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Scott Olsen, Florida Marlins
Position: Starter | Throws: Left | DOB: 1/12/1984
YEAR LVL G GS IP ERA H HR SO BB
2003 A 25 24 128.1 2.81 101 4 129 59
2004 A 25 25 136.1 2.97 127 8 158 53
2005 AA 14 14 80.1 3.92 75 7 94 27
Florida’s sixth-round pick out of an Illinois high school back in the 2002 draft, Scott Olsen has established himself as one of the most underrated pitching prospects around over the last three seasons.
After pitching in the Gulf Coast (rookie) League after signing in 2002, Olsen posted a 2.81 ERA and 129-to-59 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 128.1 innings at low Single-A Greensboro in 2003, and then had a 2.97 ERA and 158-to-53 strikeout-to-walk ratio at high Single-A Jupiter last season
He began this season at Double-A Carolina and continued to impress, going 6-4 with a 3.92 ERA in 14 starts, with a 94-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio and just 75 hits allowed in 80.1 innings.
His ERA at Double-A this season is a little higher than you’d like to see, but take a look at how Olsen’s strikeout rate has improved as he’s gone up the minor-league ladder:
That’s a pretty rare pattern and very encouraging. A rare hard-throwing southpaw, the 6’4” Olsen works in the low-90s and has also improved his control while boosting his strikeout totals.
The combination of increased strikeouts and decreased walks for a young pitching prospect coming up through the minor leagues is pretty amazing, and speaks very well of Olsen’s future. His major-league career began on June 25, when he stepped into the Marlins’ rotation and went 5.2 innings against the Devil Rays, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks, while striking out seven.
He can on in relief of Josh Beckett a week later and gave up two runs in 1.1 innings, and will now likely get a chance to start a few more times while the Marlins figure out what they want to do with Al Leiter. Leiter looks just about done as a big-league starter, so the opportunity to stick in the majors is certainly there for Olsen. However, at just 21 years old and with just a half-season above Single-A on his resume, I have doubts about his ability to have success facing big-league hitters.
Regardless of whether he can handle being tossed into the fire this season or needs a little more seasoning in the high minors before he’s ready, Olsen has a very bright future. At the very latest, he should be a full-time member of Florida’s rotation at some point during the 2006 season.
Zach Duke, Pittsburgh Pirates
Position: Starter | Throws: Left | DOB: 4/19/1983
YEAR LVL G GS IP ERA H HR SO BB
2003 A 26 26 141.2 3.11 124 7 113 46
2004 A 17 17 97.0 1.39 73 3 106 20
AA 9 9 51.1 1.58 41 2 36 10
2005 AAA 16 16 108.0 2.92 108 8 66 23
Taken in the 20th round of the 2001 draft out of a Texas high school by the Pirates, Zach Duke has had nothing but success in the minor leagues. His professional career began with an 8-1 record and 1.95 ERA in 11 starts at rookie ball in 2002, and he continued his strong pitching at low Single-A the next season, going 8-7 with a 3.11 ERA in 26 starts.
Last year was good pitching on a whole different level, however, as Duke had as good a season as any pitcher in baseball. He began the year at high Single-A Lynchburg and went 10-5 with a miniscule 1.39 ERA in 17 starts, striking out 106, walking just 20, and allowing only 73 hits in 97 innings.
The Pirates promoted Duke to Double-A Altoona in the second half and he didn’t miss a beat, going 5-1 with a 1.58 ERA in nine starts, with a 36-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio and just 41 hits allowed in 51.1 innings. Combined between the two levels, Duke went 15-6 with a 1.46 ERA in 26 starts.
That earned him a promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis for this season, and the 22-year-old Duke’s run of success continued. He hasn’t been quite as good as he was last season, but it’s tough to fault a guy for not being able to repeat a sub-1.50 ERA. In 16 Triple-A starts before being called up to the big leagues, Duke was 12-3 with a 2.92 ERA.
He made his major-league debut Saturday night against the Brewers, getting a no-decision while pitching very well. Duke lasted seven innings, allowing three runs on five hits and one walk, while racking up nine strikeouts. More than anything else, the strikeouts are important, because Duke has struggled missing bats in the high minors.
While he racked up plenty of strikeouts during the first couple years of his pro career, Duke’s strikeout rate has been sub par over the last year and a half. Perhaps the most important factor in a pitcher’s long-term success in the big leagues is his ability to strike people out, so Duke maintaining a solid K rate will become important at some point.
Here are his combined numbers between Double-A and Triple-A:
IP SO BB SO/9 SO/BB
159.1 102 43 5.76 2.37
There is absolutely no arguing with Duke’s ERA or won-loss record in the minors, but that won’t help him in the big leagues. The fact is that very few starting pitchers who strike out under six batters per nine innings in the minors go on to long-lasting success as an elite pitcher in the big leagues. It has happened, of course, but it’s not likely. Still, because he’s been young for his level of competition and because he has been moved quickly through the Pirates’ system, Duke is a candidate to buck that trend.
I want to see him start striking some people out before I get completely on the Zach Duke bandwagon, but he is certainly a very good pitching prospect. He is without question a major part of the Pirates’ long-term plans, and will likely be permanent piece of their starting rotation by this time next season.
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