2011 Player Development: Blake Beavan

Beavan pitched well in 2011

In this series, SeattleClubhouse takes a look at prospects that made big improvements in 2011 for the Mariners. I've already covered Michael Pineda, Dustin Ackley, Mike Carp and Michael Saunders in prior pieces. Now it is time to look at an unexpected contributor: Blake Beavan.

Blake Beavan entered 2011 without much chance at an extended big league look, barring injuries. After making a few impressive spot starts when fatigue caught up with the rotation in early July however, he got an extended chance when the Mariners traded away two starters--Doug Fister and Erik Bedard--before the deadline. If you look at his season numbers--particularly those he put up before his final start of the season on Tuesday--it appears that he pitched very well in basically a half season. But should the M's be penciling him in for the 2012 rotation?

Beavan, of course, was a high draft pick out of high school by the Rangers that came over from Texas in the Cliff Lee/Justin Smoak trade last season. His draft position was closely tied to his big arm--an arm that routinely sat in the mid-90s in High School, and one that shut down the Cuban Nationals in the 2006 World Junior Championships. But that velocity is long gone for Beavan. So without that velocity, what does Beavan have left?

What's left is a big (6-foot-7, 250 pounds) right-hander with clean mechanics and very good control and command that flashes as plus at times. He carried his low walk-rate from the minors up to Seattle this season and it translated well: his 1.39 BB/9 was the 5th best in the majors among pitchers with 90-plus innings this season. But while his control is a plus for Beavan, history shows us that he simply can't continue to succeed with a strikeout rate that was the 3rd lowest in the major leagues this season at just 3.90 SO/9.

Striking out just 10.4% of the hitters he faced, Beavan got a lot of help from his defense behind him. But when you add the low strikeout rate to the 22.6% line-drive rate--the 11th highest figure in baseball--it becomes very clear that Beavan was more than a little lucky with his results in 2011. In fact, his xFIP ranked just 118th out of the 151 pitchers with 90-plus big league innings. While in the minor leagues with the Mariners, his changeup was very effective, but that pitch was his least effective offering (-2.9 runs below average) in the big leagues. His fastball--which averaged 90.6 miles-per-hour--was actually more effective (2.7 runs above average) than Felix Hernandez's was this season, but to continue to get hitters out, the secondary offerings need work.

Some of that work has already started as Beavan worked on changing the grip and backing off the speed of his curveball over his last several starts. The results were more swinging strikes on that pitch, and less comfort at the plate for the most part for the opposition. With a mediocre fastball, what can Beavan do to improve his effectiveness?

We've seen some Mariners' pitchers add "the Twist" to their delivery to get more velocity, but I don't think that would be worth it for Beavan. He had his fastball up to 93 at times this season but still never managed more than four strikeouts in any start. I think that what Beavan truly needs is to throw more two-seam fastballs to try and get more run and sink on the pitch. If he can accomplish that, it will make the pitch harder to square-up while simultaneously increasing the effectiveness of his other pitches. This would be particularly helpful versus left-handers, who hit the big Texan to the tune of a .314/.330/.531 mark including hitting eight of the 13 homers he allowed.

In all, Blake Beavan's performance at the big league level in 2011 was certainly a pleasant surprise to the Mariners and their fans, but he still needs a lot of work before he can be counted on as a No. 3 or 4 starter on a competitive team. He'll turn 23-years-old prior to reporting for Spring Training next season, so there is time for him to grow as a pitcher, so even if he doesn't break camp with the big club in 2012 he still has a future with the club.

Manager Eric Wedge's statement after yesterday's game is right in line with that. "Beavan is going to be an option for us," Wedge told the SportsXChange. "Nothing is set in stone, but he'll come in with a chance to be a starter for us."

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