LEFT HANDED PITCHER
||Born: May 30, 1985
Height: 6′ 4″
Drafted: 9th Round, 278th Overall, 2007
How Acquired: Draft
College: University of Nebraska
Agent: Select Sports Group
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|Watson was eligible for the draft after his sophomore year in 2006, but fell to the 17th round due to concerns about his signability. The Orioles selected him and tried to sign him, but couldn’t. His performance fell off in 2007 as his fastball, previously in the high 80s, lost a couple mph. As a starter with the Pirates, his fastball was in the upper-80s, sometimes lower, and he depended heavily on a changeup. As a reliever, his fastball now sits in the low 90s and he throws a slider and change. He throws from a crossfire angle that can be tough on hitters. Watson’s sophomore eligibility resulted from him red-shirting after labrum surgery. He was a rare instance of the Pirates drafting a player later than he was expected to go instead of earlier. Their usual practice under Dave Littlefield was to overdraft in most of the top ten rounds, which made the players easier to sign for slot money. Baseball America expected Watson to go much earlier than the 9th round, so with a year of eligibility left it seemed as though he might be hard to sign, but he did so a few days after the draft.
Pitched well in ten starts at State College, although his K rate was well below league average. He was almost unhittable against left-handed batters, holding them to an OPS well under .500. Watson moved up to Hickory for three starts and pitched well in two of them.
The Pirates pushed him up to Lynchburg and he had a good, but erratic, season. He was an extreme flyball pitcher, with a ground out to air out ratio of 0.54, and remained much tougher against LH batters. Watson had an odd tendency to bounce back and forth between outstanding and poor outings. For instance, in his last eight starts, he had three in which he allowed only three hits in 21 innings, including one in which he allowed no hits over seven innings. He also had three starts in the same span in which he allowed either five or six earned runs.
Watson was throwing only 83-87 when I saw him in spring training, which makes me wonder whether he was healthy then. He was the opening day starter for Altoona, but struggled through five bad starts and then went on the DL for the rest of the year with a strained elbow. The injury may explain the struggles before he went out; for one thing, Watson had uncharacteristic control problems. He was healthy in time to go to the Arizona Fall League, where he pitched only in short stints.
Went back to Altoona and made a successful move to the bullpen. In 25 relief outings, he had an ERA of 1.84, with a measly 0.80 WHIP and a K/9 of 10.4. He moved back to the rotation late in the season and got hammered in his first two starts. In his last seven, however, he had an ERA of 2.25. That included three scoreless outings of six or seven innings each. Also importantly, he stayed healthy. Watson was nearly unhittable against left-handed batters, who batted only .131 against him in 2010.
Watson opened the season in AAA, but ended up spending over half of it in Pittsburgh. He pitched well during his time at Indianapolis and was effective against both right- and left-handed batters. The Pirates called him up in early June and he stayed in Pittsburgh except for a brief stretch in August. With Joe Beimel turning out to be a flop and Dan Moskos struggling with his control when he was in the majors, Watson was the closest thing the Pirates had to an effective left-handed reliever. He pitched well at times, but often struggled to throw strikes. Opponents hit only .228 against him, but he walked too many and also had some trouble with gopher balls, allowing one every seven innings. He was a fairly strong flyball pitcher overall. Left-handed hitters got a lot more hits against him (279/348/361), while he was more apt to walk right-handed hitters or allow longballs to them (193/304/409).
Watson spent the season as the primary, often the only, LHP in the Pirates’ bullpen. He led the team in relief appearances and improved over the course of the season. While the rest of the team was collapsing at the end of the year, Watson allowed an opponents’ OPS of just .475 in August and .367 in September. He held left-handed batters to a 183/252/301 line, while right-handed hitters managed a line of 213/318/372. Watson’s fastball velocity jumped from 91.2 on average (in the majors) in 2011 to 93.6. He largely scrapped his changeup and went with his slider a quarter of the time. He benefited from a low BABIP of .241, but his BABIP was .255 in the majors in 2011 and in the .240s in the minors in 2010-11. He made progress with his control, but it still was weak at times. It’s ironic that Clint Hurdle generally tried to use Watson heavily against left-handed hitters; slightly under half the plate appearances against him were by lefties. Joe Beimel and Doug Slaten were far less effective than Watson against right-handed batters, yet Hurdle insisted on using them strictly as one-inning pitchers.
Watson won’t be eligible for arbitration for another two years, so he figures to be a mainstay in the Pirates’ bullpen for quite some time. During spring training, he had some issues with shoulder stiffness, which caused him to be shut down for a while. He struggled when he first returned and starting the season on the disabled list seemed a possibility, but he pitched well his last couple times out. Along with Justin Wilson, he’ll give Clint Hurdle his much-desired pair of bullpen lefties.
|2013: Major League Minimum
2011: Major League Minimum
|Signing Bonus: $85,000
MiLB Debut: 2007
MLB Debut: 6/8/2011
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2017
Rule 5 Eligible: Protected
Added to 40-Man: 11/19/2010
Options Remaining: 2 (USED: 2011)
MLB Service Time: 1.101
|June 3, 2003: Drafted by the Florida Marlins in the 23rd round, 683rd overall pick.
June 6, 2006: Drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 17th round, 505th overall pick.
June 8, 2007: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 9th round, 278th overall pick; signed on June 18.
November 19, 2010: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.