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Samuel Deduno showing progress in World Baseball Classic

Attached Image: Deduno.jpg Don’t look now, but Samuel Deduno has not walked a batter yet this spring.

I know, I know: It has been five meaningless spring innings. Give it time, right? And, sure, four of those innings were against Spain in the World Baseball Classic, a team whose lineup was littered with players lacking even minor league deals. Pump the brakes, Parker.

The reality is that last year he handed out more free passes than the gals standing out front of Dream Girls gentlemen’s club. With 121 innings split between Rochester and the Twins, he walked 75, or 14% of all the hitters he faced. Five measly innings of not throwing four balls in a given at-bat is not going to change that fact.

His inability to work ahead of hitters put Deduno in many precarious situations in 2012. A whopping 8% of his match-ups resulted in 3-0 counts (league average being 5%). Overall, hitters knew his reputation and refrained from chasing much of anything outside of the strike zone. According to Fangraphs.com Deduno got opponents to chase after just 23.5% of all out-of-zone offerings – the second lowest rate in baseball with a minimum of 70 innings pitched.

Here’s the catch: Despite being behind hitters frequently, he was not damaged significantly. He walked plenty, but teams were unable to put the ball in play sharply. Thanks to his incredible movement of his fastball which had an MLB-best 67% ground ball rate, the opposition showed they simply could not square up. Even in situations where they should have an advantage, they were unsuccessful. While the rest of the American League’s pitching staffs had a .299/.465/.513 batting line when behind in the count, Deduno produced a walk-heavy yet respectable .244/.524/.389 line.

With his nearly unhittable fastball (not to mention decent curve), Deduno has the foundations to be a very good pitcher. The giant elephant on his chest is his incapability to throw the ball over the plate consistently. Behind the small sample size, there may be some reason why he is throwing the ball better. Look how free and easy his motion is – particularly his finish - while in the World Baseball Classic compared to last season:

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Notice the “Francisco Liriano” twirl with his back leg after his follow through. He is finishing higher with his upper body. This is the follow through of someone who is not over-thinking, not aiming, not over-throwing on every pitch. He’s just letting it fly, as they say. Maybe that is all that it takes with him to achieve that next level.

Then again, who is to say that this will carry over to the season? At 29 years old, he’s had numerous opportunities to try to get his walk rate in order and failed. Frankly, Deduno represents a fringe player; one whose skill set can get him near the top level but never fully entrench him into a starting rotation. That said, it is still important for a an organization to have a pitcher like Deduno available. As Russell Charlton’s research at Baseball Prospectus showed that pitchers who have had previous injuries have high odds of a reoccurrence. For example, pitchers who have had elbow injuries have had a 27.4% chance of re-injury. That means three-fifths of the projected rotation - Vance Worley, Scott Diamond and Mike Pelfrey – stand the likelihood of spending time on the DL in 2013. If Deduno is able to harness his control, he could be a valuable contributor in some capacity.

Deduno will get the start for the Dominican Republic on Thursday, taking on a far superior Team USA lineup. Watch his command, walk total and scrutinize his mechanics – if he is throwing free and easy, it could translate to a rough day for Team USA in the WBC.

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