Photo by Brian Bissell

Minor League Watch: Zeke Spruill

The Braves 2nd round selection in 2008, Zeke Spruill has slowly worked his way through the minor league ranks, currently doing alright in AA Mississippi.  He has completed one level each year, showing good but not great numbers.  The Georgia native has shown two very good skills, but the lack of a third skill could cause some problems at the big league level.

Spruill’s best skill is his worm-burning.  Statcorner’s figures have him consistently around 55% groundballs over all his stints, aside from his short stint in AA last year.  With so few balls in the air, home runs will be scarce, though 3 HR out of 130 non-groundballs is about 2.5 times less than average.  Zeke also limits baserunners with his great control.  His career 5% walk rate is just over half the average amount, though his AA rate is around 7%.  This type of control is rare from a pitcher so young.

Spruill’s major problem is his lack of strikeouts.  His sinker sits around 90-92 MPH, fast enough to get groundballs, but not enough to get whiffs.  His changeup looks to be his #2 pitch, more than just a change of speed, but not swing-and-miss style movement.  His breaking ball is a tweener and behind his changeup in terms of quality.  Without great velocity or a good off-speed pitch, strikeouts will not come, and if you can’t strike out minor league hitters, you won’t strike out major league hitters.

His 3.90 ERA is mediocre so far, but his 3.20 FIP shows he’s been a bit unlucky over the course of the season.  As I mentioned before, his xFIP, not readily available for minor league hitters, would be a bit higher than his FIP, but not as high as his ERA.  Spruill will see more defensive support the higher he gets in the system, but his off-speed pitches have to develop to show any sustained success at the major league level.

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  • Big Bad Bob

    I don’t understand people’s fascination with strike outs. Is a perfect game not perfect if no one is struck out? If a pitcher is effective without strike outs, does that make him ineffective?
    Why the big reliance on strike outs? If memory serves me correctly, and I’m certain that it does, Greg Maddux was a pretty fair pitcher who did not post big strike out numbers. Does that make him mediocre?
    Perhaps someone can explain to me why a pitcher must post a certain amount of strike outs to be considered a “Big League Pitcher” and how that would affect Maddux.
    As for me, I’ll take 27 ground outs every game, as long as we win.

  • leetro

     @Big Bad Bob From ’91-’01, Maddux had an above-average K% every year but one (1999), which happened to be the year he had the highest ERA of that stretch.  Spruill’s control and ground ball tendencies lower his minimum K threshold, but he’s barely reaching it in the minors.  Big-league hitters will be able to take too comfortable of swings against him, knowing Zeke can’t make them miss.  Even someone like Chien-Ming Wang was able to strike out nearly 20% of minor league batters, posting similar GB rates and control.  It is unlikely Spruill suddenly begins striking out more hitters once hitting the majors, so he needs to improve a lot more than the average pitcher at this stage.