Going in to the 2009 season, Jeffrey Inman was one of the top juniors in the country, and looked like a potential first round draft pick. Baseball America rated him as the 20th best college prospect in the draft in February 2009, which happened to be 32 spots ahead of current Washington Nationals’ closer, Drew Storen.
Inman was coming off a sophomore year at Stanford where he put up a 4.27 ERA in 71.2 innings. He had a strong campaign in the Cape Cod league, following the sophomore year. He could throw in the low-90s, and touch 96 MPH. Everything was set for a big breakout junior year. Unfortunately that’s not how it played out.
“It was a tough year,” Inman told me, describing his 2009 season. Tough is an extreme understatement.
Inman put up a 6.11 ERA in 53 innings and 11 starts during his junior year. He was also suffering from a shoulder injury, described as shoulder tendonitis. Because of this injury, his velocity trailed off, dropping as low as the low-80s in May 2009, one month before the draft. All of this caused him to drop from a potential first round pick, to being selected by the Pirates in the 12th round, with the 355th selection.
The Pirates went heavy that off-season on over-slot signings, and Inman was obviously a target, due to his former top prospect status. However, they had to make sure Inman was healthy first.
“I had a chance to work with a couple scouts, and they saw I was back to full health, and once they made me an offer I was ready to sign,” said Inman, describing how he ended up signing with the team.
Inman was back to full health, as reports from the end of the 2009 season indicated that he was throwing in the 93-95 MPH range during his four games with the Pirates. It was starting to look like the $425,000 investment in Inman would pay off, with the right hander looking to return to what made him one of the top draft prospects heading in to his junior year at Stanford. Then a new injury came up, which caused Inman to miss the entire 2010 season.
“It was a new injury last Spring Training, my elbow just started hurting when I was pitching. I tried to pitch through a couple games in Spring Training, and it just wasn’t working, and they shut me down.”
Inman tried to come back a few times throughout the season, but each attempt was unsuccessful. By the end of the season, his elbow was feeling better again. The Florida instructional leagues rolled around, and his velocity had returned. So far this Spring his velocity has been in the 90-93 MPH range, which is a good sign for Inman’s potential to bounce back.
“Right now I’m just trying to get a couple of pitches back, my curveball and changeup, and it’s feeling good,” Inman mentioned, describing what he’s working on this Spring. He mentions that his fastball feels good coming out of his hand, and his elbow feels strong, which leaves room for optimism that his 2010 injury is behind him. As for his role in 2011:
“As far as I know I’m going to start. I mean I might be used out of relief, I don’t know. I’m just working as a starter in my routines right now.”
One downside for Inman is that, while he was missing the entire 2010 season, other prospects were catching up to him. The Pirates project to have a full rotation in Bradenton, with Quinton Miller, Kyle McPherson, Nathan Baker, Phillip Irwin, Brett Lorin, and Tim Alderson all battling for spots. In West Virginia, the rotation could include Zack Von Rosenberg, Colton Cain, Zack Dodson, Tyler Waldron, Zac Fuesser, and other 2009 and 2010 draft picks. Rotation spots will be hard to come by, and with Inman coming back from a missed year due to injuries, he might not be a candidate for one of those spots.
Right now Inman is starting to get the feel for his changeup again, which is an important pitch to have if he wants to make it as a starter. He throws a solid curveball, and likes using that as his second pitch. The big thing will be his fastball.
“I’m working on my fastball right now because I’m trying to get my delivery back. Obviously I didn’t pitch much last year. It’s been mostly fastballs, and then throwing the curveball/changeup when I get a chance to.”
The Pirates have a lot of pitching talent in the lower levels, but no team can ever have too much pitching. For the former reason, Inman might have trouble finding substantial innings. For the latter reason, the Pirates need Inman to finally rebound to the top prospect that he was projected to become prior to the 2009 season. That would be a huge bonus for a team that has so many rotation issues in the majors. Inman is looking good in Spring Training, and is feeling fully recovered from his 2010 injury. That combination could allow the Pirates to see a return on their $425 K investment during the 2011 season, as Inman prepares to have a bounce back season.