The highest ranked starting pitcher in the Angels farm system, Mark Sappington is getting closer and closer to the big leagues but first needs to prove that he really is rotation material.
Position: RHP Highest Level: Double-A
Bats: R Throws: R Height: 6'5" Weight: 209
Age: 23 Born: 11/7/1990
2013 Rank: #23
2013 Season Stats
Advanced-A: 130.2 IP, 11-4, 3.38 ERA, 103 H, 62 BB, 10 HR, 110 SO, 4.05 FIP, .262 BABIP, 44.4 GB%
Double-A: 25.2 IP, 1-1, 3.86 ERA, 23 H, 20 BB, 1 HR, 26 SO, 4.25 FIP, .306 BABIP, 46.6 GB%
Fastball = A-
This is Sapp’s bread and butter as a pitcher. The fastball has shown inconsistent velocity, in some starts sitting 92-94 and others sitting 96+, but what hasn’t changed are the results. Despite pitching in an extremely hitter friendly league for most of the season, Mark’s shown to be utterly dominant at times against hitters in Advanced-A Ball and simply really good in others. At 6’5", Sappington’s release is from a three quarters arm slot and generates effective downward movement, which results in a higher degree of ground balls than most pitchers. But Mark has also shown considerable cut on his fastball this season, which is apparently a new development. The movement cuts in on RHB and generates all sorts of swings and misses and weak contact.
Offspeed Pitches = C+
Sappington offers a slider and developing changeup to compliment his excellent fastball. The slider has definite potential as an out pitch. I’ve seen him snap it off and bury it into the ground in the mid-80’s, which is lethal at any level. His release seems to be the biggest obstacle to overcome in this case because sometimes the slider will slip out of his hands and sort of float up there in the low 80’s or high 70’s. The speed change likely prevents hitters from picking up on the pitch and punishing his mistake. But still, Sappington needs to get more consistent in this area. As far as the changeup goes, this pitch seems to disappear for innings as a time and when he does throw it, hitters are sort of left wondering what he’ll throw next. It has some movement , but clearly Sapp’s not using it often because he hasn’t mastered this pitch.
Control = C+/B-
To start the season, Sappington really struggled with keeping the ball in the zone, but as it goes with almost every young pitcher, with experience Sappington’s control continued to improve. At the beginning of the year this would’ve graded out in the low C or high D range, late in the season it was more like a solid B. This development is essentially what led to Sappington’s promotion to AA late in the season.
Command = C+
This really depends on which pitch we’re talking about. Sappington worked hard in 2012 and focused on consistency with his fastball and the results definitely showed in the later months in 2013. I’d give the fastball an A in this department. The slider however was definitely hit or miss this season in his ability to spot it wherever he needed, which means I’d likely grade him out with a C. His changeup, there just isn’t a ton of data on, but logically speaking, if Sapp was confident in his ability to put it wherever it needed to be, he’d probably throw it more often given the promise this particular pitch has. Overall, Sappington has better command than your average minor leaguer, but is still a little raw in this department. But he will most certainly improve with more experience.
Mechanics = B
I like Sapp’s delivery. He uses his long frame particularly to his advantage, there aren’t any real “herks/jerks” in it. It’s fairly straightforward and simple. He has an extreme downward angle and ends in a good position to field the ball. This is a good signifier of his ability to remain a starting pitcher, as many relievers have a tendency to fall off to sides of the mound or show an inability to repeat mechanics. Mark shows none of these problems.
Performance = A
Sappington actually had a better ERA on the road in the Cal League, despite playing his home games in the only neutral or pitching friendly park. A lot of this can be attributed to how batters handle Sapp, his 1.7 groundball-to-flyball ratio suggests that when hitters do make contact, it’s usually one the ground and judging by his sparkling ERA, it likely ended up in an infielder’s hands. This is certainly a good thing because at shortstop and second base Sappington had two excellent defenders in Eric Stamets and Alex Yarbrough for most of the season. Make of this what you’d like, but Sappington skipping over A Ball, charging through Advanced-A Ball and landing in AA in his first professional season is what I’d consider a tremendous success and I really can’t wait to see what he does as a follow up.
