It's a good week. The first year player draft always adds some arms to track as they embark on professional careers. With that in mind, the Kid Watch takes a look at a couple of my favorites for 2012. However, there are still plenty of veterans, and kids who have already arrived to discuss, and I want to take a look at a couple of them - in particular, future Hall-of-Famer Johan Santana, who spun a beautiful no-hitter in a game I had scheduled to watch just to see where he was. Always remember, knowing what a guy has done is not nearly as useful as knowing what he is likely to do going forward. So, let's get started with this week's edition by taking a look at a few recent performances; some good, and some bad:
Some Arms Who Have Made Us Take Notice:
Johan Santana (NYM) - Can I pick ‘em, or what? I decide it's time to check in on the future Hall-of-Famer, and he proceeds to pitch the first no-hitter in the Mets' 8000+ game history. Injuries, and age, have seen his velocity drop from the low-mid 90's to the upper 80's, and his walk rate has inched up, while his strikeout rate is actually down very slightly. On the surface, that sounds like someone to avoid. Wrong. Santana is one of the most resourceful and intelligent pitchers around. He constantly adjusts, and he has learned to pitch nearly as effectively as he once did despite his diminished physical tools. His specialty is changing the menu. On no-no night, he started with fastballs moving in and out, up and down. By the middle innings it was breaking stuff, and then his amazing change-up for dessert. He is unlikely to pitch as deep into games as his pitch counts have gone up - he has to be more of a nibbler without the power to blow hitters away - but he spots what he has very well, and he keeps batters off balance with a wide array of pitches, all at different speeds, and all in very orchestrated locations. The shoulder problems of the past will always be a concern, and the 134 pitch no-hitter could be troublesome going forward, but while he's healthy, he can pitch for my team anytime.
Recommendation: I hate to even say this, but that no-hitter may have created such a spike in his value that he is now a preeminent sell high candidate. While I think he will maintain a very productive stat line, he is an injury risk, and that game could come back to haunt him. The Mets need to play it conservatively with him, but that kind of opportunity doesn't come along very often. He deserved the shot.
Jarrod Parker (OAK) - Parker is still a work in progress. However, it should be noted that he is an exceptionally talented work in progress with a very high ceiling. He was a premier prospect a couple of years ago, but he had Tommy John surgery, missed a year, came back with velocity but spotty command, and his projectable future has now been somewhat overlooked in many leagues. Don't make that mistake. Parker has a very lively fastball that sits low-mid 90's, which is more likely to be a two-seamer with sink these days as opposed to the higher velocity four-seamer. He has a plus slider, and a quality change-up, both of which are still coming back to pre-injury sharpness. As he commands these better, you can expect his pitch counts and walk rates to decline while his strikeout rate climbs a bit. Experience and confidence are all he needs to take the next step.
Recommendation: Parker is clearly the highest-ceiling starting pitcher in Oakland - a very pitcher-friendly environment. His command will continue to often limit how deep he can go into games, and lack of run support will always be a challenge, but he works out of jams (always a positive for a young pitcher), and he could eventually be a solid #2 or even a fringy #1. You might want to nab him before others remember how good he could become.
Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) - He was arguably the second most anticipated 2012 arrival from the Pacific Rim, after Yu Darvish, but he has been almost forgotten in the Pacific Northwest. He has two saves, but he is not the closer (they both had extenuating circumstances), but he didn't appear in a game until April 20 - the Mariners 15th game - and he has appeared in just six games all season, despite being with the team since opening day. He did have some shoulder issues last season in Japan, but there have been no indications that an injury is the reason for such sporadic usage. He is not a power pitcher, rather featuring a very effective forkball that he uses to induce a lot of groundballs, and a few swinging strikes. He pitched well in the second half of 2011 after returning from the shoulder injury, and he has proven to be an innings eater in the past, so he is typically pretty resilient. In that ballpark, with the ability to pitch down in the zone consistently, he profiles as a solid back of the rotation guy. So why isn't he? There is a good chance he has been slow to adjust to the MLB game, and perhaps to the cultural differences over here, but he should be there fairly soon.
Recommendation: Only Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas should be ahead of him in the rotation food chain. Eventually, he should get the opportunity to jump in, and take a regular turn, and when he does, he could fare rather well. Grab and stash him if you can.
Joe Blanton (PHI)- Here's another guy I get asked about fairly often, and whether he is going good, or going bad, he is seemingly always expected to either keep it up or reverse the form. On the plus side, he generally throws strikes, unfortunately they are in the middle of the plate far too often and he rather routinely gets spanked. Blanton has mediocre stuff, he doesn't often fool many hitters, and he is at a point in his career where none of those things are likely to change significantly. Because he is capable of eating innings, he could generate some wins, and his lower walk rate might soften the blow to your WHIP, but he is just as likely to give you a high ERA and so-so strikeout totals which means there are probably better options in all but very deep mixed or deep NL-only leagues. I don't see much ceiling in Blanton, and that will invariably lead me to look at options with more potential.
