Sunday, December 2, 2012

Vin Mazzaro

With Jeff Karstens and Chris Resop's departures, RHP Vin Mazzaro, 26, recently acquired from the Royals, suddenly looks like a guy with a long shot to break camp in April. Here's his tale:

Mazzaro grew up in Rutherford, New Jersey, and attended Rutherford High School where he led the team to two consecutive state championships. The Oakland As took him in the third round of the draft, inking him to a $380,000 bonus. He didn't deliver his John Hancock until late in the process, and the righty didn't get his pro start until the following year.

In 2006, Oakland assigned him to Class A Kane County in the Midwest League. It was an aggressive posting for a 19 year old preppie in his first season, the same track the Bucs gave Jameson Taillon. He started 24 games and went 9-9/5.05. None of his peripherals were strong, but he was a level above his head and held his own.

The As were apparently satisfied, moving Mazzaro another step up the ladder to High A Stockton of the California League in 2007. Like the PCL, the Cal is a hitter's league, and Mazzaro went 9-12/5.53. He gave up two less hits per nine and got his whiff rate close to seven, both of which showed progress, but added an extra walk (4.2/9), an early sign of a problem that's unfortunately with him today. Mazzaro made 28 starts covering 153-2/3 innings, so he was showing himself as a pretty durable guy.

Mazzaro had his breakout year in 2008 for the Class AA Midland RockHounds. He went 12-3/1.90 and won the Texas League ERA title. He reached Class AAA at age 21 when he got three starts for the PCL Sacramento River Cats at the season's end. The righty showed better control, getting his Ks up to 6.9 and walks down to 2.4 per nine innings. In December, Baseball America rated Mazzaro as the #8 prospect in Oakland's system.

He started at AAA in 2009, and was strong in limited action (2-2/2.38 in 10 games) as he spent a big chunk of the year at Oakland. Mazzaro made his major league debut on June 2nd against the Chicago White Sox, and took the victory by going 6-1/3 scoreless innings. He remained in their rotation through the end of August, making 17 starts, but didn't show much at the MLB level, putting up a line of 4-9/5.32. Mazzaro gave up a dozen hits and four walks per nine and only had a whiff rate of 5.8, adding up to a WHIP of 1.741.

Mazzaro was back at Sacramento in 2010, and got off to a strong start, going 3-1/3.13 with nine K and four walks per nine. He made one start for KC one start in early May and later in the month he joined the Royals for good, making 18 starts with six relief outings. Mazzara finished up 6-8/4.57, giving up four walks to six whiffs per nine. Top prospect to top gun is never a given transition, as Billy Beane well knows.

So it wasn't a huge surprise when Mazzaro was traded along with minor league pitcher Justin Marks to the Kansas City Royals for OF David DeJesus in November. He came out of camp in 2011 as the fifth starter, but was sent to AAA Omaha to get in some work while waiting out the early season open dates on the KC calendar.

He was shaky for the Storm Kings, and kept there until Bruce Chen went on the DL on May 10th. Mazzaro didn't pitch very well, putting up a slash of 1-1/8.26 split between starting and the pen, yo-yo'ing back and forth between the minors and the show. In 28-1/3 IP, he gave up 39 hits, 15 walks and only struck out 10 batters. A lot of that bad numerology came from one record-setting outing on May 16th against Cleveland, when he surrendered 14 earned runs in 2-1/3 innings. He not only set a Royal futility mark, but...

...According to Elias Sports Bureau, Mazzaro became the first pitcher in modern history to give up 14 runs in less than three innings and the first relief pitcher to yield 14 runs in a game since Tommy Warren of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944, Warren's only season in the show. He's the fifth reliever to be charged with 14 earned runs, and the first since Les McCrabb of the 1942 Philadelphia Athletics (McCrabb wouldn't pitch in the majors again until 1950, and that was his last hurrah).

Not to be outdone, STATS LLC chimed in and added that he became the third pitcher since 1947 (along with Milwaukee's Billy Travers vs. Cleveland, 1977 and Oakland's Mike Oquist vs. the Yankees, 1998) to give up 14 runs in a game and the first pitcher to give up 10 runs in an inning since Texas' Scott Feldman against Boston in 2008.

He was scheduled to be the starter the next night, so probably wasn't prepared mentally to hit the hill, but dang! At any rate, he was returned to Omaha the next day. Without that appearance, he pretty well pitched as advertised, putting up a 4.15 ERA in his other half-dozen outings, again split between starting and the pen.

Mazzaro spent the 2012 season traveling between Omaha and KC as a swingman, but was now getting more calls from the pen opposed to starts. He worked better from the pen, but still put up a 4-3/5.73 line in KC. In 44 IP, he gave up 56 hits, 19 walks, and punched out 26 hitters. But he did work better in AAA, going 2-2 with five saves and a 3.63 ERA while keeping his K rate at 8, where it's been for his past three minor league seasons.

On November 20th, 2012 the Royals DFA'ed Mazzaro, and eight days later the Bucs sent DSL pitchers Luis Santos and Luis Rico to KC for him and 1B Clint Robinson. Both sides are happy; Dayton Moore got a couple of young, warm bodies for two guys he was releasing, and Neal Huntington got a third-round reclamation project in Mazzaro and a player he likely considers undervalued in Robinson.

Mazzaro's bread-and-butter pitch is a 92 MPH sinker, with an average slider and a show-me change up. His headache is control; he's walked nearly four batters per nine in the majors. His K rate of 5.5 per nine is as much a product of falling behind as lacking swing-and-miss stuff.

Guys at the MLB level just don't fish a lot (present company excepted); working ahead in the count is every coach's mantra. Moreover, he doesn't miss low, but over the plate, and that's why Mazzaro has given up 38 HR in 286 IP and has a line drive rate of 21%.

As a result, he's posted a 15-21/5.22 lifetime slash over 66 appearances, including 45 starts in parts of four big league seasons covering 286 innings.

Our take is that the Bucs expect him to compete for the Chris Resop role, as his history as a starter isn't very strong at either AAA or the majors and he is a two-pitch pony. Mazzaro is also out of options, so he'll have to make the team out of camp or pass through waivers to be sent to Indy and become organizational depth.

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