I'll do a couple things this week. First, an in-depth look at a handful of guys toiling away as their team's No. 5 or "No. 6" starters. Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez will continue to be great, but what about Andrew Miller, Brad Lincoln and John Lannan? That's what we'll shed some light on here. Second, we'll look around the minors at a handful of pitchers who can expect big-league callups sooner rather than later. You probably know about Matt Moore, but what about someone like Brad Peacock?
Minor diversion: I love that Wily Mo Pena is back in the big leagues. Pena homered in his first MLB game in three years after destroying Pacific Coast League pitching to the tune of .363/.439/.726. I have enjoyed watching him play several times here in Reno, and he has a magnetic personality, even tossing one of his batting gloves to my 11 year-old daughter. I hope he sticks around after interleague play, but wouldn't mind seeing him back in Reno too.
Andrew Miller (SP-BOS) – I may be a bit biased here, as several years ago (when he was playing at North Carolina) Miller was in one of my simulation leagues (Diamond Mind). After being picked No. 6 overall in 2006, Miller has been primarily known for two things: being a failure and being drafted ahead of Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum. On his third organization, Miller is back in a big-league rotation after posting a 2.47 ERA for Triple-A Pawtucket. His first start came against the Padres, and though his final line (5.2 IP, seven hits, three runs and a 6:3 K:BB) weren't all that impressive against a light-hitting team, there are some positive takeaways. First, six strikeouts against a team utilizing the DH; second, his fastball averaged 93.4 mph after being in the 91-mph range the previous three years in Florida. He also allowed six flyballs to 10 grounders while throwing 65 percent of his pitches for strikes. I'm intrigued.
Brad Lincoln (SP-PIT) – Speaking of the 2006 draft, Lincoln was picked No. 4 overall, just ahead of Miller as well as a host of other pitches who have gone on to greater success than he. Lincoln is rumored to be in line for a spot start on July 2 (doubleheader), so let's take a look. In 13 starts for the Pirates last season, Lincoln managed a devilish 6.66 ERA with a 1.54 WHIP and a mediocre 4.3 K/9. This year in Triple-A, Lincoln has a 3.82 ERA and solid 66:14 K:BB in 77.2 innings. He's showing much better velocity this year per general manager Neal Huntington and could be on the verge of a mini-breakthrough. There aren't any obvious openings in the rotation, though James McDonald is having a tough June and Charlie Morton was shelled in his last outing. A strong spot-start should put Lincoln in line to be the first guy up once someone needs to be replaced.
Josh Collmenter (SP-ARI) – It was thought that Collmenter was just keeping the job warm for prospect Jarrod Parker, but with Parker struggling in his return from Tommy John surgery, Collmenter is suddenly an interesting commodity. He's not a pitcher to build a fantasy keeper team around, but with a 2.09 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in 60.1 innings, he's providing plenty of value this year. Collmenter last year finished with a 3.38 ERA (40 percent of his starts came for Triple-A Reno – brutal environment for pitchers) and a 133:51 K:BB in 152 innings. He also had a 9.4 K/9 the prior year in the Cal League, so he's certainly at least worthy of a big-league look, but he's far outpaced expectations to say the lease. A few reasons NOT to get excited:
He has a funky overhand delivery that hitters might eventually figure out.
He averages 87 mph with his fastball.
His groundball rate is 39.5 percent, a bit on the low side.
He has a 5.8 K/9.
OK, so we know he has some limitations and the 2.09 ERA obviously isn't going to stick, but what can we expect going forward? Collmenter's xFIP sits at 3.74, and considering he pitches in the NL West, that might be a good approximation from what to expect.
Josh Outman (SP-OAK) – Outman came over from the Phillies in the Joe Blanton deal in 2008, had Tommy John surgery the following year and now hopes for a full season in 2011. So far so good … sort of. Outman has made six starts, allowing two or fewer runs in four while accumulating a 2.86 ERA overall. Outman, a left-hander, averages 92 mph with his fastball, but too many flyballs (35.8 GB%) and poor component numbers (4.2 K/9, 3.4 BB/9) combine to leave us with a 4.90 xFIP, a full two runs higher than his actual ERA. Correction obviously coming, but with that fastball and a solid prospect pedigree, at least there's some hope, unless he doesn't learn to miss more bats.
Tyler Chatwood (SP-LAA) – With just 75 innings above Single-A ball entering the season, the Angels placed a ton of pressure on the 21-year-old's shoulders, and after a rocky start, Chatwood is getting there. Chatwood has a 3.08 ERA and 24:15 K:BB in his last six starts after opening with a 4.50 ERA and 19:27 K:BB in his first eight. He's learning. Chatwood averages 93 mph with his fastball, so the stuff is there. As he continues to gain experience by going out there every fifth day, Chatwood can become a reliable No. 3 level starter, if not more, in time.
Felipe Paulino (SP-KC) – I figured that by now, some team would have taken Paulino's velocity and inconsistency and made a reliever out of him, but not just yet. Paulino's primary issue has always been his control, and despite four walks and two hit batters last time out, Paulino's BB/9 sits at a respectable 2.7 after 27 innings in Kansas City. The main thing that sticks out with Paulino is fastball velocity, which has been in the 95-plus mph range since he debuted for the Astros four years ago. This year, though, in addition to the improved control, Paulino has his GB% up from 42.2 percent to 53.7 year-over-year, and he's continuing to showcase an excellent slider. If you see Paulino on your waiver wire in deeper leagues, you could do worse than take a chance on a starter with two plus pitches and improving (small sample size, true) control.
Philip Humber (SP-CHW) – Humber was highly enough thought of to be drafted No. 3 overall AND to be a key piece in a deal involving an uninjured Johan Santana. At 28, Humber entered 2011 with a 5.61 career big league ERA in just 51.1 innings, so most people I'm sure were skeptical when Humber went from the Royals to the A's to the White Sox last winter. Think the A's and Royals could use him now? Humber's velocity is a far cry from his Rice University days, but he's obviously learned a trick or two during his minor league travails. Ninety innings is enough this year to say that his 2.90 ERA, while likely lower than it should be given a 5.5 K/9, isn't overly flukish. It would be a shame to see him lose his starting spot due to Jake Peavy, who hasn't had a full year since 2008 and won't this season.
Cory Luebke (SP-SD) – Luebke has a lot going for him. At a high level:
1. Petco Park.
2. His left-handedness.
3. His control.
On Luebke's control is not Halladay-like or anything, but a 2.3 BB/9 in the minor last year and a 3.5 mark this year in relief for the Padres gets the job done. He's also far from a soft-tosser, averaging a touch north of 91 mph with his fastball while generating an above average groundball rate. Luebke isn't going to front the team's rotation any time soon, but with his stuff and a solid cup of coffee as a starter for the Padres last September, he can be used as a streamer in NL-only leagues. Certainly more upside than Wade LeBlanc.
Fausto Carmona (SP-CLE) – Carmona was supposed to be the anchor for a young Indians rotation, but with a 6.17 ERA, he's been anything but. Carmona, though, hasn't been nearly as bad as the ERA indicates. Witness this: