Every year, it seems like one of the biggest stories at every Spring Training camp is who will be the #5 starter. Because of expansion, there are now 30 Major League clubs, which means 150 starting pitchers who break camp penciled into their respective team’s rotations. That’s a lot of starting slots to fill, so it makes sense why most teams struggle to find a consistent 5th starter.
The Chicago White Sox in 2009 are certainly no exception.
Heading into Spring Training, one of the up-and-coming candidates being promoted as a possibility to fill the #5 slot for the White Sox behind their healthy and durable triumverate of Mark Buehrle-Gavin Floyd-John Danks was Aaron Poreda.
Now that Poreda has made his first Spring Training appearance, let’s find out who this kid is and assess his chances to break Spring Training in the rotation with the White Sox.
Aaron Poreda Bio and Scouting Report
Aaron Poreda will be 22 years old on Opening Day 2009 and is a 6’6, 240 pound lefty from Walnut Creek, California. He was selected by the White Sox in the 1st round (25th pick) of the 2007 draft and signed by White Sox scout Adam Virchis. Since being drafted, Poreda has certainly made a name for himself and developed a reputation as a major piece of the White Sox future.
After a successful college career at the University San Francisco, during which Poreda posted a sub-3.00 ERA in each of his three seasons, Poreda pitched in 46.1 innings of rookie ball at the age of 20. In those 46.1 innings, Poreda went 4-0, had a 1.17 ERA, and a K/9 ratio of 9.3, while walking only 10 batters. His WHIP was a sterling 0.84.
In 2008, Poreda’s first and only full season in the minor leagues, he shuffled between high-A ball and AA Birmingham. At Winston-Salem, Poreda pitched 73.1 innings and amassed a 3.31 ERA and a 5-5 record. His K rate dropped to only 5.6 per 9 innings and his WHIP rose to a still solid 1.16. In AA Birmingham, Poreda pitched 87.2 innings, had an ERA of 2.98, a K/9 rate of 7.4, and a WHIP of 1.17.
So for his brief minor league career thus far, Aaron Poreda is 12-9 with a 2.69 ERA in 207.1 innings, with a K/9 rate of 7.2 and a WHIP of 1.10. All very good numbers, and certainly predictors of future success.
Additionally, Poreda was rated the #1 prospect in the White Sox entire system in 2008 by Baseball America. In the 2009 Baseball America Top Prospects list, Poreda is third for the White Sox, behind 2008 #1 draft pick SS Gordon Beckham and Cuban signee 3B Dayan Viciedo, but is still listed as the #63 prospect overall.
According to MinorLeagueBaseball.com, Aaron Poreda has a plus-plus fastball that sits comfortably at 95-96 mph and sinks and runs, while still catching the plate for strikes. They list his slider and changeup as fair, but in need of plenty of work. (It looks like this report is from 2007, so perhaps his other pitches have improved since then to better complement his obviously wicked fastball).
In his first outing this spring, Poreda started off slowly by giving up a homerun and a single to the first two batters (Rafael Furcal and Orlando Hudson), but then recovered to retire the next six batters. Most importantly, he threw first pitch strikes to 7 out of the 8 batters he faced.
From a Mark Gonzalez report at the Tribune’s website about the first 2009 appearance by Aaron Poreda:
“I was able to force contact, and sometimes when you force contact you’ve got to tip your hat because [Furcal] hit the ball pretty far,” Poreda said. “After that I recuperated and kept throwing strikes.
“I could have thrown a few better sliders, a changeup, but all in all I was happy with the outing. I didn’t give in, stayed strong and ended on a positive note.”
Poreda’s fastball was clocked in the 91-93 m.p.h. range. He struck out two and didn’t walk a batter, coming back from a 3-0 count to retire one hitter.
So apparently the slider and changeup are still a work in progress. The other interesting note in the 2007 scouting report mentioned above is that Poreda is “new to being good. Players who come out of nowhere like he has (with the jump in velocity, especially) have to get used to being dominant. Once he grows accustomed to that, his poise should improve by leaps and bounds.”
It will be interesting to watch how Poreda fares the rest of this spring. Based on his history and scouting report, it sounds like another year in the minor leagues could help Poreda develop his secondary pitches and confidence. I am sure that if the White Sox have their druthers, this is exactly what will happen.
But there is a reason that people have been talking about Poreda as a potential answer to the questions the White Sox have at the back end of their rotation. And the reason is that despite the improvements Poreda still needs to make, he is already a very good pitcher; and the White Sox need someone to fill Javier Vazquez’s slot in the rotation and someone else to fill in until Jose Contreras is ready to go.
So, will Aaron Poreda break camp in the White Sox rotation?
It does not appear likely — and the reasons why have nothing to do with Poreda not being capable, and much more to do with some great early news the White Sox have received about their other rotation options.
Chicago White Sox 2009 Pitching Rotation
First off there is Jose Contreras, who was originally expected back sometime around the All-Star break after surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles ended his 2008 season prematurely. Now there is talk that Contreras could be ready for Opening Day. He made a splash by reporting to camp lighter and in great shape, and Ozzie Guillen has already said that as soon as Contreras is healthy and ready go, he is taking the ball every fifth day.
Another major question mark heading into camp was veteran pitching behemoth Bartolo Colon, the 5’11, 245-pound former Cy Young winner (and former White Sox pitcher, in 2003) signed by the White Sox this offseason. Ozzie Guillen has already said that he feels confident defending the 2008 AL Central crown with Contreras and Colon manning the back end of the rotation. The question, of course, will be health and availability.
