Rockies' Pomeranz is an ace in the making
I have always liked left-handed starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz.
The Cleveland Indians must have wanted right-handed starter Ubaldo Jimenez badly to include Pomeranz in the blockbuster deal with Colorado at last-year's non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Pomeranz is the type of pitcher around which starting rotations are built. He has the potential to be the ace of a staff.
To be sure, Pomeranz is not a finished product. In fact, during a scouting trip I made to Colorado, manager Jim Tracy was indicating Pomeranz was continuing work on refining his delivery in the Minor Leagues. He was working on consistently commanding the strike zone.
Pomeranz, 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, was the first round selection of the Cleveland Indians as the 5th overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. He was chosen following an outstanding career as a college All-American in his junior year at the University of Mississippi. The Indians invested $2.65 million in Pomeranz and probably thought he would be the future leader of their Major League rotation.
The Indians' plans changed when Jimenez became available at a time Cleveland was poised to battle for a Central Division title. Jimenez offered the Tribe several years of contract control and the potential to lead the staff to success at the finish line.
Jimenez struggled, the Indians fell out of contention, and Pomeranz would begin his Major League career pitching for the Rockies.
Trades that include young prospects for more seasoned players are best judged over a lengthy period of time. In the case of the players Colorado obtained for Jimenez, including Pomeranz, pitchers Alex White and Joe Gardner and versatile position player Matt McBride, the criticism has been loud and frequent.
To be fair, none of the players involved in the transaction have set the world on fire. Yet.
For me, Pomeranz is the key to the deal. I believe he has the most upside of all the players involved.
I vividly remember Clayton Kershaw struggling with his command when he first started pitching at the Major League level. There were numerous comparisons to Kershaw having Sandy Koufax type "stuff."
At this point, I feel it may be safe to say that Pomeranz has the potential to ultimately be compared with Kershaw. His command may be the last component of his development to be refined. His repertoire certainly is broad and deep.
Pomeranz has a moving fastball that he can bring from 88-93 MPH without effort. When he's sharp, and when he repeats his delivery, Pomeranz has the ability to locate his fastball on both sides of the plate, and up and down in the zone. I have seen him "climb the ladder" on hitters, bringing the ball higher and higher until the hitter can't catch up with the high velocity, highly elevated pitch in his eyes.
But Pomeranz may not have the luxury of elevating his fastball. For him to have sustained success in Colorado, he will have to keep the ball down enough in the zone to induce ground balls. If he gets too much of the plate or elevates to the point where he makes a mistake, he will pay a severe price at Coors Field.
Given his home park and his repertoire that includes a very solid curve ball, an advanced changeup and occasional slider, Pomeranz will be challenged to concentrate on solid mechanics on every pitch. There will be little to no room for error.
As it is with most pitchers, location will be the key to Pomeranz's success. However, the situation becomes more acute in Colorado where huge outfield gaps, high altitude and a wind tunnel that carries balls hit to right-center field form extreme pitch-location challenges.
A pitcher like Pomeranz, with a full repertoire and dependence upon movement of his curve ball, slider and changeup (let alone his fastball), would be well served to finish his delivery and keep his arm movement consistent to keep the ball away from the middle of the plate.
If he can do that, he can pitch at Coors. I have great faith in his ultimate ability to win. I have great faith in his eventual ability to refine his mechanics and to spot and locate his pitches properly.
Mechanical consistency may take some time to perfect. There may be some great starts followed by a rough outing or two. Consistency may be a year away. Patience and repetition will be required.
But so far in his young career, he has become less effective after the first 50 pitches of a game.
Changing eye levels and keeping hitters off-balance are among Pomeranz's strengths.
While he has a power arm, he won't be relying upon a Justin Verlander-type 100-mph fastball as an "out pitch." Rather, Pomeranz will sequence pitches to get hitters lunging or falling back on their heels.
He is well advanced in his ability to pitch as opposed to throw. He is in the "refinement" stage of his development as opposed to the more problematic "learning" stage when one learns to pitch and not merely throw the ball and hope the pitch arrives where it is intended.
Just as they have been for Kershaw, his curve ball and changeup could become key finishing pitches for Pomeranz. If he sets up hitters with his four-seam and two-seam fastballs for strikes, he can change the entire at-bat by commanding the pitches Major League hitters struggle with the most-those with sharp, late movement and break.
While he will certainly register his share of strikeouts, Pomeranz may not be able to rely upon the type of record- breaking strikeout totals he had at the University of Mississippi.
Rockies fans will be watching an exciting pitcher with the ability to take complete control of a game. It just may take some time to get there.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.