Scouting Pitchers is back for the 2011 season. We're going to throw you some curveballs in 2011 by introducing some unique minor league coverage that I hope you'll like. I'll have more details as the season unfolds, but for now, let's get to the majors.
Spring statistics should always be taken with a grain of salt, but that doesn't mean you should ignore them. Certainly, it's more encouraging than not to see your pitchers missing bats instead of being shelled. While pitchers will be ramping up their levels of effort from 70-80 to 100 percent over the next two weeks, let's take a look at some of the starting pitchers who have shined heading into the season.
This group of starters has either solidified or improved their stock over the last month. It isn't an exhaustive list of who has done well this spring. I have left out sure things who have performed well - like Roy Halladay – in favor of those who are either lesser known or deserve the press.
Kyle McClellan (17 IP, 0.53 ERA, 6 BB, 11 K): With Adam Wainwright undergoing Tommy John surgery in February that knocks him out for 2011, McClellan has stepped up to be the front-runner for the fifth starter spot. He has a high-80s sinker, an 82-85 mph slider, a low-80s changeup and a 71-75 mph curveball. His stuff is pretty good, and he has generated a lot of ground balls this spring. McClellan posted a 2.27 ERA in 68 games out of the Cardinal bullpen in 2011.
Zach Britton (14 IP, 0.64 ERA, 4 BB, 9 K): The Orioles' top pitching prospect will start the year in Triple-A despite his excellent performance this spring. Britton has a 90-94 mph fastball, an 82-84 mph slider, and a low-80s changeup. He deals from a high arm angle that gives him plenty of leverage for ground balls, which will be essential when pitching in the AL East. He's already one of Baltimore's top five starters, but we won't see him in the majors until May or June.
Hopefully, when the players and owners renegotiate the Basic Agreement in 2012, they will eliminate the stupid provision that gives clubs a huge financial incentive to delay their best prospects' arrival in the majors.
Gio Gonzalez (21 IP, 1.06 ERA, 8 BB, 25 K): For the second consecutive spring, Gonzalez has posted a sub-3.00 ERA during a full turn in the rotation – not an easy task while pitching in Arizona. He throws in the low 90s with a huge curveball. I was a little skittish about him last year, but don't have similar reservations in 2011. Gonzalez has settled in nicely, and I like him as much as any pitcher on that talented Oakland staff.
Brandon Morrow (12 IP, 0.75 ERA, 3 BB, 16 K): Morrow struck out an amazing 17 Rays on August 8, mostly with a 95-98 mph fastball and an unhittable 86-88 mph slider. It was the type of performance that doesn't come from mediocre pitchers. Left-handed batters have a very hard time picking up the slider, and swing over it again and again. Morrow doesn't mind throwing the slider in or out of the zone on 3-2 counts, either. I reviewed Morrow last spring. He will miss a start with elbow trouble, which will depress his draft day value in some leagues – but don't forget about him.
Brandon Beachy (16 IP, 1.13 ERA, 4 BB, 13 K): The Braves' new fifth starter has a 90-93 mph fastball, a mid-70s curveball, a low-80s changeup. He spots his fastball, and his change appears to be his best pitch. Beachy is a converted third baseman who went undrafted out of Indiana Wesleyan in 2008. His mechanics are reminiscent of Jon Lieber's: tall and upright with a dropped forearm. He looks OK. I wouldn't expect too much from him in 2011.
Erik Bedard (16 IP, 1.13 ERA, 5 BB, 14 K): As long as the thought of drafting him doesn't give you nightmares from seasons past, Bedard isn't a bad option. He is throwing at 90-92 mph with a good high-70s curve this spring. He will obviously have a lot to prove after two injury-plagued seasons in Seattle.
Jonathan Sanchez (14 2/3 IP, 1.23 ERA, 4 BB, 14 K): I covered Sanchez in my look at the Giants last fall. He lost Game 3 of the World Series last year, allowing four runs in 4 2/3 innings.
Chris Young (20 1/3 IP, 1.33 ERA, 3 BB, 9 K): Working his way back from shoulder problems, Young has secured the fourth spot in the Mets' rotation this spring. His fastball is 83-87 mph, and he throws a low-70s curveball. I wouldn't recommend him.
Ivan Nova (20 IP, 1.80 ERA, 4 BB, 9 K): The Yankees' new fourth starter deals a 90-92 mph fastball, a 78-82 mph curveball, and mid-80s changeups and sliders. He went 12-3 with a 2.86 ERA at Triple-A in 2010 and projects as a sixth or seventh man on a staff. He's pitching well now, so he could make inroads in his major league career if he can stay health and log 150 innings in 2011.
James Shields (14 1/3 IP, 1.88 ERA, 2 BB, 7 K): Shields could dearly use a bounce-back season, as his ERA has skyrocketed in the last three years (3.56, 4.14, 5.18). I profiled Shields last year. His best pitch is his low-80s changeup.
Anibal Sanchez (19 IP, 1.89 ERA, 6 BB, 15 K): Sanchez had a good year in 2010, winning 13 games with a 3.55 ERA. His stuff still looks flat to me, and he remains an injury risk. I'd be leery of drafting him in 2011.
Nick Blackburn (22 IP, 2.05 ERA, 2 BB, 11 K): Blackburn has looked good this spring after having elbow surgery last October. He throws low-90s sinkers and a good slider. I've always liked him, and think he'll have a good year.
Michael Pineda (17 IP, 2.12 ERA, 6 BB, 15 K): Currently listed as the Mariners' fifth starter, Pineda is the club's top prospect. He throws 92-96 with a mid-80s slider. I'm not sold on his delivery at first look. We'll see what he has to offer in his rookie season.