is to blame, it's whether or not we should be optimistic about McClung and Waechter but not Brazelton. I think the optimism for those two is justified, though it goes too far when it assumes they should be successful in the majors right now.

Although they need more development time McClung and Waechter have some good past performances to build on and give hope for them improving into solid major league starters in the future. Brazelton has been jerked around badly but has had chances to show his stuff and has failed to do it every time. He looked great coming out of college, I don't fault the Rays at all for drafting him, but as a professional he has never given anyone a reason to expect much from him except for his decent first year after being drafted.