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Top Prospect Alert - Tom Shearn

By Schuyler Dombroske

DOB: 8/28/77, Age: 24, Height: 6’4’’, Weight: 200, Bats: R, Throws: R. Acquired: Astros - Drafted in the 29th Round of the 1996 Draft. 2000 Stats: (AA - Round Rock) 9-6, 4.69 ERA, 136 IP, 134 H, 67 BB, 102 K. 2001 Stats: (AA - Round Rock) 5-6, 3.85 ERA, 110 IP, 94 H, 51 BB, 136 K.

   Tom Shearn has been playing minor league ball for the Astros for 6 years now, which is usually an indication that the organization likes you, but doesn’t like you quite enough. Shearn had spent one full season at each level in the Astros organization prior to 2001, but the Astros decided to keep him in Round Rock for another year and work him primarily out of the bullpen. Another likely interpretation of a sixth minor league season with the same organization is that a player won’t have the same role they started with. That seems to be the case with Shearn now, and with the wealth of young pitching that the Astros have, relieving may prove to be a better avenue to the majors than starting. Shearn throws four pitches of close to average quality, and seems to alternate between being unhittable (when they’re all working) and being very ordinary (when he’s missing a few). He throws 89-92 with his fastball, has a decent change and curve, and mixes in a slider to righties now and then. Going to the bullpen certainly allows you to put maximum effort in for a few innings, and it seemed to help Shearn. His HR/9 frequency dropped from .94 in 2000 to .57 in 2001, and his strikeout rate jumped from 6.75 in 2000 to 11.15 in 2001. Being a “former” starter, he probably would be able to manage pitching every other day or so, which could make him a valuable setup man for Billy Wagner if he continues to progress. He seemed to have trouble with consistency when starting, often following 4 or 5 start winning streaks with an equal number of poor outings. This trait also might be alleviated with a more even workload.

   The Astros are loaded with pitching prospects, so a bad year or two can kill a prospect’s career there. The fact that they keep pushing Shearn along should bode well for his eventual destination. I think that Shearn will be pitching out of the bullpen in AAA in 2002, and I expect him to make an impact in the Houston pen by 2004. With his arsenal, it’s unlikely that he will ever be a “closer-in-waiting”, but a setup role or a middle/long relief job is likely. The HR/9 and K/9 numbers give me a reasonable amount of confidence in Shearn’s ability to make it to Houston, but he is not a sure thing. Rick White of the Mets might be a reasonable comparison to Shearn, and Shearn may very well assume a White-like role in the Astros’ pen within the next few years.


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