Top Ten Command

Where does Michael Antonini's command rank?

Like the saying goes, the funny thing about control is that one never realizes how much they have until they have none at all. These ten pitchers do not often worry such as a predicament as they boast the best command in the system. The depths of their repertoires vary but they share this common tool that has brought each success in different roles.

10. Nick Waechter – The right-hander enters his fourth year in the organization and comes off a very steady season in which he served as a long man in the Savannah and St. Lucie bullpens following a spot in the Brooklyn rotation in 2007. Waechter continues to hone his changeup, but the strong command of his fastball/breaking ball combination has served him well in a new role and gives coaches enough trust to use him as a spot starter when needed. Commanding his changeup as consistently as his top two pitches will be important during a likely return to St. Lucie this season.

9. Chris Schwinden – The 22nd round pick in the 2008 draft had a very strong rookie season in Brooklyn on the strength of his excellent command. There is nothing too eye-catching about the right-hander's repertoire as he possesses an 89-91 MPH fastball, a shallow, slurvy breaking ball and a fringy changeup, but he shows no fear in attacking the strike zone.

His 12 walks allowed in 62 2/3 innings is a favorable statistic, but the fewer walks can be attributed to his consistency in the strike zone and ability to pitch to contact. However, he will need to sharpen his breaking pitch or his numbers will increase dramatically due to his fairly flat repertoire despite excellent command.

8. Dylan Owen – Every pitch in Owen's repertoire has movement which makes command that much more necessary for his success. He already possesses plus command of his curveball and slider but struggles to maintain his two-seam fastball consistency. It is easy to tell when his mechanics are off as he will miss high to the arm side with his fastball when his delivery is open. Harnessing the two-seam fastball and maintaining overall fastball effectiveness on par with his breaking stuff will likely spell his success from here on out.

7. Eric Niesen – 2008 was Niesen's first crack at starting for a full season and the inconsistencies showed as he was often his worst enemy. It took the full course of the season for him to become fully comfortable with his pitches and overcome a habit of nibbling which led to deep counts and a high walk per inning ratio. However, his final walk total does not tell the story of his in-season improvements before a worn out shoulder took hold of his command during the last month. When he stays closed and trusts his slider combined with a low-90s fastball, Niesen has the tools to command the strike zone with very good efficiency.

6. Guillaume Leduc – As noted in previous pieces, Leduc's ills are from a lack of a consistent third pitch and a fastball finding too much contact, but his ability to find the strike zone at will should continue to give him options in coming seasons. He comes off a season in which he walked just nine batters over 57 1/3 innings, but like Schwinden could face problems at higher levels without a more challenging breaking ball. Currently, he can spot his fringy curveball but its narrow plain will not fool many hitters in the long-season leagues.

5. Eric Brown – Like Owen, Brown implements a lot of movement with all his pitches while encouraging contact by trusting his two-seam fastball and slider down in the zone. He does not have the fastball velocity to bait hitters and expand the strike zone, but can miss the fat part of the bat enough to trust his pitches in the zone. Over the last two seasons, Brown has kept his walk total at just under two per nine innings.

4. Tobi Stoner – Stoner ran into some command issues with Binghamton as he diminished his fastball use and relied more on his breaking pitches in his first shot at higher level hitting. However, when Stoner maximizes his pitch-ability, using all of his pitches interchangeably and trusting his fastball, he is very tough within the strike zone. It is not just about walk totals with Stoner, but more importantly the consistency and accuracy that he can spot all of his secondary pitches that should make him a big league option in the near future.

3. Michael Antonini – The third year southpaw runs into trouble when he does not get the necessary action on his slider, but that does not take away from his ability to keep it, or his other pitches, in the strike zone. He rarely works himself into deep counts and his good fastball/changeup combination draws early swings. It is his pure ability to throw strikes which will inch him closer to the big leagues over the next two seasons.

2. Scott Shaw – Simply put, the 6-foot-5 right-hander throws strikes and shows it with every outing. Shaw routinely gets ahead of hitters with any pitch in his repertoire before expanding the strike zone with precision and getting hitters to chase his tough breaking pitches. He can paint the corners, change eye levels and stretch the zone when he needs to.

1. Dillon Gee – Throw strikes? Any hitter who earns a walk off Gee should feel fortunate as the right-hander has issued just 33 walks in 216 1/3 career innings at three different levels. At just over one walk per nine innings, Gee works quickly and pitches to contact with complimentary strikeout ability. He does not generate many groundballs, but he attacks every quadrant of the strike zone with pinpoint accuracy and hitters have a tough time hitting the ball flush. After an award winning winter league season, it seems nothing will slow Gee down but 2009 and a likely return to Binghamton will be a challenge and a storyline to watch.

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