Clayton Kershaw: Most Hyped Los Angeles Dodgers Prospect

Brandon HeikoopSenior Analyst IMay 25, 2008

DirecTV is stepping it up with their latest ad campaign, so I figured it was only right that I did as well, so here I am, blogging it out.

Clayton Kershaw, the 'most hyped' Dodgers prospect in recent memory, takes the mound for his major league debut this afternoon, taking the place of DFA'ed Esteban Loaiza. By now, I'm certain everyone had heard about that, so really nothing to report on that front.

We are one out into the second inning, and Kershaw looks good, but not great. Though, what do you expect from a kid who two years ago was trying to figure out whether or not he would be stood up for prom.

After 32 first-inning pitches, Kershaw allowed an RBI double to Albert Pujols on one of Kershaw's patent big hooks. Relying on only his curve and fastball, hitters seemed to have a beat on the kid in the first inning. He has since turned things around and has induced two groundball outs to go along with four strikeouts.

His 'stuff' has always ranked as that of an ace, and that has turned up throughout the minors. The Hardball Times published an article about Kershaw this week titled, 'Is Clayton Kershaw Worth the Hype?' Here are some highlights from that article:

Fastball—Kershaw's fastball sits anywhere from 93-96 with a good amount of late movement.

However, he still needs to command the pitch better, even though he generally has good control of it. I also think he may have some extra velocity in the tank if he needs it.

Grade: 60 now, 70 future

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Curveball—Kershaw's curveball (as seen at the start of this article) is an 11-to-6 knee-buckler with substantial bite. The pitch is usually in the mid-70s. Like the fastball, he can do a better job commanding the pitch.

Also worth pointing out is Kershaw's ability to get hitters gearing up for something hard when he throws his curveball because the intent he throws with and the mechanics he displays are the same whether throwing a fastball at 95 mph or a curveball at 75 mph.

Grade: 65 now, 70 future

Change-up—This is a pitch Kershaw is still honing. The pitch shows a solid fading action and he shows good feel for throwing the pitch, but he has to work on keeping the same arm speed he uses to throw his fastball; he has to do a better job of selling the pitch. By most accounts, he has made tremendous strides in improving his changeup since being drafted in 2006.

Grade: 45-50 now, 55 future

Overall, Kershaw has the potential to have two of the most dominant pitches in the majors. The author asserts that there aren't any serious red flags among Clayton's stuff. From what I have seen to this point, the stuff looks more explosive more then electric. That is to say, he has the control and the velocity that is ideal, but the movement, from what I have seen, is less than stellar.

Let's see what MLB Gameday has to say about that. Kershaw's curveball shows outstanding movement, as is expected from a pitcher with such a devastating hook. However, his fastball is straight and does not have an overwhelming amount of sink. These are things that can help a pitcher in the minor leagues, but I wonder what Kershaw will do if his curve is not working one day.

Furthermore, I am curious how he will get through a batting order the third time through in the second or third time facing the same club.

That is, as of today, teams are at the plate guessing what pitch is coming next. A hitter is not aware of the patterns Kershaw displays nor can they be expected to know what is coming in most counts.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus had the following to write about Kershaw, while naming him the No. 1 prospect in the Dodgers organization and No. 5 in all of baseball (I tabbed Kershaw as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball):

The Good: Once scout classified Kershaw as the best left-hander he's ever seen in the Midwest League. His fastball sits at 93-95 mph, can touch 98, and comes in on right-handed hitters with hard, boring action. He backs up the pitch with a slow, looping curveball that freezes batters the second it comes out of his hand. His changeup has advanced to an average pitch, and he has the perfect pitcher's build, a smooth, easy delivery, and maturity beyond his years.

The Bad: Kershaw struggles at times with his command, and he doesn't compensate for it well, often grooving hittable fastball when he falls behind in the count. He needs to find more confidence in his changeup and mix it into his arsenal more often.

Fun Fact: Highland Park High School has a wide-ranging list of alumni, including Padres righty Chris Young, 1950s bombshell Jayne Mansfield, and almost-presidential assassin John Hinckley, Jr.

Perfect World Projection: Kershaw has all of the raw tools to be a major league ace of the highest level.

And let's check out what John Sickels at Minor League Ball has to say about Kershaw:

Physicality, Health, and Tools
Kershaw is 6'3", 210 pounds, a left-handed hitter and thrower, born March 19, 1988. He is athletic and usually repeats his delivery well, although occasionally his release point will slip which hurts his command. His fastball is consistently in the low 90s and can hit 95-96 MPH at times. His curveball is excellent, and he's made major strides improving his changeup. Kershaw should have three above average to excellent major league pitches, and as he refines his command, he should have a dominating combination of plus stuff and sharp control. So far he has had no major health concerns.

As you can see, Kershaw received rave reviews from the 'experts'. In this afternoon's game, Kershaw has gotten his fastball up to 97 mph, and his curveball has been dropping down to 72mph. While both are explosive pitches, they undeniably have a different release point and delivery. I believe once hitters begin to recognize this, they will start hitting Kershaw hard. Vin Scully commented that Kershaw throws his fastball at 'maximum effort'.

What I have loved about Kershaw is his ability to run fastballs inside on right-handed hitters. Either a letter-high or belt-high fastball has been swung on and missed multiple times in this outing, and in essentially every pitch, Kershaw would have posted a called strike.

To this point, it appears as though Kershaw has thrown one changeup, which surprised Pujols. I was shocked to see that FSN West Plus had it clocked at 84 mph, as it looked to be much slower.

This is definitely an exciting debut for the 20-year old. However, I'm not sure the Dodgers should keep him up with the big league club all season until he is at the very least comfortable in throwing his change up if (when) needed.

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