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Scouting Pitchers: NL Top 25 Bargains: Spring Update

James Benkard

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Statistics through 3/28/09

I hope you all have your copy of RotoWire's 2009 Fantasy Baseball Guide. My article, "50 To Pick Up," looked at pitching bargains. This week, we'll look at how those I tagged in the NL did this spring, as well as an "Honorable Mention" category. These are pitchers who didn't quite make the top 25 or have recently increased their stock.

1. Adam Wainwright: Although he has been hittable this spring - 28 allowed in 20 innings - he has a 3.60 ERA and demonstrated his usual command (17 strikeouts, seven walks). Wainwright will be the Cardinals' Opening Day starter on April 6 against Pittsburgh. He is working on all his pitches, STL Today.com reports.

2. Jonathan Broxton: He recorded the win in the USA team's wild quarterfinal win over Puerto Rico on March 17 despite allowing a run in the top of the ninth. Broxton gave up four runs on March 24 to Seattle and is currently clocked from 92-95 mph with his slider at 83-86. With a big ballpark and steady Joe Torre at the helm, Broxton is money in the bank.

3. Clayton Kershaw: To celebrate his twenty-first birthday on March 19, he threw five scoreless innings at the Rockies and hit his first home run since high school - which was just three years ago. Whether or not you believe him that he hasn't had a drink yet, Kershaw will make a lot of NL hitters feel hung over in 2009. The Dodgers' #4, he has allowed just 20 baserunners in 20.2 innings, with his 20 strikeouts fifth-most in the NL.

4. Edinson Volquez: The Reds' #2 has been busy this spring, allowing just one earned run in his six games (five starts) for the Reds and the Dominican team in one WBC start. He throws a two-seam fastball, he reported to MLB.com.

5. Mike Pelfrey: He doesn't look ready to start the year, as he missed time to a left leg strain and recently has junked his slider for his old curveball. Incorporating a new pitch is difficult, and requires time. On March 24, Pelfrey was clocked from 92-94 mph, but he didn't trust his curve and lacks command of his changeup. Bid cautiously.

6. Ricky Nolasco: If you had to choose just one team for your bargain pitching needs, make it Florida, with Minnesota their AL counterpart. Nolasco tossed seven innings of a combined no-hitter on March 22, and with his usual great control (17 strikeouts, two walks), he has earned the Marlins' Opening Day assignment.

7. Yovani Gallardo: The Brewers are listing him as their #1 starter, which is a lot of responsibility for a 23-year-old who threw 40 innings last year. Gallardo threw five no-hit innings himself on March 18, although he has walked 10 in his 18.2 innings. He is being clocked from 86-92 mph, and his mid-80s changeup almost has the effect of a sinker.

8. Jair Jurrjens: Another promising 23-year-old, the Braves' third starter has tossed a team-leading 25 1/3 innings with a 3.20 ERA. Jurrjens has been working on his slider, MLB.com reports. He was clocked from 91-93 mph during his March 28 start. With his slightly short-armed delivery, Jurrjens will be more of a ground ball than a strikeout pitcher.

9. Max Scherzer: Arizona's fifth starter will start the season on the DL, MLB.com reports. Scherzer tossed five good innings on March 28, but that was by far his longest outing of the spring, as shoulder pain has slowed him. With his iffy mechanics and health history, I'd take a wait-and-see attitude on him in 2009.

10. Tommy Hanson: From his first outing on February 26, Hanson displayed the great stuff that makes him baseball's hottest pitching prospect: a 94-96 mph fastball, a 77-80 mph curve and a mid-80s slider. After seeing him for the first time, what struck me is how upright he stays during his delivery, and how confident he appears. Hanson posted a 2.45 ERA in 14.2 innings this spring, with 14 strikeouts. While Atlanta sent him to Triple-A on March 26, it seems reasonable to expect 100 good major league innings from him in 2009.

11. Chris Perez: Shoulder pain sidelined him for the middle two weeks of camp, effectively ending his chances to win the closer role. Manager Tony La Russa has not named a closer, but Jason Motte has the inside line (see below). Perez lost some weight over the off-season, and he has been clocked at his usual 93-96 mph since his return. His mechanics still look questionable. I'd wait and see on him as well.

12. Johnny Cueto: Taking his cue (sorry) from teammate Volquez, he has given up just three runs in his five games (four starts) between spring training and his one WBC start. Cueto has progressed so far on lowering his pitch count, MLB.com reports. This is good news, as walks and long innings will kill a flyball pitcher in a home run park.

13. Carlos Marmol: It hasn't been the smoothest spring for the Dominican who lost out to Kevin Gregg to be Cubs' closer. Marmol has hit five batters and lost an extra-inning WBC game to the Netherlands on March 10. His strikeout-to-walk ratio (10-1) remains strong and his ERA (4.50) isn't bad. Manager Lou Piniella said a week ago "there will be closing opportunities for both" Gregg and Marmol.

14. Chad Qualls: The Diamondbacks' new closer, with Brandon Lyon now in Detroit, Qualls should be a welcome relief to Phoenix fans used to high-wire ninth innings. Qualls is the type who will convert 90% of his save chances, and if he loses, will do so quickly -like Todd Jones, the man Lyon is trying to replace.

15. Matt Lindstrom: Like Perez, Lindstrom was scheduled to be the closer before a shoulder problem (strained rotator cuff) during the WBC knocked him out of action. He threw to hitters on March 27 and might start the season on the DL. Florida has no other ready option, although Leo Nunez has a good arm and some major league experience.

