Into March, and it's already time for Part 5 of this six-part series on some key arms to watch in each of baseball's six divisions. We've covered some interesting possibilities so be sure to look back at the previous editions if you missed them. Remember, it's rarely the high profile aces that win your league, it's the discoveries deep in the draft that make the difference. So, you will want to be very aware of these hurlers on draft day.
Eight Arms to Watch in the AL West
Jarrod Parker (OAK) - A bit off the radar perhaps, returning from TJ surgery and posting respectable if not spectacular numbers as he worked his way back in 2011. Now he gets a huge opportunity in a pitcher's paradise. He may or may not break camp with the A's, but given their rotation options (none have Parker's upside), how long can it be? Watching him last season, the velocity was back to pre-injury levels, and his command, shaky at first, was steadily improving as the rust wore off. A couple of years ago he was very near the top of my elite watch list. He's probably not going to be a Strasburg or Moore, but he can be in the tier immediately behind them, and very few analysts list him that high these days. That likely makes him a high value pick in most leagues. He doesn't have much high minors experience, but it may not be necessary if he has a good spring and the team feels he can be a factor right away. Now is the time to get him. Truthfully, I am guessing his price tag will be considerably higher in 2013.
Brad Peacock (OAK) - Another Oakland arm who came over in off season deals and should get some attention. Like Parker, he has upside - much more than Tom Milone, but not so much as Parker - and he should get an opportunity in that pitcher-friendly environment. Peacock has a lot of tools, like a mid-90's fastball, a pretty solid curve and an adequate change-up, but he can still be inconsistent with the secondary stuff so his gaudy numbers from 2011 might be a bit deceptive. Don't be surprised if he goes off the board before Parker in many drafts - the 2011 stats will be appealing to a lot of owners - but I would be looking to grab the real prize (Parker), especially in keeper leagues. There could be a lot of shuffling in the A's rotation this season, and it's not impossible that Peacock could even get a look as a closer candidate if they can't give him regular work as a starter, but there is probably too much potential having him in the rotation for that to happen without some extenuating circumstances. Peacock is worthy of a spot on many fantasy rosters, just be careful not to overpay based exclusively on last year.
C.J. Wilson (LAA) - Converting from bullpen duty to the rotation is all the rage these days, and Wilson is the poster child for that career path. Beware, it won't work out as well for some, because most relievers are doing that as a result of not having three or four major league level pitches in their arsenals. Wilson does have a full complement of pitches he can offer, and he moves from a very volatile stadium in Texas to a much more placid environment in Anaheim. His road splits last season underscore the likely benefits of the move to the coast, and his total strikeouts and K:BB ratio have been improving steadily as he settles into the starting role. In some ways you could look at Wilson as the Cole Hamels of the American League. He doesn't have the ceiling of Hamels, but he does have near the top of a rotation-ability with a middle of the rotation slot, and that sometimes leads to underbidding on draft day. And, less pressure to perform as the "ace" of a rotation can equate to more "ace-like" returns. He's pitched 200+ innings the past two seasons, and recorded over 200 strikeouts in 2011. I'd like to see the walks decrease just a bit more, but he has earned a spot as a reliable and solid frontline starter.
Garrett Richards (LAA) - This might be one of those scenarios where opportunity takes precedence over ability. There are quite a few young arms I like better than Richards, but many of them are less likely to have an opportunity early in 2012. Unless you are a big believer in Jerome Williams, and I am not, Richards should get a look as the Angels fifth starter sooner rather than later. While the Halos have one of the best front four, their rotation options thin considerably beyond that point. Richards has a decent sinking fastball that gets into the mid-90's, but his slider and change are both rather inconsistent so he is prone to being a bit too hittable. On the plus side, he generally throws strikes, but doesn't generate a lot of swings and misses so his strikeout totals are on the low side. Unless he has a red hot spring, and Williams founders (or some Angels hurler finds his way to the disabled list, etc.), Richards might begin the season in Salt Lake City, but it's only a matter of time before he gets a crack. He has his limitations, but he might help at the back end of a fantasy rotation, in deeper or AL only leagues.
