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In Some Depth: Finding the Next Nicasio

Carson Cistulli

Carson Cistulli

Carson Cistulli writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.


This past Saturday, 24-year-old Juan Nicasio made his major-league debut for the Colorado Rockies. The start itself wasn't necessarily dominant (7.0 IP, 27 TBF, 2 K, 2 BB, 12 GB on 23 batted balls), but promising enough. The more notable thing is how relatively little was written or discussed about Nicasio before the start -- especially considering his line at Double-A Tulsa this season (56.2 IP, 10.01 K/9, 1.59 BB/9, 0.48 HR/9, 2.22 ERA).

The Nicasio situation is one that occurs with some frequency throughout the course of a season: a second- or third-tier pitching prospect, posting excellent numbers over the first couple months of the minor-league season, earns a promotion to the majors as a replacement for an injured or ineffective starter. That same description fits Alexander Cobb, for example, who'll be taking over Andy Sonnanstine's spot in the rotation starting this Tuesday. It'll likely fit a number of other pitchers as the season goes on.

In this edition of In Some Depth I endeavor to look at starting-pitching depth for the American League (with the National League to follow next week), with a view towards finding the Next Juan Nicasio. Of course, not all of the pitchers here have Nicasio's excellent number or upside; others are top prospects within their respective organization. Really, the idea is to create a sort of reference sheet of the pitchers most likely to be called up and make a spot start -- or something more involved altogether.

One note on the statistics you see here. Minor-league stats, as you can imagine, pose some difficulties. In addition to the various park factors like one finds in the the majors, there's also the question of different levels (Triple-A, Double-A, etc.), leagues (International versus Pacific Coast League, for example, at Triple-A), and more widely varying levels of ability among the player pool.

To control some of these variables, I like to use tRA and tRA+ from StatCorner.

Per StatCorner tRA is an ERA estimator calculated by "assigning run and out values to all events under a pitcher's control and coming up with an expected number of runs allowed and outs generated in a defense and park neutral environment. [It's] on a R/9 scale." It's been show to more accurately predict future ERA than ERA itself. Also, that it's park-adjusted is very helpful.

tRA+ is a player's tRA relative to the rest of the league, such that over 100 is good; under, bad.

All numbers are said pitcher's stats as a starter only. Walks are only unintentional walks.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Pitcher: Tim Bascom, RHP, 26
Numbers: 17.0 IP, 16 K, 4 BB, 58.2% GB, 126 tRA+ (Double-A)
Notes: Bascom has been a prospect. He's old for Double-A, but is probably better/more interesting than anything at Triple-A right now for Baltimore.

Pitcher: Zach Clark, RHP, 27
Numbers: 54.2 IP, 34 K, 14 BB, 58.8% GB, 112 tRA+ (Double-A)
Notes: Clark is a 27-year-old at Double-A, which doesn't bode well. On the other hand, there's almost no one of note at Triple-A. Gets a lot of grounders, apparently.

Pitcher: Steve Johnson, RHP, 23
Numbers: 41.0 IP, 41 K/9, 12 BB, 22.4% GB, 117 tRA+ (Double-A)
Notes: Johnson started the season at Double-A; was promoted to, and made two horrible starts at, Triple-A; and then was sent back to Double-A, where he's pitched very well. Has 30 K and only 7 BB in 31.0 IP in May. As you can see, has major fly-ball tendencies.

BOSTON RED SOX

Pitcher: Chris Balcom-Miller, RHP, 22
Numbers: 34.2 IP, 37 K, 11 BB, 65.5% GB, 138 tRA+ (High-A)
Notes: Was just promoted to Double-A. Not much of a prospect heading into season (26th on BA's org list) but throws a heavy -- some have said Trevor Cahill-esque -- fastball for strikes.

Pitcher: Felix Doubront, LHP, 28
Numbers: 13.2 IP, 18 K, 5 BB, 43.3% GB, 125 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: Was ranked fifth in organization by Baseball America. Made two starts for Boston last year and some relief appearances this year. Dealth with groin problem recently, but making way back to rotation.

Pitcher: Kyle Weiland, RHP, 24
Numbers: 52.0 IP, 57 K, 23 BB, 47.0% GB, 143 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: Has probably outperformed expectations by distinguishing himself as ace of Triple-A staff. Was being considered as a possibility in relief prior to season, but early results have probably helped him along.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Pitcher: Dylan Axelrod, RHP, 25
Numbers: 50.0 IP, 52 K, 12 BB, 36.5% BB, 125 tRA+ (Double-A)
Notes: Is 25 at Double-A but has also never really failed, either. Internet is very mum on the subject of Dylan Axelrod, except for an article here and there. Mysterious!

Pitcher: Charles Leesman, LHP, 24
Numbers: 47.1 IP, 46 K, 21 BB, 63.7% GB, 140 tRA+ (Double-A)
Notes: Per BA, Leesman throws a bit of everything -- cutter, slider, change -- but, looking at his ground-ball rate, it appears as though the sinker is his best weapon. Legitimate sleeper possibility here.

