Scout Adam McInturff provides Baseball Essential with an exclusive prospect series, ‘Off the Radar,’ where he’ll provide readers with pro-style scouting breakdowns of prospects who aren’t fully ‘on the scope’ of the prospect watching scene.
Sam Wolff, Right-Handed Starter, 6’1 / 190, Texas Rangers
2015 Levels: Injured MLB.com 100 Prospects: No MLB.com ORG Top 30 Prospects: No
Wolff was moving quickly through the Rangers’ system before losing all of 2015 to an Achilles injury. He had pitched in the AFL in 2014, and returns there this fall to get innings in. He’s pitched better in 2015’s go-round in the AFL than 2014, and has made six starts this fall for the Surprise Saguaros. Wolff has never missed many bats—and his sub-7 K/9 this fall is in line with his career norms—but he doesn’t walk many hitters either.
Wolff has a durable, wide, and strong look to his frame, standard for innings-eating back-end starters. He has broad, rounded shoulders over a strong lower half. Wolff looks a little bigger than his listing and had a frame with features that reminded me of former MLB workhorse Jake Westbrook.
Wolff works from a simple windup he repeats well. He has average height on his leg kick, and gathers himself squarely over the rubber before pushing forward to targets. He has a slightly short and closed stride, cutting himself off just a touch out front as he releases the ball. This causes his back-side to swing around a little hard, pulling Wolff off to first base after the pitch. He might need to lengthen his stride and ‘clear his hips’ better to get his fastball down to the lower-third of the strike zone more consistently—command within the zone being something he could stand to improve—but overall Wolff has a low-maintenance delivery on a strong, durable frame. He should have the chance to be a starter, and his clean mechanics allow him ability to throw basic strikes with numerous pitches.
Wolff’s arm looked fresh after a 2015 lost to a non-throwing related injury. He came out scraping 95 and 96 on a four-seam fastball, and settled 93-95 with the pitch through the outing. His second fastball was a two-seam fastball in the 90-93 range with intended sink and run in to right-handed hitters. At the end of the day I think Wolff will need to be the type of starter that favors his two-seam over the four-seam; his best bolts were also straight—he got away with some misses over the plate against lesser competition he wouldn’t have blown by MLB hitters. He should try and move sinking two-seam fastballs around because he doesn’t have a dominating pitch, saving the 94-95 straight ones for a power look up in the count.
While Wolff does throw a lot of strikes and limit walks, his command within the zone itself isn’t at an average MLB level yet. He works most of his fastballs in the middle to upper parts of the strike zone. He will need to work on getting the fastball down more.
Wolff’s primary secondary offering was a slider he threw between 80-85. It was almost two pitches, with the ‘get ahead’ slider consistently over the plate at a harder tilt at 84-85, and a slower but deeper slurvy look at 80-81 that had better two-plane action. The harder slider was shorter and wouldn’t miss many bats, but he threw it with noticeably better control than the slower, humpier version.
For a second look, Wolff mixed in an extra-loopy true curveball at 72-75. It wouldn’t be an average pitch and would be an exploitable point if it were a go-to breaking pitch, but in this ‘back pocket’ capacity—probably thrown less than five-percent of the time—it worked to Wolff’s advantage. He would drop it in for a ‘surprise strike’ and would almost freeze a hitter at times. He had a good feel for starting it early and casting it down for a strike.
Wolff’s fourth pitch was a changeup between 80-84. It was a below-average pitch that showed rough-average upside. He gets more tumbling action on the pitch straight out of his hand than tons of circle-action turning it over to his armside, but he didn’t get action on it every time and consistently left some floaters over the middle of the plate.
CONTROL / STRIKE-THROWING
Wolff’s command within the zone isn’t where it needs to be to have optimal success with his fringy arsenal of stuff, but he’s a guy with a chance ML contributor ceiling because he does get his pitches over the plate—even if it’s in hittable spots. He challenges hitters and makes you put the ball in play to beat him.
Wolff is the type of starter that right now I see being a fit in the upper-minors, competing long-term for lower leverage backend starting roles or a swingman/long-relief spot. Wolff likely spends 2016 continuing to build innings, refine more command of the lower-third, and develop more consistent action on his change-up.
This is the type of guy who can get lost between Double-A and Triple-A, lacking the plus pitch or truly above-average command to be an impact piece at the ML level. If that’s the case, I could see him being a shorter-stint middle reliever in the mold of a Craig Stammen (Nationals)—himself a former fringy-across-the-board starter who found success facing lineups less often—but Wolff has the most value trying to reach his ceiling as a controllable starting piece who can provide innings somewhere between replacement-level and league-average. Wolff is at least a strong value piece; look for him to be valued similarly to former Rangers farm-hand Alec Asher, who was a third/fourth piece in this July’s Cole Hamels deal. Wolff will likely start at Double-A Frisco, and should have more chances to advance in a Rangers system that lost a lot of pitching depth this trade deadline.