According to Chisox.com, both Colon and Contreras are scheduled to throw three days next week, with two additional side sessions scheduled for the week after. They are then both tentatively scheduled to pitch an inning in a game if all goes well. White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper knows what Colon can bring to the rotation:
“I’ll tell you what we are talking about,” Cooper said. “This is the second half of his career, and Bartolo is now trying to prove he can go from a pure power guy to a guy who still can pitch with real solid stuff.
“Remember, there’s nothing he can’t do with a baseball. He can cut it, slice it and dice it. He’s like Popeil’s pocket pitcher. He can do it all. He might be able to even core an apple.
“If he gets healthy, then you got a chance to win ballgames on that fourth or fifth day. He’s a proven guy, and we all know he knows how to pitch. He certainly has the heart and the [guts].”
Basically, if Contreras and Colon are ready to go on Opening Day, they will be in the rotation. If one of them is not ready, it appears that Clayton Richard could be one of the first in line for the open slot. Richard gained valuable experience filling in for Contreras last season, starting 8 games. He certainly did not set the world on fire, going 2-5 with a 6.04 ERA, but he is 25 and more experienced than the other options. Richard will assume a prominent spot in the White Sox bullpen as a long reliever whenever both Contreras and Colon are ready, so the Sox may be willing to give him the first crack at any open rotation slots.
And another name to keep an eye on is Jeff Marquez, acquired in the offseason from the Yankees in the Nick Swisher trade. Marquez is 24, and has over 100 innings more experience than Poreda in the minors. He has a sinker than has drawn comparisons to former White Sox pitcher Jon Garland, and his arsenal also includes a changeup, curve, and slider. So while he may not have the potential of Poreda, he could be more “Major League ready” right now.
In his first spring outing, Marquez pitched two hitless innings against the Cubs and impressed Ozzie Guillen, according to a report by Scott Merkin:
“He threw the ball pretty good, but I don’t think he was sharp enough for the first time,” said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of Marquez. “But Marquez really impressed me. I was happy with what I saw.”
So in reality, it is quite possible that Aaron Poreda is currently 8th in line for starts with the White Sox in 2009. He is undoubtedly projected to be in the White Sox rotation in 2010, but for the purposes of this post we are just looking at 2009. My best guess is that Aaron Poreda begins the year in AAA, and the best case scenario for the White Sox is that he stays there all year because Contreras and Colon are healthy and effective.
But I have this funny feeling that Aaron Poreda is going to play an important role for the 2009 White Sox, perhaps not early on but maybe later in the year. Just like last season when Contreras went down, you can never predict injuries. And the truth is, the White Sox rotation has been one of the most durable rotations in baseball since 2005. Look at the numbers of total starts made by the top 5 White Sox pitchers each of the last four years:
- 2005: 154 out of 162
- 2006: 161 out of 162
- 2007: 152 out of 162
- 2008: 153 out of 162
Over four years, the pitchers in the White Sox rotation have missed only 28 starts. That is a phenomenal level of durability, and I remember hearing a stat somewhere that it was the best in baseball over that time period.
But will it continue in 2009? We know how durable Mark Buehrle has been, and there is no reason not to pencil him in for 30+ starts this season. John Danks started at least 21 games in each of his last three seasons in the minors and has been durable as a major leaguer. Gavin Floyd has also shown tremendous durability during his professional career. And last season was the only full season of Jose Contreras’ major league career that has has started less than 30 games.
So as usual, assuming Contreras is healthy and ready for the long haul, the White Sox top 4 of the rotation appears locked in stone for the entire season.
Bartolo Colon, however, is another story. He started 7 games last year, 18 in 2007, and 10 in 2006. Before that, he started at least 30 games for 8 straight seasons. But how many innings can Colon pitch this season, when the most he has pitched in any season since 2005 is 99 1/3? All White Sox fans are hoping that Bartolo Colon can regain his Cy Young form of 2005, but 150-160 innings out of Colon may be about the maximum we can realistically expect.
If that is the case, someone will have to pick up some of the slack. And with a few more months of seasoning, it very well could be Aaron Poreda that steps up to do it.
While Clayton Richard and Jeff Marquez have more experience, a more developed overall repertoire of pitches, and perhaps even more confidence and moxie on the mound, Poreda clearly has the best fastball and the most overall talent. If Poreda can add some consistency to his secondary pitches during Spring Training, and develop confidence with a few good months in AAA, he could provide a huge shot in the arm for the White Sox later in the season.
The way I look at it, whatever transpires as 2009 unfolds will be a positive for the White Sox. If Poreda stays in AAA all year, it means that Colon is getting the job done and staying healthy. If Colon falters, and Richard or Marquez can’t make the most of an opportunity, then Poreda will come up and pitch. And based on the velocity and movement of his fastball, plus his brief but successful track record, he should certainly be able to have success in his first time around the league — even if his other pitches or confidence are not quite yet up to par.
So the final conclusion is this: Aaron Poreda probably won’t break camp with the White Sox, but he could very well still play a huge role in their 2009 success. Regardless, White Sox fans can get excited that even if our current lefty ace actually does retire or move to St. Louis after the completion of his current contract, we have another potential lefty ace for the next decade waiting in the wings.
Jeff Marquez photo credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Aaron Poreda second photo credit: Bill Mitchell/MLB.com
Other Sox links:
Marquez makes fine debut, but look out for #2 — (Sox Machine)
Do White Sox have surprising starter depth? — (South Side Sox)
Sox like their young group of sluggers — (Phil Rogers, Tribune)
Lou Piniella won’t take Ozzie Guillen’s phone calls — (MLB FanHouse)
Contreras and Jenks in the headlines — (The White Sox Blog)