Recommendation: If the Phillies were a better team (i.e. healthy), he might be worth the risk if there were very few realistic options, but he is the type of guy that can hurt a team as much as help it, so I would suggest looking elsewhere. If you own him, and he does string together a handful of decent starts, shop him aggressively, as it probably won't last.
Nathan Eovaldi (LAD) - He has an exceptionally live arm - routinely sitting 95-98 with his fastball - and he can both cut it and let it run as the situation demands. In fact, he has two versions of a cutter, one that is more traditional in the low 90's, and another that sits in the high 80's and looks more like a slider. He has a curveball that has nice downward movement, but he is still not real confident in being able to locate it, and he has toyed with a splitter, but it's not quite ready for prime time either. Perhaps what is most appealing is the extreme movement on a fastball with that much velocity. It's impressive. He just needs something in the low 80's to help keep hitters more off balance - a true change-up - and he could easily be a top of the rotation candidate.
Recommendation: This is all about opportunity. I like pretty much everything I see in Eovaldi, but he may not yet have the full time job to warrant immediate fantasy attention. He's filling in for the injured Ted Lilly right now, but when Lilly comes back there is no guarantee he will stay with the Dodgers, and if he does, it could be in a long relief or swing man role. If he takes a regular turn for the rest of this season, snag him. In a keeper, definitely snag him.
Amazingly, it's been a rather quiet week in the endgame musical chairs act. Seattle is still in a bit of flux where Hisashi Iwakuma has notched a couple of saves recently, but one was of the three inning variety, and the other came in an extra innings win after presumptive closer Tom Wilhelmsen had just pitched three innings. “Kuma” is an intriguing second-half arm to watch (see above), but not necessarily as a closer. The Angels still say Scott Downs is the closer, but their usage pattern says otherwise. Downs may still get an occasional save when the matchup is particularly favorable, but Ernesto Frieri is the main guy as predicted. Being a slow week, this might be a good time to look at timetables for the return of some more recognizable names. At this writing, Huston Street was aiming for a return on Tuesday. He should very quickly replace stand-in Dale Thayer. In Washington, Drew Storen is progressing, albeit slowly, so Tyler Clippard is probably in line for a month's worth of opportunities or more. The Red Sox really need Andrew Bailey back, but he hasn't started throwing from a mound, so he is still not very close. Sergio Santos is getting a little closer, and while Casey Janssen has filled in admirably, reducing any real pressure to push it, Santos should be back sometime in mid-late June. Santiago Casilla twisted his knee in a save opportunity last week, but it's not a major concern so he should be back on the job soon.
Monday marked day one of the first year player draft, so I thought I would take a quick look at a couple of my favorite arms drafted so far. This year's draft isn't as deep as other recent drafts, especially last year's, but there are still some guys to watch. Like last year, I did not have the #1 ranked pitcher at the top of my list. It was close, but I liked LSU's Kevin Gausman better than Mark Appel and he ended up being the first pitcher drafted. Both have very good potential, and Appel might be a little more polished at this point, but I like the way the ball comes out of Gausman's hand and explodes. Gausman has a tight slider with sharp downward break, and I really like how he pitches downhill, but it's his feel for the change-up that impresses most. He will need some minor league work, as there are a lot of arms (and arm angles) and legs so he can lose the strike zone at times, and his delivery is not the most repeatable, but it can be worked through. Besides, a guy who eats powdered donuts between innings just has to be MLB bound! Regarding Appel, the Houston-native was at the top of most pitching prospect lists, and he is a good one, just perhaps without the ceiling of Gausman. Notably, Kyle Zimmer and Max Fried actually went ahead of Appel too, but I think that might be a signability issue. Finally, the biggest surprise; that Lucas Giolito (has had elbow issues but went to pitching-rich Washington) dropped so far down, and the pitching steal of the first round, Marcus Stroman to Toronto - he could be up quick if used as a reliever.
Again, is there a pitcher you would like to see analyzed in an upcoming Notebook? Throw the name out and I'll see what I can do. In fact, I would like to remind readers to check back often as each week's Notebook will feature updates in the comments section on evolving mound situations. And, as always, keep in mind this is an interactive forum, so your comments are always appreciated. I will respond to any comments or questions as soon as possible. Thanks!
For up to the minute updates on all things pitching, be sure to follow @bogfella on Twitter! Get your pitching questions answered, and my take on all the mound-related happenings!