Cardinals prospect Seth Maness had the highest strike percentage in the AA Texas League, and it wasn’t close. Maness threw strikes 69.5% of the time. No one else in the league threw strikes even 67.5% of the time. At age 23 (his 2nd year in the minors after 4 years at the University of East Carolina), he isn’t a veteran that is too old for the level beating up on players much younger than him. After his junior year, he was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the 41st round (the team now goes by a different name and the 41st round doesn’t even exist anymore) but stayed at college for his senior year. He responded with a monster year, with a 1.71 ERA, but saw his strikeout rate go down a little bit to go with his miniscule walk rate. The Cardinals picked him in the 11th round, and he hasn’t disappointed since then. Across 4 different levels (A-, A, A+, and AA), Maness has a 3.18 FIP and 3.30 SIERA. The jump to AA didn’t seem too troublesome for Maness, as he had a FIP .36 better than league average and a SIERA .48 better than league average. He got ground-balls just over 50% of the time, and walked just 1.8% of the batters he faced! His strikeout rate was pretty pedestrian at 16.5%, and he gave up slightly more homers than league average (in a park that was league average for hitters this year), but he gave up less line drives than league average.
Intrigued by these statistics, I went back and watched his final outing of the 2012 season, a play-off start against the Rangers AA team.
Maness has a little bit of an odd delivery. He doesn’t take a long stride and doesn’t seem to put a whole lot of weight on his legs. Most of the power and torque seem to come from the upper half, though his arm action isn’t anything that is abnormal.
His fastball has definite sink. He likes to locate it low, but he can throw it in or away. He especially likes to jam lefties with it, and this is the only time he really puts it up in the zone. When he does this consistently, Maness can break some bats. He isn’t a hard thrower at 88-92 MPH (so average to slightly below average velocity) but the fastball seems somewhat heavy and is not straight. With the sink and location, his fastball is an average to slightly above average pitch.
The right-hander has a pretty excellent looking changeup. It dips low out of the zone and appears to be a pitch he can get swings and misses with. It has impressive movement and he doesn’t really throw it for strikes. He should be able to get lefties out with it when he locates his fastball in, then comes out and away with the change. He says his sinker (especially the command) is his best pitch, but I am not so sure that his changeup isn’t his best pitch. His stuff, location, and pitch selection lead me to believe that he could possibly be a reverse splits pitcher, as changeups are usually used against hitters when the pitcher does not have the platoon advantage, and the fact that he was able to get in on lefties so well with the fastball. He was better against righties this year, but was still solid against left-handers.
Maness seems to lack a solid 3rd pitch that will help him get through the order a third time (and perhaps help him with what is averagish stuff). In the interview above, he says he throws a slider and a curve. I did’t see a separate slider and curve and it doesn’t look that different than the change. He has some late drop but is somewhat soft like a curve. It is the pitch he commands the least, as he bounced several in.
I thought it was interesting to see what he did against Mike Napoli (who was on rehab at the time). The first time around, he located the sinker slow for a strike, missed off-speed, then came in and made him foul off a sinker off his ankle. After missing with another off-speed, he basically threw a 93 MPH fastball down the middle and Napoli swung through it. That looked like the 4 seam fastball that he doesn’t throw very often and that is as hard as you will see him throw. The 2nd time, he threw a lot of sinkers and got him to weakly pop out. In the 3rd match-up, Napoli hit a first pitch low sinker on the ground to 2nd base for a quick ground-out.
There isn’t a lot of straight pitches overall and Maness’ K/BB is impossible to ignore. Because his command is where it is at, he is not far from the Majors. He walked 2 batters in an outing just once this season and had more outings where he didn’t walk anyone than outings where he did walk someone. But since he hasn’t developed a consistent third pitch, it messes with his ceiling quite a bit as I don’t think he will miss a lot of bats (and his minor league statistics back this up as well). However, he should make up for it by getting some ground-balls. The Cardinals rotation is pretty deep, even if you assume they don’t re-sign Kyle Lohse. The Cardinals have Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, and even Trevor Rosenthal. So Maness may not get his chance with the Cardinals. It is easy to envision a scenario where Maness continues to have success in either AA or AAA next year and is traded by the Cardinals at the deadline and inserted into a less competitive team’s rotation.