Pitcher: Lucas Harrell, RHP, 26
Numbers: 45.1 IP, 36 K, 19 BB, 60.0% GB, 113 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: Was actually just promoted to major-league club Sunday, although doesn't look likely to start right away. Would likely post ground-ball rate in 50s, although K:BB would likely be weak.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Pitcher: Austin Adams, RHP, 24
Numbers: 41.2 IP, 46 K, 21 BB, 35.7% GB, 136 tRA+ (Double-A)
Notes: The organization doesn't seem particularly in a rush to push Adams, who's more or less succeeded at every level -- nor is he considered a prospect by BA. John Sickels indicates that Adams hits mid-90s with fastball but has less to offer in way of secondary pitches.

Pitcher: Kelvin De La Cruz, LHP, 23
Numbers: 45.1 IP, 57 K, 29 BB, 35.5% GB, 124 tRA+ (Double-A)
Notes: Similar story to Adams (above), it seems -- except with less velocity and more left-handedness.

Pitcher: Zach McAllister, RHP, 23
Numbers: 59.0 IP, 47 K, 10 BB, 42.4% GB, 142 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: Not what you'd call a "stuff" guy, but impossible to ignore that he's (a) young, (b) throws strikes, and (c) has a history of decent ground-ball percentages. Was PTBNL from Yankees for Austin Kearns... who now plays for the Indians again!

DETROIT TIGERS

Pitcher: Casey Crosby, LHP, 22
Numbers: 47.2 IP, 41 K, 26 BB, 57.9% GB, 110 tRA+ (Double-A)
Notes: Missed almost entire 2010 season, but appears to be healthy again, reportedly hitting 98 mph on the radar gun during a minor-league game in spring training.

Pitcher: Jacob Turner, RHP, 20
Numbers: 53.1, IP, 44 K, 12 BB, 47.1% GB, 114 tRA+ (Double-A)
Notes: Just turned 20 on May 21st and is posting above-average numbers at Double-A. BA Ranked him the No. 1 prospect in the Tiger org after he was draft in first round and signed to major-league contract out of high school in 2009.

Pitcher: Adam Wilk, LHP, 23
Numbers: 49.0 IP, 32 K, 5 BB, 35.6% GB, 107 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: Because he doesn't get many strike outs or ground balls, Wilk could very well have trouble with major-league batters.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Pitcher: Chris Dwyer, LHP, 23
Numbers: 40.2 IP, 31 K, 23 BB, 44.3% GB, 111 tRA+ (Double-A)
Notes: Not as hyped as some of the other KC prospects, but would likely be among best prospects in most orgs. BA calls his curve the best in the system.

Pitcher: Vincent Mazzaro, RHP, 24
Numbers: 37.1 IP, 37 K, 18 BB, 52.7% GB, 114 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: This is just a reminder that, even though he recently allowed 14 earned runs in 2.2 innings with the Royals, Mazzaro really isn't that bad and is still pretty young, too.

Pitcher: Mike Montgomery, LHP, 21
Numbers: 53.0 IP, 43 K, 31 BB, 52.5% GB, 111 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: It's important to remember Montgomery's age while looking at his numbers. He was pushed last year, too, pitching the majority of his innings as a 20-year-old at Double-A. Has three plus pitches, according to Baseball America.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS

Pitcher: Bear Bay, RHP, 27
Numbers: 45.0 IP, 24 K, 9 BB, 50.0% GB, 110 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: Has been a prospect, but not so much now. Still named Bear, however.

Pitcher: Eric Junge, RHP, 34
Numbers: 66.0 IP, 42 K, 19 BB, 53.0% GB, 114 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: Get grounders. Has played in Japan, Korea, and Venezuela. Unlikely to factor into your fantasy team.

Pitcher: Mike Trout, OF, 18
Numbers: N/A
Notes: Not a pitching prospect, but probably could be one if he wanted to be. Also, the Angels' upper minors are a bit bare at the moment.

MINNESOTA TWINS

Pitcher: Kyle Gibson, RHP, 23
Numbers: 47.1 IP, 49 K, 10 BB, 52.2% GB, 126 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: Has allowed six home runs, but ground-ball rates suggests that Gibson should actuall be above average at preventing the long ball. Was No. 1 overall in org, per Baseball America. Combination of stuff and performance bodes well for Gibson.

Pitcher: Eric Hacker, RHP, 28
Numbers: 36.1 IP, 25 K, 10 BB, 38.1% GB, 106 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: Quad-A pitcher, if there is such a thing.

Pitcher: Steven Hirschfeld, RHP, 25
Numbers: 52.2 IP, 41 K, 13 BB, 35.3% GB, 111 tRA+ (Double-A)
Notes: Has never really been prospect and, at 25 in Double-A, isn't what you'd call one now. Still, has 2.08 ERA and peripherals go some way to backing that up.

