Last night, Jeff Locke had a very notable outing, going eight innings, and allowing two runs on three hits, needing just 81 pitches to pull off the accomplishment. However, the start wasn’t notable for Locke’s stat line. It was notable because it was the first time all year that Locke has gone longer than six innings. And it’s not just this year. This was the first time in Locke’s career that he’s pitched more than seven innings.
That’s not saying a lot about a minor league pitcher. Most minor leaguers are on strict pitch counts, especially in the lower levels. What is concerning is that Locke has only gotten an out in the seventh inning three times in his AA career. By comparison, Rudy Owens has gone more than 6.0 innings four times already this year in AAA.
Now don’t get me wrong. Locke is a great prospect. He’s a left hander who throws four pitches for strikes, with great control, although that control has struggled a bit this year. However, Locke doesn’t really have a standout pitch, and his overall stuff isn’t dominant. A big reason he doesn’t go deep in to games is because the Pirates have strict limits on pitch counts, as well as innings limits. But as shown last night, it’s possible for him to go beyond the sixth inning with great stuff.
In the 2011 Prospect Guide, we listed Locke as a potential 3-5 starter. His lack of dominant performances don’t do much to dispel that projection. He will have success from being a left hander with four pitches and good control. However, unless we start seeing more dominant performances like last night, he’s less likely to be at the top end of that projected scale.