Hanson, Matusz emerging

October, 20, 2008
I watched Atlanta's Tommy Hanson and Baltimore's Brian Matusz on consecutive days late last week, and both were very impressive, flashing curveballs that graded out at 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale.

Hanson worked four no-hit innings, with nine strikeouts, touching 94 mph and working effectively with a slider and a change, having no trouble firing one of his other secondary pitches when he was ahead in the count and the hitter was expecting the bender. His changeup has developed into a solid pitch, and his slider has really improved this year, especially now that he is throwing it for strikes.

The bottom line is I expect him to compete for a rotation job in Atlanta next season, and he reminds me a lot of John Lackey.

Meanwhile, Matusz struck out eight in four innings in his last outing, thanks to two plus breaking pitches: his "knockout" curveball in the 75-79 mph range, and a mid-80s slider with good, late tilt. The lefty is also working consistently at 91-92 mph, touching 93 and mixing in a solid mid-80s circle change to any batter who is sitting on a breaking ball.

Matusz was the fourth overall pick this June, and considering he's making his professional debut here at the Arizona Fall League, the results are even more impressive.

So where does Matusz begin the season next year? Last year, O's pitcher Jake Arrieta made his pro debut at the AFL and didn't allow an earned run, then spent the whole season at high Class A despite pitching well. However, Matusz has a more advanced feel for pitching and better overall command than Arrieta, and it wouldn't be a stretch to see Matusz start right at Double-A and advance quickly through the minors. He's a very polished pitcher right now, and he looks like he'll eventually be a No. 2 starter in the big leagues.

Clay BucholzGreg Fiume/Getty ImagesLook who's pitching well again. We have a Clay Buchholz sighting!
Clay Buchholz continues to look outstanding, allowing just three baserunners over eight innings thus far, with seven strikeouts, while touching 96 mph with his fastball. I expect a nice rebound season out of him next year. Phil Hughes went in the opposite direction in his most recent outing, giving up seven runs and failing to get out of the third inning. He has had problems with fastball command, and, to a lesser extent, control of his curveball, issuing eight walks in 12 2/3 innings thus far.

• Florida's Sean West is a former 2005 first-rounder who posted a 2.41 ERA in 20 starts in the Florida State League this season after missing all of 2007 because of a torn labrum. He has been touching 94 mph and getting a good angle on his pitches from his 6-foot-8 frame. His slider has been a solid average on the scouting scale and has even flashed plus across multiple outings, and his changeup has shown good sink and fade, though he loses the feel for it at times. His hard curve has also been a usable pitch. The concerns are his continued health and his ability to command his pitches. If he stays out of the trainer's room, he's a big-league bullpen arm, if nothing else. If he shows he can consistently command his secondary stuff -- and I think the 22-year-old can do that -- he's a No. 3 or No. 4 starter. He's a sleeper pitcher to monitor.

• Another sleeper to watch is San Francisco's Kevin Pucetas. He rarely appears on any "top prospect" lists, partially because he came out of Division II Limestone College and thus doesn't have that big-college pedigree, and partially because he doesn't blow people away. But the 23-year-old right-handed starter posted a 3.02 ERA in the Cal League this season, a year after posting a 1.86 mark in low Class A.

Pucteas' bread-and-butter pitch is a plus changeup he can change speeds with, ranging from 73 to 80 mph, and its tumble is deadly when he's ahead in the count. His fastball has been between 88-90 mph here at the AFL, but one other scout I talked with mentioned that he was working at 91-92 consistently during the season. He also mixes in a 72-75 mph curveball that is an average pitch at times, and a "show-me" slider. He's aggressive, works quickly and can throw consistent strikes with all of his offerings at any point in the count.

The question with a changeup artist is always how well the rest of his stuff is going to play at the upper levels of the minors, but I wouldn't be mentioning him if I didn't think it had a chance to play well.



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