NEW YORK YANKEES

Pitcher: Manny Banuelos, LHP, 20
Numbers: 41.2 IP, 38 K, 23 BB, 50.9% GB, 107 tRA+ (Double-A)
Notes: Drew some attention in spring training, when he struck out 14 in just 12.2 IP. Control continues to be issue. He's only 20, so it's no emergency, but may delay promotion.

Pitcher: Dellin Betances, RHP, 23
Numbers: 34.2 IP, 39 K/9, 16 BB, 50.0% GB, 103 tRA+ (Double-A)
Notes: Is currently sporting just a 1.30 ERA, which could accelerate his arrival to big leagues. Per BA, has ca. 95 mph fastball and plus curve.

Pitcher: Carlos Silva, RHP, 32
Numbers: 12.1, 7 K, 4 BB, 57.9% GB, 107 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: Yes, that Carlos Silva.

OAKLAND A'S

Pitcher: Travis Banwart, RHP, 25
Numbers: 42.0 IP, 37 K, 10 BB, 40.0% GB, 117 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: Command and control type, with upside of fifth starter, according to John Sickels. Baseball America is silent on the matter. Lack of ground balls is uninspiring with that makeup.

Pitcher: Graham Godfrey, RHP, 26
Numbers: 38.1 IP, 34 K, 11 BB, 38.2% GB, 132 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: Probably a very interesting guy with many unique qualities, but, as a pitcher, very similar to the aforementioned Banwart.

Pitcher: Carlos Hernandez, LHP, 24
Numbers: 42.2 37 K, 10 BB, 48.3% GB, 113 tRA+ (Double-A)
Notes: The numbers are from Double-A, but was recently promoted to Triple-A. Similar to the above pair, with perhaps a slightly greater penchant for inducing grounders -- which, that's not insignificant.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

Pitcher: Alexander Cobb, RHP, 23
Numbers: 47.1, IP, 50 K, 10 BB, 52.4% GB, 140 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: Made a spot start for the Rays on May 1st and wasn't particularly impressive (4.1 IP, 3 K, 4 BB, 1 HR), but his numbers at Triple-A suggest he ought to be better than that. Is expected to start for the Rays instead of Andy Sonnanstine on Tuesday versus the Rangers.

Pitcher: Matthew Moore, LHP, 22
Numbers: 52.2 IP, 76 K, 14 BB, 40.5% GB, 150 tRA+ (Double-A)
Notes: Moore is absolute murderer of opposing batters. Had 208 K in only 144.2 IP last season at High-A. Was ranked second (to Jeremy Hellickson) in pitching-rich Tampa org by Baseball America.

Pitcher: Alexander Torres, LHP, 23
Numbers: 46.2 IP, 54 K, 31 BB, 46.7% GB, 112 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: Has shown ability both to strike batters out and induce grounders through every minor-league level. Walks are still the problem, although not enough so's to make him a below-average Triple-A pitcher.

TEXAS RANGERS

Pitcher: Martin Perez, LHP, 20
Numbers: 53.2 IP, 53 K, 25 BB, 50.0% GB, 142 tRA+ (Double-A)
Notes: Like Kyle Gibson and Matthew Moore on this list, Perez is example of stuff and the performance to back it up. Was No. 1 prospect in Ranger org, per Baseball America. Only 20 and performing at Double-A.

Pitcher: Neil Ramirez, RHP, 22
Numbers: 43.1 IP, 48 K, 19 BB, 36.5% GB, 134 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: Made emergency start at Triple-A Round Rock in mid-April and hasn't returned to High-A (where he was) since. Was rated 27th in org by BA, but 10th by FanGraphs. Has makings of plus curve.

Pitcher: Brandon Webb, RHP, 32
Numbers: N/A
Notes: Could very well make way into Ranger rotation at some point. Formerly a top-five pitcher in majors, but velocity has been down ca. 4 mph in rehab.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Pitcher: Brett Cecil, LHP, 28
Numbers: 44.1 IP, 35 K/9, 14 BB, 42.8% GB, 104 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: You can have a 6.86 ERA at Las Vegas (as Cecil does) and still actually be pitching better than league average.

Pitcher: Rey Gonzalez, RHP, 25
Numbers: 57.2 IP, 32 K/9, 10 BB, 46.5% GB, 120 tRA+ (Double-A)
Notes: Strike-thrower. Ground-baller. Not elite. Is theoretically serviceable as a major-league starter.

Pitcher: Brad Mills, LHP, 26
Numbers: 66.2 IP, 55 K, 15 BB, 26.9% GB, 145 tRA+ (Triple-A)
Notes: Was promoted to the majors very early in the season, but was sent back to Triple-A without throwing an inning. Currently has 2.70 ERA, which is insane at Las Vegas. Sits at about 86 mph with fastball.