PHOENIX - By most accounts, the Nationals' top pitching prospect right now is a former 41st-round pick who looks an inch or two short of his listed 6-foot-1, has a fresh face that should get him for another decade or so and has never posted a full-season ERA under 4.00 in the minor leagues.
Brad Peacock has shot through Double-A Harrisburg this year with little warning or fanfare, but all of a sudden, he's become a highly touted prospect who could be in Washington this year or sometime next season. And most of his rise has to do with a subtle change in his delivery.
Peacock had worked with Harrisburg pitching coach Randy Tomlin late last season on a new release point in his delivery that would keep the ball closer to his body and help him hide it as he stepped toward the plate. In the past, Peacock had thrown from a three-quarters arm slot away from his body, allowing hitters to see his grip on the ball and have an easier time identifying what he would throw. Now, with the ball closer to his body, he's not offering as clear a view of the ball, and is getting more downward bite on his pitches.
"I guess I was tipping my pitches last year," Peacock said. "I'm just coming in tight, and staying nice and short (to the plate)."
Now, he's throwing harder (his fastball was touching 94 mph during Sunday's All-Star Futures Game), walking fewer batters (only 23 in 98 2/3 innings this season) and getting a better feel for his changeup, which is the pitch Peacock said still needs the most work. But he's attracting attention; Baseball America named him the 42nd-best prospect in the game in its midseason rankings, after Peacock didn't make the magzzine's top 100 before the season.
"I think he's learned how to minimize damage when he's in a situation," Harrisburg manager Tony Beasley said. "I think he has more of the mindset to believe that one pitch will get him out of a situation. Randy Tomlin has been outstanding - he understands Peacock as a man, as a pitcher, and if there's any little thing that goes wrong, if he's flying open in his delivery, Randy's quick to remind him, and he's right back on track."
Now, that track looks much different than it did at the beginning of the season. Peacock has so thoroughly dominated hitters at Harrisburg (he has a 2.01 ERA and 129 strikeouts) that it seems likely he'll be at Triple-A Syracuse before too long, with a call-up to Washington possible in September. At the very least, it would seem likely he's in major league camp next spring, and if he keeps things up, the Nationals could eventually pair him with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann in a hard-throwing trio to front their rotation.
"I don't want to get my hopes up, and it doesn't happen," Peacock said. "I'm good with where I'm at right now. I'm fine."