I'm going to come right out and say it. I hate relievers. Not in the abstract of course, but in fantasy, I sure as hell hate relievers. I will sell off any reliever I have for as much as I can until I feel that the rest of my team is ready to compete for a championship. For me, saves are the final piece of the puzzle. It's not worth paying for them until you're ready otherwise because of the volatility involved and the potential ease at acquiring mediocre-to-bad closers. But that's all philosophy/theory and not at all why you're here. However, it may explain why I'm quite low on some "starting pitching prospects" in regards to future fantasy value. If I think there's a good chance they're a reliever in the end, it's going to throw most of their value out the window because I don't at all believe in projecting saves (which is going to make Thursdays article all the more interesting). Closer situations can change on a dime and while a number of players have closer potential, it just doesn't always break the right way. If you don't believe me, ask all the Kenley Jansen owners who have watched him fight the likes of Javy Guerra and Brandon League for the closer gig.
All of that brings us to our prospect in question. Acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in the trade that sent Hunter Pence's human exoskeleton to the NL East, Jarred Cosart has gone further than most 38th round picks will ever go, and yet, still has the residue of disappointment all over him. Reaching Triple-A by age 22 isn't something you'd normally associate with disappointment, and through that lens, perhaps it's unfair to view him as such. Cosart has been incredibly successful by most standards. So why the air of failure?
It seems expectations are to blame. The word I most associate with Cosart's arm/stuff is "electric", perhaps because Baseball America has used it in four separate reports dating back to 2010. Cosart boasts a quick arm that generates a mid 90s fastball that can touch 99 MPH with plenty of movement to boot. He also features a power curve, arriving in the low 80s with both shape and depth. His change is more than a show-me pitch and has good separation from his fastball in regards to velocity, but doesn't feature notable movement. All of this adds up to a number 2 starter or perhaps better, given his groundball tendencies (56.6% in 2012, 49.4% in 2011 per Minor League Central) and strikeout worthy stuff. Unfortunately, addition isn't the only part of this equation. We also have to factor in Cosart's mechanics which has elicited the words "max effort" and "recoil" more than a few times, and can lead to issues with control (4.0 BB/9 in 2012). Additionally, his motion features little deception, allowing hitters to see the ball for extended periods of time. While Cosart generates a lot of movement on his fastball by using a crossfire delivery, he also sacrifices control, both due to the delivery and the exceptional spin imparted by it. As the numbers bear out, this is good for groundballs and limiting home runs, but poor for his control. Adding insult to ugly mechanics, is that Cosart doesn't have what scouts would call "pitchability", often struggling to repeat his mechanics and lacking the feel required to control his massive stuff. On the upside, after a significant dip in K/9 in 2011, Cosart rebounded to a 7.2 K/9 (from 6.3) in 2012, which might not be exceptional, but pair it with his 56.6 GB% and we're talking about a quality pitcher.
If, after all that information, we end on the sentence "we're talking about a quality pitcher", why is it my contention that Cosart ends up in the pen? A fair question. My concern is that the results continue to pale in comparison to the stuff. The lack of a quality third pitch, poor arm action, and a high effort delivery also make a good case for an eventual shift to the bullpen. His mechanics and resulting lack of command might still be an issue there but would be less of an issue compared to when he was starting, and his already lethal stuff could play up even more. The Astros will (smartly) continue to develop him as a starter for now, as that is where he is most valuable if it all clicks. He can also continue to develop his change up, which could benefit him in relief as well. If the time comes, however, when Cosart is moved to the bullpen, he profiles as a potential impact arm capable of pitching in high leverage situations. I wouldn't be confident predicting such success, as his stuff would indicate an impact starter and that didn't exactly happen. That said, impact reliever is more probable than impact starter at this point. He could appear in the majors in 2013 in either role but that says more about Houston's dearth of major league talent than it does Cosart's readiness to succeed at the major league level.
Here is a clip of Cosart performing in the Arizona Fall League in November 2012 courtesy of MLB.com. Cosart reportedly threw well in the AFL despite disappointing statistics:
Minor League Central
MLB Advanced Media
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