The Minnesota Twins are reported to have completed the recent trade for lefty reliever Brian Fuentes, sending 7’1″ Dutchman Loek Van Mil to the Anaheim Angels as the player to be named later.
Aside from his astounding height, Van Mil doesn’t look especially promising to me. He currently has an ugly 6.37 ERA at AA New Britain in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League, and he turns 26-years of age in two weeks.
Van Mil was as recently as last year highly regarded by Baseball America as a prospect, and his career minor league numbers suggest he has decent stuff: 3.59 ERA, 188 IP, 181 hits, 12 HRs and 104 walks allowed and 144 Ks. For a guy who has never pitched above the AA level, however, his control looks poor.
In other words, the deal looks almost certainly like a dump of Fuentes’ remaining $1.89 million in salary; as the Angels are now convinced they aren’t going to catch the Rangers. Fuentes has a $9 million option for 2011 that vests if he finishes 55 games this season. With only 33 games finished so far and the Twins’ intent to use him as a set up man, it’s extremely unlikely Fuentes’ 2011 option will vest.
Getting back to Van Mil, tall pitchers tend to have trouble developing a consistent release point and that is reportedly one of his problems.
It may seem strange nowadays, with the recent success of Randy Johnson (6’10″), Jon Rauch (6’11″), Chris Young (6’10″) and Mark Hendrickson (6’9″), among others, but as late as about 1960, there was still a huge prejudice against pitchers who were more than about 6’4″ or 6’5″. The thinking was that pitchers much taller than that just didn’t have the coordination or the ability to develop a consistent release point to be effective major league pitchers.
There were a few exceptions to this rule (Ewell “The Whip” Blackwell, who stood 6’6″, comes to mind), but they were few and far between.
The thinking on tall pitchers appears to have changed as result of changes that occurred in the 1950′s and 60′s. First, the formation of the NBA in the late 1940′s showed that tall men could be highly coordinated, and there were a few NBA players who performed double duty as major league pitchers during the summer months.
Most notable of these was 6’8″ Gene Conley, who went 91-96 between 1952 and 1963, pitching for the Braves, Phillies and Red Sox. He also helped win three NBA championships as a forward for the Boston Celtics in the late 1950′s and early 1960′s.
Another big factor was when the major league strike zone was expanded in 1962, which favored big, hard-throwing pitchers because it's extremely difficult to catch up with high fastballs thrown at or just above the strike zone. Don Drysdale (6’6″) came up in 1956 and was a star before the strike zone was expanded, but he had his best seasons starting in 1962.
Drysdale may still be the tallest pitcher in baseball’s Hall of Fame, but his status will obviously last only until Randy Johnson becomes eligible.
Other tall pitchers who blossomed after the strikezone expanded include Dick Radatz (6’6″), Bob Veale (6’6″) and "Sudden" Sam McDowell (6’5″).
Another tall fire-baller who contributed to ending the prejudice against tall pitchers was J.R. Richard (6’8″) who came up with the Astros in early 1970′s.