Sports

Frisco RoughRiders Preview: Starter Robbie Erlin

By Or Moyal, CBS 11 Sports
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FRISCO (CBSDFW.COM) – The Frisco Roughriders are preparing to play the Corpus Christi Hooks Saturday night on TXA 21 at 7 p.m.

To better help you prepare for the game, we lobbed a few questions at Jason Cole of Lonestardugout.com, who doubles as the Roughriders’ regular TV color commentator. While he’s scouting in Washington right now and won’t be in the booth tonight, Jason gave us some background on the tonight’s starter: Left Handed Pitcher and Control Magician Robbie Erlin.

Erlin’s moved through the minor leagues very quickly, especially considering he was a third round draft pick. How has he managed such quick ascension through the ranks?

There are a lot of factors, but I think this is the primary one––Erlin came into his first full season (Single-A Hickory in 2010) with the ability to command three pitches and the confidence to throw them in any count. Pitchers with advanced command tend to breeze through the lower levels of the minors, as you play against generally less disciplined hitters that––while talented––don’t totally know what they’re doing yet.

I think Double-A is where you start to see that change. You start getting veteran hitters that know how to hang in the batter’s box for awhile and force a pitcher to make their pitch. It’s where you first really start to see guys who are 25 and older. I think Erlin had to deal with that early in Double-A. He saw a lot of two-strike foul balls on pitches that were putting High-A hitters away, but he seems to be making the necessary adjustments.

When you think about his physical fitness and focus on the mental aspects of the game, does Erlin’s approach remind you of CJ Wilson’s?

Not totally because, in my experience of covering the organization, they both seem like unique characters to me. But Erlin’s approach to the game both during and between starts is exactly what goes into him getting to Double-A in just his second season out of high school. In addition to the advanced command, he really knows pitch sequencing and has a good memory on the mound––he can size up a hitter’s swing and use it to his advantage.

What pitches does he throw? Can you see him adding any more to his current repertoire?

Erlin throws a fastball, a 71-74 mph curveball, and an upper-70s changeup. He is also beginning to mix in sort of a cut-slider.

His four-seam fastball generally comes in between 87-92 mph, although he bumped up to 93 a few times in his last start. He began mixing in a two-seam fastball in Myrtle Beach and is now starting to toy with a cutter in his last few starts. I don’t see him adding anything really beyond that, but I don’t think he’ll need any more.

Because Erlin isn’t tall and doesn’t have overpowering velocity, home runs have been an issue for him this year. His fastball comes in to the hitter on a flat plane when he leaves it up in the zone. But it’s an issue that the two-seamer and cutter should help––some fastballs with movement that help keep the hitter off-balance. Right now, the cut-slider is a little more slider than cutter at this point but it’s difficult to tell what it’ll eventually become once he really starts to get the feel for it. Wieland picked up the same and it turned into more of a low-80s slider. Either way, it should help make his fastball more effective.

The 20-year-old’s curveball and changeup are both solid-average to plus pitches. I think the change might be even a little more advanced this year. He has begun using it to both lefties and righties with lots of success––it’s deceptive and can dive under bats.

What’s Erlin’s ceiling, and when can Rangers fans expect to see him?

If you wanted to go on pure stuff, I think you could say Erlin has the ceiling of a number three starter. He’s a guy with a very high floor, meaning I think there’s an excellent chance that he (barring injury) will at least be a major league-caliber starting pitcher in some form. But because Erlin has such good feel for pitching and because of the intangibles, he’s exactly the type of guy that has a chance to out-perform his stuff-based ceiling. Only time will tell what he can become.

I think Erlin reaches the majors at some point next season. I tend to go conservative with big league ETA, so I’ll say late next year but I could also see him forcing the issue a little earlier. He is currently settling into Double-A nicely––in 48.2 innings, he has walked just six and struck out 48.

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 regular color commentator.

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