San Francisco Giants Preview: Henry Sosa Looking to Pitch His Way into Bullpen

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San Francisco Giants Preview: Henry Sosa Looking to Pitch His Way into Bullpen
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The San Francisco Giants competition for pitching roster positions is heading down to the wire as the 2010 season opener approaches. 

GM Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy have a couple of open relief pitching holes to fill in the next few days.  23-year-old right-handed pitcher Henry Sosa figures to be in the running for one of the available spots.  Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News reports that they haven’t ruled out keeping Sosa as a starter, but would use him as a RP in the Majors.

San Francisco’s starting five is set for the foreseeable future, so a starting role seems unlikely barring a trade to another club.  Sosa does have experience starting games; in fact his role progressing through the organization has been getting work primarily in that facet. 

Sosa began with the Giants in 2006 at the age of 20, and he displayed decent control, providing a 3.42 K/BB ratio, 0.99 WHIP, and striking out 41-of-131 batters faced in 32.3 innings. 

The El Seybo native split time between Augusta and San Jose the following year where he achieved immensely different results between the two leagues.  Sosa dominated A-ball with a 0.73 earned run average, 0.88 WHIP, and a personal single-A low 8.9 SO/9.  He kept batters from placing good wood on the ball with a .197 batting average on balls in play and only two home runs allowed (.033 HR/FB) in 62.0 innings.  The 90.6 strand percentage was by far the best in his minor league history.

Sosa got tagged for eight bombs in San Jose and his ERA ballooned to 4.38.  Over 14 starts and 63.6 innings pitched, the 6’2’’ right-hander increased both his strikeout (11.0 K/9) and walk rates (5.1 BB/9). However, his K/BB saw a decrease from his Augusta mark (2.44 down to 2.17) and he suffered mightily, posting a 1.60 WHIP. 

His opponents’ batting average soared to .269, giving up more fly balls in the process.

In 2008, Sosa returned to San Jose and faced the same fly ball difficulties with an additional increase in his liner rate.  His batting average against continued to get worse, hiking up 22 points to .281 which is far from great. 

His struggles could be attributed to regaining form after missing significant time recovering from patella tendon knee surgery; however he was able to keep striking out hitters at an excellent pace, setting down roughly one per inning. 

Further bright spots can be found with Sosa’s improved command, as he walked only 18 batters in 56.3 innings pitched.  The trade-off between a career worst BABIP and a career best BB/9 could have been due to him eating off a bigger chunk of the plate. 

Moving on to the AA Eastern League in 2009, Sosa’s ERA took a nice dip to 2.36 and he went unbeaten, winning six games in 14 starts.   Red flags flare up though, when looking at the precipitous decline in his strikeout rate.  Of the 289 batters faced, only 44 met strike three.  Normally above the 9.0 SO/9 stage, his year in Connecticut featured a drop to 5.5.  Also a career worse was his K/BB ratio of 1.76. 

In August of ’09, Sosa went on the 60-day disabled list with a right shoulder strain.  It’s possible that the injury was affecting him during the season and thus the fewer strikeouts.  If that’s the case, it’s impressive he was able to keep his WHIP down to 1.19 with a bunch of infield pop-outs and a sweet 3.5 percent home run per fly. 

The spray chart for that season shows a lot of shallow center field hits, not much getting through the infield, decent batter coverage to all fields, and a few moon shot home runs.

I haven’t seen him pitch, but he hasn’t allowed a Spring Training earned run in 9.3 innings, striking out four and walking five with one game started.  His throws a fastball, curveball, and change up combination and seems to be relying more on his command lately. 

I’m curious as to where Sosa’s velocity is at currently, because if he can regain arm strength to couple with his improved control, he would be an effective addition to the roster. 

The Giants still need to decide how they want to use him, be it as a starter or a reliever, where he may be more valuable considering his bout with the shoulder injury. 

My guess is that he gains experience as a relief pitcher in the minors before being considered for a promotion to the MLB team.    

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