FRISCO (CBSDFW.COM) – The Frisco RoughRiders are preparing for a matchup with the Springfield Cardinals Saturday night on TXA 21.
To help you prepare for the game, we lobbed a few questions at Jason Cole of Lonestardugout.com, who doubles as the RoughRiders’s TV color commentator. He talked about the team’s most recent callup – and tonight’s starting pitcher: Joe Wieland.
Wieland’s stock has risen significantly this season. What’s he improved between last year and this one?
COLE: I don’t think the stuff is really all that different from last season. Wieland has added an 81-83 mph slider, which he picked up quickly and commands pretty well. But outside of that, his velocity is the same (anywhere between 87-93 mph, sitting at 88-92 on most nights), the curveball is above-average, and the changeup shows flashes but is inconsistent.
Wieland really started to improve once he got to Bakersfield last season. That’s when he began to learn the value of commanding his fastball low in the zone – laying the groundwork for this year’s statistical breakout. Early on in Bakersfield, he got knocked around as his fastball was up.
He also began throwing his curveball with greater frequency there, and it really developed. His strikeout rate took a big leap between Low-A and High-A last year – that’s why. The curveball got better. It’s a future plus pitch that he commands very well for his age. He’s able to throw it over the plate for strikes or bury it in the dirt to chase strikeouts. Having said that, I do expect his strikeout rates to shrink a bit as he climbs the organizational ladder. I think he’ll be able to miss some bats but don’t see him as a big strikeout artist.
What does Wieland have in his repertoire?
COLE: I kind of already touched on it, but it’s fastball (87-93), curveball (74-80), slider (81-83), and changeup (83-84). The curveball is really his put-away pitch, but he can also use the slider in any count. I’ve seen Wieland twice this year (once with Myrtle Beach, once with Frisco), and the changeup was only used three or four times per start.
How does he compare to fellow Roughrider control artist Robbie Erlin?
COLE: They’re not totally similar, but they are definitely cut from the same mold. Both pitchers are, for guys that didn’t get the three years of collegiate seasoning, pretty advanced on the mound from a mental aspect. Both throw strikes with multiple pitches, repeat clean deliveries, and fill up the strike zone. Neither one is really going to overpower you on pure velocity, either.
I think Erlin is the better prospect right now but that’s not really a knock on Wieland. When I teamed up with Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks on a mid-season top 20 prospect list, we ranked Erlin fourth in the system and Wieland 11th. I’d probably keep that the same right now. Wieland doesn’t have a front-line ceiling, but he has a high floor. In other words, I think he’ll at least be a major league-caliber back-of-the-rotation starter with the ceiling of a number three.
What does Wieland need to work on to become a major league pitcher?
COLE: He’s only 21 years old, but Wieland’s stuff is pretty close to being a finished product. His velocity probably won’t change much, and the curveball and slider are both pretty mature. He could stand to develop the changeup a little more. Now, it’s all about learning how to use that stuff.
The extreme pitcher-friendly environment in Myrtle Beach (and the Carolina League in general) allowed Wieland to succeed while pounding the strike zone with, dare I say, reckless abandon at times. I think Wieland will have a bit of an adjustment period in Double-A where he learns about how to attack the more advanced hitters in more hitter-friendly stadiums. He might learn a little more about throwing purposefully out of the zone to set hitters up, moving their feet in the box, and things of that nature.
Either way, he’s a good athlete who repeats his delivery well and throws strikes. Wieland projects to have plus command and control at the major league level, but he still has some learning to do.
What’s his most likely arrival date?
COLE: I’ll say Wieland gets to the majors at some point during the second half of next season. I think he could definitely be in the mix to compete for a rotation spot by spring training 2013, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he got a taste of the majors next season. He should spend the remainder of this year in Double-A with a chance to open the 2012 campaign with Round Rock.
Jason Cole writes for Lonestardugout.com and is one of the premier sources for information on Rangers prospects. You can also hear his voice on TXA 21’s coverage of Frisco Roughriders Saturday home games, where he serves as the team’s color commentator.