Prospect Profile: Tyler Clippard (#4)
Age: 21 (22 in February)
Drafted: 9th round in 2003 out of High School
Position: Starting Pitcher
Fastball: Tyler Clippard does not throw hard. He throws between 88-92. Kennedy has his smarts, Chamberlain has his fastball, but Clippard has his control. He can place the ball within inches of where he wants it - every time. The fastball is certainly an obstacle to success, but Clippard has not faltered. Despite the big frame, he hasn't aided any velocity to the fastball after gaining over 15 pounds of muscle. That is all right, because his other pitches get him by.
Curveball: Clippard dominated the low minor leagues by combining great control with a great changeup against hitters as young as he was. He got strikeouts like crazy by hitting a corner or expertly placing a ball just out of the strike zone. However, this is not an approach which will get whiffs out of more advanced hitters. Clippard started to learn the curveball in the begining of 2005, and Nardi Contreras yet again succeeded in teaching a true plus pitch to his pupil. Clippard quickly adopted his approach with his new out pitch, thrown at about 76-77 mph.
Changeup: Clippard has long thrown the changeup, but over the past two years it has been his trademark. He combined an already deceptive delivery with the ability to throw an 80 mph change without any indication that it is coming. He throws it for strikes and is willing to use it in any count. It isn't as good as Jeff Marquez's, but it isn't far behind.
Command: Clippard can throw all three of his pitches for strikes very consistently. His strike throwing capabilities have allowed him to eat innings throughout his minor league career. He puts the ball exactly where he wants it. His command isn't perfect, but it is very close. His height makes his top-down delivery very deceptive.
Performance: Tyler Clippard has about as good of a minor league pedigree as it gets. He pitched 149 or more innings in each of his full major league seasons, posting a collective ERA of 3.33. In 513.1 total innings, he has struck out 557 and walked just 126. He has steadily advanced from league to league, pitching in all three levels before AAA without fail. He appeared to falter to start off 2006 - posting of 4.07, 4.06, and 5.81 in April, May, and June. The stuff-crazy pundits were saying "See... we were right! He can't be that good with a 90 mph fastball". Of course, stat heads like myself were saying "Hmm... his ERAs don't match his peripherals. Something is up". Clippard had struck out 87 and walked just 30 in 86 innings, allowing 8 home runs. Statistically, he was doing the same thing he had done in the two years previous. He was either getting unlucky or his defense was letting him down. Clippard recovered, playing some of the best baseball in the minor leagues in the remainder of the season, pitching 80 more innings with an ERA of 1.91 and 92 strikeouts to just 25 walks. Clippard was top-5 in the minor leagues in both innings and strikouts.
2007 Outlook: Clippard has a luxery right now. A lot of ballclubs would take Clippard's mind blowing second half and set him up in the major leagues right away. However, Clippard is a finesse pitcher. Finesse pitchers take a little longer than power pitchers to adjust to new leagues. Clippard will benefit from a near-full season at AAA, and I would be very surprised if we see him in the major leagues in 2007 before September. He has the talent to do it, but he is behind Karstens, Rasner, Hughes, Sanchez, and White in the depth charts. That is not a knock on Clippard - as he is only 21 years old. We'll see him starting full time in 2008.
Health: One of the reasons that Clippard is rated so high is his health situation. His effortless delivery, lack of reliance on velocity, and consistent 150 inning performances through his age 21 season are all great signs for a young pitcher. You could not ask for more in a pitcher. A++
Ceiling: Clippard has a flaw. Thanks to his average fastball, Clippard is prone to giving up the home run. He's no Eric Milton, but Clippard will probably allow 25-30 home runs every season in the major leagues. His home ballparks have been big and traditionally helped him a lot in this regard, but he is going to have a little trouble remaining elite in the majors. Luckily, his great control has helped to dull the damage from the bombs. It will keep him from winning Cy Young Awards, but Clippard can certainly be a reliable starter. His ability to throw strikes and eat innings will make him a very useful pitcher in the major leagues. His ERA will over between 3.70-4.20 most of the time.
Reaching Ceiling: Barring some freak injury, Clippard is pretty much there. He will try an tackle advanced hitters at AAA, but they should not prove to be much of an obstacle.
Comparison: Dan Haren. Haren has a little more of a fastball, but Clippard's breaking stuff is much better than Haren's.
My Take: I like Clippard. I think that any pitcher who has 220+ inning potential is an incredible value to his team. As Michael Kay likes to point out every inning, good pitchers throw strikes and change speeds. His fastball may be a little lacking, but control is significantly more important. Even I recognize that the fastball keeps Clippard's ceiling down (He doesn't have the magic that Kennedy or Mussina or someone like that seems to), I rated him #4 due to the impressive health record. An injury-free pitching prospect is as rare as a good interview from a hockey player, and Clippard hasn't even raised an eyebrow from any team trainer yet. He has moved passed the point in is career where pitchers generally fall to the needle. He has grown up in Phil Hughes' shadow, but Clippard should not go unnoticed.