So as you're probably aware of by now, Phillippe Aumont made an appearance out of the bullpen in last Saturday's WBC tilt between Canada and the USA. And for a guy who just turned 20 in January facing some of the best players in baseball, I'd say the results were pretty good. Aumont loaded the bases and had shaky command over 25 pitches, but he got out of the inning unscathed, striking out both Kevin Youkilis and Curtis Granderson to escape the jam. It was vaguely reminiscent of Mark Lowe's big league debut, the only big difference being that Aumont didn't come in with little benefits like playing experience or time above A-ball. I imagine he was probably pleased.
In case you missed Aumont's inning, here are clips of what I consider to be his best fastball and best curveball from the game:
In the first clip, you see Aumont blow a tailing heater by Chipper Jones. The movement on that pitch is absolutely mind-blowing, and for the batter, it's kind of like facing a 94mph screwball. Good luck.
Meanwhile, the second clip shows David Wright flailing after an 81mph curve with more than a foot of break. Already a dangerous pitch, putting it in that particular location makes it utterly unhittable. Whether Aumont meant to put it there or not is up to you to decide, but the results are sexy. It's like a Morrow curve, only with some horizontal movement thrown in for good measure.
One inning, 25 pitches, eight swinging strikes, and a 95mph average fastball. Command issues or not, it's hard to watch that inning and not come away excited. Your typical 20 year old prospect isn't able to give that much trouble to 14 combined ASG appearances.
Being that this was only one inning of work, we can't expect that Aumont's fastball will stay that high as a starter. And make no mistake, he still has lots and lots of work to do. His location is all over the place, he doesn't yet have a great, consistent feel for his curve, and he needs to develop another pitch to offer to lefties. But this is a pretty good example of why age and level aren't nearly as important for pitching prospects as they are for hitting prospects. Just 20, with a playing age of something like, I dunno, 6, Aumont already has two pitches that, when they're working, are above-average by big league standards. His fastball has crazy movement and his breaking ball falls off the table. Those are weapons, and repertoires don't change by level; stuff is stuff, and a 95mph fastball is the same to Albert Pujols as it is to Matt Mangini. If June rolled around and Aumont suddenly got control of a changeup, he could probably come up to Seattle and have some success.
You can't really say that for hitters. Pitching prospects learn something new at each level, but the biggest factor in pitcher success is stuff, and stuff - or at least throwing ability - doesn't get much better with age or experience. It's like defense. You peak when you're young and gradually get worse. With hitting prospects, though, they have to both learn and grow into their bodies, and as such age and level are way bigger deals. An 18 year old with good power in A-ball will be more valuable than a 25 year old with good power in AAA, but at the same time that 18 year old with good power probably won't be able to survive the jump from A-ball to the Majors, because he'd be going up against the best and smartest pitchers in the world with underdeveloped physical and mental skills. He might be able to identify and destroy changeups from teenagers, but things are a little different in the bigs. So they have to take it slower. There are just too many things a hitter picks up in AA and AAA and with age for one to expect a hitter to have immediate success after skipping them. I hope I'm explaining this well.
Physically, hitters develop into the middle of their careers, while pitchers are ready at the beginning. And talent-wise, a hitter's only as good as the pitches he's faced, while a pitcher's only as good as the pitches he throws. That's the best quick summation I can give. So while you have to take a lot into consideration when deciding whether or not a hitter is ready for the Majors, it's much easier for a pitcher: either he throws ML-caliber stuff or he doesn't. It doesn't matter where he is or who he's facing. Whether he be a 19 year old throwing 95 in rookie ball with two other good pitches or a 32 year old throwing the same stuff in AAA, then - provided they're both given decent scouting reports - they're both ready to succeed in the big leagues. Once you have the stuff, and you know where it's going most of the time, then you're just about as ready as you'll ever be to face the ultimate challenge.
Phillippe Aumont has a long way to go before he's ready to pitch in Seattle. But the difference between his development and, say, Carlos Triunfel's is that, while they both have a lot of ground to make up, Aumont is legitimately capable of making it up in a hurry. While we have no idea when, or even if he'll ever get himself completely straightened out, it's the potential sudden explosiveness that makes him and other pitching prospects so damn exciting. Volatile unpredictability is the spice of life.