By all accounts Scott Kazmir has, well, not looked like the Scott Kazmir of recent years, the one who’s once brilliant career sputtered at the age of 25 and all but flamed out two years later. It got so bad, in fact, that the former two-time All-Star washed up on the shores of the Atlantic League, an independent level of baseball not affiliated with any MLB clubs.
And in 14 starts with the Sugar Land Skeeters, Kazmir sported a 5.34 ERA to go along with some less than impressive peripherals (7.2 K/9 and 4.6 BB/9). Simply put, at 28-years-old he hardly resembled the pitcher he was just five years previous, the one that averaged 10.8 punch outs per nine innings between 2006 and 2008.
Maybe it was the sour taste failure had left in his mouth. Or maybe it was his competitive nature. What the reason, though, he couldn’t just pack his bags — and the $30+ million he made — and walk away, not yet at least. Instead, he inked a winter league deal with the Gigantes de Carolina, where, lo and behold, his once powerful arsenal returned.
When Scott Kazmir was good — really, really good — his fastball would sit in the low 90s and frequently touch 94+. During his last stint in the big leagues (2011), that once above-average pitch was clocking a pedestrian-like 86. Now, though, there are numerous reports that state the oomph behind his heater is back.
And rounding the halfway point of Spring Training, the former 15th overall pick has yet to allow a run while striking out eight and issuing just one free pass in eight innings. All of which has led to some chatter that Kazmir may be leading the way for Cleveland’s open fifth spot in the rotation. Of course, with the recent admission that Matt Capps and Diasuke Matsuzaka won’t be making the Opening Day roster only strengthens Kazmir’s case.
But after eight innings of work? In Spring Training?
Yes, the initial return has been more than favorable, not only for the Indians but also for the left-hander’s confidence. But, really, in terms of sample size, Kazmir’s eight innings is on the microscopic, subatomic level. Last year Andy LaRoche, another former top prospect, hit .385/.484/.462 and promptly followed that up with a .251/.335/.422 Triple-A line. Or what about the time in 2007 when Mike Rouse (who?) looked like Babe Ruth in exhibition play, hitting .352/.407/.611 in 20 games?
The point is simple, really. It’s Spring Training and the stats need to be taken with a grain of salt. Yes, the bounce back in velocity is a very positive sign, but can Kazmir maintain it for five, six, or even seven consecutive innings? Or what about from start to start on four days rest? Or what about 25+ starts?
There are an awful lot of questions that need to be answered. And with so many other huge question marks in the rotation (Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, etc…), wouldn’t the prudent choice be Corey Kluber, who can at least chew innings, and slowly bring along Kazmir, using him as middle reliever then as a swingman? And then if everything goes well enough find a spot for him in the rotation.
The Indians are hoping to catch lightning in bottle with the once dominant southpaw. But the problem is lightning always lasts for a split second. What the Indians have in Scott Kazmir — potentially — may be something that lasts much longer — if they bring him back slowly.
For prospect analysis, check out Joe’s site: ProspectDigest.com.