After Yusmeiro Petit‘s dominant one-hitter for the San Francisco Giants this week, I was planning on putting the spotlight on him for this week’s time machine. However, Scott Kazmir faced the organization that drafted him for the first time in his career, and looked pretty good. He won for the first time since August 4th, allowing just four hits, no walks, and 12 strikeouts in six shutout innings of work for the Cleveland Indians. So, because of that performance, he earned the honor of being today’s prospect time machine.
The 29-year-old southpaw was born in Houston, Texas, and stayed in the Lonestar state through his adolescent years, attending Cypress Falls High School. He was a two-sport athlete, pitching for the baseball team and quarterbacking the football team. Saying he was a dominant high school baseball player is quite the understatement. He experienced one stretch where he threw four straight no-hitters…..wait, what?! I had to re-read that to make sure I saw it right.
Then, as a senior, the left-hander struck out an amazing 172 batters in just 75 innings of work, posting an unreal 0.37 ERA. He verbally committed to pitch for the Texas Longhorns, but the Mets drafted him with the 15th overall pick of the 2002 MLB draft, and he decided to forgo college to become a professional baseball player. Another high school teammate of his, Clint Evans, was taken by the Montreal Expos with the fifth pick, making them the first pair of pitchers from the same high school to be taken in the first round, ever.
At the age of 18, the Mets sent him straight to the NYPL in Brooklyn to pitch for the Cyclones. He started five games for Brooklyn, going 0-1 with a 0.50 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, and 34 strikeouts in 18 innings pitched. As the 11th-best prospect in all of baseball heading into the 2003 season, New York moved him up a level to Capital City, where he continued to perform well. He posted a 4-4 record with a 2.36 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 105 strikeouts in 76.1 innings of work. That earned him another promotion to High-A St. Lucie, where he started another seven games to finished out the season.
The 2004 season rolled around and he ranked as the number 12 prospect in the majors, beginning his season with St. Lucie. He was the top pitching prospect for the Mets at the time. He struggled a little bit in the Florida State League (considering his production in previous years); he was 1-2 with a 3.42 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and 51 strikeouts in 50 innings pitched, but the Mets promoted him to Double-A Binghamton around mid-season. He was back to his old self with the B-Mets in four starts (26 IP): 2-1 record, 1.73 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and 29 strikeouts.
Then came one of the worst trades in probably the last 15 years of Mets history. On July 30th, 2004, Kazmir was traded with Joselo Diaz to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in exchange for Victor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunato.
He went on to have a solid five-and-a-half year run with Tampa Bay, going 55-44 with a 3.92 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, and 874 strikeouts in 834 innings of work. Considering the Rays didn’t become any good until 2008, that’s pretty impressive.
As for Zambrano? He only started three games as a Met in 2004, and would last two more seasons in the Orange and Blue, which weren’t pretty, especially when fans could see the success Kazmir was having. Zambrano finished his Mets career with a 10-14 record, 4.42 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 141 strikeouts in 201.2 innings pitched. That trade would end up being one of the last ones Steve Phillips would make as the general manager of the Mets.
Kazmir would end up getting traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the middle of 2009, and would spend two-and-a-half years with the organization. Injuries and ineffectiveness landed the former first rounder landed in the Atlantic League of Indy Ball come 2012, playing for the Sugar Land Skeeters, then playing winter ball in Puerto Rico.
His fastball was reported to be back in the mid-90s range, and the Indians signed him to a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp. He won a spot in the rotation out of camp, and he’s now 8-7 in 25 starts (136 IP) for Cleveland. He also owns a 4.17 ERA and 1.32 WHIP this season.
You can’t help but wonder what life with Kazmir in the rotation would have been like during his prime years with the Rays. The 2006, 2007, and 2008 seasons could have gone very differently in Flushing.
But, we’ll never know.