I remember the first time I saw Joakim Soria pitch. Long before he became one of, if not the, best reliever in baseball – at least for a brief time – Soria was simply trying to find his niche. He was a couple months removed from being selected in the Rule 5 draft, chosen number two overall by the Royals, one spot ahead of Josh Hamilton. And before that, just one year removed from pitching in the Mexican League.
Back then, I was a video scout and analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, or BIS, and was live-scoring the Royals game. After watching Soria work a scoreless inning, I jotted in my own personal notebook, “future number two starter.” He flashed a solid low 90s fastball with pinpoint control, a tightly-spun slider, and one of the best changeups I had ever seen, at any level. I don’t think he threw one of those loopy, low 70s curveballs that game. Anyway, this isn’t some type of revisionist history, just ask Sven over at 60ft6in.com. I remember annoying the hell out of him about Soria for pretty much the rest of that summer. I’m sure he’ll tell you that or at least something to that effect.
Soria never did become a number two, which I still think the Royals erred on keeping him in the bullpen, even to this day. But he did become a dominant big league pitcher.
Anyway, that same feeling I got the first time I saw Soria pitch I now get every time I watch Cleveland Indians right-hander Zach McAllister. It’s hard to explain, really, and it’s more of a gut instinct, but barring injury McAllister is going to become a damn good starter in the coming years, something along the lines of one of top 15 starters in the American League.
McAllister’s undergone a bit of a transformation recently, coming to the Indians as a tall, polished, innings-eater with a below average fastball (88-91 mph). Now, though, after a slight tweak to his mechanic – he’s added a bit of a twist, or shows more of his back pocket, to help get his hips more involved – McAllister regularly touches 95, and actually hit 96 in a game against the Orioles earlier this season.
He complements his fastball, now an above-average pitch, with three solid or better secondary offerings (slider, changeup, and curveball). But the thing about McAllister, and similar to that of Oakland A’s prospect Dan Straily, he’s learned how to pitch with a below-average fastball and hasn’t lost that ability after his velocity’s spiked a few ticks.
McAllister’s a big guy – listed at 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds – that limits walks (2.3 BB/9 in just about 750 minor league innings), has a pretty good idea on what he’s trying to do, and is now missing bats at an above-average rate.
Arguably, he’s the best Indians pitcher right now. Not Justin Masterson. And certainly not Ubaldo Jimenez. In 68.1 innings this year, McAllister has averaged 8.17 strikeouts and just 2.37 walks per nine innings. His Skill-Interactive ERA, or SIERA, is 3.73, is nearly half of a run better than the next Tribe starter.
And I just want to make one thing clear: this gut feeling of mine isn’t based off of his numbers, a rather brief sample size; it’s based off of watching a pitcher mature beyond his years – remember he’s only 24 – that can throw four quality pitches for strikes and command all four quadrants of the strike zone.
There will be an adjustment period – scouting reports are still being developed on him - and at times I’m sure this declaration may look a little foolish, but McAllister will become not only the ace of the Cleveland Indians, but also one of the top 15 or so starters in the American League.
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