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Market Fresh: Marco Estrada

Yesterday, 26-year old RHP-Marco Estrada was designated for assignment by the Washington Nationals to make room for RHP-Tyler Walker.  Now that he is fresh on the market, does he fit into the present or future of the Kansas City Royals?  Let’s take a look to find out.

Marco Estrada was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 6th round of the 2005 draft.  Thanks in part to a slow start to his professional career in the short season NY-Penn League, his name didn’t appear in Baseball America’s 2006 Prospect Handbook.

In 2006 he missed the beginning of the season due to a broken collarbone, but once recovered, he fared very well in the Gulf Coast League putting up a 1.52 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and 4.50 SO/BB in 23.2 innings pitched.  That season he also spent some time with the Savannah Sand Gnats* in Low-A.  He scuffed against more advanced competition, and after 37.0 innings of work he had a 5.59 ERA, 1.57 WHIP and 2.07 SO/BB.  Between the two levels he appeared in 13 games, 12 of them as a starter.

*This is by far one of the coolest minor league team names out there.  Who knew a Sand Gnat could look so tough?

Prior to the 2007 season he was ranked by Baseball America as the Nats 22nd best prospect, and his profile included the following:

Estrada’s best pitch is an above average curveball that he uses to put hitters away, and he has good feel for a changeup.  His fastball is underwhelming, sitting at 88-90 mph and occasionally bumping 92 when he needs it.  He needs to cut down on his walks.

When the 2007 season had come to a close he had pitched for the Gulf Coast Nationals in rookie ball, the Hagerstown Suns in Low-A, and the Potomac Nationals in High-A.  Between the three stops he started 23 games with a 4.85 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, and 2.76 SO/BB.  He kept his walk rate under control but in the process allowed 125 hits in 105.2 innings worth of work.

Estrada was dropped from the team’s prospect rankings heading into the 2008 season, but the Nationals elected to push him up to Double-A.  He rose to the challenge.  In 74.1 innings as a starter for the Harrisburg Senators he went 6-3 with a 2.66 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 2.09 SO/BB in 13 starts.  With such a strong start, Washington promoted him to the Triple-A Columbus Clippers and once there he proceeded to pitch 65.1 innings with a 3.58 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, and 2.48 SO/BB in 12 starts.  On August 20th, he made his major league debut.  Estrada pitched a scoreless 7th and 8th against the Phillies allowing 2 hits while striking out 2.  The Nationals wound up losing the game, but his first appearance was a success.  When the 2008 season ended, however, he had an unsightly 7.82 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, and 2.00 SO/BB.  He proved to be very hittable in his first stint in the majors surrendering 17 H in 12.2 IP.

Overall his 2008 season was a successful one, and was good enough to get himself into the pages of the 2009 Baseball America Prospect Handbook.  This time he was ranked as the team’s 21st best prospect and his profile included the following:

Estrada is a strike-thrower who works quickly and holds runners well, giving him the ingredients to be a successful reliever if he can’t stick it as a starter.  His quality three-pitch mix gives him a chance to be a back-end starter, but his size limits his ceiling.

He opened the 2009 season with the Syracuse Chiefs.  Estrada made good use of his extra time in Triple-A and managed to drop his BB/9 and H/9.  In 136.1 IP he had a 3.63 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 2.97 SO/BB.  On September 12th, he was back in the majors and this time he was the facing the Florida Marlins as a starter.  Clearly showing nerves, he lasted only 2.1 innings allowing 3 H, 3 BB, 1 HR, and 5 ER but did manage to notch 4 SO before leaving the game.  Flipping the script from 2008, his first appearance was his worst this time around.  Estrada went on to make 3 appearances as a reliever and didn’t allow an earned run in any of them while walking 1 and striking out 5 in 4.0 innings.

Final Assessment:

Having started 91 of his 97 appearances, Marco Estrada has proven he can handle the various levels of the minor leagues as a part of a team’s rotation.  He has gotten better as he has climbed the ladder and now sits on the verge of establishing himself in the big leagues.  At 6’0″ and 180 lbs, the concerns about his size are legitimate when looking at him as a starter, but as a member of a major league bullpen, Estrada could be a very valuable asset.  He lacks an overpowering fastball, but his ability to mix 3 major league average pitches with good control should make him an attractive option for a number of teams.

With all of these factors in mind, Marco is absolutely someone the Royals should consider taking a chance on.  The team needs more guys in their mid-20s who can work quickly and throw strikes.  Based on my assessment I’m not sure Estrada would pass through waivers on the NL side of things so I believe the Royals should approach the Nationals and work out a minor trade, perhaps involving just cash considerations, to avoid playing waiver roulette.

(Wally Fish is the lead blogger for Kings of Kauffman and FanSided’s MLB Director.  Subscribe to his RSS feed and add him on Twitter to follow him daily.)

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