16. Mike Gonzalez: Despite some poor spring numbers (6.75 ERA), Gonzalez could be a draft-day bargain. He was clocked as high as 93 mph during his March 25 appearance. Manager Bobby Cox has a lot of confidence in him, and he has no real competition for the closer role.

17. Heath Bell: After some mediocre work (three runs in 3.2 innings) in the WBC, Bell has tossed two scoreless innings. He is throwing 92-95 and also faces no competition. The Padres will be terrible in 2009, but they still have Jake Peavy and a pitcher's park, meaning a likelihood of more close games. Bill James once proved that a closer can get 40 save chances even on a bad team.

18. Joel Hanrahan: Like Bell, Hanrahan pitched in the WBC (six games, three runs) and returned to camp as his team's closer. He pitched in the USA team's semifinal loss to Japan. His fastball was clocked from 92-95 mph and his slider from 82-84 throughout the tournament. The same observations about Bell's Padres apply to Hanrahan's Nationals.

19. Ubaldo Jimenez: Another Dominican who pitched in the WBC, Jimenez struck out 10 Dutch hitters and has fanned 14 more in Cactus League play. He's already at 94-96 mph, but is leading NL pitchers in walks (13) this spring. The Rockies' #2 remains a high-risk and high-reward proposition.

20. Paul Maholm: The Pirates' ace is beginning to pitch like one, with a 0.46 spring ERA in 19.2 innings to go with 12 strikeouts and one walk. Maholm has a strong statistical platform: high G/F ratio, good control, and a decent strikeout rate.

21. John Lannan: Capitalizing on his strong spring (1.50 ERA in four starts), he will start Opening Day for the Nationals. Think Paul Maholm with a lower strikeout rate, which is a big difference.

22. Chris Volstad: The Marlins' #3 starter has done his part to make the jump from Double-A and skip Triple-A entirely. With 477 minor league innings, you can make an argument that Volstad hasn't been rushed. His spring performance - a 3.27 ERA in six starts - has been just fine.

23. Manny Parra: Most of the ingredients of a breakout season are here: good stuff, a high strikeout rate, and the opportunity to start the year as the Brewers' fourth starter. He's even working on his changeup. I'd still advise caution on Parra, who has a 5.60 spring ERA and is reporting some back stiffness.

24. Jonathan Sanchez: He threw well for Puerto Rico in the WBC (1-0, 4.05 ERA) and has displayed improved control (15 strikeouts, two walks) in camp. Sanchez has much the same profile as Parra, but Sanchez is a better bet. He is both more protected by the veterans in the Giant rotation, and will be motivated to improve by the young guns coming up behind him.

25. Andrew Miller: In retrospect, I should have put Josh Johnson as the 25th man on this list - see below. Miller is still learning at the major league level, as the tinkering with his mechanics and pitches attest. He has been quite bad in camp, allowing 15 runs in 12.2 innings, but the Marlins don't have many other options for their #5 spot. Pass on him until he finds a role to have some consistent success.

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Honorable Mention: These are some additional young pitchers whom I considered for the list. Many of them will contribute in 2009 and beyond. I have ranked them not by talent level, but according to how much impact they might make in 2009.

Josh Johnson: I'm wondering whether Johnson is over-hyped, or if I am missing the boat on him. The experts in the recent USA Today LABR draft bid him up to $17, as compared to $14 for Matt Cain, $11 for Hiroki Kuroda and $12 for Carlos Zambrano. Johnson came back strongly from Tommy John surgery in the second half of 2008, losing just once in his 14 starts. During his March 28 start, his fastball ranged from 89-94 and he flashed a mid-80s slider. Johnson likes to pitch inside and throws from a good downward angle. He has struck out 25 this spring, second in the majors, and has a 3.38 ERA. Still, I don't see his third pitch, and his mechanics and limited history of success make me skeptical.

Jason Motte: The converted catcher looks like Eric Gagne and paces around the mound like Al Hrabosky. He struck out 110 in 66.2 innings last year for Triple-A Memphis and 15 this spring with a 93-99 mph fastball, a slider and changeup. What's not to like?

Kevin Gregg: He outpitched closer competitor Carlos Marmol this spring, not allowing a run in nine appearances. Lou Piniella has also been known to prefer veterans, so his anointing Gregg the closer on March 29 didn't just come out of the blue. Gregg increased his G/F ratio in 2008, but his command suffered. He has walked two with 10 strikeouts this spring.

Jordan Zimmermann: With a 90-94 mph fastball, two breaking balls and an aggressive approach, he has struck out 20 and walked two in five spring games (three starts). Named the Nationals' fifth starter on March 28, the 23-year-old has just one pro season under his belt and threw 134 innings in 2008. The Nationals will be hoping for 160 innings from him.

James McDonald: He is still currently listed as the Dodgers' fifth starter, a position for which he's battling Claudio Vargas, Eric Milton, and perhaps Pedro Martinez. Peter Gammons reports that the Dodgers and Pedro remain in discussions and are wrangling over money. McDonald has a low-90s fastball and good control, although he has walked eight this spring.

Homer Bailey: He has come back strongly this spring after bombing in major league trials in 2007 and 2008. Bailey has posted a 2.45 ERA in 14.2 innings this spring, and he is commanding his fastball better. The Reds are debating whether to send him to Triple-A as a starter or keep him in the majors in long relief.

Next week: NL East: Chris Volstad

 

Article first appeared 3/29/09

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