Rotation Plan D: Charlie Leesman
I agree, Gavin. (Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE)
On Episode 2 of the Southside Showdown podcast, Ryan asked what we can expect from Gavin Floyd down the stretch. As you’ll hear on the episode, we talked about how much Floyd relies on his curveball, and our speculation that with his elbow problems this year he hasn’t quite been able to get it where he needs it to be. His walk rate is the highest it has been in years.
At one point in the discussion I commented that there was nothing at AAA and that if Floyd weren’t good to go it was really down to Dylan Axelrod or Hector Santiago. Then this morning I looked at MLB’s updated Top 20 Prospect list for the White Sox and was surprised to find that they had listed Charlie Leesman at #3 and first among pitchers. Leesman certainly has a shiny 2.45 ERA at AAA this year, but I had glanced at his numbers and dismissed him – at least as immediate help – due to his 52BBs in 135IP, good for a 3.5BB/9 figure. As a side note, that puts him right around where Floyd has been for the year. But for all that I’m not so sure MLB is perfect in their prospect rankings, I thought their sanguine opinion merited another look for the big lefty.
Leesman has the size and build you like to see in a starter standing 6’4’’ and having an extra 50 pounds or so on Chris Sale. Also working in his favor, Leesman has a plus changeup – something that is often the biggest question mark for potential lefty starters as a weapon to get righties out. Coming into the 2012 season Baseball America had Leesman’s changeup as the best in the entire White Sox minor league organization. Leesman has the velocity to hang in there at the major league level as well, sitting between 89-92 and able to dial it up to 95.
The downside so far has been both the walks – as noted above – as well as the fact that he just isn’t missing that many bats. He hasn’t posted a K/9 above 7 in any meaningful sample at any point in pro ball, usually hovering in the mid-to-high 6s. K/BB ratio isn’t perfect, but for most pitchers it bears a very strong relationship with success barring some sort of other variable.
For Leesman that x-factor may be an ability to get grounders. Throughout his minor league career Leesman’s groundball rate has ranged between 50-65%, which is superb. Lots of pitchers have been able to find success with K/BB ratios between 1.50-2.00 if they can induce enough grounders, and it’s a nice skill to have in a home run prone park like U.S. Cellular Field.
The White Sox have strong defense in the middle infield, and Hector Santiago hasn’t exactly been the model of a control pitcher either. While Floyd, Axelrod, and Santiago should probably all be exhausted as possibilities first, I’d suspect Leesman would be next in line, and it’s not entirely implausible that he could hold the spot down for a few starts, and may be a dark horse for the rotation next year.