New York Mets
Position: LHP Height: 6-1 Weight: 170 Born: 1/24/84 Bats: Left Throws: Left
Most scouts felt that Houston high school lefty Scott Kazmir was the best pitcher available in the 2002 draft class. But his bonus demands were unclear, and several teams were afraid to draft him. The Mets pulled the trigger with the 15th-overall pick, and signed him relatively easily for $2.15 million, as Kazmir didn't play the expected hardball in negotiations. He made five quick appearances in the New York-Penn League, dominating older competition and fully confirming his credentials as a phenom. In 2003, Kazmir continued to dominate, and is definitely one of the top prospects in the game.
Although Kazmir isn't a big guy, he has an electric body that produces thunderbolt fastballs. He hits 95 mph consistently, and has been clocked as high as 97. His fastball isn't straight, either; it has a lot of movement, yet he's able to hit spots with it much of the time. Complementing the heat is an overpowering slider, devastating to left-handers. He's working on a changeup, and will need it at higher levels, though for now the fastball/slider combination is enough. Kazmir is a good athlete, with mobility on the mound and solid field presence. He isn't just a thrower, and has pitching instincts rare in a young power hurler. He still has control problems at times, but that should ease with experience.
Kazmir's 2003 numbers are excellent in all categories. The Mets had him on a strict pitch count early in the season, which kept his innings-pitched totals down. Overall, he fanned 145 in 109 innings, allowing just 79 hits. His K/IP and H/IP ratios were among the best in the minor leagues last year, statistical evidence of his ability to master hitters. His walk rate is a bit higher than ideal, but not bad, and his hard-to-hit nature keeps the walks from haunting him too often.
So far, Kazmir has avoided arm trouble. Although some people worry that his small size will hurt his durability, it hasn't been an issue to this point. His general athleticism will help him stay healthy even if he isn't tall. The Mets have monitored his pitch counts and workload very carefully in an attempt to minimize the injury risk. This is a good idea, though of course there's no guarantee it will work.
What to expect
Kazmir will probably begin 2004 in Double-A. With the Mets in rebuilding mode, a late-season appearance for the young lefty is possible if he pitches well, but it's best not to expect him until sometime in 2005. Stardom awaits this young pitcher if he 1) maintains his control and 2) avoids injury. The same thing could be said, of course, about a dozen other pitchers. Will Kazmir be one of the lucky ones? Time will tell.
John Sickels is the author of the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book, which can be ordered from his Web site, JohnSickels.com. His biography of Bob Feller will be published this fall by Brassey's. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com.