Tuesday’s minor-league slate featured a pair of Low-A starting pitchers who have the ability to spin a nasty curveball. And that’s about where the similarities end, for Tigers LHP Matt Hall and Braves RHP Touki Toussaint come with very different pedigrees and have posted very different results.
Imagine a radar resting on top of another radar. Beneath the proverbial stacked pair one finds the professional career of Matt Hall. A 2015 6th-round pick from Missouri State, Hall has dominated hitters in the Low-A Midwest League while toiling in relative obscurity for the West Michigan Whitecaps. Entering play on Tuesday he led the Midwest League in ERA (0.72 in 50.1 IP) and was fourth in WHIP (0.95). On Tuesday afternoon the Whitecaps hosted the Great Lakes Loons (Dodgers) with Hall on the mound. Suffice it to say that if he continues to pitch as he did on this day he will toil in obscurity no longer.
Hall opened the game with excellent fastball command and used his devastating curveball as an out pitch. He struck out the side in the third inning, once on a high fastball and twice with a sweeping curve. Then he began using his curveball in 0-1 counts to keep Loons hitters guessing. It was not a perfect performance; his fastball command came and went. After retiring the first two hitters in the second inning, for instance, he endured a stretch in which 10 of 11 pitches missed the strike zone. Most of those pitches were fastballs. On the whole, however, it was the kind of outing Whitecaps fans have grown accustomed to seeing from Hall in 2016. He allowed very little hard contact, threw 12 of 20 first-pitch strikes, and kept the Loons off the scoreboard. His final line (5 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 7 K) was good enough to improve his record to 7-0 and lower his league-leading ERA to 0.65.
Hall lacks the power arm and projectability that make for a top pitching prospect, but that’s about all he lacks. He has led both the Cape Cod League and the NCAA in strikeouts, and now he appears to be the best pitcher in the Midwest League. A future in the back of the Tigers’ rotation is certainly possible. Meanwhile, results-oriented fantasy owners in deep dynasty leagues will enjoy watching Hall’s trek upward through the minors.
Whereas Matt Hall has shown the results but not the prospect-pedigree, Touki Toussaint has shown the exact opposite. A first-round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2014, Toussaint went to Atlanta last summer as compensation for the Braves assuming the remainder of RHP Bronson Arroyo’s contract. Since then Toussaint has spent nearly a year at Low-A Rome, and his stats have been nothing short of ghastly. In a recent start, for instance, he lasted only one-third of an inning, allowing three earned runs on five walks. For the season, his BB:K ratio stands at 31:33. So why do scouts and other evaluators continue to rank him among the Braves’ top prospects? They know that he has the talent--a double-plus fastball and a double-plus curveball--to pitch the way he did on Tuesday evening against the Charleston RiverDogs (Yankees).
Toussaint opened with a heavy dose of the fastball and a little bit of good luck. When three of Charleston’s first five hitters smacked hard line drives, each of which was caught by a Rome outfielder, it seemed only a matter of time before those balls started finding gaps and Toussaint’s evening, like many other evenings, began to unravel. Toussaint himself contributed to the ominous feeling by falling behind 1-0 to six consecutive hitters. To his credit, however, the young righthander settled into the game and found an excellent rhythm. From the middle of the fourth through the end of the sixth inning he threw strike one to ten of the final eleven batters he faced. From the third inning onward his fastball showed impressive life with late tailing action. And the 12-6 break on his double-plus curveball was simply awesome. He recorded four of his career-high nine strikeouts on the curveball, another four on the fastball, and one on a changeup. His final line (6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 9 K) was the stuff on which Braves fans and dynasty-league owners can dream.
In some ways Toussaint’s outing was the most important of the week in the minor leagues, for we now know that he is capable of such results. If he puts everything together, he has top-of-the-rotation potential. At least for one night, he showed it.