By Mike Steffanos
Brooklyn, Ohio's Clint Nageotte was drafted out of high school in by the Seattle Mariners in the fifth round of the 1999 draft. He enjoyed great success in his early years with that organization, cracking Baseball America's top prospect list for the Mariners in 2002 after leading the minor leagues in strikeouts pitching in High-A San Bernardino. The following season he led the Double-A Texas league in strikeouts, and showed up on BA's list as the number two prospect in the M's system. Here is some of that year's scouting report:
Strengths: Nageotte's slider ranks with those of Francisco Rodriguez, John Smoltz and Ryan Wagner as the best anywhere. Nageotte throws his at 84-87 mph with late, hard downward break. Sitting on his slider does hitters no good and just sets them up for his 90-95 mph fastball.
Weaknesses: Nageotte rarely throws his changeup, leading some scouts to project him as a reliever. It should be effective once he starts using it more. He throws his slider too much, which led to elbow tendinitis that kept him from closing for Team USA in the Olympic qualifying tournament. He can improve his command and his work habits.
The Future: The Mariners want Nageotte to start 2004 at Triple-A Tacoma and make it to Seattle as a starter. He could help them immediately as a K-Rodesque reliever if needed.
Sadly for Nageotte and the M's, the 23-year-old's stock started dropping in 2004. He didn't pitch great in Triple-A, fighting nagging injuries and a drop-off in the quality of his stuff. He was called up to Seattle twice during the year and didn't pitch well there, either. When his season ended with a trip to the DL in late August he had compiled a 7.36 ERA in 36 major league innings.
In 2005 Nageotte started the season on the DL with a strained right elbow, and didn't pitch at all until late June. Spending the year mostly in Triple-A as a reliever, he accumulated only 41 innings at all levels. After that season he dropped to ninth in BA's Mariners prospect ranking, and the scouting report reflected that slippage:
Strengths: Nageotte's stuff is still good, but it has taken a downturn in the last two years. He used to own one of the nastiest sliders in the game, but it has lost some velocity and sharpness and now grades as a 65 rather than an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His fastball has lost 2-3 mph, sitting at 91-92 mph as he has tried to add sink and command.
Weaknesses: Most pitchers see their stuff improve when they work shorter stints out of the bullpen, so Nageotte's slippage raises a red flag. He has had health issues crop up over the last three seasons, including elbow tendonitis in 2003 and a lower-back strain in 2004. His control still needs to improve. He never came up with a trustworthy changeup during his days as a starter.
The Mariners made him a starter again in AAA-Tacoma in 2006, and the precipitous drop in his numbers -- particularly his strikeouts -- and continued injury woes signaled the end of his status as a top prospect. Despite the value placed on young pitching in today's MLB, the Mariners removed Clint Nageotte from their 40-man roster and made him a minor league free agent. In December, the Mets offered him a minor league contract with an invitation to their major league spring training camp, where Nageotte will be looking to resurrect what was once -- and really not all that long ago -- a very promising career.
Here are Clint Nageotte's career numbers at all levels:
|2000 - AZL Mariners (R)||19||12||50.0||5.2||10.6||5.0||0.0||2.16||1.14|
|2001 - Wisconsin (A)||20||28||152.1||8.3||11.1||3.0||0.6||3.13||1.25|
|2002 - San Bernardino (A+)||21||29||164.2||8.4||11.7||3.7||0.6||4.54||1.34|
|2003 - San Antonio (AA)||22||27||154.0||7.4||9.2||3.9||0.4||3.10||1.26|
|2004 - Tacoma (AAA)||23||14||80.2||8.7||7.0||3.9||1.0||4.46||1.40|
|2004 - Seattle Mariners||12||36.2||11.8||5.9||6.6||0.7||7.36||2.05|
|2005 - AZL Mariners (R)||24||1||3.0||0.0||18.0||0.0||0.0||0.00||0.00|
|2005 - Tacoma (AAA)||19||34.0||5.6||9.3||5.8||0.5||2.65||1.26|
|2005 - Seattle Mariners||3||4.0||13.5||2.3||2.3||0.0||6.75||1.75|
|2006 - AZL Mariners (R)||25||2||5.0||7.2||3.6||3.6||0.0||1.80||1.20|
|2006 - Tacoma (AAA)||19||89.1||10.3||5.1||5.3||0.6||5.74||1.74|
|2006 - Seattle Mariners||1||1.0||18.0||9.0||18.0||9.0||27.00||4.00|
|Minor League Totals||151||733.0||8.0||9.5||4.0||0.5||3.79||1.34|
|Major League Totals||16||41.2||12.1||5.6||6.5||0.9||7.78||2.06|
Wow, his strikeout numbers really jumped off a cliff last year, didn't they? He missed a lot of time last season with injuries -- over a month from mid June to the end of July -- and pitched poorly when he returned. The scouting report cited above from BA's 2005 top prospect list mentioned that Nageotte had lost something on both his fastball and slider, and that was after a season where he averaged 9.3 K/9 in Triple-A. I wonder what his stuff looked like last year when he averaged 5.1 K/9.
A look at Clint Nageotte's splits by month shows that after getting off to a decent start in April and May, things really went downhill for him the last two months:
|Clint Nageotte 2006 Triple-A Splits By Month|
My research on Nageotte indicates that he has battled lower back problems his entire career, and has experienced some elbow and forearm problems, too. Control has been an issue with him throughout his minor league career, and this has only become a bigger problem as his stuff has declined. You don't get away with as many mistakes when your stuff isn't as good. Not to belabor the point, but in the pitching-starved reality of today's MLB, the fact that the Mariners have turned the page after Nageotte spent 7 years there as a highly-rated prospect is telling.
One thing I do wonder about is why, given his injury history and the decent year he had in the bullpen in 2005, did the Mariners make Clint Nageotte a starting pitcher again in 2006? Reading that Baseball America scouting report following the 2005 season, it's apparent he never did develop his changeup, so as a two-pitch pitcher it would seem he would be better suited for the bullpen anyway.
By the way, it strikes me that Clint Nageotte is a textbook example of how top pitching prospects can come up short of their lofty expectations. Injuries, command issues and a failure to develop a third pitch have all contributed to his devaluation.
It's hard to see Nageotte making the Mets out of spring training in either the crowded bullpen or as a starter. Nevertheless, he's only a year removed from still being regarded as a real prospect. My first concern with him would be whether he could stay healthy. His track record in that department over the last three seasons is pretty poor. If he could stay off the disabled list, my next concern is how much of his stuff he's retained. BA says he's lost something off both pitches, but they were still good enough two years ago to get him a strikeout an inning as a Triple-A reliever. Finally, since he hasn't been able to develop a changeup in 7 years of pro ball, I'd have him stick with the fastball and slider, leave him in the bullpen, and try to help him to throw strikes.
If I was looking for one good reason to be optimistic about a young pitcher who has been basically given up on by his organization, I keep in mind that the people who decided Nageotte is through are the same ones who thought trading Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez was a good idea. All kidding aside, look for Nageotte to start the year in New Orleans as insurance for the bullpen.
2007 Bullpen Previews:
Clint Nageotte (This Article)
Chan Ho Park
Four Other Names for You
2007 Pitching Previews: Summing It All Up