Projection = B
Many publications still see Sappington as a reliever, and while I think this is a possibility, I question their judgment based on extremely “boxed” thinking. They see the hard fastball, mediocre BB/9 numbers and upside with the slider and automatically assume he’s destined for relief. I think what they fail to take into account is the fact that Sappington’s a workhorse. He takes the ball every fifth day, works deep into games, shows beautiful mechanics and has the build of a starter that can go a lot of innings. I see Sappington being a solid 4th starter in the major leagues, with a mid-90’s fastball, all he’d have to do is gain consistency with the slider and show he can throw a changeup, once every couple of batters. Granted, if Sappington shows no development over the next two seasons, absolutely, he could make a great reliever. But why would anyone bet against Sappington not adjusting and developing when he’s already come so far in such a short amount of time since being signed?
Grade as a Prospect = B
Sappington’s a legitimate starting pitching prospect. He’s special in this system because he might be the only one, and the fact that he might be a mid-rotation starter makes it that much more special. But the truth is, every organization has 1-2 prospects at least that are on par with Sappington. Still, his work ethic and perspective of living the dream should allow him to reach his full potential.
Estimated MLB Arrival Date = 2015
The optimist in me wants to say sooner. Many folks may not realize this, but being in AA, Sappington is literally just a few solid performance months away from making his big league debut in 2014. However, I curb my enthusiasm and realize that AA and AAA hitters are a completely different breed of ball players and Sappington will certainly need to make adjustments and improve. A full year in AA wouldn’t hurt at all. I think Sappington will make an appearance with the Angels in late 2014 or 2015. But I can see him breaking into the rotation for good in 2016, just two years away.
2013 in Review*
This is going to come off as a backhanded compliment, probably because it is, but a big reason that Sappington ranks so high in these rankings is because he is one of the few starting pitcher prospects in the Angels system that is not in the low minors and has a chance to be more than a #5 starter.
What really buoys Sappington right now is his results, which are probably a bit ahead of his actual skill level right now. Sappington was excellent in the California League where he demonstrated an ability to miss bats (7.92 K/9) and keep the ball in the ballpark (just 10 homers allowed). That's a pretty impressive feat considering the offensive environment as well as his lack of command. What that really speaks to is just what a great weapon his fastball is. Because he throws so hard and with so much sink, he can get away with mistakes, or at least he could at the Advanced-A level.
Sappington got a late season promotion to Double-A where he again racked up strikeouts and supressed homers. Unfortunately, he also handed out a lot of free passes, issuing 20 walks in 25.2 innings of work. That was a small sample in the late part of the year, so there is no need to panic, but it shows what kind of work he has to do at a competition level where batters are good enough to spit on his big heater and make Sappington throw strikes.
The big question for Sappington is ultimately whether or not he can stay in the rotation. Right now, he is a two-pitch pitcher and the second pitch. He also has a changeup, but that is more of a "keep 'em honest" pitch right now and probably won't ever be a real weapon. But that's OK. Sappington's fastball is so effective, that he can survive in the rotation if he hones his command, refines his slider a touch and polishes the changeup enough to be a regular part of his arsenal.
The concern with a limited arsenal is that a pitcher won't be able to handle gloveside batters, but Sappington has thus far had no problem with that. In fact, Sappington was actually a bit better against left-handed hitters last season. So it isn't quite as imperative that his changeup become an above average offering.
While it might seem like Sappington has a lot of work to do, he actually could develop in a hurry. He's already moved pretty fast as it is, but he could make another big jump in 2014. Much of Sappington's problems are mechanical, but they are also fixable. He has arm speed issues with his offspeed pitches and needs to smooth out a few other parts of his delivery to address his command problems.
One thing to keep in mind with Sappington is that he came from a small school, so he wasn't nearly as coached up as someone his age who came from an established D-I school. You can already see the major strides he has made after being under the tutelage of the Angels player development personnel, so he could continue to advance quickly along the learning curve this year, too.
*As we do every year, the scouting reports and grades are provided by Scotty Allen while Garrett Wilson provides the 2013 in Review and Looking Ahead sections.