This week I'm at a non-Rotowire related conference for my "day job." This year the event is in Las Vegas, which makes the event worthwhile in and of itself, but I do have one beef. A 7 a.m. breakfast on the first full day? Do the organizers not realize there is poker to be played and money lost, late into the night and the early morning before? I'm thinking that once the 4 p.m. workshop rolls around I'll be well tuned out by then.
Anyway, just two more Mound Musings columns to go for this baseball year. It's been fun watching, analyzing and reporting on my observations on starting pitching and closers for you this year. I hope that you've learned a thing or two along the way and have found this column occasionally valuable and hopefully at least readable. Next week we'll go into my 2011 Sleepers and Busts (don't all fantasy writers have to do a piece like that?), but first, let's cover some pitching prospects you should be keeping your eye on as we move into the playoffs and offseason. When I define prospects here, I'm looking at pitchers with less than 50 big league innings.
Craig Kimbrel, ATL Billy Wagner set to retire and Takashi Saito hurt and likely joining Wagner in watching a few more sunsets, Kimbrel represents the best in-house option to be the Atlanta closer come 2010. With a 0.59 ERA and 17.6 K/9 in 15.1 big league innings, the upside is obvious, though considering his 6.5 BB/9, the downside is as well. Carlos Marmol has proven effectively wild, but Kimbrel's command issues are nothing new (6.2 BB/9 in the minors the last two years), and not every wild reliever is Carlos Marmol. Some are Daniel Cabrera.
Jordan Lyles, HOU Given that Lyles threw 144.2 and 158.2 innings the last two years as a teen-ager, it's probably best we don't see him in Houston this year, not that he wasn't heavily considered for that honor. Lyles turns 20 in October, and barring some sort of injury, he's expected to compete for a rotation slot next spring. Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez and J.A. Happ are guaranteed three of the five slots, with Bud Norris a heavy favorite for another despite his 4.85 ERA. Lyles may have some veteran competition come February/March, but while Lyles isn't a finished product, his rapid ascension puts him firmly in the mix.
Kyle Drabek, TOR Drabek's first big league start was semi-successful, as he did get credit for a QS, though in allowing 12 base runners, he was clearly pitching out of trouble for most of the day. Drabek profiles as a solid No. 2 starter after posting a 2.49 ERA and 132:68 K:BB in 162 innings for Double-A New Hampshire this year. The overall K:BB is somewhat disappointing given his status as an elite prospect, but he was better down the stretch, with a 47:22 mark in 49 innings after the All-Star break. Look for Drabek to compete for a rotation spot next spring, though barring a very nice finish, he won't be handed a job.
Jeremy Hellickson, TB Pretty sure I've written enough about Hellickson over the course of the year. He'll be in the rotation come 2011 I'd bet my mortgage on it.
Aroldis Chapman, NYY My Scoresheet team is dependent on the Reds doing the right thing and stretching him out as a starter this spring. I trust my needs will be taken into account by Dusty Baker or whomever the Reds skipper winds up being.
Chris Sale, CHW The White Sox have made it crystal clear that despite Sale's over-the-top success in the bullpen this year, that he's a starter in 2011. A lot depends on the health of Jake Peavy, but either way, look for the White Sox to find a way to squeeze him into the rotation.
Michael Pineda, SEA An innings limit prevented a call-up for Pineda, but he certainly deserved it based on performance. Pineda posted a 3.36 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A with an impressive 154:34 K:BB in 139.1 innings. The 6-foot-5 right-hander will pitch all of next year at the tender age of 22, and if he does so all year at the big league level, it won't be a surprise.
Zach Britton, BAL Britton is just one of many impressive young arms in the Baltimore organization. Think of Britton as a lefty version of Derek Lowe that is, a ton of ground balls and a so-so strikeout rate. There's plenty of value in that, even in the AL East.
Potential Mid-Year Help
Julio Teheran, ATL Teheran is just 19, but given he's a top-five overall pitching prospect and he's reached Double-A, continued progress should have him in the big leagues sooner rather than later. In three minor league levels this year, topping out at Double-A, Teheran posted an impressive 2.59 ERA and 159:40 K:BB in 142.2 innings. He will pitch all next year at the ripe old age of 20 and has No. 1 starter potential.
Kyle Gibson, MIN As far as I know, here's no relation to Kirk Gibson here, but Kyle has more than made a name for himself with a 2.96 ERA in 26 starts over three levels this year. The Twins appear to have struck gold with Gibson (No. 22 overall in the 2009 draft), and he could compete for a rotation spot from the get-go. More likely is a mid-2011 call-up.
Simon Castro, SD Castro posted a 7.84 ERA in two Triple-A starts to close out 2011, but he still has a legitimate shot at a rotation slot next spring. He won't front a rotation any time soon, but considering this league and home park, there are few better NL-only targets for 2011.
Jenrry Mejia, NYM Young and unproven, Mejia has pitched at five levels this year at age 20 and remains an unfinished product. With Omar Minaya presumably still at the helm, we don't have a clue where the Mets are going with their rotation this winter, but considering Mejia's 22:20 K:BB in 39 innings as a big leaguer, it seems prudent to slot him in the minors to begin 2011.
Alex White, CLE The No. 15 overall pick in last year's draft, White has met expectations this year, posting a 2.45 ERA and 117:46 K:BB in 150.2 innings between High-A and Double-A. He's probably right behind 2010 first-rounder Drew Pomeranz in terms of prospect hierarchy, but White is also more likely to debut in 2010. I'm not sure the Indians have an elite prospect along the lines of a Mike Stanton or Jeremy Hellickson, but pitchers like Pomeranz, White, Jason Knapp, etc., at least give Tribe fans some hope.
