It’s Obertime

Bailey Ober, St. Paul Saints, May 8, 2021. Photo credit Minda Haas Kuhlmann, @minda33 on Twitter, and @minda.haas on Instagram

Bailey Ober was called up for a start on May 18, in what was originally thought of as somewhat of a one-off appearance. Michael Pineda was dealing with an injury at the time and the combination of J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker had just begun a terrible slump in which they were surrendering runs left and right. So, the call was made for Ober to come to the Twins and to see exactly what they had in their promising pitcher, who, by all accounts, was healthy and ready to go.

While his 2021 minor league numbers weren’t as impressive as his 2019 stats, he was still doing quite well for himself with a 2.81 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 11.8 K/9, and 2.8 BB/9, all while giving up zero home runs in 16 innings pitched. After all, why not give the 25-year-old pitcher that I was very excited about a chance to see if he had anything? The Twins and their staff were very confident in Ober’s gains during the “Summer Camp of 2020”, and they were correct in their assessments. Ober has since made his debut and pitched an additional four times, giving us a nice, albeit small, sample of who he is and what he’s been able to do.

The ERA is quite bloated, as he has lost some effectiveness over his last two starts, but other than that, I wanted to dig a little deeper into what he is been doing and what can and should be expected going forward.

Overall Results

The things that stand out to me here, by just looking at the box scores, are that the Twins have been consistent with him regarding the amount of playing time they want to give him. After coming back from serious injuries in the past, it seems that they really do want to take things slowly with Ober as they don’t want to overwork him. While his 82 pitch debut stands out as the highest amount of pitches thrown, that may just be the Twins wanting him to finish the inning and getting out of any jam he may have gotten himself into. And, since it was designed to be a one-start outing (he was optioned back three days later), getting in some extra work wouldn’t be overly harmful.

The low frequency of walks is something to get used to when seeing Ober, as he does possess great control of the strike zone and can locate his pitches well. Plus, given his tall frame and long arms, his delivery will shock batters, as the ball comes out closer to the plate and thus can be confusing at first. This is evidenced by an above-average rate of 19% of Strikes Looking which has aided his over 27.4% CSW, though that latter stat is still just about average in general. I’m also not too worried about the home runs allowed because he is a smart pitcher, and I anticipate some adjustments. His final start was at the White Sox, a team that he has seen before, and they may just have his number while being an excellent offense to begin with.

Quality and Quantity of Pitches

The thing that strikes me here is the velocity in his pitches. Whereas in 2019 he was dominating due to his low velocity fastball, in 2021 he is averaging 92 mph on his pitch, which is quite an improvement. It’s hard to say as to whether this is something to be expected or not, but for now, it would seem that increased velocity could be here to stay. His first ever big-league pitch was a 93 mph fastball that was hit deep. He then surrendered a home run to the next batter, but still settled down, all while not compromising his added velocity. What’s interesting to note though is the differentiating usage rates of each pitch. It’s understandable to want to throw your fastball during your debut game, as he did so almost 60% of the time. After that, though, his secondary pitch usages have fluctuated from single-digit percentage used to the double-digit percentage used. In fact, all three of his secondary pitches have taken turns being the second most thrown pitch in different outings. That being said, his best outing thus far was when he threw his fastball 71.4% of the time, albeit at one of its lowest per mile average.

With various sites grading pitches differently, it can be tricky to understand why this is the case. All pitchers throw different pitches, and how different scouts grade them can be helpful and harmful at the same time. It’s useful to always get second opinions on players with regards to the quality of their pitches just to make sure that one source isn’t over or under-valuing the overall product. That said, there are two places, both Fangraphs and that always have a good grasp of what is going on. Here are both of their assessments.

While Fangraphs likes the current level and potential of the changeup, prefers the slider. And while both agree that Ober has a 40 value overall, it’s interesting to note that they assess his pitches in this way, and it’ll be curious to see where Ober goes from here. One thing for certain is that coming into this year, his changeup looked like it was his second-best pitch, and I’d bet that going forward we see him use it more. That said, if he’s toying with using the slider more and developing that third pitch, then that’s definitely something to monitor for him taking the next step forward into a more reliable and efficient pitcher.

Batted Ball Data

It’s always difficult to measure the intangibles and batted ball data of minor leaguers as not all of the information is readily presented in all ballparks. That being said, making the jump to the Major Leagues would bring about some challenges as he is facing the best hitters in the world. A pretty encouraging sign thus far is that Ober’s LD% is around league average, his PU% is well above league average, his MaxEV is below league average and his Average Exit Velocity is almost exactly league average. Those are all quite good for someone just entering the Major Leagues. And while he does also have an 8.1% Weak Contact rate, which is more than double that of the league average, he still is getting hit quite hard (above league average) and has surrendered hits with a Launch Angle of 20.3 degrees, making that quite optimal for batters. He will need to increase his ground ball rate and decrease his line drive rate, as both moves would make him that much better a pitcher.

In Conclusion

Despite nitpicking the peripherals and numbers above, I’m very optimistic about the future of Bailey Ober. He has the tools and deception in his delivery to really fool batters at the plate. His height and frame may be either his best friend or worst enemy. In the one sense, his long arms give him the added extension that he needs to have a massive advantage over opposing hitters. Outfitted with a 7 foot 2 extension (arm to arm), this gives the hitters at the plate less time to read, react and swing. On the other hand, his 260-pound frame, though bulkier than in previous years, puts added pressure on the entire body to hold up and withstand the pressure of a higher velocity, additional pitch counts, and more.

My major concern is that Ober will graduate from his prospect status this season, but could benefit from more seasoning down in the minors. Sure, he is 25 years old, but after how the world stood still in 2020 due to the Coronavirus, I think our typical attachment to age with respect to prospect pedigree is almost completely gone. And while I think he makes for a better dynasty player in 2022, now may be the time to jump aboard the Ober Train and see how far he can go. He is someone that could provide you with some value in very deep leagues and AL Only leagues as well. I would let him ride on your fantasy bench if you could while he continues to develop. He may eventually be better than we all thought to begin with and be an important developmental piece for the Twins down the stretch.

Dave Funnell covers the Minnesota Twins minor leagues for Prospects1500. Located just south of Toronto in the city of Hamilton, he's an hour away from Buffalo (and the Bisons). He's been a fan of baseball his entire life and doesn't have a favorite team, which hopefully gives way for objectivty in analysis. Dave is in multiple keeper fantasy baseball leagues and is active on Twitter at @sportz_nutt51.

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