Allen Webster struggling with consistency
Midway through the 2011 baseball season, Dodgers pitching prospect Allen Webster, after putting together a stellar first half in the hitters friendly California League, was promoted to Double A Chattanooga. What Webster did in Rancho Cucamonga got him noticed around baseball. He even broke into Bullpen Banter's Preseason Top 100 Prospect List for 2012. Unfortunately, It's been the story since his promotion to Chattanooga that has left Dodgers fans worried about the future of this promising right handed pitcher.
I got my first glimpse at Allen Webster during the Southern League playoffs last season. Pitching against Cubs Double A affiliate Tennessee, I saw a pitcher with a slight frame, with a difficulty of staying compact through his delivery. Fangraphs Mike Newman, who I assisted by running radar as he captured video and wrote notes on several prospects playing for both teams, wrote a piece on this outing during the offseason. Mike provided an optimistic scouting report on Webster. Outside of telegraphing his changeup by staying tall through his delivery and wrapping his wrist occasionally on his curve, which I am proud to say I picked up right away, Webster looked like a prospect close to putting his pitching tools to use in the upper levels.
The first few innings of the April 15th contest between the Birmingham Barons and Chattanooga Lookouts looked like a coming out party for Allen Webster. Facing White Sox prospect Nestor Molina, Webster was showing swagger and pitchability that didn't exist last season. He was sitting 91-94 MPH, touching 95 on the gun with his 4 seam fastball and his 2 seam fast ball was straight filth, sitting 90-91 MPH. The drop on this pitch contributed to a few strikeouts and a very important, rally killing double play in the second inning.
His slider was showed some improvement from the previous season. He showed an ability to command the late breaking 85-86 MPH offering. He'd start the pitch on the outer 3rd of the plate and let the late breaking action take care of the rest, generating some feeble swings and misses from right handed hitters. It's an above average offering right now, with something short of plus potential.
He actually threw his change up a much better and much more frequently than the first start I witnessed. He actually created some additional disparity between his fastball velocity and his change up velocity; however, he appeared to slow down his delivery at times. The pitch sat 81-83 with some good, sink falling out action. I think this pitch has above average potential, especially with the sink and velocity disparity between his fastball and slider.
He did not throw a curve during game action. In warmups, he was once again wrapping his wrist as he snapped his curve off. Through 4 innings, Webster had given up 2 singles, walked none and struck out 6 (all swinging) while working fast and extruding confidence in his ability to retire Baron batters.
The fifth started with a hard hit smash to right field, then a stolen base. With no outs, the batter at the plate bunted a ball hard down the 3rd base line. The third baseman, Pedro Baez, made a bad read and covered third instead of making the proper play, resulting in a single. Webster was visibly upset and his evening began to unravel. By the time he departed, he had hit a batter, let up 3 runs and left on a very sour note, a note that has seemed to be a staple for his 2012 season
I caught Webster again, on May 21st against Brewers Affiliate Huntsville, working in relief of Ethan Martin after the game was halted by rain. Webster retired the first batter on a heavy 2 seam fastball, inducing a ground ball. The next hitter experienced a similar fate; however, JT Wise failed to field the ball properly, resulting in an error. Unfortunately, Webster's command problems returned. He traded walks and strikeouts before finally stranding the bases loaded to end the inning scoreless.
It's not a question of stuff for Allen Webster, it's command. His overall stuff is better than recently promoted Dodgers starter Nathan Eovaldi. I see Webster as a middle of the rotation starter with his current allotment of pitches.
You can't teach the movement Webster has on his fastball, he just doesn't have a feel on corralling the offering. When he got in trouble, I question some of his pitch selection in the start against Birmingham. I'd like to see him pitch more to contact. His 2 seam fastball produces grounders almost at well. I feel for sinkerball pitchers because the infield defenses around the minor leagues are always far from serviceable. It becomes hard for pitchers to trust their infielders to make the plays. Despite this, it is of utmost importance for Webster to trust his infield defense to make plays for him. The results will come with time.