The Angels made a small move on Wednesday, signing lanky right-hander Chris Volstad to a minor-league deal with an invitation to Spring Training.
Once a top pitching prospect in the Florida Marlins farm system, the 27-year-old Volstad has spent much of the last six seasons not living up to his promise. He had a solid half-season debut in 2008 — 2.88 ERA in 84⅓ innings — but has never come close to repeating that success in the five years since.
Volstad spent all of 2013 in the Rockies organization, biding most of his time with their Triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs. He posted a 4.58 ERA and 0.8 HR/9 in 22 starts there, not too bad considering the elevation.
In four full seasons as a back-of-the-rotation starter for the Marlins (’09-’11) and Cubs (’12), Volstad amassed a 5.14 ERA, 1.3 HR/9, 3.1 BB/9 and 5.7 K/9 in 109 starts — making him essentially 2013 Joe Blanton without the flashy strikeout-to-walk ratio.
As the low strikeout rate sort of hints at, the right-hander’s 6’8″, 230-lb. stature belies his repertoire. He fits the profile of a power pitcher, but has never demonstrated the ability to bring the heat. His fastball tops out in the low 90s, and his secondary arsenal consists of a slow breaking ball and a change-up (his three-year slider experiment has ended). You look at Volstad and hope for a right-handed Randy Johnson, but essentially come away with Barry Zito post-Oakland.
The key to Volstad’s early success was his ability to limit home runs by relying on his sinker to get a high number of ground balls. As his numbers make evident, that skill has never translated to the major-league level.
The disappearance of his worm-burning skill led Baseball Prospectus, in their 2010 Annual, to make perhaps the strangest simile in the history of baseball: ”Volstad clearly has ability, but a ground-ball pitcher without his sinker is like a stripper without nipples.” I have no idea what that means.
While the addition of Volstad appears harmless on its face, it could potentially portend bad news for guys like Jerome Williams and Tommy Hanson. It’s most likely that Volstad will serve out the 2014 season as a starter for the Salt Lake Bees — they just lost several players to MiLB free agency, after all — but Dipoto and company could decide that he’s a much cheaper swingman option than Williams and Hanson — who are set to make seven figures — allowing the club the freedom to non-tender the pair later this month.
As Volstad’s deal is of the minor-league variety for the time being, he doesn’t get a spot on the club’s 40-man roster — unlike other recent additions Josh Wall and Robert Carson. The Angels’ roster currently sits at 39.