September 2011 Cups of Coffee
Dellin Betances, NYY Betances proved that when he's 100 percent healthy, there are few better. Betances made a remarkable recovery from August 2009 Tommy John surgery, tossing 85.1 innings of 2.11 ERA ball between High-A and Double-A. The 22-year-old is an imposing 6-8, and he used that and nasty stuff to post an impressive 108:22 K:BB. These are top-of-the-rotation numbers, and if he can stay healthy, that's Betances' ceiling.
Mike Montgomery, KC If you're a Royals' pitching prospect, it has to be comforting knowing that if you have anywhere near the talent of a Jeremy Hellickson, you don't have to worry about the big league club being too stacked. Montgomery was limited to 93 innings this year due to elbow concerns, but in that time, he posted a 2.61 ERA and 88:31 K:BB in 93 innings. The lefty profiles as a solid No. 2 in time.
Matthew Moore, TB The last two pitchers to strike out 200 in a minor league season? Francisco Liriano and Matthew Moore. Moore this year fanned 208 in just 144.2 High-A innings for a 13.0 K/9 with a so-so 3.8 BB/9. Elite peripherals there, but can he translate that to performance?
Martin Perez, TEX Rare are the 19-year-olds entrusted with a Double-A gig. That was Perez this year, so given the age vs. level, we can't complain too much about a 5.86 ERA.
John Lamb, KC A former fifth-round pick, Lamb is making up for lost time given his personal circumstances. Lamb topped out at Double-A this year, posting a 2.38 ERA and 159:45 K:BB over 147.2 innings. Payees, given the lack of experience. He's made himself into one of baseball's top pitching prospects
Danny Duffy, KC Personal issues aside, Duffy managed a 2.38 ERA over 28 starts across three minor league levels, topping out at Double-A. A 159:46 K:BB in those 147.2 innings is a solid ratio, and Duffy's upside is that of a No. 2 starter.
Shelby Miller, STL How's this finish for the former No. 1 pick? A 2.86 ERA and 84:18 K:BB in 63 innings since the break. He'll reach Double-A next year and probably the big leagues some time in 2012.
Jameson Taillon, PIT 2010 No. 2 overall pick profiles as a Josh Beckett type, but perhaps better.
Jake Odorizzi, MIL Huge 2010 breakout considering his eight no-hit innings on Aug. 24 and overall 3.43 ERA and 135:40 K:BB in 120.2 Low-A innings. Predicting Odorizzi reaching Double- A at some point next year isn't a stretch at all. He doesn't stink.
Randall Delgado, ATL A bit overlooked in an organization absolutely stacked with pitching phenoms, Delgado won't turn 21 until February, yet he's already reached Double-A. He finished 2010 with three consecutive quality starts at that level and overall struck out 162 in 161 innings. We could see him at some point next year given continued progress at the upper levels.
Jacob Turner, DET The Tigers' No. 1 pick in 2009, Turner isn't moving quite as fast as Rick Porcello, but his upside is similar. Turner finished 2010 with a 3.28 ERA and impressive 102:23 K:BB in 115.1 innings between High and Low-A. He's likely to finish 2011 at Triple-A, and given the Tigers' lack of reluctance to rush their top prospects, we could see him in the big leagues as a 20-year-old next year.
Tyler Matzek, COL The Coors Field stigma for pitching prospects is long gone, and Matzek appears likely to reach Double-A as a 21-year-old next year. Hopefully, he won't suffer the sore elbow that fellow Colorado top prospect Christian Friedrich endured this year. Matzek is far from a finished product given this year's 88:62 K:BB in 89.1 innings, but he's shown No. 1 starter talent at times.
Manny Banuelos, NYY As a whole, few farm systems showed the improvement that the Yankees did collectively this year (check out Adam Warren as well), and Banuelos was a big part of that success.
Cody Scarpetta, MIL The 22-year-old Scarpetta was just 7-12 at High-A this year, but ignore that and focus on the fact he held hitters to a .247 AVG with a 10.0 K/9. Scarpetta's walks were a bit much at 4.7, but the skills are evident.
Jason Knapp, CLE Injuries have held him back, but this is the centerpiece of the deal that sent Cliff Lee from Cleveland to Philadelphia. Knapp's medical history makes him a risk, but he just turned 20 last week, and given his impressive 47:12 K:BB in 28.1 innings this year, we know he can miss bats in droves.
Chris Archer, CHC The 22-year-old Archer broke out in a big way this year, going 15-3 with a 2.34 ERA between High-A and Double-A. His 149:65 K:BB in those 142.1 innings was impressive enough, but Archer also held Double-A hitters to a .198 average. We'll likely see him on the North Side at some point in 2011.
Lance Lynn, STL The 23-year-old former first-rounder is going to get a shot at the No. 5 starter job next spring. Considering the Cardinals have just three legitimate big league starters, he's got a very good shot given a strong spring. Lynn finished his Triple-A season with 18 K's in his last 11 innings, and over the second half posted a 2.8 BB/9 vs. 3.8 over the first half. Nice progress.
Tyler Chatwood, LAA The Angels have a number of intriguing prospects given the bushel of high draft picks they've procured the last couple years, so Chatwood is just one example. Chatwood's 109:63 K:BB in 155.1 innings leaves a bit to be desired, but this is a 20-year-old who posted a 1.77 ERA in the tough Cal League and rose all the way to Triple-A by year's end. He could solve the Angels' No. 5 starter issues by July.