Zack Von Rosenberg vs Colton Cain

Colton has a 3.13 ERA in 100.2 innings.

The 2009 draft saw two big bonuses awarded to high school pitchers by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  One bonus was for $1.2 M, going to sixth round pick Zack Von Rosenberg.  The other bonus was $1.15 M, going to 8th round pick Colton Cain.  The two pitchers are very different in many ways.

To start with, there’s the fact that Von Rosenberg is a right hander, while Cain is a left hander.  That’s the simple difference.  Then there’s the differences in their games.  Von Rosenberg has what you call a projectable frame.  At 6′ 5″, 205 pounds, he has some room to grow.  With his loose throwing motion, if he adds some weight and muscle to his frame, he could easily be a candidate to add velocity.  Currently his fastball sits in the upper 80s, touching 91 at times.

Meanwhile, Cain doesn’t have that projectable frame.  At 6′ 3″, 225 pounds, Cain is pretty much filled out.  He’s touched 94 MPH in the past with his fastball, although he ranges anywhere from the high 80s to the low 90s.  Cain has less of a chance to add velocity.  Since he is basically filled out, he’s throwing at his maximum potential.  That’s not bad when he’s in the low 90s, but that range is pretty much his upside.

It raises the question as to what you prefer: a projectable pitcher like Von Rosenberg, or a “safe” pitcher like Cain?  That’s one of many issues where the writers at Pirates Prospects differ.  Some like the upside of Von Rosenberg, while some like the fact that Cain is better now.

The downside with Von Rosenberg is that a high 80s fastball isn’t going to cut it as a top prospect.  We’ve seen that this year, with his 6.58 ERA in 94.1 innings.  He does have a 7.8 K/9 and a 1.4 BB/9, but his big issue has been a very high 1.7 HR/9 ratio.  Von Rosenberg has been hit around a lot this year, with 115 hits in 94.1 innings.  He’s done well recently, although he’s still been prone to the long ball.

Von Rosenberg has been hit hard this year.

The upside with Von Rosenberg is that he has the potential to add velocity.  That added velocity is no guarantee, but it’s also not an impossible goal.  Plenty of pitchers see a spike in velocity in their late teens or early 20s.  The most famous story is Stephen Strasburg, who went from being undrafted out of high school, to throwing 100 MPH as a college junior.  Von Rosenberg might not touch 100 MPH in his career, but even if he can work in the mid-90s, that will help him tremendously.  He’s got good secondary stuff, highlighted by his strong curveball, but he needs a strong fastball to set those pitches up.

The downside with Cain is that he is what he is.    He’s not likely to add velocity, which means he will be a left hander who can throw in the low 90s, although that’s not really a guarantee.  He was throwing in the upper 80s when I saw him last month, although that could be chalked up to fatigue and a dead arm.  Right now, Cain’s upside looks like a number three starter, and he doesn’t have a chance of being a top of the rotation pitcher.  He’s more of an innings eater, kind of like Paul Maholm right now.

The upside with Cain is that he’s more of a safer pick.  A left hander who is capable of throwing in the low-90s, and touching 94 is a good thing to have.  He’s displayed good control, and he’s been hard to hit, with 77 hits allowed in 96.2 innings this year.  The Pirates have a talented pitcher already in Cain.  Unlike Von Rosenberg, they don’t have to wait on something that might never come.

When it comes to your preference, it’s really a matter of how much risk you are comfortable with.  Do you want the high risk/high reward guy like Von Rosenberg?  If so, you’re taking a guy who, right now, doesn’t look like more than a back of the rotation starter, but has the potential to grow in to a number two or three starter, depending on how much velocity he adds to his fastball.  Or, do you take the safer pick, going with Colton Cain?  If that’s your preference, you’re going with a guy who looks right now like he could be a #3-5 starter in the majors, depending on how well he adjusts moving up the ladder.  There’s no wrong answer.  It’s all a matter of preference.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Lee Young

Personally, I like the option of having both. I don’t prefer a ‘safe’ pick over a projectable. Neither could fulfill their potential or both might. The more pitchers you have from both sides the better chance you have of getting a ‘good one’ or two.

Also, don’t underrate pitchers with good command. Look at Karstens (and there have been others).

As a Bucco fan, I am hoping ZVR adds a coupla fb ‘ticks’ (or fleas or whatever 🙂 ) and Cain is Maholmesque (or hopefully better).


I will always take a “safe” lefty over a “projectable” righty. I have no data to back this up, but I am willing to bet a relatively high percentage “safe” lefties went on to have real value.


its way too early to be talking about these as bullpen guys are disappointments… give them time to become what they are going to become, they aren’t even built up to full starting pitcher loads yet


I saw ZVR last year at State College last year and came away impressed with his ability to command and locate his pitches.  Though he has struggled mightily much of the year, I am a believer in his projectabilty.  I think he can be a solid middle-of- the rotation guy, provided he can add velocity,  I like Cain’s bulldog mentality but I too see him more in a bullpen role 


Cain has a shot at the pros. ZVR is another big diappointment in a year of disappointing Pirate prospects,


As much as 8th inning guys are valuable to a team, I would hate the think we spent $1.15m in the draft on an 8th inning guy. Let’s hope both pitchers continue to develop and we can all say this $2m was well spent.

John Franco

How is ZVR’s secondary stuff? Unless he has a ton of deception, he’s probably going to need to jump 2 ticks in velocity in order to be a mid-rotation guy (91-93 probably won’t cut it). Cain seems like he has enough potential in his curveball that he could at least be an 8th inning guy if he doesn’t make it as a 3 or 4 starter.

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