Standing at a diminutive 6’0” and a mere 185 lbs, there are questions about the long-term projectability for Sampson. If he can get to a point where he can stay strong through 180 or so innings, his stuff suggests a potential solid number two or three starter. Pitching at Ft. Wayne in 2011, the former fourth round pick struck out 143 batters in just 118 innings of work.
Sampson already has a complete three-pitch arsenal, as all three of his offerings flash plus at times. He works with a low-90′s moving fastball, a hard curveball, and a sinking, fading changeup. The quality of his offspeed offerings makes him very effective against both lefthanders and righthanders; in fact, he had a better strikeout-to-walk ratio against southpaws (73/23) than his fellow righties (70/26).
Stoltz notes, however, that there are concerns not only over his size, but over his command as well. Sampson walked 3.74 batters per nine innings last year and 3.59/9 in 2010. As he moves through the system, you can expect his strikeouts to decline and more polished hitters lay off pitches out of the zone. As a result, his walk rate could become problematic.
Sampson will pitch next season at age 21 and could see an assignment to Double-A to start the year. A 2.90 ERA and 6.5 H/9 allowed at Ft. Wayne suggests he doesn’t have much left to prove in the Midwest League. The key numbers to watch for him in 2012 will be walks and innings pitched. If he can get to about 140 innings next season, and keep his walk rate in check a bit, he will answer many of the questions surrounding his status as a starting pitcher going forward.
Last year, I wrote “I’d give him a B- and put him in the top ten if not for questions about his health.” He’s been healthy and the results have been excellent: 2.81 ERA, 105/35 K/BB in 90 innings for Fort Wayne, 57 hits. I’m very high on him.