Derek Holland (TEX) - This is one of my favorite up-and-comers heading into 2012. He posted rather ordinary peripherals in 2011 (a 1.35 WHIP, a 3.95 ERA, and just 162 punch outs in 198 innings), however the ho-hum part of that line came in the first half. After the break he was dominating as he seemed to settle in with growing confidence and a very evident mound presence. He has always shown tremendous, albeit erratic, potential, but hopefully his 16 wins - he had a lot of run support - that second half, and his equally impressive post season, won't drive his price too high just yet. He does pitch in a hitter's park and he will probably still have his stretches of inconsistency, but expect those stretches be fewer with enlarging gaps between. Holland can get into the strikeout per inning range, and as he continues to build trust in his stuff will be more and more difficult to hit. Arlington probably limits his ceiling to some extent, but he would be a very nice addition to the middle of your fantasy rotation. As I have mentioned in the lead-in to this series, this is precisely the type of pitcher that wins fantasy leagues.
Yu Darvish (TEX) - One of the hardest things to analyze, especially lately, can be the impact of new arrivals from the Pacific Rim. They sometimes come with significant fanfare, and the results are often mixed. Those mixed results have lead to a wariness of hyped Japanese pitchers, and a correspondingly lower ADP for Darvish. I would suggest, in this case, that you attempt to wipe that hesitancy from your analysis. Darvish is clearly the best to ever come over, and he is entering the prime of his career. He has a livelier arm (mid-90's and higher when he needs it), and a full array of secondary pitches including a biting curve, a harder slurve, a cutter, and a deceptive change, all of which he will throw at any time, and in any count. This guy hasn't had an ERA over 2.00 in pro ball since he was 19 years old. Yes, that's Japan, but when you watch Darvish, he doesn't look like a Japanese pitcher. He's 6'5" and his demeanor on the mound is considerably more aggressive. That suggests he could have an easier time adjusting to major league baseball. Get him now at a modest discount, and the immediately send Daisuke Matsuzaka a thank you card for helping to keep the price down.
Danny Hultzen (SEA) - Like the previously mentioned Garrett Richards, this is another opportunity knocks consideration. However, this time the ability and the opportunity are in alignment. Gerritt Cole (Pirates) was the #1 pick overall in last year's draft, but I actually had Hultzen as my top choice. I can understand the Pirates reasoning - Cole does hit triple digits on the gun - but Hultzen is the full package, and from a fantasy standpoint at least, he is far more polished so many think he could step into the M's rotation from day one of the 2012 season. I agree with them. His fastball sits in the low-mid 90's with movement, his best pitch might be his change-up - always a nice thing when you are talking about someone who hasn't pitched in pro ball, and his slider has nice tilt. Best of all, he can throw any of them to spots, and his somewhat deceptive delivery makes them difficult to pick up. He is probably not going to be an "ace" but he could be a quality #2 in a very short time. Given his readiness, his quality of repertoire, his very friendly home park, and the likely opportunity, Hultzen should be pretty high on your draft day cheat sheets - even more so in keepers.
Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) - The gap between the two is expansive, but Iwakuma is probably the best bet other than Darvish to have a positive fantasy impact in 2012. After failing to sign with Oakland after the A's won the posting process last season, he is back, this time with Seattle. The biggest question mark with him is health. He's not a kid at age 31, and shoulder woes sidelined him for two months last season. Shoulders always make me skittish. When healthy, he gets his fastball to touch 90, and he compliments it with a very good splitter and a slider. He's not a big strikeout pitcher, but he throws strikes so his WHIP should be pretty respectable, and Seattle's forgiving ballpark should help minimize the damage on mistakes. Watch his health as the spring progresses, but consider both he and teammate Jason Vargas (they could put up similar numbers) as inexpensive options for the back of your rotation. After Felix Hernandez and Hultzen, they certainly offer more appeal than Seattle rotation alternatives.
The Endgame Odyssey:
There are a few end game question marks in this division, but Jordan Walden of the Angels probably isn't one of them. He could use a bit better command, but his stuff is among the best in baseball so he should be the guy for a long time. Up the coast in Oakland, Andrew Bailey is gone so this spring features closer auditions. I'll give the edge to Grant Balfour over Brian Fuentes, but would warn readers to keep an eye on Fautino De Los Santos as a possibility if his command improves in the future. In Seattle, Brandon League performed well last season, but it's no secret the Mariners would like to deal him for the right price. That would open the door for a 2011 acquisition, Chance Ruffin - a very good option once he gets his "chance." Finally, in Texas, former all-star Joe Nathan comes in to allow the Rangers to move Neftali Feliz to the rotation. If Nathan stays healthy (and effective) there is no drama here - if not, Mike Adams is the insurance policy.
Next week we'll wrap up the series with Eight Arms to Watch in the NL West.
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