Goodyear, AZ, USA; A general view of a game between the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox during the eighth inning at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE
Anthony Ranaudo, SP
Ranaudo has walked more batters than he's struck out in each of his appearances in 2012, thanks to inconsistent command. He's failed to induce many grounders, either, and has already given up three homers in under 15 innings pitched. It's quite the inauspicious start for the 22-year-old right-hander.
He's a little earlier in the process than his teammates, who have been pitching since the spring without stopping due to injury. But this is still not a promising development given how much less effective he was at High-A Salem in 2011 relative to the promising start to his professional career at Single-A Greenville.
Ranaudo's command is inconsistent due to his mechanics, which seem to go out of whack often. His velocity jumps around as well, and for someone who is struggling to make his secondary stuff work as well, the inability to put an effective fastball where it needs to be causes problems. Ones like the one he's dealt with in his first three starts.
Of course, we're talking about 14-2/3 innings, and Ranaudo is in the minors to learn. Double-A is a brand new level for him, and given he didn't blow away High-A, struggles aren't surprising. That being said, Ranaudo needs to start showing consistent results in his mechanics and velocity, never mind just in his numbers, before the idea that he's a future reliever, and not a sure thing to start, leaves the minds of scouts.
Aaron Kurcz, RP
Aaron Kurcz, acquired from the Cubs as part of the compensation for general manager Theo Epstein, is coming along nicely. He hasn't been perfect, but it's hard to argue with a 21-year-old striking out nearly 13 batters per nine in his first exposure to Double-A.
As you can see given the disparity between his appearances and his innings, Kurcz has been used for multiple innings often -- just one of his last 10 appearances involved fewer than five outs. The right-hander has leaned on the extreme side of being a fly ball pitcher, with a 0.6 GO/FO, and that could be problematic given the high walk rates. But if he keeps missing bats at an elite level, then the worry might be overstated.
If he would stop working in the upper portions of the strike zone so much, then his fly ball (and likely homer rates) would drop. Moving down in the zone, and refining either his curve or his change, could go a long way towards making Kurcz more than just intriguing.
Chris Balcom-Miller, SP
Chris Balcom-Miller continues to struggle in his second stint at Double-A. He pitched Thursday against Harrisburg, going five innings with three walks and two strikeouts, and that actually dropped his walk rate on the season slightly. His last few starts have been particularly dreadful in this regard: his last appearance with more strikeouts than walks came on May 7, and he has 15 free passes against six punch outs in the four starts since.
He's still getting plenty of ground outs -- 2.5 times more ground outs than air outs, even with the struggles -- but this is two straight months with more walks than strikeouts, and it's tough to pitch like that. If you want to imagine what his ERA might look like without all the grounders, the implosions of Stolmy Pimentel and Drake Britton from 2011 should suffice for your imagination. (And Balcom-Miller was never in the same class of prospect as those two, either.)
There's plenty to like with Balcom-Miller's arm -- there's nothing wrong with his fastball, for one -- but he's lacked consistency since arriving at Double-A last year. He was dominant at High-A, like many with a high-quality fastball can be, but the tougher lineups of the Eastern League have brought him back to earth. One wonders if he's to be sent to the bullpen next time a starter arrives via promotion from High-A -- that might be where he belongs, anyway, and there's no shame in that given what he could do with his fastball in the role.